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Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

5 Post author: elharo 02 February 2016 06:17PM

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 Do not quote with only a name.
  • 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson.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 (96)

Comment author: 27chaos 10 February 2016 07:18:14PM 18 points [-]

The truth comes as conqueror only because we have lost the art of receiving it as guest.

Rabindranath Tagore in The Fourfold Way of India (1924)

Comment author: WalterL 13 February 2016 01:44:41AM 3 points [-]

That's a great quote!

Comment author: SnowSage4444 08 March 2017 10:27:56PM 1 point [-]

Shit, that's good. How do I upvote you?

Comment author: Viliam 09 March 2017 09:36:34AM 0 points [-]

First you have to get enough karma by posting comments that will be upvoted by others.

Comment author: Bitnotri 21 February 2016 06:38:13PM 7 points [-]

“It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously,” Daniel Kahneman noted, “but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

Superforcasting, p. 85

Comment author: Brillyant 22 February 2016 08:10:52PM 1 point [-]

I love this quote. But this...

declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind

...strikes me as a highly confident declaration for which the quoted is simultaneously urging me to be skeptical.

I'd imagine the book lays out his case as to why I ought listen to his counsel. I'd be interested to dig into this.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 02 March 2016 07:24:48PM 0 points [-]

The solution here might be that it does mainly tell you they have constructed a coherent story in their mind, but that having constructed a coherent story in their mind is still usefull evidence for being true depending on what else you know abaut the person, and thus worth telling. If the tone of the book was differnt, it might say:

“I have constructed a coherent story in my mind that it is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

Comment author: ChristianKl 22 February 2016 09:50:36PM -1 points [-]

I think it's probably false if you treat it as the claim that every person who's highly confident that an event happens has constructed a coherent story in his mind.

On the other hand that reading doesn't seem to be the intended message.

Comment author: Brillyant 23 February 2016 02:26:12AM 0 points [-]

It says "mainly". That's vague-ish. I assumed greater than 50%; probably something like 75% of the time or more.

Comment author: DanArmak 02 September 2016 01:00:36PM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure what this is saying. Should we assume people are overconfident? Always, or only when they claim high confidence? Should we just ignore people's confidence claims entirely?

Comment author: Zubon 21 February 2016 06:53:55PM 0 points [-]

There is some small number of people whom I trust when they say they very confident. They can explain the reasons why they came to a belief and the counterarguments. Most other highly confident statements I look upon with suspicion, and I might even take the confidence as evidence against the claim. Many very confident people seem unaware of counterarguments, are entirely dismissive of them, or wear as a badge of pride that they have explicitly refused to consider them.

There are others whose intuition I will trust with high confidence on certain topics, significantly because they are aware that they are exercising intuition. They may not know how they know something, but at least they know they don't know how they know it, which tends to get them to the right confidence level.

Comment author: James_Miller 03 February 2016 04:59:44PM *  5 points [-]

In my experience on this planet, anything that is both important and corruptible (without detection) is already corrupted.

Scott Adams

Does this fit with your experience? As a cynical economist, I'm pleasantly surprised at how non-corrupt grading is at U.S. colleges.

Comment author: Bryan-san 03 February 2016 09:32:02PM *  4 points [-]

Does that include the grade inflation at major universities or the universities with specific classes that have their difficultly increased and grading deflated so that they fail out students at a more regular rate? (I know some universities do the second type on the introductory science courses while others do it at 3rd year courses.) Or were you referring to something else like bribes?

Comment author: James_Miller 03 February 2016 11:20:22PM 3 points [-]

Bribes.

Comment author: CCC 04 February 2016 08:00:29AM 0 points [-]

I feel I should point out that corrupt grading is easily detectable - one can often see it by looking at a corruptly graded paper, or by interviewing a candidate who got a high grade and finding that he does not know the subject. And thus, it is not covered by the Adams quote.

