Rationality Quotes July 2012

post by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T00:29:52.306Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 473 comments

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

 

473 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by mindspillage · 2012-07-04T06:08:12.319Z · score: 35 (37 votes) · LW · GW

The words "I am..." are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you're claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.

--A.L. Kitselman

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-04T19:59:42.562Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

See also Paul Graham's essay Keep Your Identity Small, on the same subject.

comment by shokwave · 2012-07-03T05:09:07.164Z · score: 33 (39 votes) · LW · GW

Person: "It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you."
Robot: " ... Paranoia is such a childish emotion. You're an adult. Why aren't all your enemies dead by now?"

-- RStevens

comment by tastefullyOffensive · 2012-07-06T16:47:33.144Z · score: 29 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Just explained the Higgs Boson to my friend even though I don't understand it myself. He was very convinced. I bet this is how religions get started.

-Rob DenBleyker

comment by ChrisNJ · 2012-07-10T20:14:27.731Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ha! I was in a checkout at the mall and pulled up a science blog to see the developments on the Higgs-Boson. When I heard the 99.9999% proof I literally could not hold in my verbal amazement. Well no one around me (mother, sister, scared check-out girl) had the slightest clue what it was about and explaining only led to resentment and confusion (despite using an apologetic light tone i.e. leaving out the "God Particle" association.)

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-09T21:08:02.264Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm betting on psychotic episodes. Any way to settle it?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-13T18:55:19.938Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Induce psychotic episodes in some people, explain Higgs boson to others, compare outcome religiosity.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-13T22:43:14.070Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now I'm reminded of when my mother phoned me asking me “what's about this God particle they've found and everyone's talking about? does it prove that God exist, or that God doesn't exist?” and I told her not to mind journalists as they don't understand a thing and they're just trying to sell newspapers, and to look at the cover picture on my Facebook profile instead. (It shows the Lagrangian of the Standard Model before symmetry breaking.) She was a bit disappointed by that. ;-)

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-07-03T18:17:44.594Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

We find it difficult and disturbing to hold in our minds arguments of the form ‘On the one hand, on the other.’ If we are for capital punishment we want it to be good in all respects, with no serious drawbacks; if we are against it, we want it to be bad in all respects, with no serious advantages. We want the world of facts to dictate to us, virtually, how to act; but this it will never do. We always have to make a choice.

-- Theodore Dalrymple, article in "Library of Law and Liberty".

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-04T01:17:11.460Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It's strange that we have many phrases like "on the one/other hand", "pros and cons", and "both sides of the story", then.

comment by ScottMessick · 2012-07-04T17:50:09.932Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

These phrases are mainly used in near mode, or when trying to induce near mode. The phenomenon described in the quote is a feature (or bug) of far mode.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-04T09:30:01.340Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not wanting to take a principle to heart is not the same thing as denying that's the way things work, though. I think most people acknowledge (or at least give lip service) that being able to be objective is virtuous and often important. Even the ones who are rubbish at actually being so in real life.

And of course it's entirely possible to be blatantly one-sided about capital punishment, but still want to hear both sides of the story when your kids are having an argument.

And of course it's also entirely possible to realise you should be objective, even if that's more difficult and disturbing and less satisfying. You can just grit your teeth and tell your need for one-sidedness to shut up and let you think properly.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-04T09:44:41.838Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

True, though we're still treating objectivity as fairness in arguments rather than even-handedness in truth inquiries. All these phrases refer to two sides, not more.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-04T22:54:15.679Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And of course it's entirely possible to be blatantly one-sided about capital punishment, but still want to hear both sides of the story when your kids are having an argument.

Because in an argument between their kids, people haven't already made up their minds.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T05:04:47.811Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's strange that we have many phrases like "on the one/other hand", "pros and cons", and "both sides of the story", then.

No, those phrases exist to help patch the flaw in human reasoning the parent describes. In fact it would be strange that we had those phrases and the corresponding flaw didn't exist.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-03T05:06:21.330Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I often tried plays that looked recklessly daring, maybe even silly. But I never tried anything foolish when a game was at stake, only when we were far ahead or far behind. I did it to study how the other team reacted, filing away in my mind any observations for future use.

