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Rationality Quotes Thread June 2015

7 Post author: Gondolinian 31 May 2015 02:12AM

Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.
  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.

Comments (127)

Comment author: dspeyer 01 June 2015 06:26:33AM 23 points [-]

As a general rule, 90% of the execution time of your program will be spent in 10% of its code. Profilers are tools that help you identify the 10% of hot spots that constrain the speed of your program. This is a good thing for making it faster.

But in the Unix tradition, profilers have a far more important function. They enable you not to optimize the other 90%! This is good, and not just because it saves you work. The really valuable effect is that not optimizing that 90% holds down global complexity and reduces bugs.

-- Eric Raymond, The Art of Unix Programming

(Applies to optimization in general)

Comment author: satt 01 June 2015 12:25:33AM 18 points [-]

If, like the truth, falsehood had only one face, we should know better where we are, for we should then take the opposite of what a liar said to be the truth. But the opposite of a truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field.

— Montaigne, "On Liars"

Comment author: Lumifer 02 June 2015 05:32:51PM 18 points [-]

I am the victim of a perversely designed set of incentives
You game the system
He is a crook.

-- Daniel of CrookedTimber

The whole post from which the quote is taken is quite interesting as well.

Comment author: Lumifer 18 June 2015 03:16:35PM 6 points [-]

While I’m impressed by an explanation that’s as flexible as a circus contortionist, I’d prefer something that isn’t consistent with any possible state of the universe. I’m no Popperian, but I like my theories to be at least a little bit falsifiable.

Scott Sumner

Comment author: 27chaos 18 June 2015 06:02:12PM 0 points [-]

I have a hard time telling theories which are bad ones due to inappropriately flexibility apart from theories which are good ones but work in conditions with incomplete data or necessarily limited assumptions etc. Are there any good formalized notions of flexibility that do work distinguishing these?

Comment author: Lumifer 18 June 2015 06:11:09PM 2 points [-]

There are formalized notions of flexibility for models which generally use concepts like "degrees of freedom". However they are limited in that they don't take account of the "hidden flexibility" stemming from things like the garden of the forking paths or the filedrawer bias.

Theories have additional issues -- like not being sufficiently well formalized.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 12 June 2015 01:57:19AM *  13 points [-]

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I call it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.) Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know. That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

“Why Speculate?” by Michael Crichton

Comment author: satt 13 June 2015 04:55:25PM 6 points [-]

Which is why it's so frightening
Buyin' papers in the morning
Fearing the next Mike Skinner scoop
'Cause I used to believe what I read
So now I know that others
Will believe that it's true

Mike Skinner, "When You Wasn't Famous"

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 05:17:22AM *  0 points [-]

This is interesting. But perhaps some professions or some subsets of them are really better understood by the general public and journalists than others.

For example in software, a lot of people seem to have a good basic idea about what a web browser is how game development looks like. However it is really funny that if you work with ERP/business software like SAP, Oracle Financials or Navision, you find that nobody outside the fairly narrow profession has any clue. Articles are full of empty platitudes like "XY implements best-practice business processs and provides transparency" and it is very clear that this all simply means absolutely no idea about what it actually does, or how, or even what it is for. Meanwhile, a huge number of people know that game development is usually about artists making 3D objects and textures, an inner core of real programmers making a 3D engine and an outer circle of less-real-programmers-but-know-more-about-fun type of people writing scripts to script the behavior of the 3D objects in the engine. At least this is what the common knowledge seems to be and IMHO fairly accurate.

Comment author: Zubon 30 June 2015 02:46:15AM 1 point [-]

It's accurate but not very precise, in the same way that the story about how there are wet streets and rain is true but misses the inner connections. Many people fail to get the distinctions between programmers, artists, and designers, because they want designers to fix bugs, just shift staff to design, etc. And testers are nowhere in that simplified model. So people have enough of an idea to get the wrong idea.

Many game developers have a shaky idea of how game development works once the team is larger than can work in one room. That becomes project management, and if you ever want to to see the planning fallacy in all its glory, follow game development and the timelines of when things will be ready. Showing off my own availability bias, the first example that comes to mind is this game, which was "two months from beta" three years ago and has yet to release. Heck, last week's big story in game development was the PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight, a major release that had to be taken off the market and is now labeled as available this fall. They had to revise the release date after releasing.

Comment author: LawrenceC 02 June 2015 03:18:52PM *  11 points [-]

"Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a different reason: it gives them something to do."

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, on the topic of mysterious answers to mysterious questions.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 01 June 2015 03:51:40PM 8 points [-]

It is easier to imagine the rest of the universe being just as it is if a patient took pill A rather than pill B than it is trying to imagine what else in the universe would have had to be different if the temperature yesterday had been 30 degrees rather than 40. It may be the case that human actions, seem sufficiently free that we have an easier time imagining only one specific action being different, and nothing else.

  • (T. Vanderweele, “Explanation in causal Inference” p. 453-455) – Quoted in J. Pearl, Blog post “Causation without Manipulation”
Comment author: 27chaos 03 June 2015 08:06:01PM 1 point [-]

I recognize the idea of the quote, but am wondering how true it really is, and why this would be so. If the pill counterfactual seems easier than the weather counterfactual, is this due to something fundamentally important about complexity or is it just an illusion?

I ask this because when I try to think about the details of each scenario, the pill example ceases to seem comparatively simple. Asking questions like "how does pill A get to pill B's location?" presents to me as many difficulties as asking "how did that heat get to that location"? So maybe the difference lies in the fact that we tend to not look at details when evaluating counterfactuals relevant to human decisions?

