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Rationality Quotes September 2014

6 Post author: jaime2000 03 September 2014 09:36PM
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Comments (257)

Comment author: dspeyer 03 September 2014 05:06:19PM 59 points [-]

A good rule of thumb might be, “If I added a zero to this number, would the sentence containing it mean something different to me?” If the answer is “no,” maybe the number has no business being in the sentence in the first place.

Randall Munroe on communicating with humans

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 September 2014 01:40:21PM 8 points [-]

Related: When (Not) To Use Probabilities:

I would advise, in most cases, against using non-numerical procedures to create what appear to be numerical probabilities. Numbers should come from numbers. (...) you shouldn't go around thinking that, if you translate your gut feeling into "one in a thousand", then, on occasions when you emit these verbal words, the corresponding event will happen around one in a thousand times. Your brain is not so well-calibrated.

This specific topic came up recently in the context of the Large Hadron Collider (...) the speaker actually purported to assign a probability of at least 1 in 1000 that the theory, model, or calculations in the LHC paper were wrong; and a probability of at least 1 in 1000 that, if the theory or model or calculations were wrong, the LHC would destroy the world.

I object to the air of authority given these numbers pulled out of thin air. (...) No matter what other physics papers had been published previously, the authors would have used the same argument and made up the same numerical probabilities

Comment author: dspeyer 05 September 2014 04:10:03PM *  12 points [-]

For the opposite claim: If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing With Made-Up Statistics:

Remember the Bayes mammogram problem? The correct answer is 7.8%; most doctors (and others) intuitively feel like the answer should be about 80%. So doctors – who are specifically trained in having good intuitive judgment about diseases – are wrong by an order of magnitude. And it “only” being one order of magnitude is not to the doctors’ credit: by changing the numbers in the problem we can make doctors’ answers as wrong as we want.

So the doctors probably would be better off explicitly doing the Bayesian calculation. But suppose some doctor’s internet is down (you have NO IDEA how much doctors secretly rely on the Internet) and she can’t remember the prevalence of breast cancer. If the doctor thinks her guess will be off by less than an order of magnitude, then making up a number and plugging it into Bayes will be more accurate than just using a gut feeling about how likely the test is to work. Even making up numbers based on basic knowledge like “Most women do not have breast cancer at any given time” might be enough to make Bayes Theorem outperform intuitive decision-making in many cases.

I tend to side with Yvain on this one, at least so long as your argument isn't going to be judged by its appearence. Specifically on the LHC thing, I think making up the 1 in 1000 makes it possible to substantively argue about the risks in a way that "there's a chance" doesn't.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 14 September 2014 06:48:40AM 3 points [-]

A detailed reading provides room for these to coexist. Compare:

If I added a zero to this number

with

off by less than an order of magnitude

Comment author: army1987 14 September 2014 03:23:15PM 2 points [-]

I'd agree with Randall Monroe more wholeheartedly if he had said “added a couple of zeros” instead.

Comment author: michaelkeenan 01 September 2014 10:23:50PM 36 points [-]

A raise is only a raise for thirty days; after that, it’s just your salary.

-- David Russo

Comment author: rationalnoodles 04 September 2014 10:23:54AM 3 points [-]

I don't understand what he wanted to say by this. Could somebody explain?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 September 2014 01:42:58PM 12 points [-]

Instead of giving your employees $100 raise, give them $1200 bonus once in a year. It's the same money, but it will make them more happy, because they will keep noticing it for years.

Comment author: Vaniver 05 September 2014 06:13:35PM *  8 points [-]

It'll also be easier to reduce a bonus (because of poor performance on the part of the employee or company) than it will be to reduce a salary.

Comment author: Cyclismo 15 September 2014 03:45:40PM 1 point [-]

I say give them smaller raises more frequently. After the first annual bonus, it becomes expected.

Comment author: Azathoth123 16 September 2014 02:08:30AM 0 points [-]

Intermittent reward for the win.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 September 2014 02:58:43PM 12 points [-]

I speaks to anchoring and evaluating incentives relative to an expected level.

Basically, receiving a raise is seen as a good thing because you are getting more money than a month ago (anchor). But after a while you will be getting the same amount of money as a month ago (the anchor has moved) so there is no cause for joy.

Comment author: Torello 05 September 2014 01:49:45AM 11 points [-]
Comment author: ChristianKl 04 September 2014 01:29:57PM *  3 points [-]

While you are getting a raise you might be more motivated to work. However after a while your new salary becomes new salary and you would need a new raise to get additional motivation.

Comment author: Salemicus 04 September 2014 04:45:08PM *  34 points [-]

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

D.C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. Dennett himself is summarising Anatol Rapoport.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 05 September 2014 11:07:11PM 9 points [-]

I don't see what to do about gaps in arguments. Gaps aren't random. There are little gaps where the original authors have chosen to use their limited word count on other, more delicate, parts of their argument, confident that charitable readers will be happy to fill the small gaps themselves in the obvious ways. There are big gaps where the authors have gone the other way, tip toeing around the weakest points in their argument. Perhaps they hope no-one else will notice. Perhaps they are in denial. Perhaps there are issues with the clarity of the logical structure that make it easy to whiz by the gap without noticing it.

The third perhaps is especially tricky. If you "re-express your target’s position ... clearly" you remove the obfuscation that concealed the gap. Now what? Leaving the gap in clear view creates a strawman. Attempting to fill it draws a certain amount of attention to it; you certainly fail the ideological Turing test because you are making arguments that you opponents don't make. Worse, big gaps are seldom accidental. They are there because they are hard to fill. Indeed it might be the difficulty of filling the gap that made you join the other side of the debate in the first place. What if your best effort to fill the gap is thin and unconvincing?

Example: Some people oppose the repeal of the prohibition of cannabis because "consumption will increase". When you try to make this argument clear you end up distinguishing between good-use and bad-use. There is the relax-on-a-Friday-night-after-work kind of use which is widely accepted in the case of alcohol and can be termed good-use. There is the behaviour that gets called "pissing your talent away" when it beer-based. That is bad-use.

When you try to bring clarity to the argument you have to replace "consumption will increase" by "bad-use will increase a lot and good-use will increase a little, leading to a net reduction in aggregate welfare." But the original "consumption will increase" was obviously true, while the clearer "bad+++, good+, net--" is less compelling.

The original argument had a gap (just why is an increase in consumption bad?). Writing more clearly exposes the gap. Your target will not say "Thanks for exposing the gap, I wish I'd put it that way.". But it is not an easy gap to fill convincingly. Your target is unlikely to appreciate your efforts on behalf of his case.

Comment author: CCC 06 September 2014 03:33:56PM 6 points [-]

With regards to your example, you try to fix the gap between "consumption will increase" and "that will be a bad thing as a whole" by claiming little good use and much bad use. But I don't think that's the strongest way to bridge that gap.

Rather, I'd suggest that the good use has negligible positive utility - just another way to relax on a Friday night, when there are already plenty of ways to relax on a Friday night, so how much utility does adding another one really give you? - while bad use has significant negative utility (here I may take the chance to sketch the verbal image of a bright young doctor dropping out of university due to bad use). Then I can claim that even if good-use increases by a few orders of magnitude more than bad-use, the net result is nonetheless negative, because bad use is just that terrible; that the negative effects of a single bad-user outweigh the positive effects of a thousand good-users.


As to your main point - what to do when your best effort to fill the gap is thin and unconvincing - the simplest solution would appear to be to go back to the person proposing the position that you are critically commenting about (or someone else who shares his views on the subject), and simply asking. Or to go and look through his writings, and see whether or not he addresses precisely that point. Or to go to a friend (preferably also an intelligent debator) and asking for his best effort to fill the gap, in the hope that it will be a better effort.

Comment author: khafra 08 September 2014 03:20:57PM 2 points [-]

what to do when your best effort to fill the gap is thin and unconvincing - the simplest solution would appear to be to go back to the person proposing the position that you are critically commenting about (or someone else who shares his views on the subject), and simply asking.

So, you go back to the person you're going to argue against, before you start the argument, and ask them about the big gap in their original position? That seems like it could carry the risk of kicking off the argument a little early.

Comment author: CCC 08 September 2014 07:38:42PM 3 points [-]

"Pardon me, sir, but I don't quite understand how you went from Step A to Step C. Do you think you could possibly explain it in a little more detail?"

Accompanied, of course, by a very polite "Thank you" if they make the attempt to do so. Unless someone is going to vehemently lash out at any attempt to politely discuss his position, he's likely to either at least make an attempt (whether by providing a new explanation or directing you to the location of a pre-written one), or to plead lack of time (in which case you're no worse off than before).

Most of the time, he'll have some sort of explanation, that he considered inappropriate to include in the original statement (either because it is "obvious", or because the explanation is rather long and distracting and is beyond the scope of the original essay). Mind you, his explanation might be even more thin and unconvincing than the best you could come up with...

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 13 September 2014 11:01:10AM 1 point [-]

I think the idea was, 'when you've gotten to this point, that's when your pre-discussion period is over, and it is time to begin asking questions'.

And yes, it is often a good idea to ask questions before taking a position!

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 13 September 2014 11:06:23AM 2 points [-]

Entirely within the example, not pertaining to rationality per se, and I'm not sure you even hold the position you were arguing about:

1) good use is not restricted to relaxing on a Friday. It also includes effective pain relief with minimal and sometimes helpful side-effects. Medical marijuana use may be used as a cover for recreational use but it is also very real in itself.

