Rationality Quotes April 2016

post by bbleeker · 2016-04-06T07:01:43.352Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 59 comments

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


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-04-06T15:12:00.921Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When one person doesn't understand economics, we call it ignorance. When millions don't, we call it a political movement.

Scott Adams

Replies from: username2, ZankerH
comment by username2 · 2016-04-08T10:35:37.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people political movements prioritize other stuff, but you can't get elected by saying that you don't care about the economy, it would be a political suicide. Therefore they claim that by a happy coincidence their ideas about the stuff they prioritize and economics prescribe the same solutions.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-08T11:32:30.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Economics is about more than just the economy. It's generally about how people react to incentives. If you look at feminism equal pay is quite high on their list of priorities.

comment by ZankerH · 2016-04-07T12:10:28.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A perfect example of a fully general counter-argument!

Replies from: Benito, AlexanderRM
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2016-04-07T21:58:55.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nup, because you can bottom out in surveys of economic consensus :-)

comment by AlexanderRM · 2016-04-15T21:22:23.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I were to steelman the usefulness of the argument, I'd say the conclusion is that positions on economics shouldn't be indispensable parts of a political movement, because that makes it impossible to reason about economics and check whether that position is wrong. Which is just a specific form of the general argument against identifying with object-level beliefs*.

*For that matter, one should perhaps be careful about identifying with meta-level beliefs as well, although I don't know if that's entirely possible for a human to do, even discounting the argument that there might be conservation of tribalism. It might be possible to reduce ones' identity down to a general framework for coming up with good meta-level beliefs, and avoid object-level

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2016-04-06T17:47:55.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.

-- John le Carre

comment by parabarbarian · 2016-04-06T12:32:41.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men. The little man has no way to judge and the shoddy lies are packaged more attractively. There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.

-- Robert A Heinlein. Assignment in Eternity, Loc 939 (Kindle edition)

Replies from: gjm, NancyLebovitz, Vamair0, NancyLebovitz
comment by gjm · 2016-04-11T12:27:01.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess we'll just have to rely on all those people with perfect brains, then.

I can predict with great confidence that those people will not make any mistakes.

(They will not do anything else, either.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-04-10T12:57:54.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It turns out that a lot of color blind people can see their difficult colors a little bit, and technological aid helps.



They don't seem to help (most?) people as much of the more enthusiastic early reviews said, but aren't totally useless, either.

Replies from: bbleeker
comment by bbleeker · 2016-04-11T10:52:58.819Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So it helps them to be less wrong, as it were.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-04-11T14:20:12.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right. I've corrected it. Thank you

Oops. That was a reply to a PM about a typo.

comment by Vamair0 · 2016-04-10T10:49:18.273Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.

There is no point to this "rationality" project anymore, everybody can go home.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-10T16:48:18.728Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no point to this "rationality" project anymore

Project? Which project?

Replies from: Vamair0
comment by Vamair0 · 2016-04-14T14:07:08.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Improving epistemic rationality, at least. Better thinking through understanding our mind's flaws. I don't think anyone here has a "perfect brain". Maybe it's possible to improve instrumental rationality while having no way to distinguish lies from truth, but it would probably be a random walk.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-04-11T14:21:38.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which story is that? I'm betting on "Gulf".

Replies from: parabarbarian
comment by parabarbarian · 2016-04-12T01:43:50.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And you would be correct.

comment by AlexanderRM · 2016-04-15T21:15:54.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"He who builds his cart behind closed gates will find it not suited to the tracks outside the gates."

-Unattributed (Chinese) proverb, quoted by Chen Duxiu in "Call to Youth" 1915.

comment by elharo · 2016-04-06T16:19:14.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What science gets wrong, more science sets right. (What religion gets wrong, by way of contrast, more religion rarely sets right.)

-- Dan Savage, American Savage, p. 152

comment by 27chaos · 2016-04-25T18:09:27.844Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But the thought is one thing, the deed is another, and another yet is the image of the deed. The wheel of causality does not roll between them.

Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-04-16T14:32:49.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Martin Seligman’s view that authentic happiness comes from using your character strengths makes sense to me. For example, it seems reasonable to expect that activities that would bring lasting happiness to a person whose strengths are curiosity, love of learning and zest would differ from those that would bring lasting happiness to one whose strengths are kindness, fairness and a forgiving nature, or to one whose strengths are judgement, perseverance and leadership. (In his book ‘Authentic Happiness’, Seligman identifies 24 strengths under the general headings: wisdom and knowledge, courage, humanity and love, justice, temperance and transcendence.)

-Rejection sensitivity: http://www.psychologyineverydaylife.net/2013/03/17/rejection-sensitivity-three-ways-to-toughen-up/

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-06T21:27:03.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Hidden Emotion Model is based on the idea that niceness is the cause of all anxiety. People who are prone to anxiety are nearly always people-pleasers who fear conflict and negative feelings like anger. When you feel upset, you sweep your problems under the rug because you don’t want to upset anyone. You do this so quickly and automatically that you’re not even aware you’re doing it. Then your negative feelings resurface in disguised form, as anxiety, worries, fears, or feelings of panic. When you expose the hidden feelings and solve the problem that’s bugging you, often your anxiety will disappear

David D. Burns in "When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life-Broadway"

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-13T22:57:37.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

based on the idea that niceness is the cause of all anxiety.

All anxiety? Surely not. People get anxious about exams and going to the dentist and mortgages and impending wars and loads of other stuff that hasn't got squat to do with this particular behaviour. That's so obvious that nobody would make their model that absurdly broad.

I think what the author wanted to say was "based on the idea that there exists a psychological pattern that leads to anxiety and is caused by niceness."

(Just nitpicking bad writing here, but it has to be said.)

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-14T12:56:37.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Just nitpicking bad writing here, but it has to be said.)

It's not bad writting, it's you judging writing based on not having the context. Likely you misunderstand the word model.

But as far as the dentist example goes, a large part of the anxiety of going to the dentist is about you not wanting to feel pain but allowing someone else to do something painful to you without you being allowed to be angry at them. That's what niceness is about in that model.

Most people who feel anxiety before exams have a history of surpressing anger at their teachers but our school system doesn't consider it okay to express that anger.

Both of those situations are possible to be modeled in that model.

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-14T15:13:59.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do of course lack the context, that's true. Does the context define anxiety in such a narrow way that it makes more sense to trace it all back to being nice? (I imagine that's what it would take for the context to justify that particular phrasing.)

I'm not particularly convinced that dentist anxiety would be any better in a world where yelling at your dentist for hurting you were considered socially acceptable, though. Anyway, even if those two examples can be explained away, better examples of anxiety that don't seem to relate to niceness in any way aren't difficult to think of at all. Some people become anxious from being inside an elevator or an airplane or just a very small room, or atop a tall building. Or being surrounded by sharks. Or on fire.
Surely in many cases, anxiety is a direct result of perceived danger, or of anticipating or being confronted with scary things.

Angry outbursts can relieve anxiety, sure, but surely not every single instance of anxiety is caused by not letting oneself be angry.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-14T16:11:07.581Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The main point of the context is that it's one of four models he presents.

It's perfectly fine to model every cow as being spherical. There's nothing irrational about saying that you have a model where every cow is spherical. It's also not bad writing.

Different models have different usefulness.

I'm not particularly convinced that dentist anxiety would be any better in a world where yelling at your dentist for hurting you were considered socially acceptable, though.

In that issue anxiety is produced when your system I considers going to the dentist bad because he will hurt you but your system II drags you to the dentist. Simply yelling at the dentist doesn't resolve the dilenma.

To actually release the anxiety you need to reconcile your system I and system II. Depending on how good you can do that, your system I can also shut down the pain response so that the dentist doesn't have to give you anesthesia.

Surely in many cases, anxiety is a direct result of perceived danger, or of anticipating or being confronted with scary things.

The standard word for the emotion that people usually fear as result of direct perceived danger is fear.

Apart from that you miss the deeper point. If you look at a person getting afraid in an elevator there something that distinguishes them from other people who don't get afraid in an elevator. People don't randomly develop claustrophibia out of nothing.