Comment author: Davidmanheim 03 June 2015 08:32:33PM 1 point [-]

I think it does have to do with both complexity and recognition of complexity - I suspect that the book goes into much more detail, but it's expensive, so I don't have it.

Comment author: ike 14 June 2015 02:41:22PM *  7 points [-]

If the BBC, the UN, and specialists cannot agree on what the word means, neither can politicians or the police. Does it make sense to soldier on fighting a semantic battle that will never be won? Why argue for a word that everyone agrees in confusing and some find loaded?

Daniel Pipes, I Give Up: There Is No Terrorism, There Are No Terrorists

(Noteworthy for changing their opinion after decades of holding the opposite view)

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 15 June 2015 11:36:13PM 1 point [-]

Why argue for a word that everyone agrees in confusing and some find loaded?

Because a lot of the people involved object to the semantics of the word not the word itself. And they will fight just as hard against any other word that seeks to point to that cluster in thingspace.

Comment author: ike 16 June 2015 12:45:11PM 0 points [-]

And they will fight just as hard against any other word that seeks to point to that cluster in thingspace.

The point is that there is no cluster in thingspace referred to by the word; the fact that there are so many diverging definitions shows that.

If he switches to another word or words that don't have basic definitional debates, then while people can object to his implications of using the word, they can't misinterpret or be confused over what is meant.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 June 2015 02:33:15PM 2 points [-]

The point is that there is no cluster in thingspace referred to by the word

This is debatable. I believe there is -- it's just that the word is so convenient for propaganda, it is routinely hijacked.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 17 June 2015 04:10:47AM *  0 points [-]

It's not just that. For a lot of people it's convenient to apply the connotations of "terrorist" to everything besides actual terrorists, e.g., the AP is perfectly willing to call the UKIP or Tea Party "terrorists" while refusing to call groups like Hamas terrorist.

This is similar to the way the US government has declared war on poverty/drugs/cancer, while calling actual wars "kinetic actions".

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 June 2015 05:48:37PM *  3 points [-]

the AP is perfectly willing to call the UKIP or Tea Party "terrorists"

Could you link to an article in which the AP calls the Tea Party "terrorists"?

while refusing to call groups like Hamas terrorist.

The term terrorist is often used to describe nonstate actors. Hamas is govern and that makes it a state actor.

That's basically the same justification of why the CIA employee who isn't a military solider isn't a terrorist when he bombs rescuers against the laws of war with a drone.

Comment author: Salemicus 01 June 2015 01:02:16PM *  7 points [-]

When unsavvy observers see a nonprofit organization with dozens of people on its board, they think: “Look how many great people are committed to this organization! It must be extremely well run.” Actually, a huge board will exercise no effective oversight at all; it merely provides cover for whatever microdictator actually runs the organization.

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment author: dspeyer 01 June 2015 06:20:58AM 7 points [-]

You are probably not cynical enough if you think you could beat seven billion people at cynicism.

--Alicorn? (I'm not sure exactly how authorship of these pages works)

Comment author: Alicorn 01 June 2015 06:57:57AM 4 points [-]

Yes, that line was mine. I'm flattered :)

Comment author: 27chaos 20 June 2015 11:12:38PM 5 points [-]

Perhaps the most important message to have emerged from these studies on instabilities is that we do not necessarily have a complete understanding of a system once we know the equations that govern it; what we really want to know are the particular solutions to those equations. The latter need not be obvious from the former. This cannot be emphasized too strongly in any branch of science. The American physicist Freeman Dyson has pointed out that for Albert Einstein and J.Robert Oppenheimer in their later years, 'to discover the right equations was all that mattered.' One might say the same about some physicists working today to develop a 'theory of everything'. But if you take this view, then fluid dynamics was all sewn up once we could write down the Navier-Stokes equation. Yet if we had stopped there, we'd never have guessed at the rich variety of solutions that it held in store even for relatively simple experimental set-ups (take a look again at Fig. 7.38, for instance). Sometimes even knowing the solutions is not enough—: only through experiments can one interpret what they are telling us.

Phillip Ball, The Self Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature p. 260

Emphasis mine.

Comment author: Epictetus 21 June 2015 02:34:28AM 4 points [-]

A single example of extravagance or greed does a lot of harm--an intimate who leads a pampered life gradually makes one soft and flabby; a wealthy neighbor provokes cravings in one; a companion with a malicious nature tends to rub off some of his rust even on someone of an innocent and open-hearted nature--what then do you imagine the effect on a person's character is when the assault comes from the world at large? You must inevitably either hate or imitate the world. But the right thing is to shun both courses: you should neither become like the bad because they are many, nor be an enemy of the many because they are unlike you. Retire into yourself as much as you can. Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those whom you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.

--Seneca, Letter VII

Comment author: Manfred 02 June 2015 07:10:37PM *  2 points [-]

Before the modern triumph of the definition of "subjective probability" associated with de Finetti (c. 1937), there were a multitude of attempts to formalize this vague concept. Here's John Maynard Keynes, from A Treatise on Probability (1921):

Probability is relative in a sense to the principles of human reason. The degree of probability, which it is rational for us to entertain, does not presume perfect logical insight, and is relative in part to the secondary propositions which we in fact know; and it is not dependent upon whether more perfect logical insight is or is not conceivable. It is the degree of probability to which those logical processes lead, of which our minds are capable; or, in the language of Chapter II, which those secondary propositions justify, which we in fact know. If we do not take this view of probability, if we do not limit in this way and make it, to this extent, relative to human powers, we are altogether adrift in the unknown; for we cannot ever know what degree of probability would be justified by the perception of logical relations which we are, and must always be, in capable of comprehending.