2) a young doctor dropping out of university is comparable and perhaps lesser disutility to getting sent to prison. You'd have to get a lot of doctors dropping out to make legalization worse than the way things stand now.

Comment author: CCC 13 September 2014 05:19:20PM 2 points [-]

My actual position on the medical marijuana issue is best summarised as "I don't know enough to have developed a firm opinion either way". This also means that I don't really know enough to properly debate on the issue, unfortunately.

Though, looking it up, I see there's a bill currently going through parliament in my part of the world that - if it passes - would legalise it for medicinal use.

Comment author: army1987 13 September 2014 05:32:43PM 0 points [-]

Have you read “Marijuana: Much More Than You Wanted To Know” on Slate Star Codex?

Comment author: CCC 16 September 2014 08:59:03AM 0 points [-]

No, I have not.

Comment author: AnneOminous 17 September 2014 04:27:57AM 0 points [-]

Quote: "The third perhaps is especially tricky. If you "re-express your target’s position ... clearly" you remove the obfuscation that concealed the gap. Now what? Leaving the gap in clear view creates a strawman. Attempting to fill it draws a certain amount of attention to it; you certainly fail the ideological Turing test because you are making arguments that you opponents don't make."

Just no. An argument is an argument. It is complete or not. If there is a gap in the argument, in most cases there are two eventualities: (a) the leap is a true one assuming what others would find obvious, or (b) either an honest error in the argument or an attempt to cover up a flaw in the argument.

If there is a way to "fill in" the argument that is the only way it could be filled in, you are justified in doing so, while pointing out that you are doing so. If either of the (b) cases hold, however, you must still point them out, in order to maintain your own credibility. Especially if you are refuting an argument, the gap should be addressed and not glossed over.

You might treat the (b) situations differently, perhaps politely pointing out that the original author made an error there, or perhaps not-so-politely pointing out that something is amiss. But you still address the issue. If you do not, the onus is now on you, because you have then "adopted" that incomplete or erroneous argument.

For example: your own example argument has a rather huge and glaring hole in it: "bad-use will increase a lot and good-use will increase a little". However, history and modern examples both show this to be false: in the real world, decriminalization has increased bad-use only slightly if at all, and good-use more. (See the paper "The Portugal Experiment" for one good example.)

Was there any problem there with my treatment of this rather gaping "gap" in your argument?

Comment author: James_Miller 05 September 2014 08:36:09PM 53 points [-]

A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back—forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Steven Pinker

Comment author: eli_sennesh 10 September 2014 08:32:12PM 4 points [-]

The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

What about: "using the education system to collect forced labor as a 'lesson' in altruism teaches selfishness and fails at altruism"?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 September 2014 01:56:45AM 15 points [-]

Often, one of these CEOs will operate in a way inconsistent with Thorndike's major thesis and yet he'll end up praising the CEO anyway. In poker, we'd call this the "won, didn't it?" fallacy-- judging a process by the specific, short-term result accomplished rather than examining the long-term result of multiple iterations of the process over time.

This Amazon.com review.

Comment author: Jack_LaSota 09 September 2014 11:50:34PM 11 points [-]

My transformation begins with me getting tired of my own bullshit.

Skeletor is Love

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 September 2014 07:10:29PM 63 points [-]

I’m always fascinated by the number of people who proudly build columns, tweets, blog posts or Facebook posts around the same core statement: “I don’t understand how anyone could (oppose legal abortion/support a carbon tax/sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis/want to privatize Social Security/insert your pet issue here)." It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.

The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.

In short, “I’m stupid.” Something that few people would ever post so starkly on their Facebook feeds.

--Megan McArdle

Comment author: dspeyer 02 September 2014 02:29:58AM 28 points [-]

While I agree with your actual point, I note with amusement that what's worse is the people who claim they do understand: "I understand that you want to own a gun because it's a penis-substitute", "I understand that you don't want me to own a gun because you live in a fantasy world where there's no crime", "I understand that you're talking about my beauty because you think you own me", "I understand that you complain about people talking about your beauty as a way of boasting about how beautiful you are."... None of these explanations are anywhere near true.

It would be a sign of wisdom if someone actually did post "I'm stupid: I can hardly ever understand the viewpoint of anyone who disagrees with me."

Comment author: satt 02 September 2014 03:52:09AM 11 points [-]

It would be a sign of wisdom if someone actually did post "I'm stupid: I can hardly ever understand the viewpoint of anyone who disagrees with me."

Ah, but would it be, though?

Comment author: devas 02 September 2014 09:08:56AM 16 points [-]

it would probably be some kind of weird signalling game, maybe. On the other hand, posting:"I don't understand how etc etc, please, somebody explain to me the reasoning behind it" would be a good strategy to start debating and opening an avenue to "convert" others

Comment author: aelita 12 September 2014 04:10:43PM 1 point [-]

It probably would. Usually a person who writes something like this is looking for an explanation.

Comment author: arundelo 04 September 2014 02:44:42PM 8 points [-]

I like this and agree that usually or at least often the people making these "I don't understand how anyone could ..." statements aren't interested in actually understanding the people they disagree with. But I also liked Ozy's comment:

I dunno. I feel like "I don't understand how anyone could believe X" is a much, much better position to take on issues than "I know exactly why my opponents disagree with me! It is because they are stupid and evil!" The former at least opens the possibility that your opponents believe things for good reasons that you don't understand -- which is often true!

In general, I believe it is a good thing to admit ignorance when one is actually ignorant, and I am willing to put up with a certain number of dumbass signalling games if it furthers this goal.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 04 September 2014 04:17:53PM *  18 points [-]

I dunno. I feel like "I don't understand how anyone could believe X" is a much, much better position to take on issues than "I know exactly why my opponents disagree with me! It is because they are stupid and evil!" The former at least opens the possibility that your opponents believe things for good reasons that you don't understand -- which is often true!

I am imagining the following exchange:

"I don't understand how anyone could believe X!"

"Great, the first step to understanding is noticing that you don't understand. Now, let me show you why X is true..."

I suspect that most people saying the first line would not take well to hearing the second.

Comment author: arundelo 04 September 2014 04:47:10PM 6 points [-]

I suspect the same, but still think "I can't understand why anyone would believe X" is probably better than "people who believe X or say they believe X only do so because they hate [children / freedom / poor people / rich people / black people / white people / this great country of ours / etc.]"

Comment author: arundelo 04 September 2014 03:53:27PM *  17 points [-]

Hacker School has a set of "social rules [...] designed to curtail specific behavior we've found to be destructive to a supportive, productive, and fun learning environment." One of them is "no feigning surprise":

The first rule means you shouldn't act surprised when people say they don't know something. This applies to both technical things ("What?! I can't believe you don't know what the stack is!") and non-technical things ("You don't know who RMS is?!"). Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it's usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that's not the intention, it's almost always the effect. As you've probably already guessed, this rule is tightly coupled to our belief in the importance of people feeling comfortable saying "I don't know" and "I don't understand."

I think this is a good rule and when I find out someone doesn't know something that I think they "should" already know, I instead try to react as in xkcd 1053 (or by chalking it up to a momentary maladaptive brain activity change on their part, or by admitting that it's probably not that important that they know this thing). But I think "feigning surprise" is a bad name, because when I'm in this situation, I'm never pretending to be surprised in order to demonstrate how smart I am, I am always genuinely surprised. (Surprise means my model of the world is about to get better. Yay!)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 September 2014 06:34:28PM *  4 points [-]

I don't think that sort of surprise is necessarily feigned. However, I do think it's usually better if that surprise isn't mentioned.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 05 September 2014 01:30:20PM 10 points [-]

We could charitably translate "I don't understand how anyone could X" as "I notice that my model of people who X is so bad, that if I tried to explain it, I would probably generate a strawman".

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 September 2014 01:10:55PM 6 points [-]

Or add a fourth laying: I think that I will rise in status by publically signalling to my facebook friends: "I lack the ability or willingness to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me."

Comment author: fortyeridania 04 September 2014 05:54:26AM 6 points [-]

People do lots of silly things to signal commitment; the silliness is part of the point. This is a reason initiation rituals are often humiliating, and why members of minor religions often wear distinctive clothing or hairstyles. (I think I got this from this podcast interview with Larry Iannaccone.)

I think posts like the ones to which McArdle is referring, and the beliefs underlying them, are further examples of signaling attire. "I'm so committed, I'm even blind to whatever could be motivating the other side."

A related podcast is with Arnold Kling on his e-book (which I enjoyed) The Three Languages of Politics. It's about (duh) politics--specifically, American politics--but it also contains an interesting and helpful discussion on seeing things from others' point of view, and explicitly points to commitment-signaling (and its relation to beliefs) as a reason people fail to see eye to eye.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 10 September 2014 08:36:09PM *  3 points [-]

Hmmm... let's try filling something else in there.

"I don't understand how anyone could support ISIS/Bosnian genocide/North Darfur."

While I think a person is indeed more effective at life for being able to perform the cognitive contortions necessary to bend their way into the mindset of a murderous totalitarian (without actually believing what they're understanding), I don't consider normal people lacking for their failure to understand refined murderous evil of the particularly uncommon kind -- any more than I expect them to understand the appeal of furry fandom (which I feel a bit guilty for picking out as the canonical Ridiculously Uncommon Weird Thing).

