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Rationality Quotes September 2011

7 Post author: dvasya 02 September 2011 07:38AM

Here's the new thread for posting quotes, with the usual rules:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down 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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (482)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 September 2011 05:36:08AM 31 points [-]

One day, I was playing with an "express wagon," a little wagon with a railing around it, I noticed something about the way the ball moved. I went to my father and said, "Say, Pop, I noticed something. When I pull the wagon, the ball rolls to the back of the wagon. And when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon. Why is that?"

"That, nobody knows," he said. "The general principle is that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called 'inertia,' but nobody knows why it's true." Now, that's a deep understanding. He didn't just give me the name.

-Richard Feynman

Comment author: brazzy 03 September 2011 10:47:19PM *  30 points [-]

She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it)

-- Lewis Carrol, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Hard to believe that it hasn't show up here before...

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2011 04:40:38PM *  27 points [-]

The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes primitive again.

-Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

In other words, politics is the mind killer.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 01:33:54PM 2 points [-]

I think it may be wiser to say "policy is the mind killer"; it emphasizes the cross-institutional cross-scale pervasive nature of political thinking.

Comment author: AlexSchell 08 September 2011 08:13:09PM *  26 points [-]

It's one thing to make lemonade out of lemons, another to proclaim that lemons are what you'd hope for in the first place.

Gary Marcus, Kluge

Relevant to deathism and many other things

Comment author: MinibearRex 01 September 2011 10:01:10PM *  26 points [-]

The proposition here is that the human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a machine for convincing others that its owner is in the right - and thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. The brain is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth, regardless of whether they in fact have any of either. Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal

Comment author: MichaelGR 11 September 2011 04:37:05AM 21 points [-]

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

-Steve Jobs, [Wired, February 1996]

Comment author: PhilGoetz 11 September 2011 07:11:51PM *  3 points [-]

It's still an open question how well the networks succeed at giving people what they want. We still see, for instance, Hollywood routinely spending $100 million on a science fiction film written and directed by people who know nothing about science or science fiction, over 40 years after the success of Star Trek proved that the key to a successful science fiction show is hiring professional science fiction writers to write the scripts.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 September 2011 01:08:28PM 3 points [-]

I don't think knowing about science had much to do with the success of Star Trek. You're probably right about the professional science fiction writers, though. Did they stop using professional sf writers for the third season?

In general, does having professional science fiction writers reliably contribute to the success of movies?

A data point which may not point in any particular direction: I was delighted by Gattaca and The Truman Show-- even if I had specific nitpicks with them [1] because they seemed like Golden Age [2] science fiction. When composing this reply, I found that they were both written by Andrew Niccol, and I don't think a professional science fiction writer could have done better. Gattaca did badly (though it got critical acclaim), The Truman Show did well.

[1] It was actually at least as irresponsible as it was heroic for the main character in Gattaca to sneak into a space project he was medically unfit for.

I don't think Truman's fans would have dropped him so easily. And I would rather have seen a movie with Truman's story compressed into the first 15 minutes, and the main part of the movie being about his learning to live in the larger world.

[2] I think the specific Golden Age quality I was seeing was using stories to explore single clear ideas.

Comment author: Bugmaster 20 September 2011 10:11:31PM 6 points [-]

And I would rather have seen a movie with Truman's story compressed into the first 15 minutes, and the main part of the movie being about his learning to live in the larger world.

I disagree. As I see it, The Truman Show is, at its core, a Gnostic parable similar to The Matrix, but better executed. It follows the protagonist's journey of discovery, as he begins to get hints about the true nature of reality; namely, that the world he thought of as "real" is, in fact, a prison of illusion. In the end, he is able to break through the illusion, confront its creator, and reject his offer of a comfortable life inside the illusory world, in favor of the much less comfortable yet fully real world outside.

In this parable, the Truman Show dome stands for our current world (which, according to Gnostics, is a corrupt illusion); Christoff stands for the Demiurge; and the real world outside stands for the true world of perfect forms / pure Gnosis / whatever which can only be reached by attaining enlightenment (for lack of a better term). Thus, it makes perfect sense that we don't get to see Truman's adventures in the real world -- they remain hidden from the viewer, just as the true Gnostic world is hidden from us. In order to overcome the illusion, Truman must led go of some of his most cherished beliefs, and with them discard his limitations.

IMO, the interesting thing about The Truman Show is not Truman's adventures, but his journey of discovery and self-discovery. Sure, we know that his world is a TV set, but he doesn't (at first, that is). I think the movie does a very good job of presenting the intellectual and emotional challenges involved in that kind of discovery. Truman isn't some sort of a cliched uber-hero like Neo; instead, he's just an ordinary guy. Letting go of his biases, and his attachments to people who were close to him (or so he thought) involves a great personal cost for Truman -- which, surprisingly, Jim Carrey is actually able to portray quite well.

Sure, it might be fun to watch Truman run around in the real world, blundering into things and having adventures, but IMO it wouldn't be as interesting or thought-provoking -- even accounting for the fact that Gnosticism is, in fact, not very likely to be true.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 September 2011 10:52:10PM 2 points [-]

As I see it, The Truman Show is, at its core, a Gnostic parable similar to The Matrix, but better executed.

Your essay fails to account for the deep philosophical metaphors of guns, leather, gratuitous exaggerated action and nerds doing kung fu because of their non-comformist magic.

Comment author: James_Miller 01 September 2011 05:13:46PM 58 points [-]

It is a vast, and pervasive, cognitive mistake to assume that people who agree with you (or disagree) do so on the same criteria that you care about.

Megan McArdle

Comment author: JoshuaZ 01 September 2011 05:27:58PM 31 points [-]

Related SMBC.

Comment author: majus 06 September 2011 08:10:53PM 4 points [-]

reminds me of:

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." --Robert McCloskey

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 September 2011 10:56:02PM 17 points [-]

If we don't change our direction, we're likely to end up where we're headed.

-- Chinese proverb

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 25 September 2011 12:27:29AM 14 points [-]

Ian Stewart invented the game of tautoverbs. Take a proverb and manipulate it so that it's tautological. i.e. "Look after the pennies and the pennies will be looked after" or "No news is no news". There's a kind of Zen joy in forming them.

This proverb however, is already there.

Comment author: gwern 03 September 2011 06:28:06PM 16 points [-]

"Asking a question is embarrassing for a moment, but not asking is embarrassing for a lifetime. "

--Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2006, p. 255

Comment author: lukeprog 16 September 2011 12:53:43AM 14 points [-]

It is remarkable that [probability theory], which originated in the consideration of games of chance, should have become the most important object of human knowledge... The most important questions of life are, for the most part, really only problems of probability.


Comment author: CaveJohnson 23 September 2011 09:50:22AM 13 points [-]

One of my favorite genres in the prestige press is the Self-Refuting Article. These are articles that contain all the facts necessary to undermine the premise of the piece, but reporters, editors, and readers all conspire together in an act of collective stupidity to Not Get the Joke

--Steve Sailer

Comment author: gwern 11 September 2011 02:53:32PM 36 points [-]

Again and again, I’ve undergone the humbling experience of first lamenting how badly something sucks, then only much later having the crucial insight that its not sucking wouldn’t have been a Nash equilibrium.

--Scott Aaronson

Comment author: [deleted] 01 September 2011 02:43:49PM 36 points [-]

If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

-- Paul Graham

Comment author: Nic_Smith 01 September 2011 05:06:34PM *  8 points [-]

There is actually a pre-split thread about this essay on Overcoming Bias, and the notion of "Keep Your Identity Small" has come up repeatedly since then.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 September 2011 09:50:10AM *  5 points [-]

And of course "Cached Selves", and especially this comment on that post.

Comment author: Grognor 28 September 2011 03:51:15AM *  12 points [-]

Kant was proud of having discovered in man the faculty for synthetic judgements a priori. But "How are synthetic judgements a priori possible?" How did Kant answer? By saying "By virtue of a faculty" (though unfortunately not in five words). But is that an answer? Or rather merely a repetition of the question? How does opium induce sleep? "by virtue of a faculty, namely the virtus dormitiva", replies the doctor in Molière. Such replies belong in comedy. It is high time to replace the Kantian question by another question, "Why is belief in such judgements necessary?"

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Comment author: [deleted] 13 September 2011 10:21:34PM *  11 points [-]

Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile.


Comment author: [deleted] 13 September 2011 10:27:34PM *  15 points [-]
[The] art is long,
life is short,
opportunity fleeting,
experiment dangerous,
judgment difficult.

Considering the beast that some hope to kill by sharpening people's mind-sticks on LW, this sounds applicable wouldn't you agree?

Comment author: Nisan 17 September 2011 06:49:37AM 2 points [-]

Upvote for "mind-sticks".

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 23 September 2011 08:39:26PM 5 points [-]

Here's the ancient greek version, to appease NihilCredo:

Ὁ μὲν βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή, ὁ δὲ καιρὸς ὀξύς, ἡ δὲ πεῖρα σφαλερή, ἡ δὲ κρίσις χαλεπή

Comment author: lessdazed 24 September 2011 09:27:33PM 2 points [-]

No puns, upvoted.

Comment author: NihilCredo 17 September 2011 03:25:30AM 6 points [-]

Why is a quote by a Greek, about whom our main sources are also Greek, being posted in Latin?

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2011 11:32:19AM *  6 points [-]

The saying "Ars longa, vita brevis" is a well known saying in my lanugage in its latin form. Seems to be the most common renderng in English as well.

Comment author: lessdazed 17 September 2011 05:01:41AM 3 points [-]

Quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur.

Comment author: MBlume 17 September 2011 05:04:25AM *  4 points [-]

(At the risk of ruining the joke: "Anything said in Latin sounds profound")

Comment author: Maniakes 02 September 2011 08:52:25PM 30 points [-]

The church is near, but the road is icy. The bar is far away, but I will walk carefully.

-- Russian proverb

Comment author: Bugmaster 03 September 2011 05:20:28AM 4 points [-]

I'm Russian, and I don't think I've heard this proverb before. What does it sound like in Russian ? Just curious.

Comment author: Ms_Use 03 September 2011 07:22:25AM 9 points [-]

It's a rather lousy translation of the proverb, the more close variant of which than that above is mentioned in Vladimir Dahl's famous collection of russian proverbs: Церковь близко, да ходить склизко, а кабак далеконько, да хожу потихоньку.

Comment author: Bugmaster 03 September 2011 08:50:26PM 3 points [-]

Ahh, yes, thank you ! I didn't even recognize the proverb in English, but I doubt that I myself could translate it any better...