Comment author: James_Miller 31 May 2015 03:20:23PM *  5 points [-]

SLAVER: What about the dwarf?

MALKO: Worthless. Cut his throat.

TYRION (The Dwarf): Wait, wait! Wait, wait, wait, let’s discuss this!

MALKO: And then chop off his cock. We can sell it for a fortune. A dwarf’s cock has magic powers.

TYRION: Wait, wait, wait, wait! You can’t just hand a dried cock to a merchant and expect him to pay for it. He has to know it came from a dwarf. And how could he know unless he sees the dwarf?

SLAVER: It will be a dwarf-sized cock.

TYRION: Guess again.

MALKO: The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant.

From Game of Thrones

This relates to rationality because TYRION, in a moment of great stress, finds a convincing argument whose premise must have been repugnant to himself, analogous to a green tribe member quickly locating an argument that he finds detestable but blues find convincing.

Comment author: advael 31 May 2015 09:09:08PM *  4 points [-]

It's less that he finds an argument whose premise is repugnant, and more that he realizes that he doesn't have a good angle of attack for convincing the slavers to not mutilate/kill him at all, but does have one for delaying doing so. I'd argue it's more of a "perfect is the enemy of the good" judgement on his part than a disagreeable argument (After all, Tyrion has gleefully made that clarification to several people before.)

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 31 May 2015 08:55:55PM *  1 point [-]

What would he find detestable about having a large cock?

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 05:20:07AM 1 point [-]

It is funny that in the books he repeatedly says to women that he has a normal sized penis.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 13 June 2015 05:08:06PM 3 points [-]

Things don't necessarily happen for a reason; but things survive for a reason.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Salemicus 01 June 2015 01:01:27PM 3 points [-]

When Baby Boomers grow up and write books to explain why one or another individual is successful, they point to the power of a particular individual’s context as determined by chance. But they miss the even bigger social context for their own preferred explanations: a whole generation learned from childhood to overrate the power of chance and underrate the importance of planning. Gladwell at first appears to be making a contrarian critique of the myth of the self-made businessman, but actually his own account encapsulates the conventional view of a generation.

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment author: 27chaos 02 June 2015 03:22:26AM -2 points [-]

Smacks of Deep Wisdom.

Comment author: Salemicus 02 June 2015 09:06:49AM 3 points [-]

Look, a single quote like this is never going to prove, to the satisfaction of the sceptical, a controversial thesis. But whole sections of the book are dedicated to arguing in favour of what Thiel calls the "determinate" viewpoint (that what matters is vision, planning and execution, and "secrets") and against the "indeterminate" viewpoint (it's all social context, luck, insurance, EMH). See for example this lecture in the series on which the book was based. It's possible Thiel goes too far in some instances, but the point he's making here, that people heavily underrate planning and heavily overrate chance is clearly true. As he writes elsewhere in the book:

Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.

If you have a substantive counterargument to make, I'd like to hear it. But your drive-by insults aren't helpful.

Comment author: 27chaos 03 June 2015 03:29:38AM *  -2 points [-]

Look, a single quote like this is never going to prove, to the satisfaction of the sceptical, a controversial thesis. But whole sections of the book are dedicated to arguing in favour of what Thiel calls the "determinate" viewpoint (that what matters is vision, planning and execution, and "secrets") and against the "indeterminate" viewpoint (it's all social context, luck, insurance, EMH). See for example this lecture in the series on which the book was based. It's possible Thiel goes too far in some instances, but the point he's making here, that people heavily underrate planning and heavily overrate chance is clearly true.

Why put the quote here, if it is so short it can only serve to reaffirm people's preexisting beliefs? I feel like rationality quotes should not be about echoing political claims, especially contentious ones. Instead, it should be about providing clearly sensible advice for people. Thiel's quote is not only debatable, but also clearly targeted at a political group - the Baby Boomers. So it seems to violate most of the supposed norms of this website to me.

I don't strongly disagree with the quote's claim so much as I just see no reason to believe it is true. You say the truth of the argument is obvious, but it's genuinely not obvious to me. I think you've bitten the mind projection fallacy here, it seems obvious to you because you have priors other people do not share.

Since you have challenged me to make an argument, I'll point out that people who are born in third world countries are all but guaranteed to remain in poverty for all their lives. Even if it were somehow possible to improve the planning capabilities of all people in the third world simultaneously, I don't think this situation would change. The reason for third-world poverty is not that people make bad plans, it's that they have few opportunities to plan to achieve. When societies' coordination mechanisms are broken, it's not individual planning that is important.

I agree planning is underrated in general, in countries like the US. But I don't think it's a major and ironic flaw of the Baby Boomers or anything like that. That sort of grandiose claim is way out of proportion to whatever evidence might exist on this question. All generations have problems with planning, irony is not important to truth-finding, other problems are much more significant.

You seem to want to claim that Thiel's words should just be interpreted metaphorically, that their overall idea is okay even if the specifics of what he said aren't, but that smacks loudly of rationalization to me. And even using your charitable standards, I still find myself finding that quote inadequate.

I understand Thiel gives people on this website money, but I hope that's not influencing anyone's opinion here. His ideas should get evaluated on the same basis as anyone else's. If not, disgusting.

If you have a substantive counterargument to make, I'd like to hear it. But your drive-by insults aren't helpful.