Moreover, universities have a strong incentive to not be corrupt in their grading - if they let people slip through without learning the work, employers will start to notice and discount qualifications from that institution, and then prospective students will hear of this and go to other institutions instead, and then the entire institution will collapse. (It's not immediate, or perfect, and quick action at the start of the process can save the institution, but it is a consideration).

Comment author: Zubon 05 February 2016 12:47:58PM 4 points [-]

Moreover, universities have a strong incentive to not be corrupt in their grading - if they let people slip through without learning the work, employers will start to notice and discount qualifications from that institution This assumes that employers are using a college degree primarily as a signal for education, outweighing conformity, conscientiousness, class, deference to authority, low time preferences, habitual credentialism, or anything else a degree might signal. We note that most employers want to know that you have a degree but not, say, "must have at least a B+ in Intermediate Microeconomics," so the entire degree might as well be pass/fail apart from the few hiring at the top of the graduating class. And no employer is going to detect or care whether you legitimately passed something not relevant to work. I had an undergraduate course in Magical and Occult Philosophy, and I have yet to be quizzed on Plotinus and Hermes Trismegistus during a job interview.

The fact that few employers request transcripts and fewer distinguish between "barely passing" and "summa cum laude" (maybe apart from recent graduates?) seems like pretty strong evidence about caring about grading corruption. You really need to corrupt your school's degree award process (like a diploma mill) before anyone will care about it.

Also, as Old_Gold suggests, if you count grade inflation as corruption of grading, empirically this incentive wasn't strong enough. We also note that across-the-board corruption of this type undermines incentives. If someone comes up with a better signal, the entire institution of universities would collapse, but most people have seemed to accept rampant grade inflation with a shrug rather than mostly ignoring degrees. It may eventually collapse, but on a time scale where it seems difficult to believe "this was due to grade inflation starting 50 years ago."

Comment author: CCC 06 February 2016 09:42:35PM 0 points [-]

You really need to corrupt your school's degree award process (like a diploma mill) before anyone will care about it.

Yes, that's true. The incentive works on grading corruption at the level of "this guy should have scored 10%, how did he pass?". It has no effect on grading corruption on the level of "this guy should have barely passed, how did he get a distinction?"

Comment author: Old_Gold 05 February 2016 02:52:12AM 7 points [-]

I feel I should point out that corrupt grading is easily detectable - one can often see it by looking at a corruptly graded paper,

Except who sees a paper except the grader and the student who wrote it?

Moreover, universities have a strong incentive to not be corrupt in their grading - if they let people slip through without learning the work, employers will start to notice and discount qualifications from that institution,

Empirically this incentive wasn't strong enough.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 February 2016 06:01:26PM 4 points [-]

You do have a recognizable style, y'know...

Comment author: CCC 06 February 2016 09:40:15PM 1 point [-]

Except who sees a paper except the grader and the student who wrote it?

External examiners?

Comment author: James_Miller 07 February 2016 08:36:09PM 0 points [-]

Very rare for undergrads.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 February 2016 11:12:12AM 2 points [-]

In the UK it is standard - my institution has blind marking, double marking and scrutiny by external examiners for all undergraduate exams. Blind marking: we only have a candidate number and not a student's name. Second marking: someone else evaluates the marks (grades) I give - in some cases independently; external examiner: someone from another institution checks that the marking criteria is being followed.

Blind marking could be circumvented in various ways, but doing so would be risky as the exams will be seen by others. Second marking and external examining are a huge time burden but achieve some degree of quality control, especially important as students don't get to see their exam papers again (perhaps the biggest surprise to staff and students who come here from the US and are used to post-exam argumentation as a form of "quality control").

Comment author: James_Miller 09 February 2016 02:27:09PM *  0 points [-]

students don't get to see their exam papers again

This screams "corruption". Knowing that students will be looking at how you grade their paper, and will be comparing how you grade them with how you grade others provides professors with some incentives to be honest and careful in grading.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 February 2016 05:40:51PM 1 point [-]

I'm surprised students put up with it, but they don't know anything different. They hear about US students who argue every single grade but I don't think they realise such students actually exist.