A person who constantly suppresses his emotions is more likely to develop claustrophibia. Therapeutically it's useful to work on the topic of expressing one's emotions instead of being nice to overcome the issue. There are more direct and faster ways to cure claustrophibia but that doesn't mean that the hidden emotion model isn't applicable. That's why it's in David Burns book.

There we are at: "Scientists who write a claim that a lay person disagrees with are bad writers because they obviously don't mean what they claim."

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-14T18:09:24.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm kind of done with this conversation.

One concluding footnote. It seems to offend you a lot that I called that one sentence 'bad writing'. I want to point out that 'bad writing' has been the more generous explanation of the strangeness of that particular sentence. A slip of the pen is no big deal, it happens all the time.
It would be quite a bigger accusation if I insisted, like you, on taking that phrasing completely at face value, and then called the author a nutter for endorsing a model like that.

(Of course, a still more generous interpretation would be that the word 'anxiety' is being used here in a specialised way with a very narrow definition, and that the apparent absurdity here is just a matter of lacking that context. Which you're now hinting at by calling the rest 'fear' -- supposing that that's a separate class of feelings -- but still haven't explicitly confirmed or denied.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-06T21:26:02.800Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there is going to be a government role in getting innovation started, people have to believe philosophically that it’s possible to plan.

Peter Thiel

Replies from: AlexanderRM
comment by AlexanderRM · 2016-04-15T21:54:13.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting: He makes the argument that progress in physical areas of technology (transportation, chemistry etc.) has slowed in part due to government regulation (which would explain why the computers and the internet have been the one thing progressing drastically). But the United States has never been the source of all or even the majority of the worlds' new inventions, so an explanation focused on the U.S. government can't fill that large a gap (although, I suppose a slowdown of 1/3rd or even more would be explained).

Any information on what the situation has been in other countries? I wouldn't be surprised if the entire First World has trended towards drastically more regulation, which would indeed leave only the places with fewer inventors and little capital to invest or consumer-money to spend able to experiment with technologies in those fields (if true, the implications for the chance of changing the situation aren't as bright as if it's just the United States). Still, this is something that has to be remembered in any discussion of technology, or for that matter any questions of this type. More generally there seems to be a general lack of tendency (among Americans at least) to check on or be aware of other countries in all sorts of questions, and the few times they are brought up it's usually a single anecdote to reinforce the speakers' point (but even these are less common than one would expect). That seems to be a serious impediment to actually figuring out problems.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-16T21:53:54.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you look at the area of transportation innovation in trains does happen outside of the US. Japan manages to build better trains over time and even our European trains are better than those trains of the past. There a general thought that Detroit did worse than German or Japanese carmakers.

In general Europe has also seen an increase in regulation. Europe outlawed GMO's. Germany banned nuclear plants. German culture is often even more critical of new technology than the US.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-04-12T17:03:45.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nature is full of wonders, but the wonders of the reporter's imagination so far outstrip the wonders of nature, that as a people, we still prefer the reporter's version. The best selling popular science is that in which animals think, act and often talk, exactly like human beings, and in which plants are endowed with instincts that properly belong to animals alone. Instances are so abundant in the lay press that scientific publications no longer take notice of them, but when a publication devoted to science publishes such stories for the truth, it is time someone pointed out their falsity.

Some Plant Myths, The American Botanist, v 9 #1, 1905

comment by negamuhia · 2016-04-11T14:31:10.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What reaches your attention when you see is not ‘reality’ but a mix of light measurements with cryptotheories that were useful for making snap judgments in the environment of ancestral adaptation.

Eric S. Raymond here: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=7076

comment by [deleted] · 2016-04-16T14:32:17.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

‘High neuroticism scorers will always be vulnerable to negative thoughts and feelings. That they cannot change. However, there are techniques in which they can train themselves that seem to have quite a marked effect on how they deal with this vulnerability, which can make a great deal of difference to their being in the world'

-‘Happiness’, 2005: 113

Replies from: 27chaos
comment by 27chaos · 2016-04-25T18:10:29.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like what?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2016-04-26T00:13:08.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I knew, I probably wouldn't post so much.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-22T20:59:22.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to face a zombie, especially one that ate me last time I played, I’m going to want more than one bullet, and I’m going to want to fire them from range instead of waiting until he’s within brain-smelling distance. I’m going to hack motivation way more than I expect I’ll need to, and I’m going to do it up front when I’m feeling most excited about my goal. I’ll precommit, I’ll burn ships, I’ll create a motivation-only environment, I’ll start self-tracking to keep myself honest, I’ll find ways to make it more fun, and I’ll precommit some more.

