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Rationality Quotes October 2011

3 Post author: MinibearRex 03 October 2011 06:41AM

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  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.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 (532)

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 October 2011 03:08:18AM 42 points [-]

Sometimes you hear philosophers bemoaning the fact that philosophers tend not to form consensuses like certain other disciplines do (sciences in particular). But there is no great mystery to this. The sciences reward consensus-forming as long as certain procedures are followed: agreements through experimental verification, processes of peer review, etc. Philosophy has nothing like this. Philosophers are rewarded for coming up with creative reasons not to agree with other people. The whole thrust of professional philosophy is toward inventing ways to regard opposing arguments as failure, as long as those ways don't exhibit any obvious flaws. However much philosophers are interested in the truth, philosophy as a profession is not structured so as to converge on it; it is structured so as to have the maximal possible divergence that can be sustained given common conventions. We are not trained to find ways to come to agree with each other; we are trained to find ways to disagree with each other.

Brandon Watson

Comment author: anonym 02 October 2011 02:17:17AM 39 points [-]

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.

Bertrand Russell

Comment author: brazzy 03 October 2011 10:33:23AM 18 points [-]

Or a mathematician.

Comment author: Dojan 25 December 2011 02:26:32PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: anonym 04 October 2011 03:57:46AM 2 points [-]

He did say "all exact science", a phrasing I think he probably chose carefully, so I'd charitably interpret the remark as being about people uttering purported scientific truths.

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 02:50:52AM 1 point [-]

I think it's safe to say that Bertrand Russell knew about mathematicians, as he was one himself. :-)

Comment author: MixedNuts 31 October 2011 06:31:40PM 1 point [-]

Hydrogen atoms have exactly one proton.

Comment author: Automaton 02 October 2011 03:00:47AM *  36 points [-]

Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory, and if questions arise, you can always point others back to it. You can even reconsider certain facts and honestly change your views. And you can openly discuss your confusion, conflicts, and doubts with all comers. In this way, a commitment to the truth is naturally purifying of error.

Sam Harris, "Lying"

Comment author: Nominull 02 October 2011 03:40:02AM 31 points [-]

I think this is actually a myth. It's appealing, to us who love truth so much, to think that deviating from the path of the truth is deadly and dangerous and leads inevitably to dark side epistemology. But there is a trick to telling lies, such that they only differ from the truth in minor, difficult to verify ways. If you tell elegant lies, they will cling to the surface of the truth like a parasite, and you will be able to do almost anything with them that you could do with the truth. You just have to remember a few extra bits that you changed, and otherwise behave as a normal honest person would, given those few extra bits.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 05 October 2011 02:23:17PM 14 points [-]

Worse, you can simply let people catch you, then get angry with them and bully them into accepting your claims not to have lied out of a mix of imperfect certainty and conflict avoidance. By doing this you condition them to accept the radical form of dominance where they have the authority to tell you what you are morally entitled to believe.

Comment author: Bongo 07 October 2011 09:14:38AM *  2 points [-]

By doing this you condition them to accept the radical form of dominance where they have the authority to tell you what you are morally entitled to believe.

*where you have the authority to tell them (?)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 09 October 2011 02:20:21AM 2 points [-]

Yep. Sorry.

Comment author: NihilCredo 02 October 2011 10:09:49PM 11 points [-]

You're not actually disagreeing with Harris. Crafting efficient lies that behave as you describe is hard, particularly on the spot during conversation. Practice helps, and having your interlocutor's trust can compensate for a lot of imperfections, but it's still a lot of work compared to just sharing everything you know

Comment author: SilasBarta 03 October 2011 05:55:39PM 16 points [-]

Hm, that gives me an idea: study lying as a computational complexity problem. Just as we can study how much computing power it takes to distinguish random data from encrypted data, we can study how much computing power it takes to formulate (self-serving) hypotheses that take too much effort to distinguish from the truth.

Just a thought...

(Scott Aaronson's paper opened my eyes on the subject.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 October 2011 06:09:26PM 11 points [-]

I don't know much about the problem in question, but there's a related open problem in number theory.

Suppose I am thinking of a positive integer from 1 to n. You know this and know n. You want to figure out my number but are only allowed to ask if my number is in some range you name. In this game it is easy to see that you can always find out my number in less than 1+log2 n questions.

But what if I'm allowed to lie k times for some fixed k (that you know). Then the problem becomes much more difficult. A general bound in terms of k and n is open.

This suggests to me that working out problems involving lying, even in toy models, can quickly become complicated and difficult to examine.

Comment author: SilasBarta 03 October 2011 06:29:13PM *  10 points [-]

Are you familiar with the seemingly similar question about the prisoners, king, and coin? I don't know the name, but it goes like this:

There are n prisoners in separate rooms, each with a doorway to a central chamber (CC) that has a coin. One by one, the king takes a random prisoner into the CC (no one else can see what is going on), and asks the prisoner if the king has brought all prisoners into the CC by now. The prisoner can either answer "yes" or "I don't know". If he says the former and is wrong, all prisoners are executed. If he's right, they're released.

If If he says "I don't know", he can set the coin to heads or tails. The king may turn over the coin after a prisoner leaves (and before he brings the next in), but he may only do so a finite k number of times in total. (This is a key similarity to the number of lies in the problem you describe).

The prisoners may discuss a strategy before starting, but the king gets to listen in and learn their strategy. So long as the game continues, every prisoner will be picked inifinte times (i.e. every prisoner can always expect to get picked again).

Is it possible for the prisoners to guarantee their eventual release?

The answer is yes, and there's a known bound on how long it takes. (Got this from slashdot a long time ago.)

Edit: Found it. Here's the discussion that spawned it, and here's the thread that introduces this problem, and here's a comment with a solution. Apparently, the problem has a name it goes by.

Edit2: This also serves as a case study in how to present a problem as succinctly as possible. The only thing I got wrong about its statement was that the king chooses the order of the prisoners going into the CC (rather than it being random), although given the constraint that each prisoner is eventually brought in infinite times, and the strategy must work all the time, I don't think it changes the problem.

Comment author: Nominull 02 October 2011 03:40:32AM 4 points [-]

Not that I am implying that it is normal to be honest, haha.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 October 2011 03:46:31AM 6 points [-]

When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory, and if questions arise, you can always point others back to it.

As any decent defense attorney will tell you: if you're accused of something you didn't do, this is still an extremely bad approach.

Comment author: wedrifid 04 October 2011 04:21:19AM 6 points [-]

Definitely. If questions arise you should always point others back to your attorney! ;)

Comment author: lessdazed 04 October 2011 04:30:02AM *  4 points [-]

For a defendant, lying is the only thing worse than telling the truth. Telling the truth is still often a terrible idea, particularly for a person accused in the formal American legal system.

(Edited to change meaning to what I originally intended but typed incorrectly. Original words were "For a defendant, the only thing worse than lying is telling the truth," but the above is what I had intended.)

Comment author: NihilCredo 04 October 2011 04:57:53AM 2 points [-]

Don't defence attorneys (at least in the USA) heartily recommend shutting up as opposed to lying?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 October 2011 10:29:43AM 3 points [-]


Comment author: kalla724 03 October 2011 06:50:07PM 35 points [-]

"What do you think the big headlines were in 1666, the year Newton posited gravitation as a universal force, discovered that white light was composed of the colors of the spectrum, and invented differential calculus, or in 1905, the “annus mirabilis” when Einstein confirmed quantum theory by analyzing the photoelectric effect, introduced special relativity, and proposed the formulation that matter and energy are equivalent? The Great Fire of London and the Anglo-Dutch War; The Russian Revolution and the Russo-Japanese War. The posturing and squabbling of politicians and the exchange of gunfire over issues that would be of little interest or significance to anyone alive now. In other words, ephemeral bullshit. These insights and discoveries are the real history of our species, the slow painstaking climb from ignorance to understanding."