However I'm really happy to be away from my first (US) academic post where I constantly faced pressure from an athletic department to "relax" on grades or overlook "minor problems" from athlete-students. Post exam argumentation from individual students is easy enough to deal with reasonably and honestly, institutional forces are another beast entirely.

Comment author: James_Miller 05 February 2016 05:59:52PM 1 point [-]

Agreed.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 05 February 2016 01:05:31PM 1 point [-]

It's not immediate

That sounds like a hell of an understatement to me.

Comment author: CCC 06 February 2016 09:43:23PM 1 point [-]

It does somewhat understate the situation, yes.

Comment author: username2 11 March 2016 08:04:17AM 1 point [-]

Does this fit with your experience?

No.

At least, not here in England. I do a lot of hiring for posts that are well paid with a lot of scope for "professional independence". There is scope for these being sinecures, at least in the short or medium term. I have never once been offered a bribe or any hint of anything like corruption. I have never once been asked for a bribe by any public official. I have never once been offered one or anything like one when acting as a voluntary public official. I would be genuinely shocked if those ever happened. I do not believe my experience is unusual in this country.

I believe there are other places where this would be unusual.

Comment author: elharo 06 February 2016 01:34:01PM 0 points [-]

I suspect the answer is that grading at U.S. colleges just isn't that important.

Comment author: James_Miller 06 February 2016 03:39:22PM 0 points [-]

It is for many students at good colleges if they want to, say, get a job at an investment bank or a place at a top law school.

Comment author: Zubon 06 February 2016 03:50:11PM 2 points [-]

Granted. The top hires from the top. This leads to two questions: * Do we see corruption in those grades? If that is where it matters, that is where we would expect to see it. Say, does admittance into and top grades at Harvard Law depend mostly on academics or is class rank better predicted by other factors, from social class to blatant bribery you mention above? * Once you are below the tournament economy, do we see any corruption? I work for a state government. "Do you have a relevant degree?" is the question, not how good your university was or what your class rank was. Barring extremes (obvious diploma mill, top tier graduate from top tier university), grading just isn't that important.

Comment author: James_Miller 06 February 2016 05:33:12PM 4 points [-]

At good schools nearly everyone graduates in four years, but at lower level schools lots of students don't finish at all or take more than 4 years in part because they fail (or never finish the work) in classes. Given the importance of getting a degree, and the cost of taking more than 4 years to do so, grading is also important for students "at the bottom" of the college world.

Comment author: Zubon 07 February 2016 03:46:50PM 2 points [-]

Good point, thank you. I was focusing on the top half of the distribution, when there is also a cutoff in the bottom half.

Comment author: elharo 23 February 2016 01:33:28AM 4 points [-]

If there’s a single lesson that life teaches us, it’s that wishing doesn’t make it so. Words and thoughts don’t change anything. Language and reality are kept strictly apart—reality is tough, unyielding stuff, and it doesn’t care what you think or feel or say about it. Or it shouldn’t. You deal with it, and you get on with your life.

Little children don’t know that. Magical thinking: that’s what Freud called it. Once we learn otherwise we cease to be children. The separation of word and thing are the essential facts on which our adult lives are founded.

--Professor Fogg in The Magicians by Lev Grossman, p. 248

Comment author: RomeoStevens 10 February 2016 03:38:58AM *  5 points [-]

"The remedy lies, indeed, partly in charity, but more largely in correct intellectual habits, in a predominant, ever-present disposition to see things as they are, and to judge them in the full light of an unbiased weighing of evidence applied to all possible constructions, accompanied by a withholding of judgment when the evidence is insufficient to justify conclusions.