Comment author: Cyclismo 15 September 2014 06:53:23PM 0 points [-]

You don't have to share a taste for, or approval of "...refined murderous evil of the particularly uncommon kind..." It can be explained as a reaction to events or conditions, and history is full of examples. HOWEVER. We have this language that we share, and it signifies. I understand that a rapist has mental instability and other mental health issues that cause him to act not in accordance with common perceptions of minimum human decency. But I can't say out loud, "I understand why some men rape women." It's an example of a truth that is too dangerous to say because emotions prevent others from hearing it.

Comment author: hairyfigment 15 September 2014 07:51:10PM *  0 points [-]

You can (and did) say that, you just can't say it on Twitter with no context without causing people to yell at you. ETA: you like language? Gricean maxims.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 01 September 2014 07:59:03PM 3 points [-]

Or, (4), "I keep asking, but they won't say"....

Comment author: Vulture 01 September 2014 10:13:17PM 2 points [-]

Does that happen?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 01 September 2014 11:14:00PM 0 points [-]

It does to me.Have you tried getting sense out of an NRx or HBD.er?

Comment author: Vulture 01 September 2014 11:35:53PM 12 points [-]

Haven't tried it myself, but it seems to work for Scott Alexander

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 02 September 2014 09:04:24AM *  2 points [-]

NRx are so bad at communicating their position in language inline can understand that they refer to Scotts ANTI reaction faq to explain it. This is the guy who steelmanned Gene "Timecube" Ray. He has superpowers.

Comment author: army1987 02 September 2014 09:27:25AM 7 points [-]

Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell” is where he explain what the NR position is and “The Anti-Reactionary FAQ” is where he explains why he disagrees with it. The former is what neoreactionaries have linked to to explain it.

Comment author: army1987 02 September 2014 09:35:20AM 0 points [-]

This is the guy who steelmanned Gene "Timecube" Ray. He has superpowers.

Yes. That's why I'm somewhat surprised he seems to interpret “reptilian aliens” literally.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 September 2014 01:45:39PM 7 points [-]

There no reason to use those nonstandard abbreviations. Neither of them are in Urban dictionary.

NRx is probably neoreactionism but doesn't make it into the first 10 Google results. HBD.er in that spelling seems to be wrong as HBD'er is found when you Google it.

Comment author: simplicio 10 September 2014 08:22:10PM 5 points [-]

Bracket neoreaction for the time being. I get that you disagree with HBD positions, but do you literally have trouble comprehending their meaning?

Comment author: Azathoth123 01 September 2014 11:38:17PM 6 points [-]

Have you tried getting sense out of an NRx or HBD.er?

Yes, what they say frequently makes a lot more sense than the mainstream position on the issue in question.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 10 September 2014 08:40:35PM 2 points [-]

I completely disagree. Their grasp of politics is largely based on meta-contrarianism, and has failed to "snap back" into basing one's views on a positive program whose goodness and rationality can be argued for with evidence.

Comment author: Azathoth123 11 September 2014 03:16:14AM 5 points [-]

Their grasp of politics is largely based on meta-contrarianism, and has failed to "snap back" into basing one's views on a positive program whose goodness and rationality can be argued for with evidence.

Huh? HBD'ers are making observations about the world, they do not have a "positive program". As for NRx, they do have a positive program do use evidence to argue for it, see the NRx thread and the various blogs linked there for some examples.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 02 September 2014 09:15:10AM *  -3 points [-]

Makes sense to whom? They are capable of making converts, so they are capable of making sense to some people...people who 90% agree with them already. It's called dog whistle. Not being hearable by some people is built in.

Comment author: Jiro 02 September 2014 01:35:54AM *  1 point [-]

Now repeat the same statement, only instead of abortions and carbon taxes, substitute the words "believe in homeopathy". (Creationism also works.)

People do say that--yet it doesn't mean any of the things the quote claims it means (at least not in a nontrivial sense).

Comment author: Azathoth123 02 September 2014 01:52:24AM 6 points [-]

Then what does it mean in those cases? Because the only ones I can think of are the three Megan described.

If you mean "I can't imagine how anyone could be so stupid as to believe in homeopathy/creationism", which is my best guess for what you mean, that's a special of the second meaning.

Comment author: Jiro 02 September 2014 03:22:33AM *  4 points [-]

"I don't understand how someone could believe X" typically means that the speaker doesn't understand how someone could believe in X based on good reasoning. Understanding how stupidity led someone to believe X doesn't count.

Normal conversation cannot be parsed literally. It is literally true that understanding how someone incorrectly believes X is a subclass of understanding how someone believes in X; but it's not what those words typically connote.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 September 2014 01:13:53PM 6 points [-]

"I don't understand how someone could believe X" typically means that the speaker doesn't understand how someone could believe in X based on good reasoning. Understanding how stupidity led someone to believe X doesn't count.

Most people who say: "I don't understand how someone could believe X" would fail a reverse Turing test that position. They often literally don't understand how someone comes to believe X.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 September 2014 05:45:15AM 5 points [-]

Normal conversation cannot be parsed literally.

I don't think that applies here. Your addition "based on good reasoning" is not a non-literal meaning, but a filling in of omitted detail. Gricean implicature is not non-literality, and the addition does not take the example outside McArdle's analysis.

As always, confusion is a property of the confused person, not of the thing outside themselves that they are confused about. If a person says they cannot understand how anyone could etc., that is, indeed, literally true. That person cannot understand the phenomenon; that is their problem. Yet their intended implication, which McArdle is pointing out does not follow, is that all of the problem is in the other person. Even if the other person is in error, how can one engage with them from the position of "I cannot understand how etc."? The words are an act of disengagement, behind a smokescreen that McArdle blows away..

Comment author: Jiro 02 September 2014 06:13:49AM *  1 point [-]

Gricean implicature is not non-literality,

Sure it is. The qualifier changes the meaning of the statement. By definition, if the sentence lacks the qualifier but is to be interpreted as if it has one, it is to be interpreted differently than its literal words. Having to be interpreted as containing detail that is not explicitly written is a type of non-literalness.

If a person says they cannot understand how anyone could etc., that is, indeed, literally true.

No, it's not. I understand how someone can believe in creationism: they either misunderstand science (probably due to religious bias) or don't actually believe science works at all when it conflicts with religion. Saying "I don't understand how someone can believe in creationism" is literally false--I do understand how.

What it means is "I don't understand how someone can correctly believe in creationism." I understand how someone can believe in creationism, but my understanding involves the believer making mistakes. The statement communicates that I don't know of a reason other than making mistakes, not that I don't know any reason at all.

Even if the other person is in error, how can one engage with them from the position of "I cannot understand how etc."?

Because "I don't understand how" is synonymous, in ordinary conversation, with "the other person appears to be in error." It does not mean that I literally don't understand, but rather that I understand it as an error, so it is irrelevant that literally not understanding is an act of disengagement.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 02 September 2014 09:27:33AM *  7 points [-]

Now I just thought of this, so maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think "I don't understand how someone can think X" is really meant as any sort of piece of reasonable logic, or a substitution for one. I suspect this is merely the sort of stuff people come up with when made to think about it.

Rather, "I don't understand how..." is an appeal to the built in expectation that things make obvious sense. If I want to claim that "what you're saying is nontribal and I have nothing to do with it", stating that you're not making sense to me works whether or not I can actually follow your reasoning. Since if you really were not making sense to me with minimum effort on my part, this would imply bad things about you and what you're saying. It's just a rejection that makes no sense if you think about it, but it's not meant to be thought about - it's really closer to "la la la I am not listening to you".

Am I making sense?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 September 2014 09:30:57AM 2 points [-]

Am I making sense?

Yes.

Comment author: Jiro 02 September 2014 03:11:07PM 1 point [-]

This is close, but I don't think it captures everything. I used the examples of creationism and homeopathy because they are unusual examples where there isn't room for reasonable disagreement. Every person who believes in one of those does so because of bias, ignorance, or error. This disentangles the question of "what is meant by the statement" and "why would anyone want to say what is meant by the statement".

You have correctly identified why, for most topics, someone would want to say such a thing. Normally, "there's no room for reasonable disagreement; you're just wrong" is indeed used as a tribal membership indicator. But the statement doesn't mean "what you're saying is nontribal", it's just that legitimate, nontribal, reasons to say "you are just wrong" are rare.

Comment author: Azathoth123 03 September 2014 02:52:46AM 7 points [-]

Every person who believes in one of those does so because of bias, ignorance, or error.

Well that's true for every false belief anyone has. So what's so special about those examples?

You say "there isn't room for reasonable disagreement", which taken literally is just another way of phrasing "I don't understand how anyone could believe X". In any case, could you expand on what you mean by "not room for reasonable disagreement" since in context it appears to mean "all the tribes present agree with it".

Comment author: Jiro 03 September 2014 03:31:35AM *  0 points [-]

Well that's true for every false belief anyone has. So what's so special about those examples?

You're being literal again. Every person who believes in one of those primarily does so because of major bias, ignorance, or error. You can't just distrust a single source you should have trusted, or make a single bad calculation, and end up believing in creationism or homeopathy. Your belief-finding process has to contain fundamental flaws for that.

You say "there isn't room for reasonable disagreement", which taken literally is just another way of phrasing "I don't understand how anyone could believe X".