This is not how burden of proof works. Even brief quotes need to have a little oomph to them before we presume in their favor.

You're acting as though I'm being rude or mean. But I was not. I don't know how to persuade you of my innocence in this except to point out you've made unjustified assumptions. Characterizing my comment as an "insult" is unwarranted. What evidence is there that I'm being rude, except that I disagreed with your quote? You mention the length of my comment, but that's poor evidence for the idea I have a rude attitude. It's possible to make short but useful objections to ideas, and many other factors than niceness go into comment length.

I do think it's extremely rude of you to accuse me of rudeness without good cause. I feel like you're just being hurtful because you're on the defensive, like you're taking my criticism of the quote you provided personally in a way that you shouldn't be. But since you've chosen to interpret me as making personal insults, I have nothing to lose by actually doing so now. You are a fucking moron, holy shit.

Indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional in our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options. This describes Americans today. In middle school, we’re encouraged to start hoarding “extracurricular activities.” In high school, ambitious students compete even harder to appear omnicompetent. By the time a student gets to college, he’s spent a decade curating a bewilderingly diverse résumé to prepare for a completely unknowable future. Come what may, he’s ready—for nothing in particular.

I also disagree with this quote. If the system were this bad, the nation would be in anarchy. Unemployment would be 100% if graduates were this useless. And the connection between planning and the usefulness or lack thereof of school is weak. School is important at the very least as a form of social signalling, so going to school is a pretty good plan even if Thiel's right to think it doesn't help students learn important things.

To be honest, comments like the one you just made are what I think are killing this website. You suck.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 08 June 2015 06:46:37AM 2 points [-]

"One of the reasons we are attracted to the Colosseum is because of the incredible violence that went on here. The question it poses is, how could such an advanced culture have staged such bloody spectacles? The Colosseum is a snapshot in stone, a physical embodiment of the culture of Rome."

-- Gary Glassman (quoted in Colosseum killing machine reconstructed after more than 1,500 years

Emphasis mine: I'm not surprised. Culture is relative and I see lots of reasons this could have been beneficial to the society at that time.

Comment author: Jiro 08 June 2015 02:49:48PM 5 points [-]

The obvious question is "what's so contradictory about being an advanced culture and staging bloody spectacles"? Especially given the large ground that is covered by the term "advanced culture".

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 02:06:54PM 0 points [-]

Well, it is one of the things that was drilled into us all life long that there is a progress in history from barbaric behavior to "nice" (or, properly, ethical, compassionate) behavior.

But beyond that there is indeed a process of increasing cooperation. There is usually peace inside nations and empires, i.e. they don't allow their constitutent tribes, if they still exist, to fight each other. While this increasing cooperation is largely about banding together to fight someone else, still it creates a certain progress in morals. Thucydides wrote that the ancestors of Greeks did not know the idea of peace. They just pirated on each other all the time. Peace was invented through military alliance: teamed up against some other polis and then realized it is not nice to pirate on your ally. So through banding up to fight someone else, internal cooperation and peace is acheived. And you cannot have an advanced culture without it. There is no economic progress with a deep division of labor, meaning trade, meaning peace within the empire. And this success of cooperation permeates then religion and philosophy and people's values.

Sorry, I think I dumped a bit of an unedited train of thought on you. I'll try to organize better. So advanced means rich, rich means division of labor, div. of labor means trade, trade means peace inside the empire, means a value system that values cooperation and peace increasingly, then the whole thing gets justified by philosophy, art and religion which ingraines the values even more, and then they should be shocked by bloody spectacles.

Comment author: Jiro 17 June 2015 02:37:30PM 0 points [-]

The "bloody spectacles" that the article refers to are animals, not people, being killed. There is a cursory mention that the animals fought people, but the article is clearly about the animals.

The kind of cooperation in advanced cultures that you're talking about involves people cooperating with other people, not with animals.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 08 June 2015 12:18:41PM 4 points [-]

Culture is relative and I see lots of reasons this could have been beneficial to the society at that time.

One can imagine alternative versions of Rome with or without the bloody spectacles, and with various possible levels of prosperity, happiness, or whatever you count as a benefit to society. Which versions are the counterfactuals against which you are comparing the actual history?

Comment author: Epictetus 08 June 2015 04:34:55PM 3 points [-]

I think there's an underlying assumption here that an advanced culture should be similar to our own.

Let's reverse the question: "How did a culture that stages such bloody spectacles manage to achieve so much?". Rome didn't become advanced and then start with gladiator games; those were around in some form for a long time. Is it that big a shock that Rome managed to get far without abandoning those games?

Comment author: DanielLC 12 June 2015 05:06:20AM 5 points [-]

It was similar to ours. They just didn't have CGI, so they had to do bloody spectacles the hard way.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 June 2015 05:30:20PM 3 points [-]

I think there's an underlying assumption here that an advanced culture should be similar to our own.

I think the underlying assumption is much worse: that any advanced culture must be squeamish about things which the author finds squeamish, barbaric, and uncouth.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 02:08:57PM 0 points [-]

I think it is not just squeamishness, I think it is the idea that without a strongly pro-cooperation value system, how the eff does one achieve the level of cooperation to have a wide division of labor and trade and thus actually get rich and advanced?

Comment author: Lumifer 17 June 2015 02:52:34PM 1 point [-]

I see no contradiction at all between having a "strongly pro-cooperation value system" and having bloody spectacles in the arena.