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 September 2011 04:28:41PM 3 points [-]

Can you provide a better translation?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 03 September 2011 06:57:30AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 03 September 2011 09:07:47PM 29 points [-]

"The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust."

— John Derbyshire

Comment author: [deleted] 24 September 2011 03:35:50PM 10 points [-]

The key is that it's adaptive. It's not that it succeeds despite the bad results of its good intentions. It succeeds because of the bad results of its good intentions.

--Mencius Moldbug

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 06 September 2011 05:40:32AM 9 points [-]

But I had hardly entered the room where the masters were playing when I was seized with what may justly be described as a mystical experience. I seemed to be looking on at the tournament from outside myself. I saw the masters—one, shabby, snuffy and blear-eyed; another, in badly fitting would-be respectable shoddy; a third, a mere parody of humanity, and so on for the rest. These were the people to whose ranks I was seeking admission. "There, but for the grace of God, goes Aleister Crowley," I exclaimed to myself with disgust, and there and then I registered a vow never to play another serious game of chess. I perceived with praeternatural lucidity that I had not alighted on this planet with the object of playing chess.

-- Aleister Crowley

Comment author: Raemon 06 September 2011 05:49:15PM 27 points [-]

I recently contemplated learning to play chess better (not to make an attempt at mastery, but to improve enough so I wasn't so embarassed about how bad I was).

Most of my motivation for this was an odd signalling mechanism: People think of me as a smart person, and they think of smart people as people who are good at chess, and they are thus disappointed with me when it turns out I am not.

But in the process of learning, I realized something else: I dislike chess, as compared to say, Magic the Gathering, because chess is PURE strategy, whereas Magic or StarCraft have splashy images and/or luck that provides periodic dopamine rushes. Chess only is mentally rewarding for me at two moments: when I capture an enemy piece, or when I win. I'm not good enough to win against anyone who plays chess remotely seriously, so when I get frustrated, I just go capturing enemy pieces even though it's a bad play, so I can at least feel good about knocking over an enemy bishop.

What I found most significant, though, was the realization that this fundamental not enjoying the process of thinking out chess strategies gave me some level of empathy for people who, in general, don't like to think. (This is most non-nerds, as far as I can tell). Thinking about chess is physically stressful for me, whereas thinking about other kinds of abstract problems is fun and rewarding purely for its own sake.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 07 September 2011 11:03:50PM 6 points [-]

My issue with chess is that the skills are non-transferable. As far as I can tell the main difference between good and bad players is memorisation of moves and strategies, which I don't find very interesting and can't be transferred to other more important areas of life. Whereas other games where tactics and reaction to situation is more important can have benefits in other areas.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 01:39:33PM 2 points [-]

I think the literature disagrees. E.g. good players are less prone to confirmation bias and I think that this is transferable. (Google Scholar would know better.) Introspectively I feel like playing chess makes me a better thinker. Chess is memorization of moves and strategies only in the sense that guitar is memorization of scales and chords. You need them to play well but they're not sufficient.

Comment author: gwern 10 September 2011 08:49:39PM 5 points [-]

E.g. good players are less prone to confirmation bias

True; see 2004 "Chess Masters' Hypothesis Testing" Cowley & Bryne:

But experimental evidence from studies of reasoning shows that people often find falsification difficult. We suggest that domain expertise may facilitate falsification. We consider new experimental data about chess experts’ hypothesis testing. The results show that chess masters were readily able to falsify their plans. They generated move sequences that falsified their plans more readily than novice players, who tended to confirm their plans. The finding that experts in a domain are more likely to falsify their hypotheses has important implications for the debate about human rationality.

I think that this is transferable

Well... The chess literature and general literature on learning rarely finds transfer. From the Nature coverage of that study:

Byrne and Cowley now hope to study developing chess players to find out how and when they develop falsification strategies. They also want to test chess masters in other activities that involve testing hypotheses - such as logic problems - to discover if their falsification skill is transferable. On this point Orr is more sceptical: "I've never felt that chess skills cross over like that, it's a very specific skill."

Checking Google Scholar, I see only one apparent followup, the 2005 paper by the same authors, "When falsification is the only path to truth":

Can people consistently attempt to falsify, that is, search for refuting evidence, when testing the truth of hypotheses? Experimental evidence indicates that people tend to search for confirming evidence. We report two novel experiments that show that people can consistently falsify when it is the only helpful strategy. Experiment 1 showed that participants readily falsified somebody else’s hypothesis. Their task was to test a hypothesis belonging to an ‘imaginary participant’ and they knew it was a low quality hypothesis. Experiment 2 showed that participants were able to falsify a low quality hypothesis belonging to an imaginary participant more readily than their own low quality hypothesis. The results have important implications for theories of hypothesis testing and human rationality.

While interesting and very relevant to some things (like programmers' practice of 'rubber ducking' - explaining their problem to an imaginary creature), it doesn't directly address chess transfer.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 September 2011 03:25:45PM 5 points [-]

What I found most significant, though, was the realization that this fundamental not enjoying the process of thinking out chess strategies gave me some level of empathy for people who, in general, don't like to think.

Wow - I have a similar response to chess, but never drew that analogy. Thanks.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 September 2011 09:05:18PM 4 points [-]

What I found most significant, though, was the realization that this fundamental not enjoying the process of thinking out chess strategies gave me some level of empathy for people who, in general, don't like to think.

LW has put a lot of thought into the problem of akrasia, but nothing I can think of on how to induce more pleasure from thinking.

Comment author: lessdazed 10 September 2011 09:39:50PM 2 points [-]

I think rationality helps to avoid making mistakes, and avoiding feeling unnecessarily bad, but not too much to the positive side of things.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 10 September 2011 10:08:13PM 3 points [-]

I agree-- pleasure in thinking might not be part of the study of rationality, but it could very much be part of raising sanity waterline.

Comment author: cousin_it 06 September 2011 08:34:05PM *  11 points [-]

This is an awesome quote that captures an important truth, the opposite of which is also an important truth :-) If I were choosing a vocation by the way its practicioners look and dress, I would never take up math or programming! And given how many people on LW are non-neurotypical, I probably wouldn't join LW either. The desire to look cool is a legitimate desire that can help you a lot in life, so by all means go join clubs whose members look cool so it rubs off on you, but also don't neglect clubs that can help you in other ways.

Comment author: gwern 05 September 2011 07:44:47PM 9 points [-]

"Lessing, the most honest of theoretical men, dared to say that he took greater delight in the quest for truth than in the truth itself."

--Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (1872); cf. "Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism"

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 September 2011 10:01:41AM 9 points [-]

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.

-- Henry David Thoreau

Comment author: CSalmon 09 September 2011 06:28:01AM 8 points [-]

My desire and wish is that the things I start with should be so obvious that you wonder why I spend my time stating them. This is what I aim at because the point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

-- Bertrand Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism

Comment author: Xom 02 September 2011 05:35:51PM *  8 points [-]

A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spend on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions.

~ William Johnson Cory

Comment author: CronoDAS 24 September 2011 10:55:38PM *  21 points [-]

No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back.

-- Turkish proverb

Comment author: wedrifid 25 September 2011 08:43:28AM 3 points [-]

Only if the road goes exactly the wrong way, which is unlikely. But I must admit "No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn down whatever road is the best road now" doesn't sound quite as catchy. ;)

Comment author: ata 28 September 2011 03:07:16AM 7 points [-]

"No. You have just fallen prey to the meta-Dunning Kruger effect, where you talk about how awesome you are for recognizing how bad you are."

Horatio__Caine on reddit

Comment author: RobinZ 27 September 2011 08:44:52PM *  7 points [-]

It is certain, it seems, that we can judge some matters correctly and wisely and yet, as soon as we are required to specify our reasons, can specify only those which any beginner in that sort of fencing can refute. Often the wisest and best men know as little how to do this as they know the muscles with which they grip or play the piano.

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, via The Lichtenberg Reader: selected writings, trans. and ed. Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield.

Comment author: engineeredaway 15 September 2011 02:11:55AM *  7 points [-]

Captain Tagon: Lt. Commander Shodan, years ago when you enlisted you asked for a job as a martial arts trainer.

Captain Tagon: And here you are, trying to solve our current problem with martial arts training.

Captain Tagon: How's that saying go? "When you're armed with a hammer, all your enemies become nails?"

Shodan: Sir,.. you're right. I'm being narrow-minded.

Captain Tagon: No, no. Please continue. I bet martial arts training is a really, really useful hammer.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 06 September 2011 12:33:43PM 7 points [-]

Michael: I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex. Sam Weber: Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex. Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

  • The Big Chill
Comment author: lukeprog 01 September 2011 12:04:59PM 18 points [-]

The rule that human beings seem to follow is to engage the brain only when all else fails - and usually not even then.

David Hull, Science and Selection: Essays on Biological Evolution and the Philosophy of Science

Comment author: James_Miller 01 September 2011 05:23:38PM 5 points [-]

This is the idea behind duel-N back, that the only strategy your lazy brain can implement to do better at the game is to increase the brain's working memory.

Comment author: crazy88 04 September 2011 07:29:46AM *  17 points [-]

Ralph Hull made a reasonable living as a magician milking a card trick he called "The Tuned Deck"...Hull enjoyed subjecting himself to the scrutiny of colleagues who attempted to eliminate, one by one, various explanations by depriving him of the ability to perform a particular sleight of hand. But the real trick was over before it had even begun, for the magic was not in clever fingers but in a clever name. The blatantly singular referent cried out for a blatantly singular explanation, when in reality The Tuned Deck was not one trick but many. The search for a single explanation is what kept this multiply determined illusion so long a mystery.

--Nicholas Epley, "Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making"

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 September 2011 03:48:01PM *  7 points [-]

Google tells me Dennett referred to this, in arguing that there is nothing mysterious about consciousness, because it is just a set of many tricks.

It’s a shame that the niceness of the story of the tuned deck makes Dennett’s bad argument about consciousness more appealing.

Dennett’s argument that there is no hard problem of consciousness can be summarized thus:

  1. Take the hard problem of consciousness.

  2. Add in all the other things anybody has ever called “consciousness”.

  3. Solve all those other issues one by one.

  4. Conveniently forget about the hard problem of consciousness.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 08 September 2011 12:17:59AM 3 points [-]

Would this count as doing something deliberately complicated to throw off anyone with an Occam prior?

Comment author: engineeredaway 27 September 2011 06:06:11PM *  6 points [-]

"What I cannot create, I do not understand."