— Ty Cobb

comment by Miller · 2012-07-05T19:10:38.888Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if he let his teammates know this at the time. They are unlikely to approve and then what would he do. I'd wager this was more about creating drama around him and his team than studying the opponent. I've done this kind of thing in online multiplayer contexts, and the feedback you receive from this is substantially more weighted to your own team than the opponents.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-03T05:24:54.582Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Here is a hand. How do I know? Look closely, asshole, it's clearly a hand.

Look, if you really insist on doubting that here is a hand, or anything else, there's nothing really I can say to convince you otherwise. What the tits would the world even look like if this weren't a hand? What sort of system is your doubt endorsing? After all, you can't just say "It's not true that here is a hand." You have to be endorsing some other picture of the world. [...]

So it turns out when I say things like "Here is a hand" I'm not really making a claim about the world, I'm laying down some rules for discussion. If you doubt there's a hand here, then fuck you and that's all there is to it. We can't really talk about anything now, because we can't even agree on something as simple as a goddamn hand. When we all agree here is a hand, then we can go about discussing our world in meaningful ways. Skepticism just undermines a foundation and replaces it with nothing; it[']s paralyzing. The grounds for such radical skepticism don't exist; it presupposes and relies on the very certainty it tries to undermine.

This is more practical than you realize. There are people who actually believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. What the fuck, right? But if you've ever talked with one of them, you know that they're fucking impossible to have what you consider a 'reasonable' discussion with. It's not like they don't have answers for everything, it[']s just that those answers don't make any fucking sense to you. It[']s the sort of gibberish that makes you want to scream. The problem is that you don't even play the game by the same goddamn rules. You're both certain of your positions, because those positions are logically derived from the worldview each of you endorses as your starting point, and you both look at each other's foundations and say, "Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about?" You don't even know how you would go about convincing them that you're right and they're wrong; you don't even agree on a method by which to do that.

If you flew to some part of the world where they'd never heard of an airplane or even a bird, how the fuck could you convince them you flew? They don't even know what that means. They would have all sorts of questions, and would consider your answers nonsensical or magical. When a non-believer is told that God exists, he reacts in the same way; also, a believer when he is told there is no God.

So everything we believe about the world is built on some sort of foundation. Sure, that foundation can change, but there is always something there at the base, and it is that base that enables us to talk about the world. Not everyone has the same base you do, and that has to be okay. Just know that some of your beliefs are just as unsupported as everyone else's. It's just the way it is, bro.

Philosophy Bro summarizing Wittgenstein's "On Certainty". (I'm not sure the summary is very true to the original but it's interesting nonetheless.)

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-04T01:23:01.575Z · score: 12 (24 votes) · LW · GW

If you doubt there is a hand, I'll use it to smush a banana on your face. If you end up looking ridiculous with banana on your face, then there was in fact a hand and my foundation is better than yours. If I end up looking ridiculous trying to grab a banana of doubtful existence with no hands, I promise to admit your foundation is better than mine. If we disagree on what happens, why am I even aware of your existence?

comment by roystgnr · 2012-07-09T19:06:20.847Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In grade school, I recall there being more than one occasion when I slapped a friend in the back of the head for such instructional purposes when he became too solipsistic. (this wouldn't disprove solipsism, of course, but it would imply a "masochistic solipsism", and it turned out he strongly preferred realism over that)

In hindsight I wonder why he remained such a steadfast friend, and now I wonder whether, if I had ever had a banana handy, that would have been the last straw.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-07-09T17:43:43.570Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

People who are experiencing scepticism should have bananas smushed in their faces, is what you're saying? And apparently that's worth 12 upvotes.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-09T21:01:31.233Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I've got a worse one: people who are experiencing skepticism should have their children taken away, forcibly stabbed with a syringe needle, injected with chemicals chosen by the government, and returned only if they will allow an institution they hate to keep stuffing their kids with chemicals.

Edit: Wait, that is controversial? Huh. Is LW unusually opposed to mandatory vaccination or am I wrong about the mainstream?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-09T21:41:29.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...where did that come from?