I believe that one of the greatest moral reforms that lies immediately before us consists in the general introduction into social and civic life of that habit of mental procedure which is known in investigation as the method of multiple working hypotheses. "

-T. C. Chamberlin from: http://www.mantleplumes.org/WebDocuments/Chamberlin1897.pdf

Comment author: Mass_Driver 19 February 2016 05:03:15PM 2 points [-]

Does anyone know what happened to TC Chamberlin's proposal? In other words, shortly after 1897, did he in fact manage to spread better intellectual habits to other people? Why or why not?

Comment author: [deleted] 10 February 2016 05:28:54AM 0 points [-]

Beautiful. I like that doesn't berate irrationality.

Try to turn every disaster into an opportunity. -Attributed in The Rockefellers (1976) by Peter Collier and David Horowitz

Comment author: polymathwannabe 04 February 2016 04:08:46PM 5 points [-]

It is knowledge, in general, which is pursued solely by man, and which is pursued for the sake of knowledge itself, because its acquisition is truly delightful, and is unlike the pleasures desirable from other pursuits [...] For the good cannot be brought forth, and evil cannot be avoided, except by knowledge.

Abu Rayhan al-Birūni

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 06:37:49PM 4 points [-]

For superforecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded. It would be facile to reduce superforecasting to a bumper-sticker slogan, but if I had to, that would be it.

Philip E. Tetlock in Superforecasting

Comment author: Silver_Swift 02 February 2016 09:14:54PM *  4 points [-]

Context: Brady is talking about a safari he took and the life the animals he saw were leading.

Brady: It really was very base, everything was about eating and not dying, pretty amazing.

Grey: Yeah, that is exactly what nature is, that's why we left.

-- Hello internet (link, animated)

Might be more anti-naturalist than strictly rationalist, but I think it still qualifies.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 February 2016 03:47:30PM 3 points [-]

that's why we left

I think he's mistaken in believing we left :-/

Comment author: Silver_Swift 04 February 2016 11:41:05AM 3 points [-]

Well, we're working on it, ok ;)

We obviously haven't left nature behind entirely (whatever that would mean), but we have at least escaped the situation Brady describes, where we are spending most of our time and energy searching for our next meal while preventing ourselves from becoming the next meal for something else.

The life for the average human in first world countries is definitely no longer only about eating and not dying.

Comment author: helldalgo 04 February 2016 03:13:32PM 2 points [-]

Excuse me, my life is only about eating and not dying. ;)

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 06:30:59PM 2 points [-]

No matter how brilliant our scientist is, or how intricately he himself understands his discovery, if he fails to convey it to the scientific community in such a way that they have ready access to it and can understand it, unfortunately that community will not benefit from what he has discovered. The moral of this story is that the means by which knowledge is conveyed are every bit as important as that knowledge itself.

Barry Smith in Applied Ontology

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 06:24:56PM *  2 points [-]

Though evolution, as such, did encounter resistance, particularly from some religious groups, it was by no means the greatest of the difficulties the Darwinians faced. That difficulty stemmed from an idea that was more nearly Darwin’s own. All the well-known pre-Darwinian evolutionary theories—those of Lamarck, Chambers, Spencer, and the German Naturphilosophen—had taken evolution to be a goal-directed process.

The “idea” of man and of the contemporary flora and fauna was thought to have been present from the first creation of life, perhaps in the mind of God. That idea or plan had provided the direction and the guiding force to the entire evolutionary process.

For many men the abolition of that teleological kind of evolution was the most significant and least palatable of Darwin’s suggestions. The Origin of Species recognized no goal set either by God or nature.

Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Comment author: Glen 17 February 2016 09:59:46PM 0 points [-]

This is an interesting historical note, but I am having a hard time seeing why it is a rationality quote. Perhaps as a record of people acting irrationally? Would you mind explaining a bit?

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 10:06:35PM *  1 point [-]

There a public misconception about Darwin having been primarily opposed for advocating evolution when that wasn't his biggest problem.

Today there are some people who think of themselves as Darwinists but who follow teleological notions of evolution and say things like: "The goal of life is to procreate."

The controversial thing that Darwin said was that there's no goal.

