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Rationality Quotes Thread December 2015

5 Post author: elharo 02 December 2015 11:28AM

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

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 Do not quote with only a name.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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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

Comments (75)

Comment author: Lumifer 22 December 2015 05:32:34PM 7 points [-]

There’s nothing rigorous about looking for shiny objects that happen to be statistically significant.

Andrew Gelman

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2015 08:45:53AM *  16 points [-]

Reasoning can take us to almost any conclusion we want to reach, because we ask “Can I believe it?” when we want to believe something, but “Must I believe it?” when we don’t want to believe. The answer is almost always yes to the first question and no to the second.

--Jon Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Comment author: Sarunas 05 December 2015 12:37:08PM 1 point [-]

I remember reading the idea expressed in this quote in an old LW post, older than Haidt's book which was published in 2012, and it is probably older than that.

In any case, I think that this is a very good quote, because it highlights a bias that seems to be more prevalent than perhaps any other cognitive bias discussed here and motivates attempts to find better ways to reason and argue. If LessWrong had an introduction whose intention was to motivate why we need better thinking tools, this idea could be presented very early, maybe even in a second or third paragraph.

Comment author: Unnamed 05 December 2015 08:28:33PM 9 points [-]

I think psychologist Tom Gilovich is the original source of the "Can I?" vs. "Must I?" description of motivated reasoning. He wrote about it in his 1991 book How We Know What Isn't So.

For desired conclusions, we ask ourselves, "Can I believe this?", but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, "Must I believe this?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 26 December 2015 09:46:19AM 5 points [-]

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.

Cardinal Richelieu

Comment author: aausch 24 December 2015 08:37:22PM *  5 points [-]

"Update: many people have read this post and suggested that, in the first file example, you should use the much simpler protocol of copying the file to modified to a temp file, modifying the temp file, and then renaming the temp file to overwrite the original file. In fact, that’s probably the most common comment I’ve gotten on this post. If you think this solves the problem, I’m going to ask you to pause for five seconds and consider the problems this might have. (...) The fact that so many people thought that this was a simple solution to the problem demonstrates that this problem is one that people are prone to underestimating, even they’re explicitly warned that people tend to underestimate this problem!" -- @danluu, "Files are hard"

Comment author: [deleted] 14 December 2015 02:03:50PM 5 points [-]

I want you to be the Admiral Nagumo of my staff. I want your every thought, every instinct as you believe Admiral Nagumo might have them. You are to see the war, their operations, their aims, from the Japanese viewpoint and keep me advised what you are thinking about, what you are doing, and what purpose, what strategy, motivates your operations. If you can do this, you will give me the kind of information needed to win this war.

-Admiral Nimitz from Edwin Layton, And I Was There, 1985, p. 357.

Comment author: flexive 05 December 2015 10:17:02AM *  5 points [-]

"Direct action is not always the best way. It is a far greater victory to make another see through your eyes than to close theirs forever."

Kreia, KOTOR 2

Comment author: 27chaos 02 December 2015 06:50:59PM 11 points [-]

The key to avoiding rivalries is to introduce a new pole, which mediates your relationship to the antagonist. For me this pole is often Scripture. I renounce my claim to be thoroughly aligned with the pole of Scripture and refocus my attention on it, using it to mediate my relationship with the antagonistic party. Alternatively, I focus on a non-aggressive third party. You may notice that this same pattern is observed in the UK parliamentary system of the House of Commons, for instance. MPs don’t directly address each other: all of their interactions are mediated by and addressed to a non-aggressive, non-partisan third party – the Speaker. This serves to dampen antagonisms and decrease the tendency to fall into rivalry. In a conversation where such a ‘Speaker’ figure is lacking, you need mentally to establish and situate yourself relative to one. For me, the peaceful lurker or eavesdropper, Christ, or the Scripture can all serve in such a role. As I engage directly with this peaceful party and my relationship with the aggressive party becomes mediated by this party, I find it so much easier to retain my calm.

Alastair Roberts

Comment author: Benito 02 December 2015 09:34:33PM 2 points [-]

Having recently watched a few of these discussions/debates in the commons (watched via youtube) it is noticeable how the speaker is able to temper the mood and add a little levity.

There is one popular political youtube account called 'Incorrigible Delinquent' and he begins each of his uploads with the speaker quite humorously saying " You are an incorrigible delinquent! "

Comment author: [deleted] 04 December 2015 10:53:08AM 1 point [-]

This should be developed into a Discussion post (if it hasn't.)

Comment author: Curiouskid 04 December 2015 08:37:46PM *  10 points [-]

Probably people have seen this before, but I really like it:

People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing, that's why we recommend it daily.

-Zig Ziglar

Comment author: lmm 13 December 2015 05:43:51PM 1 point [-]

I don't see the point. The whole point of "motivating doesn't last" is "you will only be able to sustain effort if there is something in your day-to-day that motivates you to continue, not some distant ideal.