-Richard Feynman

taken from wiki quotes which took it from Stephen Hawking's book Universe in a Nutshell which took it from Feynman's blackboard at the time of this death (1988)

its simple but it gets right at the heart of why the mountains of philosophy are the foothills of AI (as Eliezer put it) .

Comment author: lukeprog 26 September 2011 09:10:35AM 6 points [-]

Let us then take in our hands the staff of experience, paying no heed to the accounts of all the idle theories of the philosophers. To be blind and to think one can do without this staff if the worst kind of blindness.

Comment author: Tesseract 01 September 2011 08:48:19PM 23 points [-]

If you want to live in a nicer world, you need good, unbiased science to tell you about the actual wellsprings of human behavior. You do not need a viewpoint that sounds comforting but is wrong, because that could lead you to create ineffective interventions. The question is not what sounds good to us but what actually causes humans to do the things they do.

Douglas Kenrick

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 03 September 2011 04:01:46AM 5 points [-]

The elements of every concept enter into logical thought at the gate of perception and make their exit at the gate of purposive action; and whatever cannot show its passports at both those two gates is to be arrested as unauthorized by reason.

-- C.S. Peirce

Comment author: lukeprog 08 September 2011 01:58:27AM 12 points [-]

If you cannot calculate you cannot speculate on future pleasure and your life will not be that of a human, but that of an oyster or a jellyfish.

Plato, Philebus

Comment author: [deleted] 08 September 2011 02:07:44AM *  8 points [-]

I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs:
Of all the things I wish to wish
I wish I were a jelly fish
That hasn't any cares,
And doesn't even have to wish
'I wish I were a jelly fish
That cannot fall downstairs.'

G.K. Chesterton

Comment author: lessdazed 08 September 2011 02:23:18AM *  2 points [-]

If I were a jelly fish,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I'd biddy biddy bum.

If I were a jelly fish.

I wouldn't have to work hard.

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 08 September 2011 02:29:59AM 3 points [-]

I prefer if I were a deep one.

(If you aren't familiar with this song I strongly recommend one looks at all of Shoggoth on the Roof.)

Comment author: lessdazed 08 September 2011 02:31:15AM 3 points [-]

A gentle introduction to the mythos.

Comment author: cwillu 05 September 2011 01:43:36AM *  11 points [-]

[...] Often I find that the best way to come up with new results is to find someone who's saying something that seems clearly, manifestly wrong to me, and then try to think of counterarguments. Wrong people provide a fertile source of research ideas.

-- Scott Aaronson, Quantum Computing Since Democritus (http://www.scottaaronson.com/democritus/lec14.html)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 September 2011 03:37:36PM 2 points [-]

It's even more useful to you when they turn out to be right. (As happened to me with sailing upwind faster than the wind, and with Peter deBlanc's 2007 theorem about unbounded utility functions.)

Comment author: wedrifid 23 September 2011 03:55:27PM 4 points [-]

The human condition is mass mutual Stockholm syndrome.

Will Newsome on facebook ;)

Comment author: [deleted] 18 September 2011 11:21:13PM 4 points [-]

"Our present study is not, like other studies, purely theoretical in intention; for the object of our inquiry is not to know what virtue is but how to become good, and that is the sole benefit of it." —Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics (translated by James E. C. Weldon; emphasis added)

Comment author: MichaelGR 11 September 2011 04:37:20AM 4 points [-]

Not only may questions remain unanswered; all the right questions may not even have been asked.

-Seth Klarman, Margin of Safety, p.90

Comment author: RichardKennaway 10 September 2011 10:12:14PM *  10 points [-]

To say that life evolves because of an elan vital is on a par with saying that a locomotive runs because of an elan locomotif.

Julian Huxley, Darwinism To-Day

Comment author: gwern 10 September 2011 11:06:34PM *  3 points [-]

A nod to Molière's satirical line which coined the 'dormitive fallacy':

Why Opium produces sleep: ... Because there is in it a dormitive power.

(Le Malade Imaginere (1673), Act III, sc. iii)

Comment author: Maniakes 02 September 2011 08:49:38PM 9 points [-]

I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.

-- Oliver Cromwell

Comment author: JoshuaZ 02 September 2011 09:38:33PM 3 points [-]

This has been mentioned in a few places on LW before (e.g. here) although I don't know if it has been in a quotes thread.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2011 11:16:06PM 2 points [-]

Cromwell's rule is neatly tied to that phrase.

Comment author: lukeprog 16 September 2011 12:54:43AM 13 points [-]

The enlightened individual has learned to ask not "Is it so?" but rather "What is the probability that it is so?"

Sheldon Ross

Comment author: sabre51 02 September 2011 01:36:08PM *  8 points [-]

I believe no discovery of fact, no matter how trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and no trumpeting of falsehood, no matter how virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious... I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech- alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent in living in an organized society... But the whole thing can be put very simply. I believe it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe it is better to know than be ignorant.

-HL Menken

Comment author: brazil84 03 September 2011 12:03:08AM 6 points [-]

From an evolutionary perspective, I would have to disagree. Believing that one's children are supremely cute; that one's spouse is one's soulmate; or even that an Almighty Being wants you to be fruitful and multiply -- these are all beliefs which are a bit shaky on rationalist grounds but which arguably increase the reproductive fitness in the individuals and groups who hold them.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 September 2011 02:38:27PM 15 points [-]

On practical questions of urgent importance we must make up our minds one way or the other even when we know that the evidence is incomplete. To refuse to make up our minds is equivalent to deciding to leave things as they are (which is just as likely as any other to be the wrong solution).

-- Robert H. Thouless

Comment author: Thomas 05 September 2011 01:25:02PM 14 points [-]

The investor who finds a way to make soap from peanuts has more genuine imagination than the revolutionary with a bayonet, because he has cultivated the faculty of imagining the hidden potentiality of the real. This is much harder than imagining the unreal, which may be why there are so many more utopians than inventors

  • Joe Sobran
Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 05 September 2011 01:31:19PM *  8 points [-]

which may be why there are so many more utopians than inventors

Is that the case?

Comment author: Thomas 05 September 2011 01:48:46PM *  9 points [-]

The majority dreams about a "just society", the minority dreams about a better one through technological advances. No matter there was 20th century when "socialism" brought us nothing and the technology brought us everything.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 05 September 2011 02:35:21PM *  13 points [-]

Echoing a utopian meme is analogous to stamping an instance of an invention, not to inventing something anew. It is inventors of utopian dreams that I doubt to be more numerous than inventors of technology.

Comment author: gwern 05 September 2011 07:36:06PM 3 points [-]

And let's not forget how many millions of patents there are; I don't think there are that many millions of utopias, even if we let them differ as little as patents can differ.

Comment author: Thomas 05 September 2011 03:19:44PM 2 points [-]

You may be right here. Utopias are usually also quite uninnovative. "All people will be brothers and sisters with enough to eat and Bible (or something else stupid) reading in a community house every night".

Variations are not that great.

Comment author: MixedNuts 05 September 2011 03:27:16PM 7 points [-]

Be fair. We tried socialism once (in several places, but with minor variations). We tried a lot of technology, including long before the 20th century.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 09:13:03PM *  4 points [-]

I think socialism must fail because humans once freed from material want will compete for status. Status inequality will activate much the same sentiments as material inequality did. To level status one needs to embark on a massive value engineering campaign. These have so far always created alternative status inequalities, thus creating internal contradictions which combined with increasing material costs eventually bring the dissolution of the system and a partial undoing of the engineering efforts.

If technology advances to the point where such massive social engineering becomes practical and is indeed used for such a purpose on the whim of experts in academia/a democratic consensus/revolutionary vanguard... the implications are simply horrifying.

Comment author: Raw_Power 06 September 2011 12:31:59AM 6 points [-]

I feel obliged to point out that Socialdemocracy is working quite well in Europe and elsewhere and we owe it, among other stuff, free universal health care and paid vacations. Those count as "hidden potentiality of the real." Which brings us to the following point: what's , a priori, the difference between "hidden potentiality of the real" and "unreal"? Because if it's "stuff that's actually been made", then I could tell you, as an engineer, of the absolutely staggering amount of bullshit patents we get to prove are bullshit everyday. You'd be amazed how many idiots are still trying to build Perpetual Motion Machines. But you've got one thing right: we do owe technology everything, the same way everyone ows their parents everything. Doesn't mean they get all the merit.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 September 2011 09:02:40PM *  3 points [-]

I feel obliged to point out that Socialdemocracy is working quite well in Europe and elsewhere and we owe it, among other stuff, free universal health care and paid vacations.

Comfortable, well maintained social democracies where the result of a very peculiar set of circumstances and forces which seem very unlikely to return to Europe in the foreseeable future.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 September 2011 12:53:22PM 2 points [-]

Would you care to expand on that?

Comment author: [deleted] 13 September 2011 05:27:48PM *  8 points [-]

Sure, though I hope you don't mind me giving the cliff note version.

  • Demographic dividend is spent. (The rate of dependency falls after the introduction of modernity (together with legalised contraception) because of lower birth rates. It later rises again as the population ages a few decades after the drop in birthrates)

  • Related, precisely because the society on average is old and seems incapable of embracing any kind of new ideas or a change in what its stated ideals and values are. Not only are young people few but they extremely conformist outside of a few designated symbolic kinds of "rebelling" compared to young people in other parts of the world. Oversocialized indeed.

  • Free higher education and healthcare produced a sort of "social uplift dividend", suddenly the cycle of poverty was broken for a whole bunch of people who where capable of doing all kinds of work, but simply didn't have the opportunity to get the necessary education to do so. After two generations of great results not only has this obviously hit diminishing returns, there are also some indications that we are actually getting less bang for buck on the policies as time continues. Though its hard to say since European society has also shifted away from meritocracy.

  • Massive destruction of infrastructure and means of production that enabled high demand for rebuilding much of the infrastructure (left half of the bell curve had more stuff to do than otherwise, since the price of the kinds of labour they are capable of was high).

  • The burden of technological unemployment was not as great as it is today (gwern's arguments regarding its existence where part of what changed my opinion away from the default view most economists seem to take. After some additional independent research I found myself not only considering it very likley but looking at 20th century history from an entirely fresh perspective ).

  • Event though there are some indications youth in several European countries is more trusting, the general trend seem to still be a strong move away from high trust societies.

Comment author: CG_Morton 13 September 2011 02:49:31PM 3 points [-]

I feel obliged to point out that Socialdemocracy is working quite well in Europe and elsewhere and we owe it, among other stuff, free universal health care and paid vacations.