Comment author: WalterL 07 February 2016 05:11:13PM 1 point [-]

Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit Of This and That endeavour and dispute; Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.

Omar Khayyam http://classics.mit.edu/Khayyam/rubaiyat.html Verse LIV

Comment author: Lumifer 07 February 2016 07:05:45PM 0 points [-]

Translation: it's better to be drunk.

Not sure this qualifies as a rationality quote.

Comment author: WalterL 07 February 2016 09:53:58PM 1 point [-]

I think paraphrasings of "do what makes you happy" are fair as rationality quotes. What else are you gonna do?

Comment author: Glen 08 February 2016 08:37:30PM 2 points [-]

Even if "do what makes you happy" were the best rationality advice, the big problem is figuring out what actually makes you happy, how to achieve it, and how to maintain/improve it. Getting drunk is pretty bad advice for a rationality standpoint, because it's sacrificing long term gain for short term pleasure, which is basically the opposite of what you should do. The man drinking at a bar all day is happier right now than the one working extra hours or studying, but in a few years, their happiness will probably be reversed as the latter's investment pays off and the former is still just drinking (only with more health problems).

Comment author: WalterL 09 February 2016 06:33:55AM 2 points [-]

Investment dude is just working so he can buy booze, yeah? If booze in this metaphor is pleasure anyway. He's saved up a bunch of stuff, but its not like he gets bonus points when he croaks for how much is in his bank account. Ultimately, the most efficient life only does as much of what you have to as necessary to do what you want to, yeah? Anything beyond that is a fail.

Comment author: soreff 21 February 2016 04:07:24AM 0 points [-]

"its not like he gets bonus points when he croaks for how much is in his bank account." is a valuable quote in its own right

Comment author: Lumifer 08 February 2016 01:26:17AM 0 points [-]

First, I'm not sure that straight all-out short-term hedonism qualifies as rationality.

Second, we're talking about alcohol and there are... many side-effects to "making you happy" :-/

Comment author: _rpd 07 February 2016 11:02:49PM 0 points [-]

I feel like there should be some constraint on harming group happiness while you "do what makes you happy."

Comment author: WalterL 09 February 2016 05:09:05PM 1 point [-]

It seems like "should" is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. If you had to turn that word into a sentence or two to let me understand what you mean, what would it be?

Comment author: _rpd 09 February 2016 08:05:16PM 0 points [-]

I would say that actions that make a particular person happy can have consequences that decrease the collective happiness of some group. I might use a tyrant or an addict as examples. In answering the question "What else are you gonna do?" I'd propose at least "As long as you harm no group happiness, do what makes you happy," the Wiccan Rede "An' ye harm none, do what thou wilt" probably being too strict (rules out being Batman, for example).

Comment author: ChristianKl 08 February 2016 09:40:39PM -1 points [-]

I think paraphrasings of "do what makes you happy" are fair as rationality quotes. What else are you gonna do?

Focus on doing meaningful work.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 08 February 2016 04:52:03PM 0 points [-]

Orthodox Islamic apologists rescue Khayyam by interpreting "wine" as spiritual intoxication. (How well this really fits is another matter. And the Song of Solomon is about Christ's love for His Church.) But one can as easily interpret the verse in a rationalist way. Channelling Fitzgerald for a moment...

The sot knows nothing but the tavern's wine
Rumi and Shams but ecstacy divine
The Way of Eli is not here nor there
But in the pursuit of a Fun sublime!

Great literature has as many versions as there are readers.

Comment author: Lumifer 08 February 2016 05:01:31PM *  2 points [-]

But one can as easily interpret the verse in a rationalist way.

That's true of most everything if you squint in just the right way :-)

In any case, great literature relies on context and a multilayered web of meanings -- it doesn't work well as an isolated quote stuck into the middle of PUA discussions...