Humans still are great fans of bloody spectacles, it's just that nowadays it's easier to produce fake ones on screens.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 02:14:14PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, they stem from the human sacrifice of captives at the funerals of big guys, really old. Downright sacred, originally, not just a spectacle.

Your proposal sounds good. If I interpret it properly: cultures have old traditions that live on despite maybe even contradicting their own values. I.e. if they had to invent it at that, they would not, because it contradicts the values, but being a tradition, it carries on.

For example today we would not invent cars or at least would not allow civilian car ownership. We have a safety oriented culture and proposing that every chump should be allowed to drive two tons of steel with 180 km/h top speed and easily wiping out a bus stop full of people if he falls asleep or killing a whole family in another car, if it was proposed today it would be shot down as a CRAZY dangerous idea. It would be seen as far worse than civilian gun ownership because with a gun you don't kill five people by mistake. But as it is an old tradition, so lives on despite contradicting accepted values. But if we had to invent it now, we would be horrified.

Comment author: Lumifer 17 June 2015 02:54:55PM -1 points [-]

For example today we would not invent cars or at least would not allow civilian car ownership.

Err... no.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 June 2015 09:02:48AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 18 June 2015 03:31:00PM 2 points [-]

Yeah... NY Post is not really the bastion of thoughtful analyses and deep reflection.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 19 June 2015 01:14:30AM -1 points [-]

As opposed to what, the NYT?

Comment author: gwern 02 July 2015 03:43:13PM *  1 point [-]

Contradiction is all well and good, but I think you can do better; can you name three examples of new technologies invented in the last 50 years and freely available to all civilian Americans each of which technologies causes up to 30,000 deaths and 2 million injuries annually?

Comment author: Epictetus 02 July 2015 09:10:40PM 2 points [-]

High fructose corn syrup and its ilk have been rather devastating.

Comment author: Lumifer 07 July 2015 05:43:00PM 0 points [-]

Et tu, Brute, want to look at only one side of the cost-benefit analysis?

Comment author: hairyfigment 02 July 2015 04:15:13PM 0 points [-]

I only thought of one possible example immediately - but are you asserting that people predicted those numbers when we invented cars?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 July 2015 08:21:10PM 1 point [-]

You do realize that that's one thousandth the scale of what gwern is describing, right? (That may not be quite fair, as phone-distracted drivers fall in the "drivers" category instead of the "phone" category, but order of magnitude is important!)

Comment author: hairyfigment 02 July 2015 10:22:33PM 0 points [-]

“It is impossible to say whether 2 million distracted pedestrians are really injured each year. But I think it is safe to say that the numbers we have are much lower than what is really happening,” Nasar said.

More importantly, I'm disputing that it makes sense to judge by the numbers today.

Comment author: soreff 06 July 2015 04:05:51AM 0 points [-]

More importantly, I'm disputing that it makes sense to judge by the numbers today.

It certainly isn't a perfect measure - but it seems like a decent one. I'd suggest correcting for some measure of how common the technology is. If there was something that only 10% of people have, but those 10% are getting killed at the same fraction per year as automobile drivers, I'd think it is still notable, though it wouldn't precisely meet gwern's criteria. If there were a technology which much less than 10% of the population has, then I'd be skeptical that it was unrestricted, at least in practice.

Frankly, there aren't very many technologies added over that period (besides the various flavors of electronic computation/communications/entertainment) that have that been so widely available. Microwave ovens - and I don't see many accidents from them. Perhaps home power tools? Forbes cites 37,000 emergency room visits per year from power nailers. They count another 37,000 from riding lawnmowers, but less than 100 killed.

Comment author: gwern 05 July 2015 11:50:49PM 0 points [-]

They don't have to have predicted contemporary accident rates a century ago for automobiles to have been banned or restricted at some point since - none of that data is remotely new or surprising, after all - yet here we are with near-unrestricted cars.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 July 2015 04:08:06PM 1 point [-]

Saying "values" and "culture" doesn't generate correct predictions in an environment where people can spot trade-offs that work in their favor.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 July 2015 07:31:51AM 0 points [-]

This is true, if I interpret it correctly (trade-off: expect utility gained > expected utility loss from violating values and risking ostracism) but how is it relevant here?

Comment author: wol42verine 16 September 2015 10:55:48PM 1 point [-]

Their culture may have been "advanced" but it was based on Violence as a primary ideal. Rome conquered its foreign enemies, assassinated its unpopular politicians and slaughtered for mass entertainment. This may be a simplification of an entire culture but the fact is the Roman Empire considered death and murder to be integral to their society.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 June 2015 02:59:15PM 1 point [-]

So, is this a rationality quote or a fail-at-rationality quote?

Comment author: Epictetus 01 June 2015 02:25:08AM 2 points [-]

That which is past is gone and irrevocable, and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come: therefore they do but trifle with themselves that labour in past matters. There is no man that doth a wrong for the wrong's sake, but thereby to purchase himself profit or pleasure or honour or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man for loving himself better than me?

--Francis Bacon, On Revenge

Comment author: Gondolinian 01 June 2015 10:35:52AM 4 points [-]

You don't have to be angry (and it is probably better if you aren't), but deterrents are still a thing.

Comment author: Epictetus 02 June 2015 01:04:39AM 2 points [-]

Deterrent effects would fall under "things present and to come". If you expect some kind of future benefit from a retaliatory act, that's one thing. On the other hand, if you seek vengeance because you're outraged that someone would dare wrong you, then you're mentally living in the past.

Comment author: Gondolinian 02 June 2015 01:58:27AM -1 points [-]

Deterrent effects would fall under "things present and to come".