It's not fair to say we 'owe' Socialdemocracy for free universal health care and paid vacations, because they aren't so much effects of the system as they are fundamental tenets of the system. It's much like saying we owe FreeMarketCapitalism for free markets - without these things we wouldn't recognize it as socialism. Rather, the question is whether the marginal gain in things like quality of living are worth the marginal losses in things like autonomy. Universal health care is not an end in itself.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 September 2011 01:08:18AM *  14 points [-]

From the day we arrive on the planet

and blinking, step into the sun

there's more to see than can ever be seen

more to do than can ever be done

--The Lion King opening song

Comment author: Alex_Altair 03 September 2011 01:34:26AM 7 points [-]

Do you consider this a promotion of fun theory? Or a justification for living forever?

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 04 September 2011 11:37:48PM 3 points [-]

Can also be an indication that everything is more than one person/mind can handle. By stepping into the sun, we enjoy the warmth and may be overwhelmed by the world as we see it. The song's lyrics seem cautionary, indicating that despite the warmth of being in the world do not attempt to see everything, do not attempt to do everything? This is rational, there are things we may not enjoy as much as others. To reduce our overall enjoyment by not placing parameters on our activities would be irrational in my opinion.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 03 September 2011 02:27:06AM 4 points [-]


Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 01:06:25PM 7 points [-]

For whosoever hath good inductive biases, to him more evidence shall be given, and he shall have an abundance: but whosoever hath not good inductive biases, from him shall be taken away even what little evidence that he hath.

Matthew (slightly paraphrased...)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 10 September 2011 02:10:21PM 3 points [-]

What does this mean?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 September 2011 07:10:24PM 4 points [-]

If you have good judgement about what things imply, you'll be good at gathering evidence.

If you have poor judgement about what things imply, you'll lose track of the meaning of the evidence you've got.

Comment author: simplicio 13 September 2011 01:16:46PM *  2 points [-]

Let me see if I've cottoned on by coming up with an example.

Say you work with someone for years, and often on Mondays they come in late & with a headache. Other days, their hands are shaking, or they say socially inappropriate things in meetings.

"Good inductive bias" appears to mean you update in the correct direction (alcoholism/drug addiction) on each of these separate occasions, whereas "bad inductive bias" means you shrug each occurrence off and then get presented with each new occurrence, as it were, de novo. So this could be glossed as basically "update incrementally." Have I got the gist?

I think what's mildly confusing is the normatively positive use of the word "bias," which typically suggests deviation from ideal reasoning. But I suppose it is a bias in the sense that one could go too far and update on every little piece of random noise...

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 13 September 2011 01:48:37PM 4 points [-]

I think what's mildly confusing is the normatively positive use of the word "bias," which typically suggests deviation from ideal reasoning. But I suppose it is a bias in the sense that one could go too far and update on every little piece of random noise...

"Inductive bias" is a technical term, where the word bias isn't meant negatively.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 September 2011 02:24:13PM 2 points [-]

I think that's it, though there are at least two sorts of bad bias. The one you describe (nothing is important enough to notice or remember) is one, but there's also having a bad theory ("that annoying person is aiming it all at me", for example, which would lead to not noticing evidence of things going wrong which have nothing to do with malice).

This is reminding me of one of my favorite bits from Illuminatus!. There's a man with filing cabinets [1] full of information about the first Kennedy assassination. He's convinced that someday, he'll find the one fact which will make it all make sense. He doesn't realize that half of what's he's got is lies people made up to cover their asses.

In the novel, there were five conspiracies to kill JFK-- but that character isn't going to find out about them.

[1] The story was written before the internet.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 01 September 2011 09:54:09PM 12 points [-]

I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.

-Sam Harris

Comment author: Nominull 01 September 2011 10:51:49PM 3 points [-]

What about, I dunno, the protestant reformation, where people were persecuted for wanting, among other things, to read the bible themselves rather than have it interpreted for them by the priesthood?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 September 2011 12:29:29AM 9 points [-]

What does it mean for a society to suffer?

Comment author: lukeprog 01 September 2011 12:02:14PM 6 points [-]

The mind of man is far from the nature of a clear and equal glass, wherein the beams of things should reflect according to their true incidence; nay, it is rather like an enchanted glass, full of superstition and imposture…

Francis Bacon, The advancement of Learning and New Atlantis

Comment author: listic 02 September 2011 01:42:17PM *  10 points [-]

True courage is loving life while knowing all the truth about it.

-- Sergey Dovlatov

(translation is mine; can you propose a better translation from Russian?)

Comment author: lukeprog 01 September 2011 12:12:13PM 15 points [-]

Imagine that everyone in North America took [a cognitive enhancement pill] before retiring and then woke up the next morning with more memory capacity and processing speed... I believe that there is little likelihood that much would change the next day in terms of human happiness. It is very unlikely that people would be better able to fulfill their wishes and desires the day after taking the pill. In fact, it is quite likely that people would simply go about their usual business - only more efficiently. If given more memory capacity and processing speed, people would, I believe: carry on using the same ineffective medical treatments because of failure to think of alternative causes; keep making the same poor financial decisions because of overconfidence; keep misjudging environmental risks because of vividness; play host to the [tempting bad ideas] of Ponzi and pyramid schemes; [and] be wrongly influenced in their jury decisions by incorrect testimony about probabilities... The only difference would be that they would be able to do all of these things much more quickly!

Keith Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss

Comment author: Davorak 01 September 2011 04:28:13PM *  30 points [-]

Better memory and processing power would mean that probabilistically more businessmen would realize there are good business opportunities where they saw none before. Creating more jobs and a more efficient economy, not the same economy more quickly.

ER doctors can now spend more processing power on each patient that comes in. Out of their existing repertoire they would choose better treatments for the problem at hand then they would have otherwise. A better memory means that they would be more likely to remember every step on their checklist when prepping for surgery.

It is not uncommon for people to make stupid decisions with mild to dire consequences because they are pressed for time. Everyone now thinks faster and has more time to think. Few people are pressed for time. Fewer accidents happen. Better decisions are made on average.

There are problems which are not human vs human but are human vs reality. With increased memory and processing power humanity gains an advantage over reality.

By no means is increasing memory and processing power a sliver bullet but it seems considerably more then everything only moving "much more quickly!"

Edit: spelling

Comment author: [deleted] 03 September 2011 09:34:19PM *  13 points [-]

But naturally doing everything faster would be pretty freaking awesome in itself.

  • increased yearly economic growth (consequently higher average living standards since babies still take 9 months to make)
  • it would help everyone cram much more living into their lifespan.
  • it would help experts deal with events that aren't sped up much better. Say an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • medical advances would arrive earlier meaning that lots of people who would otherwise have died might live for a few more productive (sped up!) years.

But I'm having way to much fun nitpicking so I'll just stop here. :)

Comment author: fortyeridania 22 September 2012 03:17:16PM 2 points [-]

it would help everyone cram much more living into their lifespan

Yes, especially this one.

Put differently, imagine a pill that made North Americans cognitively slower. Wouldn't that be an obvious step down (for reasons symmetric to the ones you've highlighted)?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 September 2011 02:31:36PM 11 points [-]

I think it would take more than a day for people to get possible good effects of the change.

A better memory might enable people to realize that they have made the same mistake several times. More processing power might enable them to realize that they have better strategies in some parts of their lives than others, and explore bringing the better strategies into more areas.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 September 2011 07:42:39AM 29 points [-]

It's a nice list, but I think the core point strikes me as liable to be simply false. I forget who it was presenting this evidence - it might even have been James Miller, it was someone at the Winter Intelligence conference at FHI - but they looked at (1) the economic gains to countries with higher average IQ, (2) the average gains to individuals with higher IQ, and concluded that (3) people with high IQ create vast amounts of positive externality, much more than they capture as individuals, probably mostly in the form of countries with less stupid economic policies.

Maybe if we're literally talking about a pure speed and LTM pill that doesn't affect at all, say, capacity to keep things in short-term memory or the ability to maintain complex abstractions in working memory, i.e., a literal speed and disk space pill rather than an IQ pill.

Comment author: jimmy 02 September 2011 06:14:21PM *  8 points [-]

Absolutely - IQ is very important, especially in aggregate. And yet, I'd still bet that the next day people will just be moving faster.

I think its worth making the distinction between having hardware which can support complex abstractions and actually having good decision making software in there. Although it'd be foolish to ignore the former because it tends to lead to the latter, it seems to be the latter that is more directly important.

That, and the fact that people can generally support better software than they pick up on their own is what makes our goal here doable.

Comment author: juliawise 05 September 2011 12:26:27PM 4 points [-]

If this is true, it would affect my decisions about whether and how to have children. So I'd really like to see the source if you can figure out what it was.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 September 2011 02:40:32AM 6 points [-]

James Miller says:


It wasn't me. Garett Jones, an economist at George Mason University, has been making these points. See



Comment author: lukeprog 02 September 2011 05:01:50PM 3 points [-]

Sounds plausible. If anybody finds the citation for this, please post it.

Comment author: gwern 03 September 2011 02:34:35AM *  20 points [-]

How about http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/are-the-wealthiest-countries-the-smartest-countries.html ?

They found that intelligence made a difference in gross domestic product. For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.

Citing "Cognitive Capitalism: The impact of ability, mediated through science and economic freedom, on wealth". (PDF not immediately available in Google.)

EDIT: efm found the PDF: http://www.tu-chemnitz.de/hsw/psychologie/professuren/entwpsy/team/rindermann/publikationen/11PsychScience.pdf

Or http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/converging.pdf :

Economic models of the loss caused by small intelligence decrements due to lead in drinking water predict significant effects of even a few points decrease (Salkever 1995; Muir and Zegarac 2001). Because the models are roughly linear for small changes, they can be inverted to estimate societal effects of improved cognition. The Salkever model estimates the increase in income due to one more IQ point to be 2.1% for men and 3.6% for women. (Herrnstein and Murray 1994) estimate that a 3% increase in overall IQ would reduce the poverty rate by 25%, males in jail by 25%, high-school dropouts by 28%, parentless children by 20%, welfare recipients by 18%, and out-of-wedlock births by 25%.