Comment author: ike 29 December 2015 03:31:01PM 3 points [-]

Each individual instance of outperformance can be put into its own coherent narrative, can be made to look logical and earned on its own terms. But when you throw them together it's hard to escape the impression of a coin-flipping contest with a song and dance at the end.

Matt Levine

Comment author: common_law 12 December 2015 04:57:58AM 3 points [-]

Looking for mental information in individual neuronal firing patterns is looking at the wrong level of scale and at the wrong kind of physical manifestation. As in other statistical dynamical regularities, there are a vast number of microstates (i.e., network activity patterns) that can constitute the same ghloal attractor, and a vast numbmer of trajectories of microstate-to-microstate changes that will tend to converge to a common attractor. But it is the final quasi-regular network-level dynamic, like a melody played by a million-instrument orchestra, that is the medium of mental information. - Terrence W. Deacon, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter, pp. 516 - 517.

Comment author: dspeyer 03 December 2015 05:35:44AM *  5 points [-]

I think the common thread in a lot of these [horrible] relationships is people who have managed to go through their entire lives without realizing that “Person did Thing, which caused me to be upset” is not the same thing as “Person did something wrong”, much less “I have a right to forbid Person from ever doing Thing again”.

--Ozymandias (most of the post is unrelated)

Comment author: Lumifer 21 December 2015 10:24:48PM 4 points [-]

If anyone is trying to tell you it’s not complicated, be very, very suspicious

-- Tyler Cowen

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 December 2015 08:35:46PM 7 points [-]

Seek simplicity and distrust it.

A.N. Whitehead

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 27 December 2015 10:43:04AM 0 points [-]

There's this guy called William of Occam who must really be spinning in his grave right now.

Comment author: g_pepper 27 December 2015 02:45:08PM *  1 point [-]

I interpreted the Whitehead quote to mean that you should seek the simplest explanation that explains whatever it is you are trying to explain. This is consistent with Occam's Razor. I assumed that "distrust it" meant subject the explanation to additional tests to confirm or falsify the explanation. So, I didn't see this quote as contradicting William of Occam; instead it built on Occam's Razor to describe the essence of the scientific method.

This interpretation is supported if you look at the context of the quote:

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, "Seek simplicity and distrust it."

Comment author: RichardKennaway 27 December 2015 05:23:10PM 3 points [-]

Here also is Einstein:

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.

Or in the pithier paraphrase usually quoted:

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 23 December 2015 03:08:10AM 3 points [-]

I'd be even more suspicious of someone telling me that it's not that simple.

Comment author: dxu 22 December 2015 07:51:16AM 2 points [-]

Depends on what the subject matter is. Sometimes, it really doesn't need to be complicated.

Comment author: Lumifer 22 December 2015 03:28:35PM 0 points [-]

Depends on what the subject matter is.

True, though this "depends" applies to pretty much everything.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 03 December 2015 11:29:52PM 4 points [-]

Harms take longer to show up & disprove than benefits. So evidence-based medicine disproportionately channels optimism

Saurabh Jha

Comment author: DanArmak 06 December 2015 03:35:27PM *  6 points [-]

That seems like selection bias.

You do a lot of studies and experiments, and filter out most proposed medicine because it causes harm quickly, or doesn't cause benefits quickly enough or at all. Then you market whatever survived testing. Obviously, if it's still harmful, the harms will show up only slowly, while the benefits will show up quickly - otherwise you would have filtered it out before it reached the consumer.

This is like saying engineering disproportionately channels optimism, because almost all the appliances you buy in the store work now and only fail later. If they had failed immediately, they would have been flagged in QC and never got to the shop.

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 December 2015 09:42:39PM 0 points [-]

If an appliance you buy fails than you know that it fails. If a drug reduces your IQ by 5 points you won't know. Drugs also don't get tested for whether or not they reduce your IQ by 5 points.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 06 December 2015 09:14:27PM 0 points [-]

That seems like selection bias.

Yes, it's still a bias.

This is like saying engineering disproportionately channels optimism, because almost all the appliances you buy in the store work now and only fail later. If they had failed immediately, they would have been flagged in QC and never got to the shop.

The difference is, if they fail, you can always buy a new appliance. You can't buy a new body.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 13 December 2015 06:54:48PM *  1 point [-]

The difference is, if they fail, you can always buy a new appliance.

For some underwhelming value of "always", and anyway appliances aren't all that engineering makes.

Off the top of my head, cases when "harms take longer to show up & disprove than benefits" outside medicine included leaded gasoline, chlorofluorocarbons, asbestos, cheap O-rings in space shuttles, the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the use of two-digit year numbers...