And "it has three sides" is just another way of phrasing "it is a triangle", but I can still explain what a triangle is by describing it as something with three sides. If it wasn't synonymous, it wouldn't be an explanation.

(Actually, it's not quite synonymous, for the same reason that the original statement wasn't correct: if you're taking it literally, "I don't understand how anyone could believe X" excludes cases where you understand that someone makes a mistake, and "there isn't room for reasonable disagreement" includes such cases.)

in context it appears to mean "all the tribes present agree with it".

You can describe anything which is believed by some people and not others in terms of tribes believing it. But not all such descriptions are equally useful; if the tribes fall into categories, it is better to specify the categories.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 02 September 2014 07:22:14AM 5 points [-]

Non-literality isn't a get-out-of-your-words-free card. There is a clear difference between saying "you appear to be in error" and "I can't understand how anyone could think that", and the difference is clearly expressed by the literal meanings of those words.

And to explicate "I don't understand etc." with "Of course I do understand how you could think that, it's because you're ignorant or stupid" is not an improvement.

Comment author: Jiro 02 September 2014 09:13:20AM *  4 points [-]

Non-literality isn't a get-out-of-your-words-free card. There is a clear difference between saying "you appear to be in error" and "I can't understand how anyone could think that", and the difference is clearly expressed by the literal meanings of those words.

Non-literalness is a get-out-of-your-words-free card when the words are normally used in conversation, by English speakers in general, to mean something non-literal. Yes, if you just invented the non-literal meaning yourself, there are limits to how far from the literal meaning you can be and still expect to be understood, but these limits do not apply when the non-literal meaning is already established usage.

And to explicate "I don't understand etc." with "Of course I do understand how you could think that, it's because you're ignorant or stupid" is not an improvement.

The original quote gives the intended meaning as "I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to..." In other words, the original rationality quote explicitly excludes the possibility of "I understand you believe it because you're ignorant or stupid". It misinterprets the statement as literally claiming that you don't understand in any way whatsoever.

The point is that the quote is a bad rationality quote because it makes a misinterpretation. Whether the statement that it misinterprets is itself a good thing to say is irrelevant to the question of whether it is being misinterpreted.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 September 2014 07:27:38AM 2 points [-]

Yes, if you just invented the non-literal meaning yourself, there are limits to how far from the literal meaning you can be and still expect to be understood, but these limits do not apply when the non-literal meaning is already established usage.

Established by whom? You are the one claiming that

"I don't understand how" is synonymous, in ordinary conversation, with "the other person appears to be in error."

These two expressions mean very different things. Notice that I am claiming that you are in error, but not saying, figuratively or literally, that I cannot understand how you could possibly think that.

Non-literalness is a get-out-of-your-words-free card when the words are normally used in conversation, by English speakers in general, to mean something non-literal.

That is not how figurative language works. I could expand on that at length, but I don't think it's worth it at this point.

Comment author: Jiro 03 September 2014 01:05:34PM 0 points [-]

Notice that I am claiming that you are in error, but not saying, figuratively or literally, that I cannot understand how you could possibly think that.

"A is synonymous with B" doesn't mean "every time someone said B, they also said A". "You've made more mistakes than a zebra has stripes" is also synonymous with "you're in error" and you clearly didn't say that, either.

(Of course, "is synonymous with" means "makes the same assertion about the main topic", not "is identical in all ways".)

Comment author: Cyclismo 15 September 2014 04:11:18PM 0 points [-]

The art of condescension is subtle and nuanced. "I'm always fascinated by..." can be sincere or not--when it is not, it is a variation on, "It never ceases to amaze me how..." If you were across the table from me, Alejandro, I could tell by your eyes. Most FB posts, tweets, blog posts and comments on magazine and newspaper articles are as bad or worse than what is described here. Rants masquerading as comments. That's why I like this venue here at LessWrong. Commenters actually trying to get more clarity, trying to make sure they understand, trying to make it clear with sincerely constructive criticism that they believe a better argument could be stated. If only it could be spread around the web-o-spehre. Virally.

Comment author: B_For_Bandana 02 September 2014 01:25:28AM 43 points [-]

Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours.

Yogi Berra, on Timeless Decision Theory.

Comment author: timujin 02 September 2014 11:27:41AM *  8 points [-]

If only I cared about who goes to my funeral.

Comment author: seez 14 September 2014 01:33:40AM *  7 points [-]

A conversation between me and my 7-year-old cousin:

Her: "do you believe in God?"

Me: "I don't, do you?"

Her: "I used to but, then I never really saw any proof, like miracles or good people getting saved from mean people and stuff. But I do believe in the Tooth Fairy, because ever time I put a tooth under my pillow, I get money out in the morning."

Comment author: Zubon 03 September 2014 10:47:34PM 37 points [-]

Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.

-- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Comment author: Nornagest 03 September 2014 11:16:32PM *  7 points [-]

Neal Stephenson is good as a sci-fi writer, but I think he's almost as good as an ethnographer of nerds. Pretty much everything he writes has something like this in it, and most of it is spot-on.

On the other hand, he does occasionally succumb to a sort of mild geek-supremacist streak (best observed in Anathem, unless you're one of the six people besides me who were obsessed enough to read In The Beginning... Was The Command Line).

Comment author: VAuroch 05 September 2014 02:20:04AM *  7 points [-]

Of course I read In the Beginning was the Command Line. The supply of writing from witty bearded men talking to you about cool things isn't infinite, you know.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 September 2014 05:43:17PM *  2 points [-]

unless you're one of the six people besides me who were obsessed enough to read In The Beginning... Was The Command Line).

It's a well-known essay. It even has a Wikipedia article.

I just re-read, well, re-skimmed it. Ah, the nostalgia. It's very dated now. 15 years on, its prediction that proprietary operating systems would lose out to free software has completely failed to come true. Linux still ticks over, great for running servers and signalling hacker cred, but if it's so great, why isn't everyone using it? At most it's one of three major platforms: Windows, OSX, and Linux. Or two out of five if you add iOS and Android (which is based on Linux). OS domination by Linux is no closer, and although there's a billion people using Android devices, command lines are not part of their experience.

Stephenson wrote his essay (and I read it) before Apple switched to Unix in the form of OSX, but you can't really say that OSX is Unix plus a GUI, rather OSX is an operating system that includes a Unix interface. In other words, exactly what Stephenson asked for:

The ideal OS for me would be one that had a well-designed GUI that was easy to set up and use, but that included terminal windows where I could revert to the command line interface, and run GNU software, when it made sense. A few years ago, Be Inc. invented exactly that OS. It is called the BeOS.

BeOS failed, and OSX appeared three years after Stephenson's essay. I wonder what he thinks of them now—both OSX and In the Beginning.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 September 2014 06:35:32PM *  3 points [-]

you can't really say that OSX is Unix plus a GUI, rather OSX is an operating system that includes a Unix interface

That's is a debatable point :-)

UNIX can be defined in many ways -- historically (what did the codebase evolve from), philosophically, technically (monolithic kernel, etc.), practically (availability and free access to the usual toolchains), etc.

I don't like OSX and Apple in general because I really don't like walled gardens and Apple operates on the "my way or the highway" principle. I generally run Windows for Office, Photoshop, games, etc. and Linux, nowadays usually Ubuntu, for heavy lifting. I am also a big fan of VMs which make a lot of things very convenient and, in particular, free you from having to make the big choice of the OS.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 12 September 2014 05:40:17PM 2 points [-]

Apple operates on the "my way or the highway" principle

FYI: The 'you can't run this untrusted code' dialog is easy to get around.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2014 07:09:37PM 1 point [-]

I suspect I would be able to bludgeon OSX into submission but I don't see any reasons why I should bother. I don't have to work with Macs and am content not to.

Comment author: Nornagest 12 September 2014 06:13:00PM *  1 point [-]

Can't speak for Lumifer, but I was more annoyed by the fact that (the version I got of) OSX doesn't ship with a working developer toolchain, and that getting one requires either jumping through Apple's hoops and signing up for a paid developer account, or doing a lot of sketchy stuff to the guts of the OS. This on a POSIX-compliant system! Cygwin is less of a pain, and it's purely a bolt-on framework.

(ETA: This is probably an exaggeration or an unusual problem; see below.)

It was particularly frustrating in my case because of versioning issues, but those wouldn't have applied to most people. Or to me if I'd been prompt, which I hadn't.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 12 September 2014 09:29:03PM *  2 points [-]

You do not need to pay to get the developer tools. I have never paid for a compiler*, and I develop frequently.

*(other than LabView, which I didn't personally pay for but my labs did, and is definitely not part of XCode)

Comment author: Nornagest 12 September 2014 10:01:30PM *  1 point [-]

After some Googling, it seems that version problems may have been more central than I'd recalled. Xcode is free and includes command-line tools, but looking at it brings up vague memories of incompatibility with my OS at the time. The Apple developer website allows direct download of those tools but also requires a paid signup. And apparently trying to invoke gcc or the like from the command line should have brought up an update option, but that definitely didn't happen. Perhaps it wasn't an option in an OS build as old as mine, although it wouldn't have been older than 2009 or 2010. (I eventually just threw up my hands and installed an Ubuntu virt through Parallels.)

So, probably less severe than I'd thought, but the basic problem remains: violating Apple's assumptions is a bit like being a gazelle wending your way back to a familiar watering hole only to get splattered by a Hummer howling down the six-lane highway that's since been built in front of it.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 13 September 2014 10:53:25AM 1 point [-]

You can get it through the app store, which means you need an account with Apple, but you do not need to pay to get this account. It really is free.