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-09T21:56:18.810Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Anti-vaccers.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-07-10T03:07:58.747Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is the sentiment that in diluted form gets 10 upvotes. Fuck you all.

edit: upvoters, that is. Like, seriously, you are bad people and you should fix that.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T05:37:25.501Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's a reasonably accurate translation of the spirit of the original into colorful English.

comment by thomblake · 2012-07-09T18:56:27.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I concur.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-11T23:15:24.930Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Certain methods for obtaining beliefs are better than others, though. It turns out that one method gives you a ~4.5 billion year old Earth, but also cellphones, computer networks, plentiful food, eradication of many diseases, spaceflight, lolcats, and so on an so forth. The other method gives you an Earth that's as old as you want it to be, and good feelings, and... what else ?

One of the many problems with solipsism is that it lacks an application.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-12T03:32:07.269Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

cellphones, computer networks, plentiful food, eradication of many diseases, spaceflight, lolcats

I deny that those things exist. ;)

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-13T21:07:34.146Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"What are you speaking to me on? What...what's that in your hand?"

http://www.gamefaqs.com/ps2/466217-grand-theft-auto-iii/faqs/16584

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-09T19:15:28.223Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-02T21:53:15.471Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

If the "assumption" is so obvious and near-universal, why does Singer go on pompously to announce it.

Possibly for the same sorts of reasons that Eliezer wrote this big long thing to "restore a naïve view of truth", or that Nick Bostrom wrote this big long thing to explain why death is bad ... namely, that people have come up with all kinds of non-obvious, idiosyncratic rationalizations to justify the status-quo of starvation, ignorance, and death; that these rationalizations have, over the centuries, become cached thoughts; and that therefore getting back to "obvious and near-universal" basics is both desirable and nontrivial.

comment by peter_hurford · 2012-07-02T22:09:55.854Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, this is what I had in mind.

Another lesson I think it teaches is it is easy to get caught up in long, drawn out debates about positions that are nearly impossible to conclusively refute (think theism).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T00:30:42.254Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-03T07:05:16.800Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Fun fact: William Lane Craig has rigorously argued that it's best to one-box on Newcomb's problem.

If the rule you followed led you to this of what use was the rule?

— Anton Chigurh

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T07:23:37.466Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:54:10.520Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Recced because it is funny and relevant, I am actually quite enjoying the Chigurh quotes. Although I am tired of Will always bringing in Catholic stuff. :)

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-04T23:03:14.057Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Lane Craig isn't Catholic, and I didn't bring him up.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-07-05T00:08:13.958Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That question has some surprising correlations more generally (at least for someone who's been trained to cluster LW positions together into a natural set.)

comment by peter_hurford · 2012-07-03T01:47:42.785Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Reversed Stupidity is Not Intelligence

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-03T12:39:14.394Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

At best, don't do that for the same reasons he did - but even there I'm sure that he's right even on the reasoning some of the time.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T02:10:27.863Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T01:17:08.699Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I hadn't heard of him before. [follows the link]

Craig modifies the thought experiment by introducing operations such as subtraction and shows that subtracting identical quantities from identical quantities would have non-identical remainders.[9] Since we have no evidence of such things in the actual world

Don't we?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:43:39.535Z · score: 23 (31 votes) · LW · GW

We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

--- Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7. Activity recorded M.Y. 2302.22467. (TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED)

From Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T23:30:38.802Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Suppose we find a society which lacks our understanding of human physiology, and that speaks a language just like English, except for one curious family of idioms. When they are tired they talk of being beset by fatigues, of having mental fatigues, muscular fatigues, fatigues in the eyes and fatigues of the the spirit. Their sports lore contains such maxims as 'too many fatigues spoils your aim' and 'five fatigues in the legs are worth ten in the arms'. When we encounter them and tell them of our science, they want to know what fatigues are. They have been puzzling over such questions as whether numerically the same fatigue can come and go and return, whether fatigues have a definite location in matter and space and time, whether fatigues are identical with some physical states or processes or events in their bodies, or are made of some sort of stuff. We can see that they are off to a bad start with these questions, but what should we tell them? One thing we can tell them is that there simply are no such things as fatigues - they have a confused ontology. We can expect them to retort: 'You don't think there are fatigues? Run around the block a few times and you'll know better! There are many things your science might teach us, but the non-existence of fatigues isn't one of them!