  • Tim Kreider
Comment author: Nisan 03 October 2011 07:14:38PM 27 points [-]

On the other hand, those thousands of lives cut short by violence are also the real history of our species — the misery we are climbing out of. The value of the discovery of the spectrum of light lies in its being put to use in ensuring that London never burns again.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 October 2011 07:04:35PM 9 points [-]

I'm tempted to agree but at another level tempted to disagree. The Great Fire, the Anglo-Dutch War and the Russo-Japanese war might not have had such large scale impacts, but the Russian Revolution laid to formation of the USSR and the cold war, leading to one of the greatest existential risk to human ever. Much of the science done in the 1950s and 60s was as part of the US v. USSR general competition for superiority. Without the Russian Revolution we might very well have never gone to the moon.

Also, Newton wasn't the first person to posit gravity as a universal force. Oresme discussed the same idea in the 1300s. Newton wasn't even the first person to posit an inverse square law. He was just the first to show that an inverse square law lead to elliptical orbits and other observed behavior. See this essay.

Comment author: kalla724 03 October 2011 07:09:13PM 12 points [-]

The quote is indeed imperfect, but I think the sentiment it conveys is accurate.

After all, in a thousand years or so, Russian revolution and the USSR will be as important as the Mongol invasion and the Khanate of the Golden Horde are today. If we didn't get to the moon fifty years ago, there would have been some other conflict pushing some other line of advancement.

It is also, for the actual point of the quote, irrelevant who made the discoveries. The point is that in long range, the importance of those discoveries will always overshadow ephemeral political events.

Comment author: simplyeric 04 October 2011 04:46:28PM 8 points [-]

After all, in a thousand years or so, Russian revolution and the USSR will be as important as the Mongol invasion and the Khanate of the Golden Horde are today.

Which is to say: pretty important. Not that it's important what exacly some boundary was, or who did what to whom...but all these things are part of the overall development of our current state of affairs, from the development of paper money to credit systems, from Chinese approach to Tibet to the extent of distribution of Islam.

I think it's risky to assume that "science", while more easily identified as rational, is in fact more rational than the rational facts of history, and its causal relationship to the present.

Discoveries in science are, in a sense, what "has to be". But while histroy could have been different, itt wasn't, and it simply "is what it is".

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2011 04:39:44AM *  32 points [-]

There is one rule that's very simple, but not easy: observe reality and adjust.

Ran Prieur

Comment author: ciphergoth 13 October 2011 09:32:09PM 30 points [-]

News flash, dearies: there’s lots of areas of life that aren’t ‘science’ where people do tend to get a mite hung up on particulars of what is and is not, in fact, true. Like in bookkeeping. Like in criminal investigations. Like when they’re trying to establish where their spouse was last night.

Like, in fact, in most facets of life, hundreds of times a day, even if accounting isn’t your field and you’re not the accused at a criminal trial, and you’re not even married. Getting the facts right isn’t a concern of ‘science’, specifically. It’s a general concern of human beings. Getting reality right is, frequently, indeed, rather important if you wish to stay alive. It’s not a particularly academic question whether the car is or is not coming, when you cross the road. It’s the sort of thing one likes to get right. And we don’t generally call this ‘science’, either. We call it ‘looking’.

-- AJ Milne

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 03:06:35AM 1 point [-]

Not to be confused with A. A. Milne, who wrote Winnie the Pooh.

For some context, this is a response to allegations of scientism, a word with remarkably overt anti-epistemological connotations.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 01:16:21AM 2 points [-]

a word with remarkably overt anti-epistemological connotations.

Really, I see it as describing a family of genuine failure modes that people trying to be "scientific" often fall into. For example:

a) attempting to argue by definition that something is "science" and therefore right.

b) arguing that just because some evidence isn't scientific, that it's not valid evidence.

c) insisting that the results of the latest scientific research should are right, despite results in the relevant field having a very poor replication rate.

In case people try to argue that these errors rarely get made, here is a comment by Yvain with 22 karma that makes errors (b) and (c).

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 October 2011 01:21:39AM *  3 points [-]

Can you point out where Yvain makes those comments that you think violate b and c? Reading that post it looks to me like Yvain's points are a little more nuanced than that.

Note incidentally that while you might be able to use the word that way, the vast majority of people who use it seem to use it in a way closer to what sketerpot is talking about. If one interacts at all with either young earth creationists or homeopaths for example it often doesn't take long before the term is thrown around.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 02:52:43AM 2 points [-]

Can you point out where Yvain makes those comments that you think violate b and c?

Here are some excerpts from Yvain's comments that exhibit the problems I mentioned, (as well as others that maybe I should add).

Okay, but don't make the mistake of the guy who says "The mainstream media is all lies - so I'll only trust what I read on shady Internet conspiracy sites". Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false.

This essentially error (b) with elements of (c). From a Bayesian perspective "saying there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research" does mean one should decrease the weight one assigns to all medical findings, thus one should assign more (relative weight) to other, non-scientific, evidence, e.g., evidence likely to be based an anecdotes.

The study mentioned above looks at exciting cutting-edge research over the past decade. It says that 40% or so was proven wrong. This is good and to the credit of medical science! It means the system is working as it should in retesting things and getting the false stuff out.

This argument violates conservation of expected evidence.

[Here follows several paragraphs describing of how much he discourages people from being afraid to take statins along with some references to "good doctors" and "correctly prescribed statin" that seem to be there to help set up a potential No True Scotsman] If my doctor recommends I take statin, I don't care about the base rates for statin "correctly prescribed" by "good doctors", I care about the base rate of statin as actually prescribed by actual doctors.

Then Nancy tells her anecdote

part of what spooked me about them was running into a woman whose husband had taken permanent muscle damage from them, which suggested to me that the side effect might not be all that rare.

Yvain's reply begins:

Rhabdomyolysis, which I think is the kind of severe permanent muscle damage you're talking about, is well-known enough as a side effect of statins that it's taught in first year medical school classes.

Funny how he didn't see fit to mention this it his first post while he spent several paragraphs arguing for why satins are perfectly safe.

There was one statin that may have had a relatively high (1/2,000 per year) rhabdomyolysis rate and was withdrawn from the market after a couple of years for that reason. The statins currently on the market have about a 1/20,000/year rhabdomyolysis rate, which is actually low enough that no one is entirely sure it's not background noise although no one's taking any chances. Since they also have a 1+/500/year heart attack prevention rate, they prevent something like 50 heart attacks for each case of rhabdomyolysis they cause, which seems "worth it".

I'm not sure but somehow I suspect these numbers assume the statin was prescribed "correctly". Furthermore, they certainly don't take into account the base rate for medical studies being false. Also, he next says:

Muscle damage rates increase by a lot if you take statins with fibrates (another cholesterol lowering drug).

Somehow I suspect the numbers he gives in the preceding paragraph assumed no drug interactions.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 October 2011 03:00:45AM 1 point [-]

I don't read most of that the way you've read it. For example, Yvain said "Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false." Discount is much stronger language than simply reducing weight in the claim.

This argument violates conservation of expected evidence.

No it doesn't. It only violates that if in the alternate case where Yvain knew that almost all new studies turn out to be right he would point this as a success of the method. I suspect that in that counterfactual, he likely would. But that's still not a b or a c type violation.

Most of the reply to Nancy while potentially problematic doesn't fall into b and c. But I don't think you are being fair when you say:

Funny how he didn't see fit to mention this it his first post while he spent several paragraphs arguing for why satins are perfectly safe.