I would note that violating any operating system's assumptions makes bad things happen.

Comment author: Nornagest 11 September 2014 06:17:06PM *  1 point [-]

It's a well-known essay. It even has a Wikipedia article.

Yeah, I bought a hard copy in a non-technical bookstore. "Six people" was a joke based on its, er, specialized audience compared to the lines of Snow Crash; in terms of absolute numbers it's probably less obscure than, say, Zodiac.

If memory serves, Stephenson came out in favor of OSX a couple years after its release, comparing it to BeOS in the context of his essay. I can't find the cite now, though. Speaking for myself, I find OSX's ability to transition more-or-less seamlessly between GUI and command-line modes appealing, but its walled developer garden unspeakably annoying.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 September 2014 07:54:57PM 1 point [-]

If memory serves, Stephenson came out in favor of OSX a couple years after its release

With some googling, I found this, a version of ITBWTCL annotated (by someone else) five years later, including a quote from Stephenson, saying that the essay "is now badly obsolete and probably needs a thorough revision". The quote is quoted in many places, but the only link I turned up for it on his own website was dead (not on the Wayback Machine either).

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 04 September 2014 05:44:37AM 6 points [-]

On the other hand, he does occasionally succumb to a sort of mild geek-supremacist streak

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 September 2014 06:45:34PM 6 points [-]

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 10 September 2014 08:44:31PM 2 points [-]

I think everyone who belongs to a certain age group and runs Linux has read In the Beginning was the Command Line. And yes, that's me admitting to having read it, and kinda believed the arguments at one point.

Comment author: Azathoth123 13 September 2014 07:08:04PM 18 points [-]

What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought.

Steve Sailer

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 02 September 2014 12:17:19AM *  17 points [-]

"I mean, my lord Salvara, that your own expectations have been used against you. You have a keen sense for men of business, surely. You've grown your family fortune several times over in your brief time handling it. Therefore, a man who wished to snare you in some scheme could do nothing wiser than to act the consummate man of business. To deliberately manifest all your expectations. To show you exactly what you expected and desired to see."

"It seems to me that if I accept your argument," the don said slowly, "then the self-evident truth of any legitimate thing could be taken as grounds for its falseness. I say Lukas Fehrwight is a merchant of Emberlain because he shows the signs of being so; you say those same signs are what prove him counterfeit. I need more sensible evidence than this."

-- Scott Lynch, "The Lies of Locke Lamora", page 150.

Comment author: TheTerribleTrivium 02 September 2014 10:19:18AM *  5 points [-]

If I remember the book correctly, this part comes from a scene where Locke Lamora is attempting to pull a double con on the speaking character by both impersonating the merchant and a spy/internal security agent (Salvara) investigating the merchant. So while the don's character acts "rationally" here - he is doing so while being deceived because of his assumptions - showing the very same error again

Comment author: Mass_Driver 08 September 2014 09:37:47PM 12 points [-]

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

Steven Pinker, The New Republic 9/4/14

Comment author: shminux 12 September 2014 10:13:09PM 2 points [-]

The rest of the article is also well worth the read.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2014 05:13:53PM *  11 points [-]

It’s as if you went into a bathroom in a bar and saw a guy pissing on his shoes, and instead of thinking he has some problem with his aim, you suppose he has a positive utility for getting his shoes wet.

Andrew Gelman

Comment author: army1987 12 September 2014 09:59:17PM 2 points [-]

I would like this quote more if instead of “has a positive utility for getting” it said “wants to get”.

Comment author: asd 10 September 2014 04:03:05PM *  11 points [-]

When I visited Dieter Zeh and his group in Heidelberg in 1996, I was struck by how few accolades he’d gotten for his hugely important discovery of decoherence. Indeed, his curmudgeonly colleagues in the Heidelberg Physics Department had largely dismissed his work as too philosophical, even though their department was located on “Philosopher Street.” His group meetings had been moved to a church building, and I was astonished to learn that the only funding that he’d been able to get to write the first-ever book on decoherence came from the German Lutheran Church.

This really drove home to me that Hugh Everett was no exception: studying the foundations of physics isn’t a recipe for glamour and fame. It’s more like art: the best reason to do it is because you love it. Only a small minority of my physics colleagues choose to work on the really big questions, and when I meet them, I feel a real kinship. I imagine that a group of friends who’ve passed up on lucrative career options to become poets might feel a similar bond, knowing that they’re all in it not for the money but for the intellectual adventure.

-- Max Tegmark, Our Mathematical Universe, Chapter 8. The Level III Multiverse, "The Joys of Getting Scooped"

Comment author: dspeyer 01 September 2014 05:36:19PM 24 points [-]

Alex Jordan, a grad student at Stanford, came up with the idea of asking people to make moral judgments while he secretly tripped their disgust alarms. He stood at a pedestrian intersection on the Stanford campus and asked passersby to fill out a short survey. It asked people to make judgments about four controversial issues, such as marriage between first cousins, or a film studio’s decision to release a documentary with a director who had tricked some people into being interviewed. Alex stood right next to a trash can he had emptied. Before he recruited each subject, he put a new plastic liner into the metal can. Before half of the people walked up (and before they could see him), he sprayed the fart spray twice into the bag, which “perfumed” the whole intersection for a few minutes. Before other recruitments, he left the empty bag unsprayed. Sure enough, people made harsher judgments when they were breathing in foul air

-- The Righteous Mind Ch 3, Jonathan Haidt

I wonder if anyone who needs to make important judgments a lot makes an actual effort to maintain affective hygiene. It seems like a really good idea, but poor signalling.

Comment author: shminux 02 September 2014 04:31:59PM *  22 points [-]
Comment author: Zubon 03 September 2014 10:43:35PM 12 points [-]

"You sound awfully sure of yourself, Waterhouse! I wonder if you can get me to feel that same level of confidence."

Waterhouse frowns at the coffee mug. "Well, it's all math," he says. "If the math works, why then you should be sure of yourself. That's the whole point of math."

-- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 September 2014 01:55:26AM 5 points [-]

This quote seems to me like it touches a common fallacy: that making "confident" probability estimates (close to 0 or 1) is the same as being a "confident" person. In fact, they're ontologically distinct.

Comment author: soreff 06 September 2014 04:28:51AM 3 points [-]

Was the context one where Waterhouse was proving a conditional, "if axioms A, B, C, then theorem Z", or one where where he was trying to establish Z as a truth about the world, and therefore also had the burden of showing that axioms A, B, C were supported by experimental evidence?

Comment author: TeMPOraL 14 September 2014 01:53:53AM *  3 points [-]

-- Mother Gaia, I come on behalf of all humans to apologize for destroying nature (...). We never meant to kill nature.

-- You're not killing nature, you're killing yourself. That's what I mean by self-centered. You think that just because you can't live, then nothing can. You're fucking yourself over big time, and won't be missed.

From a surprisingly insightful comic commenting on the whole notion of "saving the planet".

Comment author: simplicio 17 September 2014 07:46:47PM 0 points [-]

This framing is marginally saner, but the weird panicky eschatology of pop-environmentalism is still present. Apparently the author thinks that using up too many resources, or perhaps global warming, currently represent human extinction level threats?

Comment author: Vulture 02 September 2014 04:26:30PM 11 points [-]

People who are often misunderstood: 6% geniuses; 94% garden-variety nonsense-spouters

-- David Malki !

Comment author: DanArmak 06 September 2014 11:06:44AM 10 points [-]

People who often misunderstand others: 6% of geniuses, 94% of garden-variety nonsense-spouters.

Comment author: Omegaile 04 September 2014 02:10:30AM 12 points [-]

I know that. People are so lame. Not me though. I am one of the genius ones.

Comment author: jaime2000 01 September 2014 12:30:35PM 14 points [-]

A Verb Called Self
I am the playing, but not the pause.
I am the effect, but not the cause.
I am the living, but not the cells.
I am the ringing, but not the bells.
I am the animal, but not the meat.
I am the walking, but not the feet.
I am the pattern, but not the clothes.
I am the smelling, but not the rose.
I am the waves, but not the sea
Whatever my substrate, my me is still me.
I am the sparks in the dark that exist as a dream -
I am the process, but not the machine.

~Jennifer Diane "Chatoyance" Reitz, Friendship Is Optimal: Caelum Est Conterrens

Comment author: Vulture 02 September 2014 05:01:20PM 4 points [-]

A couple of those (specifically lines 2, 5, and 11) should probably be "I'm" rather than "I am" to preserve the rhythm.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 September 2014 02:48:00PM *  14 points [-]

A heuristic shouldn't be the "least wrong" among all possible rules; it should be the least harmful if wrong.

Nassim N. Taleb

Comment author: Caue 02 September 2014 03:51:19PM 7 points [-]

Opportunity costs?

I would say it should be the one with best expected returns. But I guess Taleb thinks the possibility of a very bad black swan overrides everything else - or at least that's what I gathered from his recent crusade against GMOs.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 September 2014 03:40:41PM 9 points [-]

I would say it should be the one with best expected returns.

True, but not as easy to follow as Taleb's advice. In the extreme we could replace every piece of advice with "maximize your utility".

Comment author: Azathoth123 03 September 2014 02:31:53AM 5 points [-]

His point is that the upside is bounded much more than the downside.