Fair enough, but there's also a sense in which deterrence is acausal. In order to make a truly credible threat of retaliation for defection, you have to be completely willing to follow through with the retaliation if they defect, even if, after the defection, following through does not seem to have any future benefits.

Comment author: Gondolinian 02 June 2015 02:13:07AM 2 points [-]

I shouldn't have phrased that so confidently; I was essentially just thinking out loud. Would anyone who knows more about decision theory mind explaining where I went wrong?

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 02 June 2015 02:31:59AM 4 points [-]

You weren't. A single down vote doesn't mean you're wrong.

Comment author: Epictetus 02 June 2015 03:20:45AM 2 points [-]

It's not wrong. In many contexts such a strategy is advisable. It's the theory behind mutually assured destruction. You personally aren't going to benefit from launching a retaliatory nuclear strike, but the knowledge that you'd do it anyway might just keep your enemy from launching a first strike. On a smaller scale, you can see this sort of thing going on in prisons and criminal organizations where appearing weak can turn you into a target.

One drawback is that while a reputation for retaliating against every wrong will make people less likely to wrong you, those who decide to wrong you anyway will make sure to leave you in no position to retaliate.

There's another drawback that occurs if you allow for miscommunication: retaliation against something you wrongfully thought was a defection can lead your opponent to retaliate against what he perceives is an unprovoked attack.

It all depends on the situation. Sometimes it's better to be more forgiving and sometimes it's better to be more vindictive.

Comment author: Gram_Stone 02 June 2015 03:26:30AM 1 point [-]

I don't know a lot about decision theory, and I have to guess at an unidentified person's thought process, but I'll take a swing at this:

  • They might have downvoted you because real-world deterrence involves causal influence. Usually where there's talk of precommitments, there's also talk of acausal trade, so I think your brain lumped them together, but agents can precommit in ordinary trade as well. However, it is true that you can analyze ordinary trade in acausal terms, and it seems that you have done this. So your words implied that deterrence doesn't involve any causal effects, which is false, but you really just wanted to point out that you can analyze ordinary trade acausally, which is true.

  • They might have downvoted you because they think it's silly to talk about provably cooperative humans, or further, because they find it objectionable that your ideas about decision theory and provable cooperation would lead you to what they consider a morally repugnant conclusion in your counterfactual (i.e. retaliate anyway); I think I've seen some people who think things like that. I do consider this a lot less likely than the first possibility.

  • <sort-of-a-joke>They might have downvoted you because the agent in the downvoter's simulation of your counterfactual was using causal decision theory.</sort-of-a-joke>

Also, I don't really get what the point would be if deterrence were acausal. Were you thinking something like, "Deterrence is acausal, therefore maybe tense is not a concept that we can even apply to deterrence."?

Comment author: DanArmak 04 June 2015 12:42:57PM 3 points [-]

Deterrence is the fitness-maximizer, revenge is the adaptation-executer.

Comment author: Salemicus 01 June 2015 01:03:23PM 2 points [-]

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

Comment author: Username 01 June 2015 04:07:02PM 7 points [-]

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Now, hold that thought, and consider that the most likely explanation is that you are wrong.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 June 2015 03:05:52PM 4 points [-]

If it took you an hour to come up with the truth that's likely. If you however needed thousands of hours of thinking to discover it, the case for you knowing something that other people don't know is much better.

Especially if you read various experts that connect to the topic and understand the state of the field, you can make a reasonable argument that you have something that qualifies.

Peter Thiel talks about this being a foundation for successful startups. When Mark Zuckerberg being social network he had the insight to the truth that "real identify is really important for a social network" that few other people believed.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 June 2015 05:20:56AM 2 points [-]

Thousands of hours of thinking and no experiment sounds dangerously close to philosophy :)

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 June 2015 09:29:40AM 1 point [-]

I said nothing about the absence of experiment.

Ideally you want a mix of careful reflection, scholarship, discussing it with others and empirical investigation.

Comment author: lmm 12 August 2015 06:04:58AM 0 points [-]

That wasn't the insight. Google+ did more real identity than Facebook.

I'd say Zuckerberg's crucial insight was "people will still use a social website even if you don't let them customise the look of their page".

Comment author: fubarobfusco 12 August 2015 06:35:04AM *  2 points [-]

I'd say Zuckerberg's crucial insight was "people will still use a social website even if you don't let them customise the look of their page".

Or "the right seed population for a social network is young rich sexually-active people — e.g. Harvard students, then other college students, then whoever they drag in."

Comment author: pragmatist 12 August 2015 03:15:54PM *  0 points [-]

Yeah, I think the initial exclusivity of Facebook really helped. I went to a school near Harvard at the time Facebook launched, and we were all vaguely aware of the site when it first launched as a Harvard-only site. It then expanded to include our school and a few others -- maybe ten or so, all quite prestigious -- and there was widespread adoption almost instantaneously on our campus. I think the sense of being invited to join an exclusive club had a lot to do with that. I don't know if Zuckerberg intended it, but playing on the elitism of college students was a very effective strategy to achieve rapid adoption at the early stage, and of course once that was achieved, there was enough momentum to ensure success once the site steadily opened up to larger and larger populations.

Comment author: ChristianKl 12 August 2015 11:22:46AM *  0 points [-]

That wasn't the insight.

Peter Thiel who is on Facebook board of directors and who invested in Facebook very early argues that's the critical insight.

The fact that you can't see from the outside that's what drove Facebook is only more evidence for it being a nonobvious insight where few outside people agree.