The standard of safe is very different than listing every well known side-effect, especially if they only happen in a fraction of the population. I don't see a contradiction here, and if there is one, it doesn't seem to fall under b or c in any obvious way.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 03:30:49AM 1 point [-]

I don't read most of that the way you've read it. For example, Yvain said "Saying that there are likely flaws in mainstream medical research doesn't license you to discount any specific medical finding unless you have particular reason to believe that finding is false." Discount is much stronger language than simply reducing weight in the claim.

It's not clear what Yvain indented to mean by "discount"; however, the rest of his argument assumes he can disregard the base rate unless there you have specific evidence.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 25 October 2011 03:18:27AM 1 point [-]

Note incidentally that while you might be able to use the word that way, the vast majority of people who use it seem to use it in a way closer to what sketerpot is talking about. If one interacts at all with either young earth creationists or homeopaths for example it often doesn't take long before the term is thrown around.

In my experience scientists arguing with creationists (I haven't looked at arguments with homeopaths) frequently make the mistakes I list above, as well as a few related ones. In particular using the AJ Milne quote ciphergoth cited in an argument against creationism is itself at best a straw man, after all the creationist also cares about getting the facts right, in fact that's why he's arguing with the scientist, because he believes the scientist has his facts wrong.

In any case the underlying argument in the AJ Milne quote is: all people are about truth; therefore, you should believe what science has to say about subject X.

This is an example of either (1) or (2) depending on how the implicit premises are made precise.

Comment author: ajmilne 02 June 2012 04:28:50AM 2 points [-]

Actually, the underlying argument is not: 'all people are about truth; therefore, you should believe what science has to say about subject X'.

The underlying argument actually is: attacking someone else's argument on the basis that said argument is apparently unreasonably concerned with something so naive as the actual facts of the matter, and smearing this as 'scientism' is purely misdirection, and utterly without logical basis. It's a culturally-based ploy that works only if one has been convinced that determining the actual facts of the matter are an exclusive and unreasonable obsession that only follows from one being afflicted with this apparent disease 'scientism', and, apparently, reasonable people not so obsessed really don't worry about such trifles as factuality.

It's a mite peculiar, to me, that you can read a comment that merely specifically says, in fact, that concerns with factual correctness are not the exclusive domain of science (and it was, in fact, a comment on a false dichotomy of exactly this nature--again, the context is at the link), and assume that what it means, apparently, is 'science by definition is right'. This assumption is utter nonsense. I've no idea where you pulled that from, but it sure as hell wasn't from my quote.

Comment author: ciphergoth 24 October 2011 09:26:31AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: peter_hurford 03 October 2011 06:45:23PM *  30 points [-]

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.

André Gide

Comment author: Yvain 22 October 2011 05:18:58PM *  26 points [-]

Don't you feel in your heart that these contradictions do not really contradict: that there is a cosmos that contains them all? The soul goes round upon a wheel of stars and all things return; perhaps Strake and I have striven in many shapes, beast against beast and bird against bird, and perhaps we shall strive for ever. But since we seek and need each other, even that eternal hatred is an eternal love. Good and evil go round in a wheel that is one thing and not many. Do you not realize in your heart, do you not believe behind all your beliefs, that there is but one reality and we are its shadows; and that all things are but aspects of one thing: a centre where men melt into Man and Man into God?'

'No,' said Father Brown.

-- G.K. Chesterton

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 October 2011 04:14:33PM 11 points [-]

I so adore cliches. They create an expectation to subvert.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 23 October 2011 07:05:16PM 4 points [-]

Do that too much and you'll end up with a "high brow" piece that's incomprehensible to anyone not familiar with the cliches you're subverting.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 October 2011 06:01:19PM 1 point [-]

The short story in question is "The Dagger with Wings", originally published in The Incredulity of Father Brown.

That said, I don't quite understand why this constitutes a Rationality Quote.

Comment author: gwern 22 October 2011 08:35:29PM *  23 points [-]

That said, I don't quite understand why this constitutes a Rationality Quote.

To me, the lesson is that when someone appeals to your intuitions - you can just say no.

"Don't you feel there must be a supreme being, that everything has a purpose and a place in the grand order of things?"


(Fun story, incidentally.)

Comment author: DSimon 02 October 2011 05:51:50AM *  26 points [-]

T-Rex: If I lived in the past I'd have different beliefs, because I'd have nobody modern around to teach me anything else!


And I find it really unlikely that I would come up with all our modern good stuff on my own, running around saying "You guys! Democracy is pretty okay. Also, women are equal to men, and racism? Kind of a dick move." If I was raised by racist and sexist parents in the middle of a racist and sexist society, I'm pretty certain I'd be racist and sexist! I'm only as enlightened as I am today because I've stood on the shoulders of giants.

Right. So that raises the question: Is everyone from that period in Hell, or is Heaven overwhelmingly populated by racists?

-- T-Rex, Dinosaur Comics

Comment author: DanielLC 03 October 2011 01:08:07AM 10 points [-]

I think the obvious answer would be that Heaven is overwhelmingly populated by ex-racists. Once they get there, they'd have people around to teach them better stuff.

Comment author: DSimon 03 October 2011 02:30:45AM *  4 points [-]

Who would teach them? The more severe racists from periods even further back?

Comment author: Alicorn 03 October 2011 04:05:16AM 7 points [-]

Maybe the dead of other races, provably ensouled and with barriers to communication magically removed.

Comment author: falenas108 03 October 2011 04:09:42AM 5 points [-]

I think the assumption is that divine beings would be there.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 07:15:25AM 2 points [-]

Are you assuming people from the past are always more racist for any given time period?

Comment author: SilasBarta 04 October 2011 03:28:28AM 6 points [-]

I believe this was the point EY was trying to make in Archimedes's Chronophone. In short, it's a lot harder to send advice to the past when you can only transmit your justification for believing the advice. If your true reason for holding your "enlightened" views is because they're popular, then the recipients on the other side will only hear that they should do whatever practice was popular for them.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 October 2011 01:04:02PM 2 points [-]

All that's needed is a belief in purgatory.

Comment author: DSimon 02 October 2011 08:43:10PM *  4 points [-]

We'd probably all end up there too, based on the near certainty that we're doing things that people in the future will correctly consider as obviously immoral.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 12:55:53AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 02:54:54AM *  1 point [-]

I intend to anticipate as many of those harsh-judgement-of-future-generations things as possible, do the right thing now, and breeze through purgatory so much faster than the rest of those chumps. Bwahaha.

On that note, does anybody want to speculate about what people in the future will correctly regard as immoral that we're doing now? The time to think about this is before we get to the future and/or purgatory.

Some low-hanging fruit, for example, would be the widespread mistreatment of people with gender identity disorder, or squandering money on forms of charity that are actually harmful, e.g. destroying poor countries' textile industries by flooding the market with cheap donated clothes.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 October 2011 03:20:00AM 2 points [-]

I can't tell whether this is deadpan humor or not.

I think closed borders will be considered a great evil in the future, but that's probably another way of saying that not enough people are agreeing with me now.

Comment author: pedanterrific 24 October 2011 03:05:37AM 1 point [-]

That's an interesting interpretation of "we". Unless you do those things...?

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 03:41:47AM *  1 point [-]

I meant "we" as in "we, as a society", or more specifically "we, the society that I happen to find myself in." Please pardon the ambiguity.

Comment author: pedanterrific 24 October 2011 03:51:56AM 1 point [-]

I was being facetious. Please pardon the ambiguity.

We'd probably all end up there too, based on the near certainty that we're doing things that people in the future will correctly consider as obviously immoral.

Seems to imply, at least to me, a function of "we" that includes "I". Plus, it seems a more interesting question to ask what you're doing that might come to be considered immoral - it's rather unlikely that you're really perfect, isn't it?

It's easy to say "that thing that all those other people are doing, and which I already think is immoral, will come to be considered immoral by our descendants." That's just saying "I'm better than you, neener neener."