Nick Winter in The Motivation Hacker

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-22T22:43:32.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a zombie, especially one that ate me last time

So, you are taking your motivation cues from zombies?


comment by parabarbarian · 2016-04-06T12:04:56.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Knotty theological questions are the least worrying of problems to me."


"Because they will be resolved in the hereafter, and meanwhile they can be safely shelved."

-- Ken Follet. Pillars of the Earth, pg 696 (Kindle edition)

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2016-04-06T13:03:55.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me like this depends a lot on what sort of knotty theological questions.

Suppose there is a dispute among Christians about whether doing some particular thing is necessary for salvation. Then the question can't be safely shelved until "the hereafter" because if one side is right then the other is in grave danger.

Or suppose there is a dispute about whether doing some particular thing is morally wrong (and therefore / because it is) hateful to the gods. Then even if for whatever reason you are confident of not being punished for doing it, if you care about doing the right thing or about pleasing the gods then you will want to resolve that dispute.

The context in this instance -- thanks, Google Books! -- appears to be a question about transubstantiation, arising in 12th-century England. I think a Christian believer might reasonably be concerned that disbelieving in transubstantiation if it's right might be dangerous, and that the reverse might be idolatrous -- which they'd presumably want to avoid even if they weren't worried they'd be damned for it.

Replies from: parabarbarian, Brillyant
comment by parabarbarian · 2016-04-07T04:25:53.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The doctrine of transubstantiation was off-and-on in Christianity from the third or fourth century but wasn't actually adopted by the Catholic Church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 AD. It wasn't formalized until the Council of Trent (1545-63 AD). So, to a 12th Century monk, transubstantiation may have been a "knotty theological question" but of no concern where salvation was concerned. I was kind of impressed how well Follet did his homework for that book.

comment by Brillyant · 2016-04-06T21:18:46.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience, most U.S. Evangelical Christians boil the basis of salvation down to one's response to Jesus' death and resurrection. You have to believe in it or at least say you believe in it. That's about it. It's relatively easy redemption.

Almost everything else seems increasingly negotiable and thought to be not worth arguing about.

This seems to me to be a response to the proliferation of "knotty theological problems" to the masses via the internet. It would bog down the movement to worry about whether Job was a real person or whether or not Obama is the really the Antichrist based on Revelation X:XX. It has the potential to fracture the sect and it's just plain a buzzkill to dwell on such minutiae.

Better to just Believe in Jesus™ and sort out the details posthumously when you're hanging out in your BRAND NEW MANSION!

Replies from: WalterL, gjm
comment by WalterL · 2016-04-07T18:47:59.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was taught that, ultimately, it was about recognizing that you are not worthy of salvation, but that God can choose to save you anyway. If you insist on being judged on your merits, you will be. This won't work out for you, because of all the sinning. Salvation is for those who are willing to let God intercede on their behalf.

Replies from: Brillyant
comment by Brillyant · 2016-04-07T21:07:56.099Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a similar thing in different words. You can allow Jesus to intercede for you by acknowledging 1) you are sinful and in need of an intercessor and 2) Jesus has the power to do the interceding. Jesus death and resurrection is the lynch pin of his divinity and associated magical intercessory powers.

It get's a bit tricky when "consistently sinful" people claim to believe in Jesus and admit their own sinfulness. They are sort of gaming the system, though many believe God can just pick out the insincere followers.

comment by gjm · 2016-04-06T21:49:12.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

most U.S. Evangelical Christians

Yup. Most evangelical Christians elsewhere, too, at least in principle (I suspect the reward-and-punishment view of salvation and damnation is hard to eradicate altogether). But evangelical Christians are not the only Christians, and in 12th-century England -- the setting for the quotation above -- there were no evangelicals as such.

This seems to me to be a response [...]