Comment author: [deleted] 09 February 2016 09:25:45AM *  0 points [-]

If you are willing to do only what is easy, life will be hard. But if you are willing to do what’s hard, life will be easy

The mentality of victim hood and self pity are the worst things that can happen a person. Whether you’ve got a mentall illness, or an offended social justice warrior, islamphobe or racist labeller, or you’re a chansurfing gynophobe or redpiller, it’s better to look at yourself than see hatred in the world.

Comment author: Jiro 09 February 2016 04:14:41PM 6 points [-]

The mentality of victim hood and self pity are the worst things that can happen a person.

I think that having your eyes gouged out with a hot poker is a worse thing than that that can happen to a person.

Comment author: wadavis 09 February 2016 09:05:16PM 3 points [-]

I think being personally responsible for a googleplex^googleplex dust specks arriving in a googleplex^googleplex eyes is a worse thing than that that can happen to a person.

Comment author: Jiro 09 February 2016 10:35:16PM 4 points [-]

Yes, of course. So at least two things are worse than it.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 February 2016 01:59:15AM *  0 points [-]

I think literalistic interpretations of written text are among the worse things that have happened to humanity. Your comment and the Islamic State to name a few ;)

Comment author: Jiro 12 February 2016 10:19:54AM 5 points [-]

The actual point is that "the mentality of victim hood and self pity are the worst things that can happen" is really overstated.

Comment author: 27chaos 07 February 2016 10:38:29PM 0 points [-]

The actual developments of society during this period were determined, not by a battle of conflicting ideals, but by the contrast between an existing state of affairs and that one ideal of a possible future society which the socialists alone held up before the public. Very few of the other programs which offered themselves provided genuine alternatives. Most of them were mere compromises or half-way houses between the more extreme types of socialism and the existing order. All that was needed to make almost any socialist proposal appear reasonable to these "judicious" minds who were constitutionally convinced that the truth must always lie in the middle between the extremes, was for someone to advocate a sufficiently more extreme proposal. There seemed to exist only one direction in which we could move, and the only question seemed to be how fast and how far the movement should proceed.

FA Hayek, Intellectuals and Socialism.

The warning against the golden mean fallacy is useful but standard, what I like best about this quote is that it brought to my attention the importance of constructive imagination in political reforms. I think this implies we'll get more and better thinking at the margins of policy if there are many different views about what policy's grand goals ought to be.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 March 2016 03:44:03AM 2 points [-]

Attitudes to the past, present and future seem under-study in political science contrasted with personal anecdote. I'd be interested in teasing out these ideas further. To add to this perspective...to paraphrase what I heard on the radio, since I can't find the original quote:

'Imagine you're walking a tightrope between past and future and the present is the ground far below. Don't live in the present'

-Syrian in raqa advising activist on how to deal with execution of friend for not attending morning prayer.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 06:36:05PM 0 points [-]

It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It's wrong. You may suspect me of proposing another theory in its place; but I hope not, because I'm sure it's wrong too if it is a theory.

Saul A. Kripke in Naming and Necessity

Comment author: [deleted] 17 February 2016 10:55:38AM -2 points [-]

People think you speak your own pain because you demand recognition and sympathy or you're playing a victim. Rarely do you realise you speak your pain to save someone else from the demons in their own mind. That's what it's like being a survivor.

-Grace Durbin in The Survivor

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2016 03:21:50PM 0 points [-]

the most important resource you have is your own mindset

  • Peter Diamondis
Comment author: Viliam 25 February 2016 09:16:55AM 0 points [-]

If we consider an actual territory (a) say, Paris, Dresden, Warsaw, and build up a map (b) in which the order of these cities would be represented as Dresden, Paris, Warsaw; to travel by such a map would be misguiding, wasteful of effort. In case of emergencies, it might be seriously harmful. We could say that such a map was 'not true', or that the map had a structure not similar to the territory (...). We should notice that:

A) A map may have a structure similar ot dissimilar to the structure of the territory.

B) Two similar structures have similar 'logical' characteristics. Thus, if in a correct map, Dresden is given as between Paris and Warsaw, a similar relation is found in the actual territory.