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 04:07:36AM 1 point [-]

Ah, I misread DSimon's use of "we", and the misunderstandings cascaded from there. My mistake. To clarify, I would like to hear things that I may be doing that future generations may be justified in disapproving of. It's an interesting and relevant question. Gloating about my own supposed superiority (neener neener) hadn't even crossed my mind.

Like the vast majority here, I aim to improve myself.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 10:59:30AM *  25 points [-]

A decision was wise, even though it led to disastrous consequences, if the evidence at hand indicated it was the best one to make; and a decision was foolish, even though it led to the happiest possible consequences, if it was unreasonable to expect those consequences.

-- Herodotus

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 24 October 2011 06:05:45AM 3 points [-]

The problem with that quote is that human biases often go the other way, i.e., we'd rather blame bad consequences on bad luck then admit we made a bad decision.

Comment author: J_Taylor 24 October 2011 06:43:31AM 4 points [-]

The quote may still have some use when applied to humans other than oneself.

Comment author: gwern 23 October 2011 08:08:03PM 3 points [-]

I tried to track this down, and this seems to be Jaynes's paraphrase of Herodotus; pg 2 of "Bayesian Methods: General Background". (I looked through one translation, http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.mb.txt , and was unable to locate it.)

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 08:56:13PM *  1 point [-]

I got it out of "Data Analysis A Bayesian Tutorial" pg 4 where it is attributed to Herodotus

Around 500 BC, Herodotus said much the same thing: ‘A decision was wise, even though it led to disastrous consequences, if the evidence at hand indicated it was the best one to make; and a decision was foolish, even though it led to the happiest possible consequences, if it was unreasonable to expect those consequences.’

Comment author: gwern 23 October 2011 09:43:43PM 11 points [-]

After some more searching and a pointer on Straight Dope, I think I've found it in Book 7 of the Histories when Artabanus is trying to dissuade Xerxes from launching his ill-fated war against the Greeks, where it is, as one would expect from Jaynes's paraphrase, different:

"1 So do not plan to run the risk of any such danger when there is no need for it. Listen to me instead: for now dismiss this assembly; consider the matter by yourself and, whenever you so please, declare what seems best to you. 2 A well-laid plan is always to my mind most profitable; even if it is thwarted later, the plan was no less good, and it is only chance that has baffled the design; but if fortune favor one who has planned poorly, then he has gotten only a prize of chance, and his plan was no less bad."

Or in another translation:

"Think then no more of incurring so great a danger when no need presses, but follow the advice I tender. Break up this meeting, and when thou hast well considered the matter with thyself, and settled what thou wilt do, declare to us thy resolve. I know not of aught in the world that so profits a man as taking good counsel with himself; for even if things fall out against one's hopes, still one has counselled well, though fortune has made the counsel of none effect: whereas if a man counsels ill and luck follows, he has gotten a windfall, but his counsel is none the less silly."

Comment author: anonym 02 October 2011 01:54:31AM *  23 points [-]

The most valuable acquisitions in a scientific or technical education are the general-purpose mental tools which remain serviceable for a lifetime. I rate natural language and mathematics as the most important of these tools, and computer science as a third.

George E. Forsythe

Comment author: Swimmy 04 October 2011 06:33:58AM 21 points [-]

The god we seek must rule the world according to our own will.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2

Comment author: scav 03 October 2011 11:55:04AM 20 points [-]

I honestly don't know. Let's see what happens.

-- Hans. The Troll Hunter

Comment author: Dorikka 03 October 2011 09:02:37PM 5 points [-]


Comment author: anonym 02 October 2011 02:27:50AM 20 points [-]

It would be an error to suppose that the great discoverer seizes at once upon the truth, or has any unerring method of divining it. In all probability the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one. Fertility of imagination and abundance of guesses at truth are among the first requisites of discovery; but the erroneous guesses must be many times as numerous as those that prove well founded. The weakest analogies, the most whimsical notions, the most apparently absurd theories, may pass through the teeming brain, and no record remain of more than the hundredth part….

W. Stanley Jevons

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 October 2011 02:01:37AM *  20 points [-]

Like every writer, he measured the virtues of other writers by their performance, and asked that they measure him by what he conjectured or planned.

Jorge Luis Borges, "The Secret Miracle".

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 04 October 2011 10:37:34AM 6 points [-]

"Like every human" would be more correct.

Comment author: Unnamed 06 October 2011 05:24:21PM 4 points [-]


Kruger, J., & Gilovich, T. (2004). Actions, intentions, and trait assessment: The road to self-enhancement is paved with good intentions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 328-339. pdf

Actions and intentions do not always align. Individuals often have good intentions that they fail to fulfill. The studies presented here suggest that actors and observers differ in the weight they assign to intentions when deciding whether an individual possesses a desirable trait. Participants were more likely to give themselves credit for their intentions than they were to give others credit for theirs (Studies 1 and 2). This caused individuals to evaluate themselves more favorably than they evaluated others (Studies 3-5). Discussion focuses on the motivational and information-processing roots of this actor-observer difference in the weight assigned to intentions as well as the implications of this tendency for everyday judgment and decision making.

Comment author: sketerpot 24 October 2011 03:09:42AM *  1 point [-]

Is that actually true? A lot of authors are their own toughest critics; they're so close to what they write that they see all its imperfections, and tend to obsess over flaws that aren't actually that noticeable to most of their readers.

Comment author: gwern 10 October 2011 05:00:42PM 19 points [-]
"We know this much
Death is an evil;
we have the gods'
word for it; they too
would die if death
were a good thing"

--Sappho #7; trans. Barnard (seen on http://www.nada.kth.se/%7Easa/Quotes/immortality )

Comment author: Vaniver 10 October 2011 05:20:08PM 3 points [-]

Combine this with Nietzsche's "God is dead."

Comment author: Guswut 05 October 2011 05:17:00PM *  19 points [-]

Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

Robert A. Heinlein

Comment author: Teal_Thanatos 07 October 2011 05:29:41AM 5 points [-]

So very true (in reality) and so very wrong (morally) at the same time. It's my sincere hope that work on Raising the Sanity Waterline will eventually annihilate the relevance of this quote to modern society.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 October 2011 12:05:04AM *  18 points [-]

Truths were carved from the identical wood as were lies — words — and so sank or floated with equal ease. But since truths were carved by the World, they rarely appeased Men and their innumerable vanities.

-- Drusas Achamian, in "The White-Luck Warrior" by R. Scott Bakker

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 03 October 2011 08:33:20AM 18 points [-]

He wanted to find fault with the idea but couldn't quite do it on the spur of the moment. He filed it away for later discrediting

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Comment author: ShardPhoenix 03 October 2011 08:35:04AM *  5 points [-]

...Look at that-" Benedict waved at the wall, in the general direction of the heaving sea. "And now look at this". He pointed to the map. "This you can make perfect. That-" He shuddered. "it's just a mess"

"But the map isn't real. So sure, maybe it's perfect, but what's the point?"

"Maps don't make you seasick."


Comment author: RobertLumley 03 October 2011 03:47:41PM 17 points [-]

What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.

Adolph Hitler

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2011 06:46:10PM 14 points [-]

What misfortune for all that those in power don't either.

Comment author: sketerpot 06 October 2011 03:24:38AM *  13 points [-]

An alternate, and perhaps even more frightening hypothesis: the people in power do think, and they're doing their best.

Comment author: Thomas 02 October 2011 09:38:21AM 17 points [-]

If the Coyote orders all those gizmos then why doesn't he just order food?

  • Unknown
Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2011 09:59:19AM *  13 points [-]

Because it's not about food, but the challenge? Without the roadrunner, Wile E. is nothing. He depends on not succeeding. (Just noticed what a great role model he is.)