EDITEDIT: high IQ predicts superior stock market investing even after the obvious controls. High IQ types are also more likely to trust the stock market enough to participate more in it

Comment author: gwern 18 July 2012 03:15:38PM *  12 points [-]

"Do you have to be smart to be rich? The impact of IQ on wealth, income and financial distress", Zagorsky 2007:

How important is intelligence to financial success? Using the NLSY79, which tracks a large group of young U.S. baby boomers, this research shows that each point increase in IQ test scores raises income by between $234 and $616 per year after holding a variety of factors constant. Regression results suggest no statistically distinguishable relationship between IQ scores and wealth. Financial distress, such as problems paying bills, going bankrupt or reaching credit card limits, is related to IQ scores not linearly but instead in a quadratic relationship. This means higher IQ scores sometimes increase the probability of being in financial difficulty.

One could also phrase this as: "if we control for factors which we know to because by intelligence, such as highest level of education, then mirabile dictu! intelligence no longer increases income or wealth very much!"; or, "regressions are hard, let's go shopping."

Apropos of http://lemire.me/blog/archives/2012/07/18/why-we-make-up-jobs-out-of-thin-air/

In the XXIst century within wealthy countries, people work hard primarily to gain social status. We often make the mistake of tying up wealth with social status, but most of the wealthy people we admire are also consumed by their great jobs. Celine Dion is very wealthy, yet she would still give one show every single day, including week-ends. I think most professors would feel exploited if they had to lecture every single day. Bill Gates is very wealthy and universally admired, however, as we may expect, he worked nights and week-ends as chairman of Microsoft. Every year he would read 100 papers from Microsoft employees about the state of the company.

...For many, wealth is merely a stepping stone to intense work. This may explain why people with higher IQs are not wealthier (Zagorsky, 2008): high IQ people may have an easier time getting rewarding work so they need less wealth....I used to openly worry that robots would steal our jobs and leave most of us in poverty. I have now concluded that I was underestimating the pull of prestige among human beings. We will make up jobs out of thin air if we need to.

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2012 10:48:31PM *  5 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 29 May 2012 07:18:10PM *  4 points [-]

"IQ in the Ramsey Model: A Naïve Calibration", Jones 2006:

I show that in a conventional Ramsey model, between one-fourth and one-half of the global income distribution can be explained by a single factor: The effect of large, persistent differences in national average IQ on the private marginal product of labor. Thus, differences in national average IQ may be a driving force behind global income inequality. These persistent differences in cognitive ability - which are well-supported in the psychology literature - are likely to be somewhat malleable through better health care, better education, and especially better nutrition in the world’s poorest countries. A simple calibration exercise in the spirit of Bils and Klenow (2000) and Castro (2005) is conducted. I show that an IQ-augmented Ramsey model can explain more than half of the empirical relationship between national average IQ and GDP per worker. I provide evidence that little of the IQ-productivity relationship is likely to be due to reverse causality.

One question of interest is whether the IQ-productivity relationship has strengthened or weakened over the past few decades. Shocks such as the Great Depression and the Second World War were likely to move nations away from their steady-state paths. Further, many countries have embraced market economies in recent decades, a policy change which is likely to have removed non-IQ-related barriers to riches.11 Accordingly, one would expect the IQ-productivity relationship to have strengthened over the decades.

As Table 2 shows, I indeed found this to be the case. I used LV’s IQ data along with Penn World Table data for each decade from 1960 through 1990 (1950 only had 38 relevant observations, and so is omitted). As before, equation (3) was used to estimate the IQ-productivity relationship, while the IQ-elasticity of wages is assumed to equal 1 for simplicity. Both the unconditional R2 and the fraction of the variance explained by the IQ-wage relationship increase steadily across the decades. This is true regardless of the capital share parameter in question. Further, the log-slope of the IQ-productivity relationship has also increased.

  • 11: Lynn and Vanhanen (2002) hypothesize that national average IQ and market institutions are the two crucial determinants of GDP per capita. They provide some bivariate regressions supporting this hypothesis; they show that both variables together explain much more—about 75% of the variance in the level of GDP per capita - than either variable alone, each of which can explain roughly 50%.

The Ramsey-style model of Manuelli and Seshadri (2005) would be a natural extension: In their model, ex-ante differences in total factor productivity of at most 27% interact with education decisions and fertility choices to completely replicate the span of the current global income distribution. In their calibration—less naïve and more complex then the one I present—a 1% rise in TFP (e.g., 1 IQ point) causes a 9% rise in steady- state productivity. Manuelli and Seshadri leave unanswered the question of what those ex-ante differences in TFP might be, but persistent differences in national average IQ are a natural candidate.

Comment author: thomblake 29 May 2012 07:34:27PM 2 points [-]

That quote does not appear to come from the linked paper, and I'm confused as to how a paper from 2006 was supposed to have a citation from 2009.

Comment author: gwern 29 May 2012 07:46:00PM *  2 points [-]

Only the first paragraph is wrong (mixed it up with a paper on the Swiss iodization experience I'm using in a big writeup on iodide self-experimentation). Fixed.

Comment author: gwern 15 December 2012 08:02:33PM *  3 points [-]

"Economic gains resulting from the reduction in children's exposure to lead in the United States", Grosse et al 2002 (fulltext)

We assumed the change in cognitive ability resulting from declines in BLLs, on the basis of published meta-analyses, to be between 0.185 and 0.323 IQ points for each 1 g/dL blood lead concentration. These calculations imply that, because of falling BLLs, U.S. preschool-aged children in the late 1990s had IQs that were, on average, 2.2-4.7 points higher than they would have been if they had the blood lead distribution observed among U.S. preschool-aged children in the late 1970s. We estimated that each IQ point raises worker productivity 1.76-2.38%. With discounted lifetime earnings of $723,300 for each 2-year-old in 2000 dollars, the estimated economic benefit for each year's cohort of 3.8 million 2-year-old children ranges from $110 billion to $319 billion.

...We calculated the economic benefit realized by reduced lead exposure in the United States since the late 1970s through a series of steps, each associated with a component of the model in Figure 1. First, we estimated the amount by which BLLs have fallen over time through secondary analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES). Second, we applied estimates from published studies of the strength, shape, and magnitude of the association between BLLs and cognitive ability test scores. In particular, we examined two published meta-analyses to arrive at estimates of the ratio of change in BLL to change in IQ. Third, on the basis of a brief review of literature on the association between cognitive ability and earning potential, we estimated the percentage change in earnings associated with absolute differences in IQ levels. Fourth, we calculated the present value (2000 dollars) of the percentage change in earnings.

...Schwartz (6) calculated that the total effect of a 1-point difference in cognitive ability is a 1.76% difference in earnings. Of this amount, 0.5% is the direct effect of ability on earnings. Schwartz (6) took this estimate from an econometric study by Griliches (19) that was representative of other econometric studies from the 1970s. Schwartz (6) assumed that a given difference in IQ scores observed in school-aged children can be expected to lead to a comparable difference in achieved cognitive ability in young adults.

The indirect effect of ability on earnings, which accounts for the remaining 1.26% difference, is modeled through two pathways. One is the effect of ability on years of schooling multiplied by the effect of years of schooling on hourly earnings. Needleman et al. (20) reported that a 4.5-point difference in IQ between groups with high tooth lead and with low tooth lead was associated with a 0.59 difference in grade level attained. The ratio of the two numbers implies a difference of 0.131 years of schooling for 1 IQ point. If each additional year of schooling results in a 6% increase in hourly wages, 1 IQ point would lead to a 0.79% increase in expected earnings through years of education. Second, Schwartz (6) modeled ability as influencing employment participation through influence on high school graduation. On the basis of the analysis of Needleman et al. (20) and 1978 survey data reported by Krupnick and Cropper (21), Schwartz (6) calculated that 1 point in IQ is associated with a 4.5% difference in probability of graduating from high school and that high school graduation is associated with a 10.5% difference in labor force participation. On the assumption of an equivalent percentage change in annual earnings, this leads to a 0.47% difference in expected earnings. Salkever (22) published an alternate estimation of the effect of cognitive ability on earnings. Salkever directly estimated the effect of ability on annual earnings, among those with earnings. The estimated association of ability with annual earnings incorporates both the effect of ability on hourly earnings and its effect on annual hours of work. He also added a direct pathway from ability to work participation independent of education.

According to Salkever (22), a 1-point difference in ability is associated with a 1.931% difference in earnings for males and a 3.225% difference for females. The direct effect on earnings is 1.24% for males and 1.40% for females. Salkever (22) analyzed income and educational attainment data from the 1990 wave of the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY) in combination with AFQT scores collected during 1979–1980, when the respondents were 14–23 years of age.

For the indirect effect of ability on schooling attainment, Salkever (22) reported that a 1-point difference was associated with 0.1007 years of schooling attained for both males and females in the NLSY data. Also, 1 year of schooling attainment raised hourly earnings by 4.88% for males and 10.08% for females in the 1990 NLSY data. According to these results, a 1-point difference in ability is associated, through an indirect effect on schooling, with a 0.49% difference in earnings for males and a 1.10% difference in earnings for females.

Salkever (22) reported that the direct effect of a 1-point difference in ability was a 0.1602 percentage point difference in probability of labor force participation for males and a 0.3679 percentage point difference for females. In addition, he calculated that 1 year of schooling raised labor force participation rates by 0.3536 percentage points for males and 2.8247 percentage points for females. Subtracting the other components from the totals, a 1-point change in cognitive ability is associated with a difference in earnings of 0.20% for males and 0.72% for females through effects on labor force participation. Finally, in an analysis of the 1990 NLSY earnings data, Neal and Johnson (23) reported smaller estimates of the effect of cognitive ability on earnings. They included workers who took the AFQT test when they were 14–18 years of age and excluded those who took the AFQT test at 19–23 years of age to make the test scores more comparable. They also estimated the total effect of ability on hourly earnings by excluding schooling variables. Their estimates indicate that a 1point difference in AFQT scores is associated with a 1.15% difference in earnings for men and a 1.52% difference for women. Their estimate of the direct effect of ability on hourly earnings, controlling for schooling, is 0.83% for men; they reported no estimate for women.

The analysis of Neal and Johnson (23) has no link from ability to labor force participation. According to Salkever (22), a 1-point difference in ability leads to a 0.20% difference for males and 0.72% for females. If we add Salkever’s figures (22) to the estimates from Neal and Johnson (23), the total effect of a 1-point difference in ability on earnings is 1.35% for males and 2.24% for females.

Their summary estimate from pg5/567 is a lower-middle-upperbound of each IQ point is worth, in net present value 2000 dollars: 12,700-14,500-17,200.

(Note that these figures, as usual, are net estimates of the value to an individual: so they are including zero-sum games and positional benefits. They aren't giving estimates of the positive externalities or marginal benefits.)