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 13 December 2015 07:20:32PM 1 point [-]

cheap O-rings in space shuttles

Look at Feynman's analysis. I'd say this is a good example of disproportionate channeling of optimism.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 14 December 2015 03:16:38AM *  1 point [-]

Yes. My point was that disproportionate channeling of optimism isn't something specific to medicine (let alone to evidence-based medicine).

EDIT: Hmm, I guess I originally took "disproportionally" to mean "compared to how much other things channel optimism" whereas it'd make more sense to interpret it as "compared to how much medicine channels pessimism".

Comment author: Glen 04 December 2015 07:40:59PM 0 points [-]

Are there any other systems for judging medicine that more accurately reflects reality? I know very little about medicine in general, but it would be interesting to hear about any alternate methods that get good results.

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 December 2015 08:03:41PM *  1 point [-]

It's hard to say how effective various alternative styls of medicine happen to be.

There's research that suggests Mormon's can recognize other Mormon from non-Mormons by looking at whether the skin of the other person looks healthy. Then Mormon's seem to live 6 to 10 years longer than other Americans.

On the other hand the nature of claims like this is that it's hard to have reliable knowledge about it.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2015 02:40:55PM 2 points [-]

"The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur."

Elon musk

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2015 02:51:24PM *  2 points [-]

"It is a mistake to hire huge numbers of people to get a complicated job done. Numbers will never compensate for talent in getting the right answer (two people who don't know something are no better than one), will tend to slow down progress, and will make the task incredibly expensive."

Elon musk

Merry Christmas beloved LessWrong family. I think I finally get the format of these threads. How did I not read them properly earlier!

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2015 03:03:22PM 2 points [-]

"My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone's talent and not someone's personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart."

I recently watched a company go from a billion in revenues to zero when a founder stole $90 million from the company.

Integrity, humility, and doing your best is by far the most important consideration when evaluating whether to work for someone.

Elon musk

Comment author: roland 10 December 2015 03:44:10PM 2 points [-]

If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

-- The killer shortly before killing his victim in No Country for Old Men

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2016 07:04:13PM 7 points [-]

"A well-laid plan is always to my mind most profitable; even if it is thwarted later, the plan was no less good, and it is only chance that has baffled the design; but if fortune favors one who has planned poorly, then he has gotten only a prize of chance, and his plan was no less bad."

--Artabanus, uncle of Xerxes; book 7 of Herodotus's Histories (I could swear I'd seen this on a LW quote thread before, but searching turns up nothing.)

Comment author: Glen 10 December 2015 03:54:34PM *  4 points [-]

(To make it clear: I have never seen the movie in question, so this is not a comment on the specifics of what happened) Just because it turned out poorly doesn't make it a bad rule. It could have had a 99% chance to work out great, but the killer is only seeing the 1% where it didn't. If you're killing people, then you can't really judge their rules, since it's basically a given that you're only going to talk to them when the rules fail. Everything is going to look like a bad rule if you only count the instances where it didn't work. Without knowing how many similar encounters the victim avoided with their rule, I don't see how you can make a strong case that it's a bad (or good) rule.

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2015 04:19:48PM *  1 point [-]

Just because it turned out poorly doesn't make it a bad rule.

That kinda depends on the point of view.

If you take the frequentist approach and think about limits as n goes to infinity, sure, a single data point will tell you very little about the goodness of the rule.

But if it's you, personally you, who is looking at the business end of a gun, the rule indeed turned out to be very very bad. I think the quote resonates quite well with this.

Besides, consider this. Let's imagine a rule which works fine 99% of the time, but in 1% of the cases it leaves you dead. And let's say you get to apply this rule once a week. Is it a good rule? Nope, it's a very bad rule. Specifically, your chances of being alive at the end of the year are only 0.99^52 = about 60%, not great. Being alive after ten years? About half a percent.

Comment author: roland 10 December 2015 04:14:27PM 0 points [-]

I agree. But this is not how I saw the quote. For me it is just a cogent way of asking "is your application of rationality leading to success"?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 13 December 2015 02:05:26PM 1 point [-]

Shorn of context, it could be. But what is the context? I gather from the Wikipedia plot summary that Chigurh (the killer) is a hit-man hired by drug dealers to recover some stolen drug money, but instead kills his employers and everyone else that stands in the way of getting the money himself. To judge by the other quotes in IMDB, when he's about to kill someone he engages them in word-play that should not take in anyone in possession of their rational faculties for a second, in order to frame what he is about to do as the fault of his victims.

Imagine someone with a gun going out onto the street and shooting at everyone, while screaming, "If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?" Is it still a rationality quote?

Comment author: roland 13 December 2015 02:45:01PM 1 point [-]

I saw the movie and the context of the quote was that the killer was about to kill a guy that was chasing him. So we could say that the victim underestimated the killer. He was not randomly selected.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2015 08:58:18AM *  2 points [-]

If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness.