Comment author: gwern 02 October 2011 06:01:09PM *  20 points [-]

To quote Warner's famous essay on cartoonialism, "The struggle itself...is enough to fill a character's heart. One must imagine Coyote happy."

Comment author: Alejandro1 03 October 2011 01:10:57AM 15 points [-]

According to certain versions, Chuck Jones and his team established a set of rules for the cartoon (such as "The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote" and "Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy"). One of them is supposed to have been:

The Coyote could stop anytime—IF he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." —George Santayana).

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 October 2011 02:51:09AM 4 points [-]

Can't get refrigerated shipping out there in the desert.

Comment author: James_Miller 02 October 2011 03:09:21AM *  17 points [-]

Three proposed derogatory labels from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

Labelass: A special kind of idiot who uses labels as a substitute for comprehension.

Binarian: A special kind of idiot who believes that all people who hold a different view from oneself have the same views as each other.

Masturdebator: One who takes pleasure in furiously debating viewpoints that only exist in the imagination.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 02 October 2011 09:29:07AM 16 points [-]

Binarian: A special kind of idiot who believes that all people who hold a different view from oneself have the same views as each other.

That's something I have to occasionally remind myself not to be, as an atheist.

Comment author: Document 03 October 2011 07:35:29PM *  3 points [-]

What's the word for someone who sees errors as defining character attributes that only occur in "idiots" and not decent, sensible people like theirself and their friends and readers?

Comment author: lessdazed 03 October 2011 08:27:10PM 3 points [-]

I don't think Adams thinks highly of himself or his readers.

Comment author: dlthomas 03 October 2011 08:38:12PM 3 points [-]

Indeed. He often describes his motivation for posts as "Dance, monkeys, dance!"

Comment author: [deleted] 04 October 2011 04:06:03AM 16 points [-]

Most people who quote Einstein’s declaration that “God does not play dice” seem not to realize that a dice-playing God would be an improvement over the actual situation

-Scott Aaronson, from here

Comment author: grendelkhan 07 October 2011 03:29:50PM 15 points [-]

The least evil is still evil. The least monstrous is still monstrous

When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. That will be the right choice and, if circumstances are truly as circumscribed as you believe them to be, that will be the right thing to do in that situation.

But it still won't be a good thing. It isn't a good thing and cannot be made good.

Fred Clarke, August 9

Comment author: DanielLC 04 October 2011 04:31:12AM 13 points [-]

"-but I think it would probably kill you."

"Comforting to know. Well, more comforting than not knowing it could kill you," I remark pointedly.

Sam Hughes

Comment author: MichaelHoward 02 October 2011 03:36:38PM 13 points [-]

It does not do to dwell on dreams... and forget to live.

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

Comment author: [deleted] 31 October 2011 04:50:03PM *  12 points [-]

A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.

--Thomas Carlyle

Comment author: TheOtherDave 31 October 2011 06:19:15PM 3 points [-]

I love this quote, but it really isn't true. People frequently forego the first one.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 01 November 2011 12:30:05AM 4 points [-]

I just ran into a surprisingly candid example of Richard Feynman talking about when he did that. He worked on the atomic bomb to make sure that Nazis didn't get it first, but then he kept working on it even after the Nazis had been defeated.

Comment author: khafra 03 November 2011 07:22:02PM 3 points [-]

I don't think the first one ever gets generated unless someone else asks them why they did that something.

Comment author: Nominull 03 November 2011 07:26:17PM 2 points [-]

it must be nice to be clever enough to generate good reasons in real time, rather than having to spend all your spare cycles preemptively coming up with justifications for your actions.

Comment author: lessdazed 03 November 2011 07:26:13PM *  2 points [-]

I interpret "good reason" as "'good' reason".

Comment author: wedrifid 31 October 2011 10:12:27PM *  2 points [-]

I love this quote, but it really isn't true. People frequently forego the first one.

I love it too and I like to have an evil reason as well. That keeps things in perspective. And a right reason - which balances the 'good' with the 'evil' according to my ethical sentiment. But that's just a (morally ambiguous) ideal. The real reason, that which Carlyle mentions, is something else again.

Comment author: RobinZ 01 November 2011 12:11:42AM 1 point [-]

I love it as well and I like to have an evil reason as well. That keeps things in perspective.

I have a different angle - I like to have a stupid reason, to amuse my friends with.

Comment author: RobinZ 12 October 2011 01:14:49AM 12 points [-]

This is one of those occasions when it would be wise to translate back into respectable gene language, just to reassure ourselves that we have not become too carried away with subjective metaphors.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, ch. 8

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 02:33:24PM *  12 points [-]

‎"Real magic is the kind of magic that is not real, while magic that is real (magic that can actually be done), is not real magic."

-Lee Siegle

Comment author: anonym 02 October 2011 02:13:23AM 12 points [-]

The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.

William Lawrence Bragg

Comment author: [deleted] 22 October 2011 12:48:47PM *  11 points [-]

You are not a special little snowflake, but you should act like you are. If people are going to form impressions of you it’s better they make false positive ones than true negative ones.

-- Roissy in DC

Comment author: [deleted] 22 October 2011 12:46:56PM *  11 points [-]

Jettison politics from your personal life. Jawing about political ideology is worse than useless — it’s a time suck and a trick played by your status-seeking reptilian hindbrain on your frontal lobes that does nothing to bring you more happiness OR status. Your vote really won’t matter.

--Roissy in DC

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 22 October 2011 11:35:15PM 5 points [-]

Surrendering to the barbarians are we.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 October 2011 01:14:03PM *  3 points [-]

Wondering why people are down voting this, considering I and other LWers have advocated political disengagement in the context of live in first world (and other) states as a recipe for personal happiness and improved productivity, and such comments have been up voted in the past.

Comment author: lessdazed 22 October 2011 01:18:10PM *  4 points [-]

That could have used anonymity.

If other people think political ideology is highly relevant to status, doesn't that make it probably at least somewhat so?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 October 2011 01:51:02PM *  1 point [-]

I was actually searching for your thread, but didn't find it among articles tagged by quotes. I would have used it if it was so.

If other people think political ideology is highly relevant to status, doesn't that make it probably at least somewhat so?

Some pretty low status people have been quoted in rationality threads in the past, including people with really odious ideologies. Are downvoters convinced that Roissy is even lower status than those individuals or are they rather concerned that since Roissy (as the blog was back in 2007-2009) was read by quite a few members of the OB/LW community (including Robin Hanson who still links to him)!

Basically is this a fear that while Roissy's beliefs pay rent in anticipated experience they are evil (as in espousing different values) and thus shouldn't be allowed to influence fellow LWers who are clearly not good enough thinkers to handle this?

If this is so this may be a confirmation of Vladimir_M's take on the state of gender related debates on LW.

Or it could just be a bad quote.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 October 2011 03:59:22PM 6 points [-]

Some pretty low satus people have been quoted in rationality threads in the past, including people with really odious ideologies. Are downvoters convinced that Roissy is even lower status than those individuals or are they rather concerned that since Roissy (as the blog was back in 2007-2009) was read by quite a few members of the OB/LW community (including Robin Hanson who still links to him)!