Comment author: gwern 30 May 2012 04:08:57PM 3 points [-]

"Quality of Institutions : Does Intelligence Matter?", Kalonda-Kanyama & Kodila-Tedika 2012:

We analyze the effect of the average level of intelligence on different measures of the quality of institutions, using a 2006 cross-sectional sample of 113 countries. The results show that average IQ positively affects all the measures of institutional quality considered in our study, namely government eciency, regulatory quality, rule of law, political stability and voice and accountability. The positive effect of intelligence is robust to controlling for other determinants of institutional quality.

Comment author: gwern 02 February 2016 12:39:13AM 2 points [-]

"IQ and Permanent Income: Sizing Up the “IQ Paradox”":

I used data from the NLSY79 which is an ongoing longitudinal study that follows the lives of a large sample of Americans born in 1957-64. Specifically, I used the nationally representative subsample comprising more than 6000 individuals...The unstandardized slope coefficient is 0.025 (95% CI: 0.023-0.027). Because the dependent variable is logarithmic, this coefficient, when multiplied by 100, can be (approximately) interpreted as the percent change in income in (unlogged) dollars associated with a 1 IQ point change.[Note] Therefore, one additional IQ point predicts a 2.5% boost in income. The standardized effect size, or correlation, is 0.36 and the R squared is 13%.

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2015 06:26:09PM *  2 points [-]

"Costs and benefits of iodine supplementation for pregnant women in a mildly to moderately iodine-deficient population: a modelling analysis" (mirror; appendices), Monahan et al 2015

Background: Results from previous studies show that the cognitive ability of off spring might be irreversibly damaged as a result of their mother's mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy. A reduced intelligence quotient (IQ) score has broad economic and societal cost implications because intelligence affects wellbeing, income, and education outcomes. Although pregnancy and lactation lead to increased iodine needs, no UK recommendations for iodine supplementation have been issued to pregnant women. We aimed to investigate the cost-effectiveness of iodine supplementation versus no supplementation for pregnant women in a mildly to moderately iodine-deficient population for which a population- based iodine supplementation programme-for example, universal salt iodisation-did not exist.

Methods: We systematically searched MEDLINE, Embase, EconLit, and NHS EED for economic studies that linked IQ and income published in all languages until Aug 21, 2014. We took clinical data relating to iodine deficiency in pregnant women and the effect on IQ in their children aged 8-9 years from primary research. A decision tree was developed to compare the treatment strategies of iodine supplementation in tablet form with no iodine supplementation for pregnant women in the UK. Analyses were done from a health service perspective (analysis 1; taking direct health service costs into account) and societal perspective (analysis 2; taking education costs and the value of an IQ point itself into account), and presented in terms of cost (in sterling, relevant to 2013) per IQ point gained in the off spring. We made data-supported assumptions to complete these analyses, but used a conservative approach that limited the benefits of iodine supplementation and overestimated its potential harms.

Findings: Our systematic search identified 1361 published articles, of which eight were assessed to calculate the monetary value of an IQ point. A discounted lifetime value of an additional IQ point based on earnings was estimated to be £3297 (study estimates range from £1319 to £11 967) for the off spring cohort. Iodine supplementation was cost saving from both a health service perspective (saving £199 per pregnant woman [sensitivity analysis range -£42 to £229]) and societal perspective (saving £4476 per pregnant woman [sensitivity analysis range £540 to £4495]), with a net gain of 1·22 IQ points in each analysis. Base case results were robust to sensitivity analyses.

Interpretation: Iodine supplementation for pregnant women in the UK is potentially cost saving. This finding also has implications for the 1·88 billion people in the 32 countries with iodine deficiency worldwide. Valuation of IQ points should consider non-earnings benefits-eg, health benefits associated with a higher IQ not germane to earnings.

IQ estimates:

Our systematic search identified 1361 published articles, of which eight studies 47-54 passed quality criteria and were assessed to calculate the monetary value of an IQ point (appendix p 4). The quality criteria were as follows: an individual's IQ is used and is not a proxy; variables are clearly specified; IQ measure follows a conventional normal distribution with a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15 or sufficient information is included in the study to allow the IQ measure's distribution to be converted into one (for cross study comparability); and the results reported in currency form have the applicable year stated. Most of the studies valued an IQ point on the basis of its effect on an individual's income (appendix p 3). The issue of differences in scaling of IQ tests hindered the comparability across studies. The value of an IQ point, derived from the systematic search and applied to the unborn cohort, comes from the lifetime earnings premium of an additional IQ point. This is calculated to be £3297 (study estimates range from £1319 to £11967; after adjustment with life tables).

All the details are in the Monahan et al 2015 appendices

One study looked at people's willingness to pay (WTP) for an additional IQ point. 4 Five studies used econometric regressions to determine the individuals IQ's effect on their subsequent income, 5-9 whereas two studies were cost benefit analysis on reducing lead exposure. 10,11 Only one of the studies included in the systematic literature search was not set in the USA. 5...In keeping with the conservative nature of the model, the relatively high earnings premium from IQ points from Schwartz 10 and Salkever 11 are excluded on the basis that the effect may be overstated.

The 8 studies are listed on pg8 of the appendix, Table 1:

(Note that by including covariates that are obviously caused by IQ rather than independent, and excluding any attempt at measuring the many positive externalities of greater intelligence, these numbers can usually be considered substantial underestimates of country-wide benefits.)

Comment author: gwern 01 October 2012 07:59:02PM *  2 points [-]

"Are Smarter Groups More Cooperative? Evidence from Prisoner's Dilemma Experiments, 1959-2003", Jones 2008:

A meta-study of repeated prisoner's dilemma experiments run at numerous universities suggests that students cooperate 5% to 8% more often for every 100 point increase in the school's average SAT score.

Later: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/10/group_iq_one_so.html

This finding was the first of its kind: In prisoner's dilemmas, smarter groups really were more cooperative. Since then other researchers have found similar results, some of which I discuss in Section III of this article for the Asian Development Review. It looks like intelligence is a form of social intelligence...Does that happen in the real world? If it does, does it mean that there are negative political externalities to low-skill immigration? That's a topic for a later time. Another worthy question: Why would high IQ groups be more cooperative anyway? Isn't cynicism intelligent? Sure, sometimes, but the political entrepreneur who can find a way to sustain a truce can probably skim quite a lot of the resulting prosperity off for herself. And people who are better at solving the puzzles in an IQ test are probably better at solving the puzzles of human interaction.

Comment author: gwern 10 September 2012 11:28:09PM 2 points [-]

"IQ in the Production Function: Evidence from Immigrant Earnings", Jones & Schneider 2008:

We show that a country’s average IQ score is a useful predictor of the wages that immigrants from that country earn in the U.S., whether or not one adjusts for immigrant education. Just as in numerous microeconomic studies, 1 IQ point predicts 1% higher wages, suggesting that IQ tests capture an important difference in cross-country worker productivity. In a cross-country development accounting exercise, about one-sixth of the global inequality in log income can be explained by the effect of large, persistent differences in national average IQ on the private marginal product of labor. Taken together with the results of Jones and Schneider (2006) and Hanushek and Kimko (2000), this suggests that cognitive skills matter more for groups than for individuals.

Comment author: gwern 28 February 2012 11:09:29PM 13 points [-]

Here's another one: "National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia", Jones 2011

...cognitive skills—intelligence quotient scores, math skills, and the like—have only a modest influence on individual wages, but are strongly correlated with national outcomes. Is this largely due to human capital spillovers? This paper argues that the answer is yes. It presents four different channels through which intelligence may matter more for nations than for individuals: (i) intelligence is associated with patience and hence higher savings rates; (ii) intelligence causes cooperation; (iii) higher group intelligence opens the door to using fragile, high-value production technologies; and (iv) intelligence is associated with supporting market-oriented policies.

Comment author: gwern 28 August 2013 06:13:21PM *  5 points [-]

"Salt Iodization and the Enfranchisement of the American Worker", Adhvaryu et al 2013:

...We find substantial impacts of salt iodization. High school completion rose by 6 percentage points, and labor force participation went up by 1 point. Analysis of income transitions by quantile shows that the new labor force joiners entered at the bottom of the wage distribution and took up blue collar labor, pulling down average wage income conditional on employment. Our results inform the ongoing debate on salt iodization in many low-income countries. We show that large-scale iodized salt distribution had a targeted impact, benefiting the worker on the margin of employment, and generating sizeable economic returns at low cost...The recent study by Feyrer et al. (2013) estimates that Morton Salt Co.’s decision to iodize may have increased IQ by 15 points, accounting for a significant part of the Flynn Effect, the steady rise IQ in the US over the twentieth century. Our estimates, paired with this number, suggest that each IQ point accounts for nearly one tenth of a point increase in labor force participation.

If, in the 1920s, 10 IQ points could increase your labor participation rate by 1%, then what on earth does the multiplier look like now? The 1920s weren't really known for their demands on intelligence, after all.

And note the relevance to discussions of technological unemployment: since the gains are concentrated in the low end (think 80s, 90s) due to the threshold nature of iodine & IQ, this employment increase means that already, a century ago, people in the low-end range were having trouble being employed.

Comment author: gwern 03 February 2013 01:41:12AM *  5 points [-]

"Exponential correlation of IQ and the wealth of nations", Dickerson 2006:

Plots of mean IQ and per capita real Gross Domestic Product for groups of 81 and 185 nations, as collected by Lynn and Vanhanen, are best fitted by an exponential function of the form: GDP = a * 10^b*(IQ), where a and b are empirical constants. Exponential fitting yields markedly higher correlation coefficients than either linear or quadratic. The implication of exponential fitting is that a given increment in IQ, anywhere along the IQ scale, results in a given percentage in GDP, rather than a given dollar increase as linear fitting would predict. As a rough rule of thumb, an increase of 10 points in mean IQ results in a doubling of the per capita GDP.

....In their book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Lynn and Vanhanen (2002) present a table listing for 81 nations the measured mean IQ and the per capita real Gross Domestic Product as of 1998 (their Table 7.7). They subsequently extend this to all 185 nations, using estimated IQs for the 104 new entries based chiefly on IQ values for immediate neighbors (their Table 8.9). In both cases they observe a significant correlation between IQ and GDP, with linear correlation factors R^2 = 0.537 for the 81-nation group and 0.389 for 185 nations. McDaniel and Whetzel have extended the examination of correlations to quadratic fitting in a paper that demonstrates the robustness of these correlations to minor variations in individual IQ values (McDaniel & Whetzel, in press). But an even stronger correlation is found if the fitting is exponential rather than linear or quadratic.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2013 08:42:30AM *  3 points [-]

It peeves me when scatterplots of GDP per capita versus something else use a linear scale -- do they actually think the difference between $30k and $20k is anywhere near as important as that between $11k and $1k? And yet hardly anybody uses logarithmic scales.

