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Rationality Quotes 18

7 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 October 2008 12:39PM

Q.  Why does "philosophy of consciousness/nature of reality" seem to interest you so much?
A.  Take away consciousness and reality and there's not much left.
        -- Greg Egan, interview in Eidolon 15

"But I am not an object. I am not a noun, I am an adjective.  I am the way matter behaves when it is organized in a John K Clark-ish way.  At the present time only one chunk of matter in the universe behaves that way; someday that could change."
        -- John K Clark

"Would it be good advice, once copying becomes practical, to make lots of copies when good things happen, and none (or perhaps even killing off your own personal instance) on bad things?  Will this change the subjective probability of good events?"
        -- Hal Finney

"Waiting for the bus is a bad idea if you turn out to be the bus driver."
        -- Michael M. Butler on the Singularity

"You are free.  Free of anything I do or say, and of any consequence. You may rest assured that all hurts are forgiven, all loveliness remembered, and treasured.  I am busy and content and loved.  I hope you are the same.  Bless you."
        -- Walter Jon Williams, "Knight Moves"

"A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure."
         -- Lee Segall

Comments (12)

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Comment author: Ken_Sharpe2 03 October 2008 01:53:29PM 2 points [-]

"But I am not an object. I am not a noun, I am an adjective. I am the way matter behaves when it is organized in a John K Clark-ish way. At the present time only one chunk of matter in the universe behaves that way; someday that could change." -- John K Clark

That one struck particularly, nice one.

Comment author: Tiiba2 03 October 2008 02:42:15PM 5 points [-]

I guess I'll use this thread to post a quote from "The tale of Hodja Nasreddin" by Leonid Solovyov, translated by me. I think it fits very well with the recent sequence on diligence.

"He knew well that fate and chance never come to the aid of those who replace action with pleas and laments. He who walks conquers the road. Let his legs grow tired and weak on the way - he must crawl on his hands and knees, and then surely, he will see in the night a distant light of hot campfires, and upon approaching, will see a merchants' caravan; and this caravan will surely happen to be going the right way, and there will be a free camel, upon which the traveler will reach his destination. Meanwhile, he who sits on the road and wallows in despair - no matter how much he cries and complains - will evoke no compassion in the soulless rocks. He will die in the desert, his corpse will become meat for foul hyenas, his bones will be buried in hot sand. How many people died prematurely, and only because they didn't love life strongly enough! Hodja Nasreddin considered such a death humiliating.

"No" - said he to himself and, gritting his teeth, repeated wrathfully: "No! I won't die today! I don't want to die!""

About the book: it uses the name Hodja Nasreddin, but has little to do with him. The Nasreddin that Muslims know was a mullah. This one is a rabble-rousing vagabond who enters harems, makes life hard for corrupt officials, and has been *successfully* executed in every city in the Arabic world. I think that Solovjov took a Muslim hero and created a Communist hero. But that doesn't take away from the fact that the book is a masterpiece.

Comment author: John_Maxwell 04 October 2008 04:39:39AM 0 points [-]

A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure.

This is related to something I've been thinking about lately. You may or may not be familiar with the concept of significant figures. In a nutshell, they're a way of communicating the precision of a measurement using the number of digits written. This seems to be a pretty good explanation.

Let's say we are building a robot scientist. The robot scientist has no need for significant figures; those are for puny humans. Instead, it stores measurement and uncertainty separately. One way of doing this is to store the uncertainty as Âąx. Another more interesting way is to store it as the standard deviation of your measurement. This opens up an entire host of problems.

For example, let's say that the robot screws up when it's measuring something and doesn't realize it this until it measures a second time and gets something completely different. Obviously, there was some procedural error in the first measurement. Does the first completely wrong measurement contribute to the standard deviation? Isn't it possible that the second, third, fourth, and fifth measurements are also completely wrong in some way that the robot has not yet realized? Under what conditions are you allowed to "throw out" a measurement?

Comment author: Caledonian2 04 October 2008 03:52:54PM 1 point [-]

Obviously, there was some procedural error in the first measurement.

Obviously, there was some procedural error in the second measurement.

Obviously, things aren't as obvious as they seem.

Comment author: John_Maxwell 04 October 2008 05:54:05PM 0 points [-]

It's not which measurement has the procedural error that matters. It's what you do when you discover it.

Alternatively, what should the robot do if it gets one measurement that's far different than all the others, and it doesn't know why?

Comment author: pdf23ds 04 October 2008 06:00:58PM 0 points [-]

I'm imagining the Lost in Space Robot in a lab coat. High Larryous. Danger! Danger! The second measurement was three standard deviations from the mean!

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2013 09:29:18AM 3 points [-]

"A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure."

Unless the two watches agree.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 October 2013 02:18:25PM *  1 point [-]

Unless the two watches agree.

Good point. In fact I am far more likely to be sure when I have two timekeeping devices than when I have one and of those times when the man with one watch is sure but the man with two watches is not the man sure with one watch is sure and wrong over half the time.

I hope the intended rationality lesson here is approximately the opposite of the colloquial interpretation.

Comment author: tgb 14 October 2013 03:15:12PM 0 points [-]

What colloquial interpretation is there to this that you don't like? I would have read it as "Before trusting a watch, consider how well multiple watches agree with each other."

Comment author: wedrifid 14 October 2013 03:22:08PM 0 points [-]

What colloquial interpretation is there to this that you don't like? I would have read it as "Before trusting a watch, consider how well multiple watches agree with each other."

I had resolved the connotations to be along the lines of decisiveness, singleness of purpose and avoidance of confusing contradictory information. This kind of thing seems popular in in the kind of 'wisdom' expressed with that structure.

Comment author: Lumifer 15 October 2013 07:35:06PM 0 points [-]

What colloquial interpretation is there to this that you don't like?

The standard ("colloquial") interpretation is that you should carry one watch only lest you become confused -- aka too much data leads to thinking and thinking is hard (and possibly painful).

Comment author: Lumifer 15 October 2013 07:36:53PM 1 point [-]

Actually, "the man with two watches has a better estimate of what time it is than the man with one watch" :-)