It isn't low status as much as it is "out group". Low status doesn't warrant that kind of attention.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 08:19:24AM *  1 point [-]

Posters like dedalus2u (if I recall this right) have argued that out group is basically just lowest possible status.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 October 2011 08:28:31AM *  4 points [-]

I disagree with posters like dedalus2u. Practically speaking I would far prefer to be the out-group villain that people desperately try to lower in status than the person that actually has low status within the group who gets treated with utter indifference.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 10:33:14AM 2 points [-]

I think I agree.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 October 2011 10:39:00AM 4 points [-]

So, I am sure, would that Roissy fellow. :)

Comment author: RobertLumley 22 October 2011 04:24:18PM *  1 point [-]

Not a downvoter (and I doubt this is why people are downvoting, but I suppose it could be) but I somewhat disagree. There is a (very small) group of friends with whom I can discuss political topics without them becoming mind-killing. Frequently this is due to admitted information gaps between us, and it's about learning the specifics of an issue. It's certainly not easy though, and often involves us switching sides on each other when we see one of us using dark arts. Similarly, I would expect most LWers to be able to (somewhat) rationally discuss politics. Which is not to say that they would enjoy it/should just that I would expect them to be far more able (moreso than my friends) to do it productively.

If I had to guess why people are downvoting, though, it would be because discussing politics can bring you more happiness, and indeed does for many people, even if it's just yelling at each other. Although I feel very uncertain (p = 0.35) that this is actually the reason for downvotes.

Comment author: novalis 19 October 2011 06:00:16PM 11 points [-]

"Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else--a stranger in the street, for example." -Lemony Snicket

Comment author: wedrifid 19 October 2011 08:12:54PM 2 points [-]

"Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else--a stranger in the street, for example." -Lemony Snicket

Why? How does knowing about this 'fairness' thing help me? (This was the line I was expecting the quote to go after the first sentence.)

Comment author: novalis 20 October 2011 12:15:47AM 10 points [-]

If you want a truly amoral reason to care, it is this: most other people do, and these are the people you will have to convince of any proposal you want to make about anything, ever. If you propose something unfair, and are called on it, you will lose status and your proposal is unlikely to be adopted.

I would be deeply surprised if you did not care at all about fairness. I tend to think that at least some regard for fairness is part of the common mental structures of humans (there's a sequence post about this but I can't find it)

Comment author: Jack 20 October 2011 04:17:54AM 3 points [-]

I would be deeply surprised if you did not care at all about fairness. I tend to think that at least some regard for fairness is part of the common mental structures of humans (there's a sequence post about this but I can't find it)

There is enough neuroatypicality here that I am only barely surprised when someone deviates significantly typical human morality.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 October 2011 08:53:51PM *  7 points [-]

Agreed, but I don't think the quote necessarily disagrees with you. I interpreted it to mean, "If you want to know if something is fair, you can't just consult yourself." This says nothing about whether fairness is helpful or desirable, it's just warning against committing the typical mind fallacy with respect to fairness.

Comment author: grendelkhan 07 October 2011 03:35:44PM *  11 points [-]

Whether their motives were righteous or venal, highminded or base, noble or ig-, in retrospect the obvious verdict is that they were all morons--yes, even the distinguished fellows and visiting scholars at think tanks and deans of international studies schools. They were morons because the whole moral, political and practical purpose of their scheme depended on its going exactly according to plan. Which nothing ever does. The Latin phrase for this logical fallacy would be Duh. Some of them were halfway intelligent; some of them may even have been well-intentioned; but they lacked imagination, and this is a fatal flaw. What we learn from history is that it never turns out like it's supposed to. And the one thing we know for sure about the future is that it won't be like we think.

Tim Kreider, Artist's Note for The Pain

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 08:35:56PM 11 points [-]

Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

Ayn Rand

Comment author: Document 03 October 2011 09:03:36PM 5 points [-]

It's too bad this has already dropped off the front page. Someone should request sticky threads here, although I don't care enough.

Comment author: soreff 05 October 2011 08:31:48PM 3 points [-]

This view is much too binary. There are a myriad variety of choices of what to focus on, what aspect of it to focus on, and how much effort to apply to the focus. Someone can be purposefully aware of a very specific task, say a high speed race, with the bulk of their thinking down at the level of pattern matching. Someone can do highly abstract symbolic manipulations while half asleep and still recognize when they bump into the right set of manipulations to solve the problem.

Comment author: gwern 28 October 2011 11:19:52PM 10 points [-]

"I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look."

--Principia Discordia (surprisingly, not quoted yet)

Comment author: shminux 28 October 2011 11:42:54PM 2 points [-]

surprisingly, not quoted yet

Maybe because it has little to do with rationality?

Comment author: gwern 14 October 2011 01:46:37AM 10 points [-]

"Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory is too good."

--#122 Assorted Opinions and Maxims, Friedrich Nietzsche

Comment author: lessdazed 14 October 2011 01:54:33AM *  5 points [-]

Upvotes for irony if anyone can find an earlier version of the quote from a European source.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2011 04:43:01AM 10 points [-]

I can't stop myself. My question was interesting, so I asked it; my arguments were valid, so I made them.

Scott Aaronson

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 02 October 2011 09:13:13AM *  11 points [-]

I've read the source and context of that and it's really not impressing me as a rational thing to do... it's a clever/smartass thing to do, but in what way did Ilyssa win? Surely she didn't expect Eric to enlighten her on the subject in some way she hadn't thought about before, and now she is "miserable about Eric", and didn't get to enjoy Hamlet.

The "I can't stop myself" says it all - she can't choose not to defect. That's not a strength.

Comment author: DSimon 04 October 2011 04:22:32PM *  2 points [-]

Another quote from that source amuses me:

Am I to hope that, in the hereafter, a rationalist God will reward me for having the intellectual integrity not to believe in Him?

Reminds me of Secular Heaven

Comment author: potato 24 October 2011 08:37:18PM 9 points [-]

My faith in the expertise of physicists like Richard Feynman, for instance, permits me to endorse—and, if it comes to it, bet heavily on the truth of—a proposition that I don't understand. So far, my faith is not unlike religious faith, but I am not in the slightest bit motivated to go to my death rather than recant the formulas of physics. Watch: E doesn't equal mc2, it doesn't, it doesn't!

--Dan Dennet: Breaking the Spell

Comment author: gwern 10 October 2011 05:04:22PM 9 points [-]

"Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf."

--William James, "The Will to Believe" (section VII)

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 October 2011 03:43:34PM 9 points [-]

There are some that only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts.


Comment author: lukeprog 24 October 2011 10:08:41PM *  8 points [-]

Everything is revealed to he who turns over enough stones. (Including the snakes that he did not want to find.)


Comment author: gwern 23 October 2011 08:39:50PM 8 points [-]

"As soon as we look at the nature of inference at this many-moves-ahead level of perception, our attitude toward probability theory and the proper way to use it in science becomes almost diametrically opposite to that expounded in most current textbooks. We need have no fear of making shaky calculations on inadequate knowledge; for if our predictions are indeed wrong, then we shall have an opportunity to improve that knowledge, an opportunity that would have been lost had we been too timid to make the calculations.

Instead of fearing wrong predictions, we look eagerly for them; it is only when predictions based on our present knowledge fail that probability theory leads us to fundamental new knowledge."

E.T. Jaynes's "Bayesian Methods: General Background"

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 08 October 2011 02:04:12PM *  8 points [-]

Now, a symbol is not, properly speaking, either true or false; it is, rather, something more or less well selected to stand for the reality it represents, and pictures that reality in a more or less precise, or a more or less detailed manner.

Pierre Duhem The aim and structure of physical theory

Comment author: Patrick 05 October 2011 02:38:11AM 8 points [-]

With a few brackets it is easy enough to see that 5 + 4 is 9. What is not easy to see is that 5 + 4 is not 6.

Carl Linderholm, Mathematics Made Difficult.

Comment author: lessdazed 05 October 2011 03:46:41AM 2 points [-]

I do not understand.

Comment author: djcb 04 October 2011 07:37:16PM 8 points [-]

Thus I make no apologies for focusing on income. Over the long run in- come is more powerful than any ideology or religion in shaping lives. No God has commanded worshippers to their pious duties more forcefully than income as it subtly directs the fabric of our lives.