C) A map is not the territory.

D) An ideal map would contain the map of the map, the map of the map of the map, etc. endlessly. (...) We may call it self-reflexiveness.

Languages share with the map the above four characteristics.

A) Languages have structure, thus we may have languages of elementalistic structure such as 'space' and 'time', 'observer' and 'observed', 'body' and 'soul', 'senses' and 'mind', 'intellect' and 'emotions', 'thinking' and 'feeling', 'thought' and 'intuition', etc., which allow verbal division or separation. Or we may have languages of non-elementalistic structure such as 'space-time', the new quantum languages (...); also the mathematical languages of 'order', 'relation', 'structure', 'function', 'variable', 'invariant', 'difference', 'addition', 'division' (...).

B) If we use languages of a structure non-similar to the world and our nervous system, our verbal predictions are not verified empirically, we cannot be 'rational' or adjusted. We would have to copy the animals in their wasteful and painful 'trial and error' performances, as we have done through human history. In science we would be handicapped by semantic blockages, lack of creativeness, lack of understanding, lack of vision, disturbed by inconsistencies, paradoxes, etc.

C) Words are not the things they represent.

D) Language also has self-reflective characteristics. We use language to speak about language (...).

-- Alfred Korzybski: Science and Sanity

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 March 2017 05:19:37PM *  1 point [-]

Note that the major relevant historical disagreement is not over any of these ideas, but over what the true territory is. Most medieval maps (pre-1300) were deliberately warped not to represent their territory as it looked in the physical world, but to show "spiritual truths". Jerusalem would be at the center, each city's size would be proportional to its importance in God's plan, and distances and directions would be warped to make a particular set of points draw the figure of a cross on the map. Similarly, maps of medieval cities would not show the city to scale, but would plant the richest part of the city in the center of the map, occupying a large fraction of the map, regardless of its actual physical location or size. Judging from the theories of perception and reality then in circulation, the people making (or at least the people buying) these maps probably thought they were not distorting, but correcting the distortions of the senses and presenting a view that would actually lead to more correct beliefs.

Comment author: Nomad 26 February 2016 06:49:50PM *  1 point [-]

I'm vaguely worried by the way 'elementalistic' structure and 'non-elementalistic' structure are separated in part A. It seems to have the connotation (I'm not sure if it was intended or not) that the elementalistic structures are better and the non-elementalistic structures are arbitrary. However, there's a reason why science - especially physics - have increasingly moved over towarda mathematical points of view and the sorts of language you've included under non-elementalistic. They really are better at describing the natural world: e.g. you lose out on key concepts if you insist on completely dividing 'space' and 'time' rather than appreciating the way they interact. This sort of feeds into part (B). He describes languages as being similar or non-similar to the world and our nervous system, but the truth is that once you move beyond the ancestral environment the world is very different to our nervous system. To choose in favour of the languages similar to the nervous system over those similar to the world is ultimately to choose in favour of our own biases.

Comment author: Viliam 27 February 2016 05:31:42PM *  0 points [-]

It seems to have the connotation (I'm not sure if it was intended or not) that the elementalistic structures are better and the non-elementalistic structures are arbitrary.

It seemed to me that Korzybski meant it the other way round.

Elementalistic thinking is focusing on things separately; having a list of nouns and trying to assign adjectives to each of them independently. Non-elementalistic thinking is focusing on relations between things; because sometimes the meaningful explanation requires some interaction between them.

we may have languages of elementalistic structure such as 'space' and 'time', 'observer' and 'observed', 'body' and 'soul', 'senses' and 'mind', 'intellect' and 'emotions', 'thinking' and 'feeling', 'thought' and 'intuition', etc., which allow verbal division or separation.

That is, in elementalistic thinking we talk about space separately, and time separately, and we cannot invent the theory of relativity. Also we speak about intellect separately (creating the idea of "Vulcan rationality"), and emotions separately, etc. As long as we have "intellect" and "emotions" as separate concepts, we are able to produce wisdom like "well, intellect is important, but emotions are also very important" (i.e. both the noun "intellect" and the noun "emotion" have the attribute "important"). We are "handicapped by semantic blockages" that prevent us from speaking e.g. about rational and irrational emotions.