Comment author: Caue 03 September 2014 03:03:13AM 7 points [-]

Yes, but my point is that this is also true for, say, leaving the house to have fun.

Comment author: Capla 06 September 2014 08:40:57PM 2 points [-]

This is not always true (as Taleb himself points out in The Black Swan): in investing the worst that can happen is you loss all of your principle, the best that can happen is unbounded.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 September 2014 03:50:14PM 4 points [-]

I would say it should be the one with best expected returns.

Not quite, as most people are risk-averse and care about the width about the distribution of the expected returns, not only about its mean.

Comment author: roystgnr 04 September 2014 01:45:58AM 4 points [-]

If you measure "returns" in utility (rather than dollars, root mean squared error, lives, whatever) then the definition of utility (and in particular the typical pattern of decreasing marginal utility) takes care of risk aversion. But since nobody measures returns in utility your advice is good.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 September 2014 02:20:22AM -3 points [-]

the definition of utility ... takes care of risk aversion

I am not sure about that. If you're risk-neutral in utility, you should be indifferent between two fair-coin bets: (1) heads 9 utils, tails 11 utils; (2) heads -90 utils, tails 110 utils. Are you?

Comment author: VAuroch 05 September 2014 02:37:19AM *  2 points [-]

Yes, I am, by definition, because the util rewards, being in utilons, must factor in everything I care about, including the potential regret.

Unless your bets don't cash out as

Bet 1: If the coins lands heads you will receive 9 utils, and if it lands tails you will receive 11 utils

and

Bet 2: If the coins lands heads you will receive -90 utils, and if it lands tails you will receive 110 utils.

If it means something else, then the precise wording could make the decision different.

Comment author: Lumifer 05 September 2014 03:16:49AM 1 point [-]

util rewards, being in utilons, must factor in everything I care about, including the potential regret.

It's not quite the potential regret that is the issue, it is the degree of uncertainty, aka risk.

Do you happen to have any links to a coherent theory of utilons?

Comment author: VAuroch 05 September 2014 07:37:02AM 4 points [-]

I'm pretty strongly cribbing off the end of So8res's MMEU rejection. Part of what I got from that chunk is that precisely quantifying utilons may be noncomputable, and even if not is currently intractable, but that doesn't matter. We know that we almost certainly will not and possibly cannot actually be offered a precise bet in utilons, but in principle that doesn't change the appropriate response, if we were to be offered one.

So there is definitely higher potential for regret with the second bet, since losing a bunch when I could otherwise have gained a bunch, and that would reduce my utility for that case, but for the statement 'you will receive -90 utilons' to be true, it would have to include the consideration of my regret. So I should not add additional compensation for the regret; it's factored into the problem statement.

Which boils down to me being unintuitively indifferent, with even the slight uncomfortable feeling of being indifferent when intuition says I shouldn't be factored into the calculations.

Comment author: Lumifer 05 September 2014 02:55:01PM 1 point [-]

We know that we almost certainly will not and possibly cannot actually be offered a precise bet in utilons

That makes it somewhat of a angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin issue, doesn't it?

I am not convinced that utilons automagically include everything -- it seems to me they wouldn't be consistent between different bets in that case (and, of course, each person has his own personal utilons which are not directly comparable to anyone else's).

Comment author: VAuroch 05 September 2014 07:55:20PM 4 points [-]

If utilons don't automagically include everything, I don't think they're a useful concept. The concept of a quantified reward which includes everything is useful because it removes room for debate; a quantified reward that included mostly everything doesn't have that property, and doesn't seem any more useful than denominating things in $.

That makes it somewhat of a angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin issue, doesn't it?

Maybe, but the point is to remove object-level concerns about the precise degree of merits of the rewards and put it in a situation where you are arguing purely about the abstract issue. It is a convenient way to say 'All things being equal, and ignoring all outside factors', encapsulated as a fictional substance.

Comment author: Salemicus 08 September 2014 11:41:38AM 7 points [-]

Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility.

Comment author: Caue 08 September 2014 03:44:01PM 4 points [-]

Ambivalent about this one.

I like the idea of rational argument as a sign of intellectual respect, but I don't like things that are so easy to use as fully general debate stoppers, especially when they have a built-in status element.

Comment author: Salemicus 09 September 2014 07:11:20AM 2 points [-]

But note that Elinor doesn't use it as a debate stopper, or to put down or belittle Ferrers. She simply chooses not to engage with his arguments, and agrees with him.

Comment author: Caue 09 September 2014 05:50:59PM 4 points [-]

(I haven't read the book)

The way I usually come in contact with something like this is afterwards, when Elinor and her tribe are talking about those irrational greens, and how it's better to not even engage with them. They're just dumb/evil, you know, not like us.

Even without that part, this avoids opportunities for clearing up misunderstandings.

(anecdotally: some time ago a friend was telling me about discussions that are "just not worth having", and gave as an example "that time when we were talking about abortion and you said that X, I knew there was just no point in going any further". Turns out she had misunderstood me completely, and I actually had meant Y, with which she agrees. Glad we could clear that out - more than a year later, completely by accident. Which makes me wonder how many more of those misunderstandings are out there)

Comment author: Lumifer 08 September 2014 03:57:41PM -1 points [-]

I see the point, but on the other hand it leads to "Lie back and think of England" situations...

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 12 September 2014 05:34:34PM *  2 points [-]

Somehow I doubt that this argument is meant to be limitless in strength. It's more of a 'don't feed the trolls' guidance.

Comment author: Salemicus 15 September 2014 04:38:20PM 1 point [-]

Exactly.

Ferrers is arguing - at great length! - that there is just as much space in a small cottage as in a much larger house. He is plainly ridiculous. Elinor sees that there is no point trying to correct him or engage someone so foolish in reasonable conversation, but she is far too well-bred to mock or insult him. So she does the correct thing in this situation, and agrees with his nonsense until it blows over.

She's certainly not going to take his advice, and knock down a stately home to build a cottage.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 01 September 2014 11:57:26PM *  8 points [-]

I feel it myself, the glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it’s there in your hands. To release the energy that fuels the stars. To let it do your bidding. And to perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky, it is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is in some ways responsible for all our troubles... this is what you might call ‘technical arrogance’ that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.

-- Freeman Dyson

Comment author: Mizue 05 September 2014 06:42:20PM 9 points [-]

Airplanes may not work on fusion or weigh millions of tons, but still, substituting a few words in I could say similar things about airplanes. Or electrical grids. Or smallpox vaccination. But nobody does.

Hypothesis: he has an emotional reaction to the way nuclear weapons are used--he thinks that is arrogant--and he's letting those emotions bleed into his reaction to nuclear weapons themselves.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 September 2014 09:39:00PM 4 points [-]

Airplanes may not work on fusion or weigh millions of tons, but still, substituting a few words in I could say similar things about airplanes. Or electrical grids. Or smallpox vaccination. But nobody does.

Are you sure? I looked for just a bit and found

There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.

http://inventors.about.com/od/wstartinventors/a/Quotes-Wright-Brothers.htm

I imagine if inventors have bombastic things to say about the things they invent, then frequently keep those thoughts to oneself to avoid sounding arrogant (e.g. I don't think it would have gone over well if Edison had started referring to himself as "Edison, the man who lit the world of the night").

Comment author: Mizue 06 September 2014 02:49:34AM *  4 points [-]

I meant that nobody accuses people awed by airplanes of being arrogant; I didn't mean that nobody is awed by airplanes.

(BTW, I wouldn't be surprised if Edison did say something similar; he was notorious for self-promotion.)

Comment author: Jack_LaSota 07 September 2014 05:01:06PM *  7 points [-]

Katara: Do you think we'll really find airbenders?

Sokka: You want me to be like you, or totally honest?

Katara: Are you saying I'm a liar?

Sokka: I'm saying you're an optimist. Same thing, basically.

-Avatar: The Last Airbender

Comment author: James_Miller 07 September 2014 02:37:41PM *  7 points [-]

A lot of people believe fruit juices to be healthy. They must be… because they come from fruit, right? But a lot of the fruit juice you find in the supermarket isn’t really fruit juice. Sometimes there isn’t even any actual fruit in there, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you’re drinking is basically just fruit-flavored sugar water. That being said, even if you’re drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it is still a bad idea. Fruit juice is like fruit, except with all the good stuff (like the fiber) taken out… the main thing left of the actual fruit is the sugar. If you didn’t know, fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage

Kris Gunnars, Business Insider

Comment author: army1987 07 September 2014 08:10:50PM *  7 points [-]

Mostly correct, but only very loosely related to rationality.

all the good stuff (like the fiber) taken out

Vitamins also are good stuff but they aren't taken out (or when they are they usually are put back in, AFAIK).

Comment author: Jiro 08 September 2014 07:22:21PM 4 points [-]

A search brings up http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.30 .

This seems to contradict the claim that "Sometimes there isn’t even any actual fruit in there, just chemicals that taste like fruit," since it would have to say "contains less than 1% juice" or not be described as juice at all.

Comment author: negamuhia 14 September 2014 10:10:35PM *  3 points [-]

It’s tempting to think of technical audiences and general audiences as completely different, but I think that no matter who you’re talking to, the principles of explaining things clearly are the same. The only real difference is which things you can assume they already know, and in that sense, the difference between physicists and the general public isn’t necessarily more significant than the difference between physicists and biologists, or biologists and geologists.