-- Gregory Clark, A farewell to Alms

[ In his interesting book on economic history, Gregory Clark follows Adam Smith ]

Comment author: lukeprog 31 October 2011 04:30:33AM 7 points [-]

I think, therefore I am perhaps mistaken.

Sharon Fenick

Comment author: kjmiller 08 October 2011 12:33:16AM 7 points [-]

"A scientific theory should be as simple as possible, but no simpler."


Comment author: PhilGoetz 10 October 2011 10:34:40PM 4 points [-]

Sounds good, but may not be meaningful outside of physics, where by "theory" you usually mean model, and a model can be made simpler or more complex as the occasion demands.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 October 2011 11:02:46AM 2 points [-]

Considering my brain is too small for the universe, making the theory as simple as possible sounds like a good strategy when dealing with hard problems.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 October 2011 10:43:09AM 7 points [-]

And the simple reason why it is so easy to fool psychiatrists with words like "atypical" and "tricyclic" is that most psychiatrists are stupendously ignorant of even kindergarten-level pharmacology and have barely any idea about how to interpret a study-- I don't mean p values, I mean looking at the y-axis; I mean the introduction. Much, much easier to base all of their arguments on empty terms that are nothing other than branding choices. Never mind the senseless term "atypical". Gun to head, is Seroquel an "antipsychotic" or an "antidepressant"? Confused? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, I guess.

-- The Last Psychiatrist, "The Rise and Fall of Atypical Antipsychotics"

Comment author: Swimmer963 06 October 2011 11:52:47AM 2 points [-]

I went and read the original article and was massively entertained, mainly because I just studied for weeks to memorize all those drug names. I remember it saying in our textbook that the second-generation "atypical" antipsychotics had fewer side effects...and I was surprised because my friend is on a second-generation antipsychotic (Zyprexa) and at some point has had pretty much every possible side effect.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 October 2011 12:21:53PM *  3 points [-]

I read TLP with a giant grain of salt, because sometimes the things he says about the psychiatric profession just seem downright implausible.

Comment author: kalla724 09 October 2011 07:49:41PM 6 points [-]

Speaking as a person in the field - while true in general, in this particular case he is completely correct. Atypical antipsychotics have turned out to be massively misrepresented by the pharmaceutical companies. To avoid misunderstandings: I am a great supporter of pharmacological interventions, and I don't think that "Big Pharma" is an evil force, but this case has been one of the darkest spots on the image of the profession in the last decade.

The excellent and highly recommended "Mind Hacks" blog has been following the slow crash of the atypicals for a while. Latest can be seen here.

Comment author: Swimmer963 06 October 2011 12:32:51PM 3 points [-]

It reads like the writing of someone with an enormous axe to grind...

Comment author: Sblast 03 October 2011 09:20:54PM *  7 points [-]

"It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs."

  • Eric Hoffer
Comment author: [deleted] 26 October 2011 02:53:07PM 2 points [-]

What is unbelief?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 11 October 2011 10:49:17AM 6 points [-]

From the film The Maggie. The quote is excerpted from here.

Background: Earlier part of the 20th century, the west coast of Scotland. Marshall, an American, is in a small chartered aircraft chasing a Clyde puffer captained by Mactaggart, with whom he has business. He and the pilot have just caught sight of her in the sea below. Night is approaching.

Marshall: Where do you reckon they're making for?
Pilot: It looks like they're putting into Inverkerran for the night.
Marshall: Tell me, if they thought I thought they were going to Inverkerran, where do you reckon they would make for then?
Pilot: Strathcathaig, maybe.
Marshall: This sounds silly, but if they thought I'd think they were going to Strathcathaig because it looked as if they were going to Inverkerran -- where would they go then?
Pilot: My guess would be Pennymaddy.
Marshall: If there's such a thing as a triple bluff, I bet Mactaggart invented it. Okay, Pennymaddy.

--Cut to aboard the puffer--

Mactaggart: Aye, he'll have guessed we're making for Inverkerran.
Hamish: Will he not go there himself, then?
Mactaggart: Oh, no. He'll know we know he's seen us, so he'll be expecting us to head for Strathcathaig instead.
Hamish: Will I set her for Pennymaddy, then?
Mactaggart: No, If it should occur to him that it's occurred to us that he's expecting us to go to Strathcathaig, he would think we'll be making for Pennymaddy.
Hamish: Well, then, shall I set her for Penwhannoy?
Mactaggart: No. We'll make for Inverkerran just as we planned. It's the last thing he's likely to think of.

Comment author: Wakefield 26 October 2011 07:47:39PM 5 points [-]

"The role of art is to serve the rational man's need for a moment, an hour or some period of time in which he can experience the sense of his completed task, the sense of living in a universe where his values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world."

-- Ayn Rand

Comment author: potato 26 October 2011 07:29:34PM *  5 points [-]

All the limitative Theorems of metamathematics and the theory of computation suggest that once the ability to represent your own structure has reached a certain critical point, that is the kiss of death: it guarantees that you can never represent yourself totally. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, Church's Undecidability Theorem, Turing's Halting Problem, Tarski's Truth Theorem-- all have the flavour of some ancient fairy tale which warns you that "To seek self- knowledge is to embark on a journey which . . . will always be incomplete, cannot be charted on a map, will never halt, cannot be described."

--Douglas Hofstadter

Comment author: ataftoti 10 October 2011 07:07:16PM *  5 points [-]

From the first episode of Dexter, season 6:

Batista: "...it's all about faith..."
Dexter: "Mmm..."
Batista: "It's something you feel, not something you can explain. It's very hard to put into words."

Dexter smiles politely, while thinking to himself: Because it makes no sense.

Comment author: RobertLumley 22 October 2011 04:31:14PM 1 point [-]

People put plenty of things into words that make no sense. Words are only words; that's why humanity invented mathematics.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 October 2011 10:22:49PM 5 points [-]

The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.


Comment author: Nominull 07 October 2011 04:17:23PM 12 points [-]

The ones who do are a proper subset of the ones who think they can, and there are serious costs to being in the difference between the two sets.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 October 2011 04:59:01PM 2 points [-]

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Traditional saying.

Comment author: Nominull 07 October 2011 06:15:16PM 7 points [-]

Not every change is a catastrophe, but every catastrophe is a change.

-What the Wise Master might have said, if he were making a different point.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 07 October 2011 05:49:45PM 4 points [-]

Apart from compound interest.

Comment author: Logos01 08 October 2011 02:42:29AM 4 points [-]

... even "staying the course" can be considered risking something if you have the proper mindset.

Comment author: Manfred 20 October 2011 01:06:10AM 3 points [-]

At which point the saying becomes equivalent to "don't exist, nothing gained." Not a very informative interpretation.

Comment author: dlthomas 07 October 2011 05:48:28PM 4 points [-]

Nothing ventured, less lost, however.

Comment author: aSynchro 08 October 2011 09:37:35AM 5 points [-]

There's a nice quote from George Bernard Shaw on the same subject: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

It's more demonstrative imho ^^

Comment author: [deleted] 31 October 2011 04:46:41PM *  4 points [-]

Nature admits no lie.