He describes languages as being similar or non-similar to the world and our nervous system, but the truth is that once you move beyond the ancestral environment the world is very different to our nervous system.

I understood it as: our nervous system is capable of understanding the nature when using the language of math and physics (not just literally the equations, but generally the way the scientifically literate people speak), but we lose that capacity when using the inexact language of metaphors, or insisting on using concepts that don't correspond to the real world (such as Newton's absolute time).

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 March 2017 05:14:01PM 0 points [-]

The notion of the non-elementalistic is important--that was the basis of structuralism--but it reinforces the old view that these operationalizations of our observations were unfortunate but necessary concessions to the limitations of observation, rather than that, e.g., space-time really is the lattice the Universe is laid upon. I doubt there's a real difference between these views mathematically, but I think there is conceptually.

Comment author: gwern 21 February 2016 12:03:32AM 0 points [-]

If the development by the enemy as well as by us of thermonuclear weapons could have been averted, I think we would be in a somewhat safer world today than we are...I do not think we want to argue technical questions here, and I do not think it is very meaningful for me to speculate as to how we would have responded had the technical picture at that time been more as it was later.

However, it is my judgement in these things that when you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb. I do not think anybody opposed making it; there were some debates about what to do with it after it was made. I cannot very well imagine if we had known in late 1949 what we got to know by early 1951 that the tone of our report would have been the same.

--Robert Oppenheimer testifying in his defense in his 1954 security hearings, discussing the American reaction to the first successful Russian test of an atomic bomb and the debate whether to develop the "super" hydrogen bombs with vastly higher explosive power; from volume II of the Oppenheimer hearing transcripts, pg 95/266

Comment author: [deleted] 19 February 2016 11:56:39AM 0 points [-]

I will either find a way, or make one. God has given to man no sharper spur to victory than contempt of death.

As quoted by Livy, Ab urbe condita Book XXI, 44, as translated by Aubrey De Sélincourt, in The War with Hannibal (1965). - Wikiquote

Comment author: Lumifer 19 February 2016 05:40:18PM *  5 points [-]

That's a weird quote in that it appears to mash together two sentences not near each other in the original. Besides, Livy, of course, would not talk of a God.

A glance at a better translation would indicate that Hannibal was talking about the power of desperation:

There is nothing left to us anywhere except what we claim by force of arms. Those may be allowed to be cowards and dastards who have something to fall back upon, whom their own land, their own territory will receive as they flee through its safe and peaceful roads; you must of necessity be brave men, every alternative between victory and death has been broken off by the resolve of despair, and you are compelled either to conquer, or if Fortune wavers, to meet death in battle rather than in flight. If you have all made up your minds to this, I say again you are victors, no keener weapon has been put into men's hands by the immortal gods than a contempt for death.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 February 2016 06:28:30PM 0 points [-]

Part of what the acceptance of Ohm’s Law demanded was a redefinition of both ‘current’ and ‘resistance’; if those terms had continued to mean what they had meant before, Ohm’s Law could not have been right; that is why it was so strenuously opposed as, say, the Joule-Lenz Law was not.

Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Comment author: kpreid 22 August 2016 06:38:07PM 1 point [-]

Is there something not-paywalled which describes what the relevant old definitions were?

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 August 2016 06:24:50PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: kpreid 01 September 2016 02:56:41PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for doing that!

Comment author: [deleted] 10 February 2016 06:39:20AM 0 points [-]

I was early taught to work as well as play, My life has been one long, happy holiday; Full of work and full of play — I dropped the worry on the way — And God was good to me every day.

I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.

-Verses written on his eighty-sixth birthday (8 July 1925)

  • Measured in today's dollars, Rockefeller is the richest person in the history of mankind.