--Jon Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Comment author: redlizard 02 December 2015 07:08:40PM *  0 points [-]

Consensus tends to be dominated by those who will not shift their purported beliefs in the face of evidence and rational argument.


Comment author: gjm 02 December 2015 11:06:06PM 7 points [-]

This appears to be empirically incorrect, at least in some fields. A few examples:

  • Creationists are much less willing to adjust their beliefs on the basis of evidence and argument than scientifically-minded evolutionists, but evolution rather than special creation is the consensus position these days.
  • It looks to me (though I confess I haven't looked super-hard) as if the most stubborn-minded economists are the adherents of at-least-slightly-fringey theories like "Austrian" economics rather than the somewhere-between-Chicago-and-Keynes mainstream.
  • Consensus views in hard sciences like physics are typically formed by evidence and rational argument.
Comment author: DanArmak 06 December 2015 03:42:04PM *  4 points [-]

We have a special name for this; it's called science, and it's rather rare. It might still be a pretty good generalization of all human behavior to say that consensus tends to be dominated by those who won't change their opinion.

Actually, I don't think it's a good generalization for reasons other than science. Most conflicts or debates devolve to politics, where people support someone instead of some opinion or position. And in politics, the top person or party is often replaced by a different one.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 06 December 2015 09:16:07PM 1 point [-]

We have a special name for this; it's called science, and it's rather rare.

Even a lot of what gets called "science" isn't.

Comment author: Viliam 06 December 2015 09:52:46PM *  2 points [-]

Depends on what you mean by "consensus". For example, in some organizations it means "we will not make a decision until literally everyone agrees with it". In which case, stubborn people make all the decisions (until the others get sufficiently pissed off and fire them).

Comment author: gjm 06 December 2015 10:33:18PM -1 points [-]

Probably true. But I don't think that's the sort of thing Jim is talking about in the post redlizard was quoting from; do you?

Comment author: Viliam 06 December 2015 11:13:07PM *  0 points [-]

Oh. I haven't followed the link before commenting.

Now I did... and I don't really see the connection between the article and consensus. The most prominent example is how managers misunderstood the technical issues with Challenger: but that's about putting technically unsavvy managers into positions of power over engineers, not about consensus.

(I wonder if this is an example of a pattern: "Make a statement. Write an article mostly about something else, using arguments that a reader will probably agree with. At the end, a careless reader is convinced about the statement.")

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 07 December 2015 07:17:38PM 2 points [-]

but that's about putting technically unsavvy managers into positions of power over engineers,

Technically unsavy manages who insisted that the engineers tell them what they wanted to hear, i.e., who insisted that they be included in the consensus and then refused to shift their position.

Comment author: gjm 06 December 2015 11:42:12PM -1 points [-]

I think that level of logical rigour is par for the course for this particular author.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2015 11:20:43PM *  1 point [-]

And we must study through reading, listening, discussing, observing and thinking. We must not neglect any one of those ways of study. The trouble with most of us is that we fall down on the latter -- thinking -- because it's hard work for people to think, And, as Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler said recently, 'all of the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think.'

Thomas Watson

Comment author: ChristianKl 06 December 2015 03:45:57PM 5 points [-]

These days we often have people who do think but don't do the other well enough.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 December 2015 04:19:28AM 1 point [-]

"all of the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think.'

I think that this part of the quote is an overstatement.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 05:06:11AM 1 point [-]

I actually think it's naive bullshit.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 December 2015 02:38:43AM *  0 points [-]

Because we live in a culture that fears being alone, being rejected, feeling unworthy and unlovable, we confuse love with attachment, dependency, sexual attraction, romantic illusion, lust, infatuation, or obligation.

-Loner Wolf

Comment author: [deleted] 26 December 2015 02:22:30AM *  -1 points [-]

" 'Bill is wrong, but bill works hard, so even though its the wrong solution, he's likely to succeed', and that the best compliment I ever received"

-Bill Gates, quoting someone else

If you were to rank order and say, I'm going to start a company, what's the highest return on investment for the risk? Space and Cars would be at the bottom.

-Elon Musk in the same vid

Comment author: [deleted] 19 December 2015 02:38:46AM *  -1 points [-]

"For it is easy to criticise and break down the spirit of others, but to know yourself takes maybe a lifetime" Bruce Lee

"Remember, my friend to enjoy your planning as well as your accomplishment, for life is too short for negative energy". -Bruce Lee

"We should devote outselves to being self-sufficient and must not depend upon the external rating by others for our happiness" -Bruce

"Remember, my friend, to ejoy your plannng as well as your accomplishment, for life is too short for negative neergy" Lee *Just realised after writing that I already copied out this quote. Keeping it here as a record of my failing memory :(