Likewise, the fit looks a lot less scary if you write it as ln(GDP) = A + B*IQ.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 26 April 2012 12:23:18AM 5 points [-]

Above link is dead. Here is a new one


Comment author: gwern 03 September 2011 06:46:29PM *  10 points [-]

This is related, but not the research talked about. The Terman Project apparently found that the very highest IQ cohort had many more patents than the lower cohorts, but this did not show up as massively increased lifetime income.

Compare the bottom right IQ graph with SMPY results which show the impact of ability (SAT-M measured before age 13) on publication and patent rates. Ability in the SMPY graph varies between 99th and 99.99th percentile in quintiles Q1-Q5. The variation in IQ between the bottom and top deciles of the Terman study covers a similar range. The Terman super-smarties (i.e., +4 SD) only earned slightly more (say, 15-20% over a lifetime) than the ordinary smarties (i.e., +2.5 SD), but the probability of earning a patent (SMPY) went up by about 4x over the corresponding ability range.


Unless we want to assume those 4x extra patents were extremely worthless, or that the less smart groups were generating positive externalities in some other mechanism, this would seem to imply that the smartest were not capturing anywhere near the value they were creating - and hence were generating significant positive externalities.

EDIT: Jones 2011 argues much the same thing - economic returns to IQ are so low because so much of it is being lost to positive externalities.

Comment author: gwern 27 February 2012 02:44:15AM 6 points [-]
Comment author: soreff 01 September 2011 02:24:27PM *  7 points [-]

I'm not convinced. One very simple gain from

more memory capacity and processing speed

is the ability to consider more alternatives. These may be alternative explanations, designs, or courses of action. If I consider three alternatives where before I could only consider two, if the third one happens to be better than the other two, it is a real gain. This applies directly to the case of

carry on using the same ineffective medical treatments because of failure to think of alternative causes

Comment author: BillyOblivion 05 September 2011 12:52:51PM 4 points [-]

Don't confuse time-to-solution with correctness. Speed and the amount of facts at hand will not give you a good result if your fundamental assumptions (aka your algorithm) is wrong.

You cannot make up in quantity what you lose on each transaction, as the dot-com folks proved repeatedly.

Comment author: AlexSchell 27 September 2011 02:38:34AM 5 points [-]

At this point one must expect to meet with an objection. ‘Well then, if even obdurate sceptics admit that the assertions of religion cannot be refuted by reason, why should I not believe in them, since they have so much on their side tradition, the agreement of mankind, and all the consolations they offer?’ Why not, indeed? Just as no one can be forced to believe, so no one can be forced to disbelieve. But do not let us be satisfied with deceiving ourselves that arguments like these take us along the road of correct thinking. If ever there was a case of a lame excuse we have it here. Ignorance is ignorance; no right to believe anything can be derived from it. In other matters no sensible person will behave so irresponsibly or rest content with such feeble grounds for his opinions and for the line he takes. It is only in the highest and most sacred things that he allows himself to do so.

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, part VI

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 05:07:10PM 5 points [-]

This is the use of metaness: for liberation - not less of love but expanding of love beyond local optima.

-- Nick Tarleton

The original goes:

This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past.

-- T. S. Eliot

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 10:49:04AM *  5 points [-]

Why should the government get to decide how to destroy our money? We should let the free market find more efficient ways to destroy money.

The Onion (it's sort of a rationality and anti-rationality quote at multiple levels)

Comment author: anonym 04 September 2011 06:06:58PM 5 points [-]

Very often in mathematics the crucial problem is to recognize and discover what are the relevant concepts; once this is accomplished the job may be more than half done.

Yitz Herstein

Comment author: [deleted] 05 September 2011 09:28:16PM *  9 points [-]

Good mathematicians see analogies between theorems. Great mathematicians see analogies between analogies.

Banach, in a 1957 letter to Ulam.

Comment author: lionhearted 01 September 2011 11:34:16PM *  14 points [-]

I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me?

Niggas aim mainly at niggas they can't be.

But niggas can't hit niggas they can't see.

I'm out of sight, now I'm out of they dang reach.

-- Dr. Dre, "The Watcher"

Comment author: [deleted] 03 September 2011 04:53:09AM *  7 points [-]

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

-- Richard P. Feynman

Comment author: anonym 04 September 2011 05:42:34PM 3 points [-]

And oldy but goody.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 September 2011 01:31:18PM 4 points [-]

One must give value to their existence by behaving as if ones very existence were a work of art.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 03 September 2011 04:00:54AM 2 points [-]

It is the man of science, eager to have his every opinion regenerated, his every idea rationalized, by drinking at the fountain of fact, and devoting all the energies of his life to the cult of truth, not as he understands it, but as he does not yet understand it, that ought properly to be called a philosopher.

-- C.S. Peirce

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 03 September 2011 03:55:30AM *  2 points [-]

I will submit (separately) three quotations from my favorite philosopher, C.S. Peirce:

Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry.

-- C.S. Peirce

Comment author: Yvain 19 September 2011 06:22:15PM 11 points [-]

I think there's a few posts by Yudkowsky that I think deserve the highest praise one can give to a philosopher's writing: That, on rereading them, I have no idea what I found so mindblowing about them the first time. Everything they say seems patently obvious now!

-- Ari Rahikkala

Comment author: MinibearRex 20 September 2011 09:04:41PM 7 points [-]

Is this really a rationality quote, is it just pro-Yudkowsky?

It does set a standard for the clarity of any writing you do, but I've seen substantially better quotes on that topic before.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 September 2011 11:08:36PM 5 points [-]

Is this really a rationality quote

I say yes. This is the difference between learning the 'Philosophy' how to quote deep stuff with names like Wittgenstein and Nietzsche and just learning stuff about reality that is just obvious. Once the knowledge is there is shouldn't seem remarkable at all.

For me at least this is one of the most important factors when evaluating a learning source. Is the information I'm learning simple in retrospect or is it a bunch of complicated rote learning. If the latter, is there a good reason related to complexity in the actual world that requires me to be learning complex arbitrary things?

Comment author: Yvain 21 September 2011 10:02:15AM *  2 points [-]

Related to hindsight bias and inferential distances. I'd sort of noticed this happening before, but if I hadn't realized other people had the same experience I probably would have underestimated the degree to which rationality had changed my worldview and so underestimated the positive effect of spreading it to others.

Comment author: Patrick 05 September 2011 12:37:46AM 5 points [-]

On some other subjects people do wish to be deceived. They dislike the operation of correcting the hypothetical data which they have taken as basis. Therefore, when they begin to see looming ahead some such ridiculous result as 2 + 3 = 7, they shrink into themselves and try to find some process of twisting the logic, and tinkering the equation, which will make the answer come out a truism instead of an absurdity; and then they say, “Our hypothetical premiss is most likely true because the conclusion to which it brings us is obviously and indisputably true.” If anyone points out that there seems to be a flaw in the argument, they say, “You cannot expect to get mathematical certainty in this world,” or “You must not push logic too far,” or “Everything is more or less compromise,” and so on.

-- Mary Everest Boole

Comment author: anonym 04 September 2011 05:58:03PM 5 points [-]

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

Richard P. Feynman

Comment author: MichaelGR 11 September 2011 04:36:28AM 4 points [-]

"Using the bible to prove the existence of god is like using The Lord Of The Rings to prove the existence of Hobbits."


Comment author: XFrequentist 01 September 2011 08:26:54PM 3 points [-]

Rationality gives us greater knowledge and greater control over our own actions and emotions and over the world. Although our rationality is, initially, an evolved quality - the nature of rationality includes the Nature in it - it enables us to transform ourselves and hence transcend our status as mere animals, actually and also symbolically. Rationality comes to shape and control its own function.

Our principles fix what our life stands for, our aims create the light our life is bathed in, and our rationality, both individual and coordinate, defines and symbolizes the distance we have come from mere animality. It is by these means that our lives can come to mean more than what they instrumentally yield. And by meaning more, our lives yield more.

-- Robert Nozick (The Nature of Rationality)

Comment author: Tesseract 01 September 2011 08:49:27PM 5 points [-]

To love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.


Comment author: Multiheaded 03 September 2011 09:21:11AM 3 points [-]

I disagree. A lot of human conducts that I find virtuous, such as compassion or tolerance, have no immediate connection with the truth, and sometimes they are best served with white lies.

For example, all the LGBTQ propaganda spoken at doubting conservatives, about how people are either born gay or they aren't, and how modern culture totally doesn't make young people bisexual, no sir. We're quite innocent, human sexuality is set in stone, you see. Do you really wish to hurt your child for what they always were? What is this "queer agenda" you're speaking about?

Tee-hee :D

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 September 2011 01:27:49AM 2 points [-]

You may want to carefully consider this comment.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 September 2011 02:40:10PM 8 points [-]

When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?

-- George Bernard Shaw

(Thanks to gwern for this one.)

Comment author: RobinZ 01 September 2011 05:56:08PM 10 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 01 September 2011 06:11:06PM *  8 points [-]

Whoops. I found it on gwern's website. Guess I should've done the next (in retrospect) most obvious thing. Sorry about that!

ETA: Feel free to vote me back down if you wish.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2011 07:16:24PM 3 points [-]

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

-- Upton Sinclair

Comment author: gwern 19 September 2011 07:23:41PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Patrick 04 September 2011 01:37:22PM *  3 points [-]

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

-- HL Mencken

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 04 September 2011 05:28:20PM 4 points [-]

This is quoted already on this page albeit with "no matter" substituted for "however".

Comment author: DSimon 02 September 2011 06:41:16PM *  3 points [-]

(Sheen is attempting to perform brain surgery on an unknown alien)

Sheen: That's weird. This brain has no labels.

Doppy: Labels?

Sheen: Yeah! Usually brains come with labels, like "this is the section for tasting chicken", "this is the section for running around in circles", "this is the section for saying AAAAARGHLBLAHH." But, this brain doesn't have any labels at all. So, I'm going to have to do what all the best doctors do.

Doppy: What's that?

Sheen: Poke around and see what happens!