Google+ did more real identity than Facebook.

Google+ was released a lot later. With Google+ it's also quite easy to register an account under a fake name which wasn't true with facebook in the initial days.

Comment author: lmm 26 August 2015 10:27:28PM *  0 points [-]

With Google+ it's also quite easy to register an account under a fake name which wasn't true with facebook in the initial days.

That's simply wrong, at least if we're talking about the early days of Google+. I was on both in their early days and there were more fake names for longer on Facebook.

Comment author: ChristianKl 29 August 2015 12:17:12AM 0 points [-]

In the early days of Facebook you needed to have a university address to make an account. Most university students don't have fake email addresses under different names in the domain of their university.

In most cases Google+ didn't do anything to verify that an account holder used their real name. They just filtered for things that looked like real names.

Comment author: lmm 31 August 2015 10:52:07PM 0 points [-]

They didn't check your name against your email. You needed a university email but you could, and people did, use a fake name with it, even an obviously fake one.

Comment author: Lumifer 27 August 2015 12:32:43AM 0 points [-]

In the early days Google+ was insisting on something that looked like a real name, but they came to their senses and I believe that by now you are not officially required to use your actual name on Google+.

Comment author: bentarm 08 June 2015 06:17:37PM 0 points [-]

I'd still bet that the majority of people who have a belief that meets all the criteria you suggest are probably wrong about that belief. For example, I think there's a reasonable case that most priests' religious beliefs would met your criteria, and it's clear that most priests are wrong (as long you you take priest to include holy men from all of the world's religions, it must be true).

I won't speak to the usefulness of the quote as a means for generating useful entrepreneurial ideas.

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 June 2015 11:50:35PM 1 point [-]

I think most priests believed that their God is right before the became priests. That's not an idea that took them a lot of time to discover.

Comment author: bentarm 08 June 2015 06:18:35PM 0 points [-]

meh, scratch that, I misremembered the quote as "most people disagree with you"...

Comment author: Salemicus 02 June 2015 09:16:49AM 3 points [-]

That's possible. It's also possible, as Thiel says, that people shy away from unpopular truths out of conformity bias. Which is the bigger bias?

In Thiel's view, (and mine), the chief problem is not that people are overconfidently proposing answers to that question. The chief problem is that people have no answers at all to that question, and can't think of any ways to generate them. You are right that it's a hard question, because you can be mistaken, and reversed stupidity is not truth, and so on. But it's not an impossible one.

Comment author: Nomad 09 June 2015 01:20:54PM *  0 points [-]

And just to be clear, the narrative being put forth above -- that everyone claiming to be poor is secretly rich -- is once more not something that anyone actually believes. Offer anyone saying it the chance to live in the public housing projects or trailer parks where these secretly rich welfare queens dwell and all you'll see is a cloud of dust and a tiny silhouette sprinting off into the horizon. But you don't need the majority to actually believe it, only to "believe" it.

Cracked pointing out the danger of belief in belief.

Comment author: Jiro 10 June 2015 02:58:14PM 7 points [-]

I don't think that people believe that everyone claiming to be poor is actually rich. They might, however, believe that many people (not everyone) claiming to be poor are secretly richer than they appear (which is probably not "rich" most of the time).

I am skeptical about attempts to analyze why one's political opponents believe things, because it's easy to strawman in this manner and generally use it as an excuse to treat one's opponents' claims as not worth addressing.

Comment author: wubbles 31 May 2015 11:10:35PM 1 point [-]

Donald Rumsfeld, from http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636 "Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."

Comment author: satt 01 June 2015 12:21:40AM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 22 June 2015 04:48:42PM 0 points [-]

We need to ask, what is it about our society where those of us who do not suffer from Asperger’s are at some massive disadvantage because we will be talked out of our interesting, original, creative ideas before they are even fully formed?

Peter Thiel

Comment author: Vaniver 22 June 2015 07:14:48PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 22 June 2015 07:23:35PM 2 points [-]

So it is.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 May 2015 07:02:24AM *  -1 points [-]

this was an unhelpful comment, removed and replaced by this comment

Comment author: RichardKennaway 31 May 2015 09:48:49AM 11 points [-]

Every government dollar wasted on a poor programme is a dollar that a working person doesn’t have to spend on groceries, health care and education. It is also a dollar that the Government does not have available to spend on its policy priorities.

Making a few substitutions:

Every personal dollar wasted on poor choices is a dollar that the government doesn’t have to spend on the economy, health care and education. It is also a dollar that the person does not have available to spend on their own priorities.

Both of these are pretty much tautologies, advice that it would be better to do things better.

Besides that, the original quote does not occur in the document cited. Google turns up two hits for "Every government dollar wasted on a poor programme", here and here. The former cites the latter and the latter presents it as an isolated quote from some Australian politician. The general context of all three documents is evidence-based policy-making. While a fine thing (or at least a fine-sounding thing), the quote could be said by any politician, at any time, anywhere.

Searching for the shorter phrase "Every government dollar wasted" turns up a large number of uses. Many are requotes of the above, and the rest are instances of a template that might be more honestly expressed as "Every government dollar spent on what I don't like is a dollar it can't spend on what I do like."

Comment author: RobFack 26 June 2015 11:22:10PM 1 point [-]

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life.”