Reminds me of Expecting Short Inferential Distances.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 14 September 2014 10:28:50AM *  3 points [-]

If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame. If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety (could be translated as 'rites'), they will have the sense of the shame, and moreover will become good.

In the Great Learning (大學) by Confucius, translated by James Legge

Interestingly I found this in a piece about cancer treatment. An possibly underused well-application of Fluid Analogies.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 September 2014 01:50:02AM 6 points [-]

Dreams demonstrate that our brains (and even rat brains) are capable of creating complex, immersive, fully convincing simulations. Waking life is also a kind of dream. Our consciousness exists, and is shown particular aspects of reality. We see what we see for adaptive reasons, not because it is the truth. Nerds are the ones who notice that something is off - and want to see what's really going on.

The View from Hell from an article recommended by asd.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 06 September 2014 07:08:03PM 9 points [-]

The easy way to make a convincing simulation is to disable the inner critic.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 09 September 2014 05:00:29AM 1 point [-]

The inner critic that is disabled during regular dreaming turns back on during lucid dreaming. People who have them seem to be quite impressed by lucid dreams.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 09 September 2014 10:17:34AM 1 point [-]

You still can't focus on stable details.

Comment author: chaosmage 12 September 2014 09:12:44AM 2 points [-]

You can with training. It is a lot like training visualization: In the beginning, the easiest things to visualize are complex moving shapes (say a tree with wind going through it), but if you try for a couple of hours, you can get all the way down to simple geometric shapes.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 September 2014 08:03:01AM 8 points [-]

We see what we see for adaptive reasons, not because it is the truth.

Contrast:

Nature cannot be fooled.

-- Feynman

One might even FTFY the first quote as:

"We see what we see for adaptive reasons, because it is the truth."

This part:

Nerds are the ones who notice that something is off - and want to see what's really going on.

is contradicted by the context of the whole article. The article is in praise of insight porn (the writer's own words for it) as the cognitive experience of choice for nerds (the writer's word for them, in whom he includes himself and for whom he is writing) while explicitly considering its actual truth to be of little importance. He praises the experience of reading Julian Jaynes and in the same breath dismisses Jaynes' actual claims as "batshit insane and obviously wrong".

In other words, "Nerds ... want to see what's really going on" is, like the whole article, a statement of insight porn, uttered for the feeling of truthy insight it gives, "not because it is the truth".

How useful is this to someone who actually wants "to see what's really going on"?

Comment author: Username 06 September 2014 06:13:16PM 4 points [-]

I downvoted this and another comment further up for not being about anything but nerd pandering, which I feel is just ego-boosting noise. Not the type of content I want to see on here.

Comment author: therufs 06 September 2014 07:29:22PM 1 point [-]

I think the comment in this thread would have been equally relevant and possibly better without the last sentence, but don't see how the Cryptonomicon quote (which I assume to be the one you meant?) as nerd-pandering, since it doesn't imply value judgments from it about being or identifying as a nerd.

Comment author: Username 07 September 2014 03:55:50AM *  1 point [-]

The Cryptonomicron quote was great, I was talking about its child comment.

Comment author: James_Miller 06 September 2014 06:31:11PM 1 point [-]

Well, if you think the quote doesn't say significantly more than "nerds are great" you are right to downvote it.

Comment author: Ixiel 10 September 2014 10:40:28PM 1 point [-]

That or the extent of the human capacity for pareidolia on waking.

Comment author: Azathoth123 15 September 2014 12:08:09AM 5 points [-]

You know how people are always telling you that history is actually really interesting if you don’t worry about trivia like dates? Well, that’s not history, that’s just propaganda. History is dates. If you don’t know the date when something happened, you can’t provide the single most obvious reality check on your theory of causation: if you claim that X caused Y, the minimum you need to know is that X came before Y, not afterwards.

Steve Sailer

Comment author: jaime2000 15 September 2014 05:57:20AM *  4 points [-]

Agree with the general point, though I think people complaining about dates in history are referring to the kind of history that is "taught" in schools, in which you have to e.g. memorize that the Boston Massacre happened on March 5, 1770 to get the right answer on the test. You don't need that level of precision to form a working mental model of history.

Comment author: Nornagest 15 September 2014 06:56:37AM *  4 points [-]

You do need to know dates at close to that granularity if you're trying to build a detailed model of an event like a war or revolution. Knowing that the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Hong Kong both happened in 1941 tells you something; knowing that the former happened on 7 December 1941 and the latter started on 8 December tells you quite a bit more.

On the other hand, the details of wars and revolutions are probably the least useful part of history as a discipline. Motivations, schools of thought, technology, and the details of everyday life in a period will all get you further, unless you're specifically studying military strategy, and relatively few of us are.

Comment author: private_messaging 15 September 2014 07:04:10AM *  1 point [-]

A particularly stark example may be the exact dates of bombing of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and official surrender. Helps deal with theories such as "they had to drop a bomb on Nagasaki because Japan didn't surrender".

Comment author: Mark_Friedenbach 15 September 2014 03:57:16PM 2 points [-]

Be careful. That sounds reasonable until you also learn that the Japanese war leadership didn't even debate Hiroshima or Nagasaki for more than a brief status update after they happened, yet talk of surrender and the actual declaration immediately folowed declaration of war by the Soviets and landing of troops in Mancheria and the Sakhalin islands. Japan, it seems, wanted to avoid the German post-war fate of a divided people.

The general problem with causation in history is that you often don't know what you don't know. (It's a tangential point, I know.)

Comment author: Nornagest 15 September 2014 09:17:07PM *  2 points [-]

I'm not necessarily saying this is wrong, but I don't think it can be shown to be significantly more accurate than the "bomb ended the war" theory by looking at dates alone. The Soviet declaration of war happened on 8 August, two days after Hiroshima. Their invasion of Manchuria started on 9 August, hours before the Nagasaki bomb was dropped, and most sources say that the upper echelons of the Japanese government decided to surrender within a day of those events. However, their surrender wasn't broadcast until 15 August, and by then the Soviets had opened several more fronts. (That is, that's when Emperor Hirohito publicized his acceptance of the Allies' surrender terms. It wasn't formalized until 2 September, after Allied occupation had begun.)

Dates aside, though, it's fascinating to read about the exact role the Soviets played in the end of the Pacific War. Stalin seems to have gotten away with some spectacularly Machiavellian moves.

Comment author: Mark_Friedenbach 15 September 2014 09:53:38PM 3 points [-]

That was my point. It can be shown to be significantly more accurate, but not by looking at the dates alone.

Comment author: soreff 15 September 2014 12:44:11AM 1 point [-]

Or that the interval between X and Y is spacelike, and neither is in the other's forward light cone... :)

Comment author: shminux 15 September 2014 11:52:02PM 3 points [-]

Some day the light speed delay might become an issue in historical investigations, but not quite yet :) Even then in the statement "if you claim that X caused Y, the minimum you need to know is that X came before Y, not afterwards" the term "before" implies that one event is in the causal future of the other.

Comment author: CCC 16 September 2014 09:02:47AM 1 point [-]

This tells me that the order of events is important, and not the actual dates themselves. It is true that, if I want to claim that X caused Y, I need to know that X happened before Y; but it does not make any difference whether they both happened in 1752 or 1923.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 September 2014 03:01:22PM 6 points [-]

Dates are a very convenient way of specifying the temporal order of many different events.

Comment author: Azathoth123 17 September 2014 02:18:34AM 2 points [-]

The time between them also matters. If X happened a year before Y it is more plausible that X caused Y then if X happened a century before Y.

Comment author: elharo 17 September 2014 12:21:24PM 0 points [-]

It's not just the order but the distance that matters. If you want to say that X caused Y, but X happened a thousand years before Y, chances are that you're at the very least ignoring a lot of additional causes.

In the end, I think, dates are important. It's only the arbitrary positioning of a starting date (e.g. Christian vs. Jewish vs. Chinese calendar) that genuinely doesn't matter; but even that much is useful for us to talk about historical events. I.e. it doesn't really matter where we put year 0, but it matters that we agree to put it somewhere. (Ideally we would have put it somewhat further back in time, maybe nearer the beginning of recorded history, so we didn't have to routinely do BCE/CE conversions in our heads, but that ship has sailed.)

Comment author: Torello 01 September 2014 07:06:59PM 4 points [-]

Perceiving magic is precisely the same thing as perceiving the limits of your own understanding.

-Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future?, (e-reader does not provide page number)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 September 2014 12:00:46AM 9 points [-]

That doesn't seem quite true... if I'm confused while reading a textbook, I may be perceiving the limits of my understanding but not perceiving magic.

Comment author: soreff 06 September 2014 05:07:45AM 4 points [-]

Agreed. I think what Lanier should have said that a perception of magic is a subset of things one doesn't understand, rather than claiming that they are equal. Bugs that I am currently hunting but haven't nailed down are things I don't understand, but they certainly don't seem magical.

Comment author: Azathoth123 08 September 2014 03:10:21AM 5 points [-]

Bugs that I am currently hunting but haven't nailed down are things I don't understand, but they certainly don't seem magical.