-- Planet Sheen

Comment author: PhilGoetz 11 September 2011 07:06:33PM *  2 points [-]

“When anyone asks me how I can describe my experience of nearly forty years at sea, I merely say uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales and storms and fog and the like, but in all my experience, I have never been in an accident of any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea… I never saw a wreck and have never been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.”

E.J. Smith, 1907, later captain of the RMS Titanic

Note: This is one of those comments that has been repeated, without citation, on the internet so many times that I can no longer find a citation.

Comment author: Patrick 07 September 2011 10:07:26AM 2 points [-]

Leonard, if you were about to burn or drown or starve I would panic. It would be the least I could do. That's what's happening to people now, and I don't think my duty to panic disappears just because they're not in the room!

-- Raymond Terrific

Comment author: MixedNuts 08 February 2013 05:22:26PM 3 points [-]

I think it comes down to this:

If you live in a small community, and your friend or neighbor or family member contacts you and says “someone just committed a horrible act of violence here!” you have to drop everything and listen. Your discomfort is so insignificant compared to the magnitude of the event, you can’t ignore something like that.

You certainly can’t answer “sorry, I need you to stop right there, I’m trying to do some self-care right now and I’m avoiding triggers until I feel ready to engage with difficult subjects.” They’d crown you King Butthead.

But on the Internet, the “community” is 2.4 billion people. Something horrible will be happening to thousands of them every day. You can’t apply the same ethics. It’s emotionally impossible, and not terribly helpful to the world, to even try.

So hand me my Butt Crown.

-- Cliff Pervocracy

Comment author: dvasya 01 September 2011 07:33:29AM *  2 points [-]

If superior creatures from space ever visit earth, the first question they will ask, in order to assess the level of our civilization, is ‘Have they discovered evolution yet?’

-- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

(I know it's old and famous and classic, but this doesn't make it any less precious, does it?)

Comment author: Bugmaster 20 September 2011 11:48:03PM 8 points [-]

If I were an intelligent creature from space visiting Earth, I'd probably start by asking, "do they have anything that can shoot us out of orbit ?" That's just me though.

Comment author: rwallace 04 September 2011 01:18:34PM 5 points [-]

I would actually think evolution a particularly poor choice.

If you want to pick one question to ask (and if we leave aside the obvious criterion of easy detectability from space) then you would want to pick one strongly connected in the dependency graph. Heavier than air flight, digital computers, nuclear energy, the expansion of the universe, the genetic code, are all good candidates. You can't discover those without discovering a lot of other things first.

But Aristotle could in principle have figured out evolution. The prior probability of doing so at that early stage may be small, but I'll still bet evolution has a much larger variance in its discovery time than a lot of other things.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 04 September 2011 01:27:52PM 2 points [-]

Heavier than air flight, digital computers, nuclear energy, the expansion of the universe, the genetic code, are all good candidates. You can't discover those without discovering a lot of other things first.

Genetic code might likely vary. While it isn't implausible that other life would use DNA for its genetic storage it doesn't seem to be that likely. It seems extremely unlikely that DNA would be organized in the same triplet codon system that life on Earth uses.

Heavier than air flight is also a function of what sort of planet you are on. If Earth had slightly weaker or stronger gravity the difficulty of this achievement would change a lot. Also if intelligent life had arose from winged species one could see this as impacting how much they study aerodynamics and the like. One could conceive of that going either way (say having a very intuitive understanding of how to fly but considering it to be incredibly difficult to make an Artificial Flyer, or the opposite, using that intuition to easily understand what would need to be done in some form.)

Other than that, your argument seems to be a good one.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 September 2011 12:59:43PM 6 points [-]

but this doesn't make it any less precious, does it?

I wouldn't say it has much preciousness to begin with. It is is nearly nonsensical cheering. The sort of thing I don't like to associate myself with at all.

Comment author: Kingreaper 01 September 2011 07:46:46AM 10 points [-]

Sometimes I suspect that wouldn't even occur to them as a question. That evolution might turn out to be one of those things that it's just assumed any race that had mastered agriculture MUST understand.

Because, well, how could a race use selective breeding, and NOT realise that evolution by natural selection occurs?

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 01 September 2011 10:31:19AM 16 points [-]


Realizing far-reaching consequences of an idea is only easy in hindsight, otherwise I think it's a matter of exceptional intelligence and/or luck. There's an enormous difference between, on the one hand, noticing some limited selection and utilising it for practical benefits - despite only having a limited, if any, understanding of what you're doing - and on the other hand realizing how life evolved into complexity from its simple beginnings, in the course of a difficult to grasp period of time. Especially if the idea has to go up against well-entrenched, hostile memes.

I don't know if this has a name, but there seems to exit a trope where (speaking broadly) superior beings are unable to understand the thinking and errors of less advanced beings. I first noticed it when reading H. Fast's The First Men, where this exchange between a "Man Plus" child and a normal human occurs:

"Can you do something you disapprove of?" "I am afraid I can. And do." "I don't understand. Then why do you do it?"

It's supposed to be about how the child is so advanced and undivided in her thinking, but to me it just means "well then you don't understand how the human mind works".

In short, I find this trope to be a fallacy. I'd expect an advanced civilisation to have a greater, not lesser, understanding of how intelligence works, its limitations, and failure modes in general.

Comment author: erniebornheimer 02 September 2011 10:37:43PM 9 points [-]

Yeah. This was put very well by Fyodor Urnov, in an MCB140 lecture:

"What is blindingly obvious to us was not obvious to geniuses of ages past."

I think the lecture series is available on iTunes.

Comment author: Nornagest 21 September 2011 12:49:59AM 2 points [-]

While I think you're right to point out that the uncomprehending-superior-beings trope is unrealistic, I don't think Dawkins was generalizing from fictional evidence; his quote reads more to me like plain old anthropomorphism, along with a good slice of self-serving bias relating to the importance of his own work.

A point similar to your first one shows up occasionally in fiction too, incidentally; there's a semi-common sci-fi trope that has alien species achieving interstellar travel or some other advanced technology by way of a very simple and obvious-in-retrospect process that just happened never to occur to any human scientist. So culture's not completely blind to the idea. Both tropes basically exist to serve narrative purposes, though, and usually obviously polemic ones; Dawkins isn't any kind of extra-rational superhuman, but I wouldn't expect him to unwittingly parrot a device that transparent out of its original context.

Comment author: Kingreaper 01 September 2011 11:11:26AM *  3 points [-]

In short, I find this trope to be a fallacy. I'd expect an advanced civilisation to have a greater, not lesser, understanding of how intelligence works, its limitations, and failure modes in general.

But what reason do we have to expect them to pick evolution, as opposed to the concept of money, or of extensive governments (governments governing more than 10,000 people at once), or of written language, or of the internet, or of radio communication, or of fillangerisation, as their obvious sign of advancement?

Just because humans picked up on evolution far later than we should have, doesn't mean that evolution is what they'll expect to be the late discovery. They might equally expect that the internet wouldn't be invented until the equivalent tech level of 2150. Or they might consider moveable type to be the symbol of a masterful race.

Just because they'll likely be able to understand why we were late to it, doesn't mean it would occur to them before looking at us. It's easy to explain why we came to it when we did, once you know that that's what happened, but if you were from a society that realised evolution [not necessarily common descent] existed as they were domesticating animals; would you really think of understanding evolution as a sign of advancement?

EDIT: IOW: I've upvoted your disagreement with the "advanced people can't understand the simpler ways" trope; but I stand by my original point: they wouldn't EXPECT evolution to be undiscovered.

Comment author: Slackson 01 September 2011 11:47:22AM 10 points [-]

I suspect that the intent of the original quote is that they'll assess us by our curiosity towards, and effectiveness in discovering, our origins. As Dawkins is a biologist, he is implying that evolution by natural selection is an important part of it, which of course is true. An astronomer or cosmologist might consider a theory on the origins of the universe itself to be more important, a biochemist might consider abiogenesis to be the key, and so on.

Personally, I can see where he's coming from, though I can't say I feel like I know enough about the evolution of intelligence to come up with a valid argument as to whether an alien species would consider this to be a good metric to evaluate us with. One could argue that interest in oneself is an important aspect of intelligence, and scientific enquiry important to the development of space travel, and so a species capable of travelling to us would have those qualities and look for them in the creatures they found.

This is my time posting here, so I'm probably not quite up to the standards of the rest of you just yet. Sorry if I said something stupid.

Comment author: Kingreaper 01 September 2011 11:55:47AM *  8 points [-]

Welcome to lesswrong.

I wouldn't consider anything you've said here stupid, in fact I would agree with it.

I, personally, see it as a failure of imagination on the part of Dawkin's, that he considers the issue he personally finds most important to be that which alien intelligences will find most important, but you are right to point out what his likely reasoning is.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 02 September 2011 11:37:41PM 2 points [-]

Another chain of reasoning I have seen people use to reach similar conclusions is that the aliens are looking for species that have outgrown their sense of their own special importance to the universe. Aliens checking for that would be likely to ask about evolution, or possibly about cosmologies that don't have the home planet at the center of the universe. However, I don't think a sense of specialness is one of the main things aliens will care about.

Comment author: dvasya 02 September 2011 12:31:20PM 3 points [-]

I think you're interpreting the quote too literally, it's not a statement about some alien intelligences but an allegory to communicate just how important the science of evolution is.

Comment author: Logos01 02 September 2011 08:14:37PM 2 points [-]

In short, I find this trope to be a fallacy. I'd expect an advanced civilisation to have a greater, not lesser, understanding of how intelligence works, its limitations, and failure modes in general.

Have you never looked at something someone does and asked yourself, "How can they be so stupid?"

It's not as though you literally cannot conceive of such limitations; just that you cannot empathize with them.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 01 September 2011 06:43:35PM 4 points [-]

The British agricultural revolution involved animal breeding starting in about 1750. Darwin didn't publish Origin of Species until 1859, so in reality it took about 100 years for the other shoe to drop.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 02 September 2011 07:23:15AM 4 points [-]

Selective breeding had been around much longer than that.

Comment author: machrider 03 September 2011 07:29:26AM *  2 points [-]

100 years is nothing in the evolution of a civilization though. The time between agricultural revolution and the discovery of evolution is not a typical period in the history of humanity.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 September 2011 08:05:45AM 2 points [-]

I wonder if there's any way to estimate how hard it is for an intelligent species to think of evolution. It's a very abstract theory, and I think it's plausible that intelligent species could be significantly better or worse than we are at abstract thought. I have no idea where the middle of the bell curve (if it's a bell curve at all) would be.