If you mean the original quotation: no, it's set in the 12th century. If you mean the belief among evangelicals that salvation is dependent on faith and affiliation rather than on good versus bad actions: no, that's been central to evangelicalism since evangelicalism existed, and widely believed by Protestants since Protestantism existed. (I'm not sure about the history of the idea pre-Reformation, but I bet it cropped up from time to time.)

comment by [deleted] · 2016-04-16T07:32:53.146Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the second half of the therapy work moves into the Revision phase, where patient and therapist identify and practice "exits" from the procedural diagram established in the previous phase. For example, a problematic procedure might move a patient from feeling angry to taking an overdose. An exit might involve expressing the anger in some way as an alternative to self-injuring behaviour.

  • Wikipedia: Cognitive Analytic Therapy
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-04-20T01:49:43.344Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Persuaded that we are not to be deterred from the investigation of truth by any authority, however great, and that every opinion must stand or fall by its own merits, I venture with diffidence to offer mine to the world, willing to relinquish it, as soon as a more rational appears.

--Elizabeth Fulhame

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-04-15T14:26:47.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was time to stop being stupid.

Phyllis Eisenstein, "The Sunstone"

The story isn't especially about rationality, but it's a good story in Old Venus, a good anthology.

comment by The_Bird · 2016-04-07T05:38:03.346Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People used to try to act more sophisticated by demonstrating their greater knowledge. Today, people try for higher status by offering sophistry about why Knowledge Can’t Exist.

Steve Sailer

Replies from: ChristianKl, username2
comment by ChristianKl · 2016-04-07T19:47:04.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If your project is to make sure that anybody who joins LW who has neoreactionary views get's banned I think you are on a good way by constantly reregistering accounts and training the jobs to pattern match accounts that contain neoreactionary views as accounts needing to be banned.

comment by username2 · 2016-04-09T11:38:29.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Acquiring knowledge requires a lot of work every time. Using fully general counterarguments doesn't. Also, for some reason people think that meta-things are higher status than things. Does anybody know why?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-09T16:20:37.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

for some reason people think that meta-things are higher status than things. Does anybody know why?

Going meta typically requires the ability to step out of the usual context (not a terribly common skill), a degree of reflexivity, and some intellectual power. Basically, idiots never go meta because they can't.

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-14T15:31:23.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems true, if you're talking about what I think you're talking about.
I've had to teach myself a meta-textual awareness when reading academic stuff, in order to keep in mind why I'm reading this, compare the contents with what other authors say, connect with related concepts, see the implications, etc., while I'm reading. It certainly takes a lot more effort and presence of mind than just following the text.

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-14T15:59:44.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would call what you are describing "putting into context" or "inserting new information into an existing framework", but yes, to do that you need some meta awareness.

However if you're reading academic research, what I would consider fully "going meta" is not just looking at other authors or connecting with related concepts, but rather considering the authors' incentives and, say, trying to correct for the publication bias.

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-17T12:07:59.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that too.

Related thought: I think meta is a direction, rather than one specific level. What that would mean is that you can always go further meta; there's reading the text, and then there's considering the text within the academic landscape, then there's examining the text together with its whole branch of science amidst all the sciences, then with science in general amidst human endeavours, etc.
Does that make sense?

Replies from: Lumifer
comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-17T21:16:54.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure, you can go meta again and again. I don't think in terms of meta as a direction, but I think of it as relative to the current level. So you go meta and step out of the current context, but this means you find yourself in a new context, and you can repeat: go meta and step out of this context. You find yourself in a new context and you can repeat: go meta and step out of this context. You find yourself in a new context... :-)

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-18T10:10:28.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That still sounds like 'meta' is a direction of (metaphorical) movement, but that it can be a different direction every time. Do you suppose you could have a situation where repeatedly 'going meta' would have you moving from one subject to the other and then back again, and again?

Replies from: tut, Lumifer
comment by tut · 2016-04-18T17:24:42.009Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's more of a relationship than a direction. There can be many metadiscussions to one object discussion, and there can of course be many object discussions for the same metadiscussion.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-04-18T14:39:47.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to think of it as a direction, the direction is outside. I don't think you can do loops.

Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2016-04-18T22:09:46.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense, I suppose.