At least you hope not.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 06 September 2014 01:54:37AM 2 points [-]

You could also be perceiving something way way past the limits of your own understanding, or alternately perceiving something which would be well within the limits of your understanding if you were looking at it from a different angle

Comment author: Misovlogos 02 September 2014 02:43:38PM *  2 points [-]

The percept of magic, given its possible hallucination or implantation, is not necessarily an instance of limited understanding; certainly not in the relevant sense here, at least.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 September 2014 08:42:52AM 2 points [-]

Penny Arcade takes on the question of the economic value of a sacred thing. Script:

Gabe: Can you believe Notch is gonna sell Minecraft to MS?

Tycho: Yes! I can!

Gabe: Minecraft is, like, his baby though!

Tycho: I would sell an actual baby for two billion dollars.

Tycho: I would sell my baby to the Devil. Then, I would enter my Golden Sarcophagus and begin the ritual.

Comment author: shminux 12 September 2014 05:44:52PM 0 points [-]

In 2014, marriage is still the best economic arrangement for raising a family, but in most other senses it is like adding shit mustard to a shit sandwich. If an alien came to earth and wanted to find a way to make two people that love each other change their minds, I think he would make them live in the same house and have to coordinate every minute of their lives.

Scott Adams

Comment author: CoffeeStain 12 September 2014 11:38:23PM 4 points [-]

Living in the same house and coordinating lives isn't a method for ensuring that people stay in love; being able to is proof that they are already in love. An added social construct is a perfectly reasonable option to make it harder to change your mind.

Comment author: shminux 13 September 2014 12:28:35AM 2 points [-]

The point of the quote is that it tends to make it harder to stay in love. Which is the opposite of what people want when they get married.

Comment author: Azathoth123 13 September 2014 06:40:26PM 3 points [-]

That's because modern marriage is different from how it traditionally worked:

Marriage: Originally, within the lives of older married people, an irrevocable commitment to live together and raise the resulting children. Now the point of marriage is divorce, the legal authority of the wife over a husband on pain of confiscation of his assets and income. Some people attempt to use Church and social pressure to enforce old type marriage, but hard to find an old type church.

Comment author: simplicio 12 September 2014 06:28:43PM 2 points [-]

What if he wanted to make them stay in love?

Comment author: shminux 12 September 2014 07:31:59PM 1 point [-]

Then he would let them work out a custom solution free of societal expectations, I suspect. Besides, an average romantic relationship rarely survives more than a few years, unless both parties put a lot of effort into "making it work", and there is no reason beyond prevailing social mores (and economic benefits, of course) to make it last longer than it otherwise would.

Comment author: simplicio 12 September 2014 07:56:40PM 4 points [-]

Just to clarify, you figure the optimal relationship pattern (in the absence of societal expectations, economic benefits, and I guess childrearing) is serial monogamy? (Maybe the monogamy is assuming too much as well?)

Comment author: shminux 12 September 2014 08:59:45PM 2 points [-]

Certainly serial monogamy works for many people, since this is the current default outside marriage. I would not call it "optimal", it seems more like a decent compromise, and it certainly does not work for everyone. My suspicion is that those happy in a life-long exclusive relationship are a minority, as are polyamorists and such.

I expect domestic partnerships to slowly diverge from the legal and traditional definition of marriage. It does not have to be about just two people, about sex, or about child raising. If 3 single moms decide to live together until their kids grow up, or 5 college students share a house for the duration of their studies, they should be able to draw up a domestic partnership contract which qualifies them for the same assistance, tax breaks and next-of-kin rights married couples get. Of course, this is a long way away still.

Comment author: simplicio 17 September 2014 07:38:59PM *  1 point [-]

To my mind, the giving of tax breaks etc. to married folks occurs because (rightly or wrongly) politicians have wanted to encourage marriage.

I agree that in principle there is nothing wrong with 3 single moms or 5 college students forming some sort of domestic partnership contract, but why give them the tax breaks? Do college kids living with each other instead of separately create some sort of social benefit that "we" the people might want to encourage? Why not just treat this like any other contract?

Apart from this, I think the social aspect of marriage is being neglected. Marriage for most people is not primarily about joint tax filing, but rather about publicly making a commitment to each other, and to their community, to follow certain norms in their relationship (e.g., monogamy; the specific norms vary by community). This is necessary because the community "thinks" pair bonding and childrearing are important/sacred/weighty things. In other words, "married" is a sort of honorific.

Needless to say, society does not think 5 college students sharing a house is an important/sacred/weighty thing that needs to be honoured.

This thick layer of social expectations is totally absent for the kind of arm's-length domestic partnership contract you propose, which makes me wonder why anybody would either want to call it marriage or frame it as being an alternative to marriage.

Comment author: Lumifer 17 September 2014 08:29:27PM *  1 point [-]

which makes me wonder why anybody would either want to call it marriage

I could make exactly the same argument about divorce-able marriage and wonder why would anyone call this get-out-whenever-you-want-to arrangement "marriage" :-D

The point is, the "thick layer of social expectations" is not immutable.

Comment author: simplicio 17 September 2014 08:50:24PM 1 point [-]

If traditional marriage is a sparrow, then marriage with no-fault divorce is a penguin, and 5 college kids sharing a house is a centipede. Type specimen, non-type specimen, wrong category.

Social expectations are mutable, yes - what of it? Do you think it's desirable or inevitable that marriage just become a fancy historical legal term for income splitting on one's tax return? Do you think sharing a house in college is going to be, or ought to be, hallowed and encouraged?

Comment author: therufs 17 September 2014 09:05:45PM 0 points [-]

why anybody would either want to call it marriage

I don't think anyone suggested that?

or frame it as being an alternative to marriage.

Some marriages are of convenience, and the honorific sense doesn't apply as well to people who don't fit the romantic ideal of marriage.

Comment author: Lumifer 12 September 2014 08:17:52PM 1 point [-]

I recommend reading the whole Scott Adams post from which the quote came. The quote makes little sense standing by itself, it makes more sense within its context.

Comment author: bramflakes 12 September 2014 06:33:41PM *  3 points [-]

The idea that marriage is purely about love is a recent one.

Adams' lifestyle might work for a certain kind of wealthy high IQ rootless cosmopolitan but not for the other 95% of the world.

Comment author: shminux 12 September 2014 07:26:59PM 1 point [-]

If this is a criticism, it's wide off the mark.

Note his disclaimer about "the best economic arrangement". And he certainly speaks about the US only.

Comment author: bramflakes 12 September 2014 07:35:30PM *  1 point [-]

And it speaks volumes that he views it as an "economic arrangement", like he's channeling Bryan Caplan.

Comment author: elharo 14 September 2014 11:00:34AM 2 points [-]

True or false, I'm trying but I really can't see how this is a rationality quote. It is simply a pithy and marginally funny statement about one topic.

I think it's time to add one new rule to the list, right at the top:

  • All quotes should be on the subject of rationality, that is how we develop correct models of the world. Quotes should not be mere statements of fact or opinion, no matter how true, interesting, funny, or topical they may be. Quotes should teach people how to think, not what to believe.

Can anyone say that in fewer words?

Comment author: shminux 14 September 2014 05:54:35PM -2 points [-]

I really can't see how this is a rationality quote.

This is how:

  • it exposes the common fallacy that people who love each other should get married to make their relationship last
  • it uses the standard sunk-cost trap avoidance technique to make this fallacy evident

The rest of the logic in the link I gave is even more interesting (and "rational").

It is simply a pithy and marginally funny statement about one topic.

Making one's point in a memorable way is a rationality technique.

As for your rule, it appears to me so subjective as to be completely useless. For one where one sees "what to believe" another sees "how to think".

Comment author: elharo 15 September 2014 11:24:31AM 1 point [-]

Assume for the sake of argument, the statement is correct.

This quote does not expose a fallacy, that is an error in reasoning. There is nothing in this quote to indicate the rationality shortcoming that causes people to believe the incorrect statement. Rather this exposes an error of fact. The rationality question is why do people come to believe errors of fact and how we can avoid that.

You may be reading the sunk cost fallacy into this quote, or it may be in an unquoted part of the original article, but I don't see it here. If the rest of the article better elucidates rationality techniques that led Adams to come to this conclusion, then likely the wrong extract from the article was selected to quote.

Making one's point in a memorable (including humorous) way may be an instrumental rationality technique. That is, it helps to convince other people of your beliefs. However in my experience it is a very bad epistemic rationality technique. In particular it tends to overweight the opinions of people like Adams who are very talented at being funny, while underweighting the opinions of genuine experts in a field, who are somewhat dry and not nearly as amusing.

Comment author: Azathoth123 17 September 2014 05:12:38AM 1 point [-]

Most try to take a fixed time window (say one day, one week, etc.) and try to predict events.

To predict, find events that have certain occurrence but uncertain timing (say, the fragile will break) rather than certain timing but uncertain occurence.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: lmm 16 September 2014 11:02:51PM 0 points [-]

"... Is it wrong to hold on to that kind of hope?"

[having poisoned her] "I have not come for what you hoped to do. I've come for what you did."

  • V for Vendetta (movie).
Comment author: Azathoth123 17 September 2014 05:15:33AM 0 points [-]

Given that you've said in another thread that you consider "blame" an incoherent concept, I don't understand what you think this quote means.

Comment author: lmm 17 September 2014 06:19:46AM 0 points [-]

That people will judge your morality by your actions without regard to your intentions. I don't claim that V is particularly rational, but he embodies (exaggerated versions of) traits that real people have. Our moral decisions have consequences in how we are treated.