--Thomas Carlyle

Comment author: gwern 31 October 2011 04:57:04PM 2 points [-]

Indefinitely, anyway. I am reminded of another Carlyle quote that Moldbug quoted with approval (but then doesn't he always):

"Great is Bankruptcy: the great bottomless gulf into which all Falsehoods, public and private, do sink, disappearing; whither, from the first origin of them, they were all doomed. For Nature is true and not a lie. No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a Bill drawn on Nature's Reality, and be presented there for payment, - with the answer, No effects. Pity only that it often had so long a circulation: that the original forger were so seldom he who bore the final smart of it! Lies, and the burden of evil they bring, are passed on; shifted from back to back, and from rank to rank; and so land ultimately on the dumb lowest rank, who with spade and mattock, with sore heart and empty wallet, daily come in contact with reality, and can pass the cheat no further. [...] But with a Fortunatus' Purse in his pocket, through what length of time might not almost any Falsehood last! Your Society, your Household, practical or spiritual Arrangement, is untrue, unjust, offensive to the eye of God and man. Nevertheless its hearth is warm, its larder well replenished: the innumerable Swiss of Heaven, with a kind of Natural loyalty, gather round it; will prove, by pamphleteering, musketeering, that it is a truth; or if not an unmixed (unearthly, impossible) Truth, then better, a wholesomely attempered one, (as wind is to the shorn lamb), and works well. Changed outlook, however, when purse and larder grow empty! Was your Arrangement so true, so accordant to Nature's ways, then how, in the name of wonder, has Nature, with her infinite bounty, come to leave it famishing there? To all men, to all women and all children, it is now indubitable that your Arrangement was false. Honour to Bankruptcy; ever righteous on the great scale, though in detail it is so cruel! Under all Falsehoods it works, unweariedly mining. No Falsehood, did it rise heaven-high and cover the world, but Bankruptcy, one day, will sweep it down, and make us free of it."

Comment author: lukeprog 29 October 2011 09:18:20PM 4 points [-]

There is an ironic but highly valuable quality to AI in all its forms. The e ffort to simulate or surpass human intelligence is uncovering subtleties and paradoxes about the human mind we might never have imagined. By way of heroic failures, AI is teaching us how truly strange [human] intelligence is.

Theodore Roszack

Comment author: Grognor 14 October 2011 04:05:32AM *  4 points [-]

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

David Hume

Comment author: ata 14 October 2011 04:39:45AM *  9 points [-]

Roughly true, but downvoted for being basic (by LW standards) to the point of being an applause light. Good Rationality Quotes are ones we can learn from, not just agree with.

Comment author: Guswut 07 October 2011 05:56:31PM 4 points [-]

Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.

Isaac Asimov

Comment author: ac3raven 03 October 2011 06:17:04PM 4 points [-]

"I can do parkour for the rest of my life without even moving. Just efficient thinking."

  • Ryan Doyle, parkour athlete
Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2011 04:43:44AM 4 points [-]

That's all I've got to go on if I don't understand something -- gut reaction. And it's almost always dangerously wrong.

James Burke

Comment author: wedrifid 02 October 2011 08:18:52AM 3 points [-]

That guy needs to train his gut instincts more. Because I find mine damn useful and seldom 'dangerously wrong'.

Comment author: Swimmer963 02 October 2011 02:58:44PM 3 points [-]

In order to train gut instincts, wouldn't you already have to understand the thing that you were having gut instincts about, in order to know whether or not your instincts were telling you the right thing?

Comment author: lessdazed 02 October 2011 04:25:31PM 4 points [-]

In some contexts one can just see what the consequences are and judge the instincts without understanding.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 October 2011 07:50:12PM 2 points [-]

Yeah, but you don't exactly represent the average person. Still, I'm having second thoughts about this quote, and another quote I posted in this thread. Too inexact, they are. Apparently October is an off-month for me.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 02 October 2011 08:21:54PM *  4 points [-]

I like this quote, myself. It reminds me that when you're being affected by a difficult-to-correct-for cognitive bias, what "feels" correct is wrong, and the correct answer doesn't feel right. Quoting Eliezer:

So there is a fairly reliable way to fix the planning fallacy, if you're doing something broadly similar to a reference class of previous projects. Just ask how long similar projects have taken in the past, without considering any of the special properties of this project. Better yet, ask an experienced outsider how long similar projects have taken.

You'll get back an answer that sounds hideously long, and clearly reflects no understanding of the special reasons why this particular task will take less time. This answer is true. Deal with it.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 October 2011 12:45:30AM 3 points [-]

Inexact sounds about right. There is certainly a point behind the quote (so I didn't downvote and can see why you would quote it) but perhaps it is a little overstated or slightly missing the problem of using the gut at the right time.

Comment author: grendelkhan 07 October 2011 03:24:34PM 3 points [-]

If something doesn't make sense, one of your assumptions has to be wrong, because if something doesn't make sense, it can't be real.

House, episode 2x24, "No Reason"

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 October 2011 06:24:06PM 7 points [-]

Or if something doesn't make sense, you may not have learned to think like reality.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 06:12:05PM 3 points [-]

Isn't possible that you've just asked a Wrong Question? Although I guess you could claim that you have then made an assumption that the question could be answered . . .

Comment author: [deleted] 03 October 2011 06:17:08PM 3 points [-]

But what a fool believes ... he sees
No wise man has the power
To reason away
What seems ... to be

Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins, via the Doobie Brothers

Comment author: [deleted] 31 October 2011 04:49:51PM *  2 points [-]

What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite.

--Thomas Carlyle

Comment author: [deleted] 08 October 2011 04:17:14PM *  2 points [-]

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 October 2011 03:55:31PM 2 points [-]

The engineer does not believe in black magic, voodoo, or rain dances. The engineer believes in scientific truth, that is, truth that can be verified by experiment.

Samuel Florman

Comment author: Pfft 08 October 2011 12:20:01AM *  11 points [-]

engineers turn out to be by far the most religious group of all academics – 66.5 per cent, followed again by 61.7 in economics, 49.9 in sciences, 48.8 per cent of social scientists, 46.3 of doctors and 44.1 per cent of lawyers, the most sceptical of the lot.

Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog, Engineers of Jihad (p.51)

Comment author: khafra 05 October 2011 04:57:28PM 3 points [-]

No vote, but I've known several engineers who believe in black magic, voodoo, and/or rain dances.

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 October 2011 04:36:00PM 3 points [-]

I'm very confused by the downvotes, could someone explain?

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 October 2011 07:55:38PM 8 points [-]

First off, it's easy to cheer "yay science!" and rag on low status beliefs, but does this quote tell us that this person is good at determining truth value in cases of controversy? If an experiment returns a particular result, do they feel compelled to believe it? What would they think, for example, about the OPERA measurements?

Second, a cheer for the epistemic rationality of engineers is particular is likely to be unpopular because engineers are somewhat famous for standing on the frontiers of crank science, and have a reputation for being more likely than others with "scientific" backgrounds to overestimate their own understanding and throw their credentials behind bad science.

Comment author: RobertLumley 03 October 2011 08:13:04PM 2 points [-]

This is in fact, what the other person I mentioned commented, which I agree with, in retrospect. I had the advantage of context though - the author didn't specifically mean to laud engineers - this statement was made in the context of an engineering ethics textbook (essay? It's hard to remember, it was awhile ago).

Comment author: Document 03 October 2011 07:00:41PM *  4 points [-]

Didn't downvote, but:

  • Is he advocating rationality to people who want to be engineers, or is he just crowing about how much better engineers are than those stupid people in other fields who think they're just as smart?
  • Might be a nitpick, but speaking at all in terms of what one "believes in" rather than what's true is a bad habit.
  • It puts too much emphasis on conclusions rather than epistemology.
  • It sounds like "Believe what those cool people in lab coats say, not those freaks in robes", or "Believe things that sound scientific and modern, not things that sounds weird and fantastical".
  • It connotes that disbelieving in black magic is proof of a superior mind, rather than largely a fact about what culture one grew up in.
  • One should believe things that can't be verified by experiment.
Comment author: Cthulhoo 27 October 2011 06:02:05PM 1 point [-]

"We don't gotta just accept the way things are, just like we don't gotta let ourselves be lessened by death or any other damn thing. Just like we don't need no God to shape the world for us. We can make or lives the way we want them."

-- Jesse Custer, Preacher (Garth Ennis)