  • George Bernard Shaw
Comment author: VoiceOfRa 02 June 2015 02:34:25AM -1 points [-]

In science, "scientific consensus" works for rejection not acceptance. Otherwise we'd be in middle ages.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Manfred 02 June 2015 06:52:11PM 2 points [-]

Scientific consensus doesn't 'work' in the sense of "when it rejects an idea, that idea is always wrong" any more than it "works" in the sense of "when it accepts an idea, that idea is always right" - what's going on is much better understood in terms of Bayesian evidence, and the apparent asymmetry between accepting and rejecting is actually due to the asymmetry between the evidential status of promoted beliefs versus random possible beliefs.

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 June 2015 01:38:08PM 2 points [-]

Bayesianism isn't about rejection or acceptance it's about probabilities.

Taleb says that if the scientific consensus tells you that bloodletting is a bad idea, don't do bloodletting. On the other if science tells you that drug X is fine, that doesn't automatically mean it's good to take the drug.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 02 June 2015 09:04:24PM 1 point [-]

Scientific consensus doesn't 'work' in the sense of "when it rejects an idea, that idea is always wrong" any more than it "works" in the sense of "when it accepts an idea, that idea is always right"

The problem is that a lot of the people throwing around the term "scientific consensus" seem to believe it does.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 June 2015 12:03:38AM *  -1 points [-]

this was an unhelpful comment, removed and replaced by this comment

Comment author: 27chaos 21 June 2015 01:11:44AM -2 points [-]

cognitive dissonance

lol lol

Comment author: Scottbert 05 June 2015 04:13:20AM *  -1 points [-]

(In a supervillain prison, new inmate Sonic (not that one) has just announced he'll kill the others for fun.)

Martial artist inmate: "You seem pretty !@#$ing confident. If you wanna rise up in rank in this prison full of monsters, you'll have to beat me first."

Martial artist inmate: "Let me tell you this in advance. I'm a kenpo practitioner. I'm probably the first and last guy to ever rob a bank unarmed."

Sonic: "Doesn't mean $#!@ if you got caught though."

--One-Punch man Vol 4 extra

Comment author: Scottbert 05 June 2015 06:49:27AM 2 points [-]

What's wrong with it? Too vulgar? Too vague?

Struck me as an example of failing to update after testing beliefs -- the criminal martial artist believed he was so strong, but he still was defeated -- and yet now he assumes he is unbeatable.

Or perhaps a sort of villainous mirror of heroic responsibility -- All the excuses in the world don't matter if you failed to actually get away with your villainous plan.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 June 2015 05:28:04PM 4 points [-]

In a prison for supervillains, everyone is equally caught, so the MA probably has updated on Sonic being a loser, too. (Although the real question is why the MA reveals even that much about himself - what if he plans to win without kenpo.)

Comment author: ChristianKl 07 June 2015 02:13:17PM 1 point [-]

What's wrong with it? Too vulgar? Too vague?

It's not interesting.

Comment author: Unknowns 05 June 2015 07:52:07AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 02 July 2015 03:50:16PM 1 point [-]

Charitably, it may be because of its superhero/supervillain setting. In real life, bank robbers seem to be commonly, or maybe even usually unarmed; they don't need to be armed because tellers always have instructions to cooperate, and being armed raises the legal penalties significantly while increasing the odds of something going wrong. (To give an example, today I was reading an IAmA with a bank robber on Reddit. He didn't carry any weapons except a hammer, in case the banks ever locked their (glass) doors while he was leaving, which one bank did try on him.)

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 02 June 2015 02:35:27AM -2 points [-]

Some of the same people who say "scientific consensus" on cholesterol was wrong, invoke today's "consensus" on GMO risks?

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: Lumifer 02 June 2015 02:39:56AM -1 points [-]

Taleb is being an idiot here.

Comment author: RobFack 26 June 2015 11:34:27PM 1 point [-]

This is true, but maybe you want to explain why?

Comment author: DanielLC 12 June 2015 05:07:57AM -1 points [-]

Fate is simply the ultimate Carnymancer. It doesn't play fair. And therefore, neither should we!

-- Rob Balder, Erfworld

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 31 May 2015 10:08:58AM -1 points [-]

So you want to live forever? You might - even in a finite universe:

As Dyson imagined, a sense of purpose would motivate cognizant life to try to maintain itself as long as humanly — and then transhumanly — possible. [...] As the universe continued to cool, our AI descendants would need to take action. [...] [Dyson] imagines a gradual slowing down of thinking processes. Only necessary thoughts would transpire and these would happen at an increasingly snail-like pace. Between thoughts, the AI devices would hibernate to conserve vital, usable energy. By spacing out thoughts more and more, Dyson argues, intelligent existence could persist almost indefinitely, although the number of total thoughts would still be finite.

-- From Paul Halpers summary Learning to chill of Dyson Freemans Time without End.

Comment author: Eitan_Zohar 31 May 2015 08:57:09PM *  15 points [-]

'Almost' infinite is not even close to infinite.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 02 June 2015 05:33:52PM 0 points [-]

The key point is that for you it wouldn't end. It's like zenos paradox.

Comment author: Nornagest 02 June 2015 05:40:56PM *  0 points [-]

A finite number of thoughts implies an end to subjective experience. Zeno's paradox works because distances in the thought experiment can be infinitely subdivided.

Comment author: 27chaos 31 May 2015 06:14:42PM 3 points [-]

although the number of total thoughts would still be finite.

Meh. At least it's better than the alternative, but I still don't like this.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 June 2015 03:59:03AM *  -1 points [-]

Just do the hard scientific work of figuring out why there's any specific amount of stuff in the universe instead of no stuff, countably infinite stuff, or uncountably infinite stuff, and then find a way to make more stuff (or a proof-by-contradiction that no more stuff can be made).