--Dan Dennett, Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-07-18T06:18:11.888Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's one of my favorite Dennett passages. A similarly great anthropological metaphor is his tale of the forest god Feenoman and the "Feenomanologists" who study this religion. I have not been able to find it online, but it is in the essay "Two approaches to mental images", in the same book.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T15:15:03.544Z · score: 21 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan in Alpha Centauri

comment by rocurley · 2012-07-03T00:38:09.582Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I find it troubling how much I want to upvote you just beause you're quoting SMAC.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:25:12.521Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I finally wikipediaed this and see you are talking about a Sid Meier video game. I played Civilization once for about an hour (where I was amazed when my 10 year old consultant on the game told me I was an idiot for going democratic, that I would have had a much better military if I'd gone communist and then built a statue of liberty, or something like that). I have spent countless hours on Railroad Tycoon back before Steve Jobs got fired.

Do I want to get SMAC and risk ruining my life? Perhaps have myself lashed to a mast before I try it?

Is SMAC addictive?

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-04T20:14:25.260Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

SMAC is my favorite of the Civilization series for two reasons:

The first is that it's just a very well-made game- it has lots of features and internal mechanics which took Civilization over a decade to catch up to (and still doesn't do as well).

The second is that it starts at slightly-future tech, and proceeds to singularity. I find that way more satisfying than starting at agriculture and proceeding to slightly-future tech, partly because I like sci-fi more than I like history, and partly because it lets you consider more interesting questions.

For example, the seven factions in the game aren't split on racial lines, but on ideological lines: there are seven competing views for how society should be organized and what the future should look like, and each of them has benefits and penalties that are the reasonable consequences of their focuses.

SMAC is deeply flawed for three reasons:

The AI is over a decade old, and so it's difficult to be challenged once you know how the game works. (This was also before they had figured out a good way to hamstring ICS, and so ICS is the dominant yet unfun strategy.)

The multiplayer code is over a decade old, and so not only are the AI difficult to play against in a fun manner, other people are difficult to play against for frustrating technical reasons.

The factions are tremendously unbalanced. While this is a neat statement about social organization- no, fundamentalism is a worse idea than an open society, unless you want to rule over a world of ash- it makes it a somewhat worse game, because single or multiplayer games are tainted by the tier rankings. Similarly, in single-player games you are always playing with the same seven factions, unlike in Civ games where you're able to play with a varied host (and as many or as few opponents as you want).

It is worthwhile to see the whole tech tree a few times; it is worthwhile to learn how the game works; it is possible to nod contentedly and walk away from SMAC, saying "I am done and this was a good experience."

It's also possible to play it for hundreds of hours (I certainly did), and it's the sort of game that I dust off every few years to play a game of. I would recommend playing it, but I would also recommend lashing yourself to a mast if there's something else you need to get done.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-07-04T22:09:54.489Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The multiplayer code is over a decade old, and so not only are the AI difficult to play against in a fun manner, other people are difficult to play against for frustrating technical reasons

This is making me feel old. Me and a few college mates had a SMAC multiplayer game running for the better part of a year. If someone told me now that I could have a multiplayer game experience by taking my turn, zipping up the game file and emailing it to the next person in the cycle, I would laugh in their face.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-05T04:34:04.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alien crossfire added 7 more civilizations, two of which are even more imbalanced than University. Which I wasn't sure was possible.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-05T15:28:37.650Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Right- I tended to play SMAC instead of SMACX because of the balance issues (or, at least, play it with just the original 7 because it did add new buildings and secret projects) and the new 7 had weird divisions. The Corporation and the University seem like natural divides- but, say, the Angels were just odd ("We're super hackers!" "Wouldn't that make sense for a gang inside another civilization, rather than a full civilization?").

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-05T15:32:08.104Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's also worth noting that the game allows for creating custom factions... the faction definitions are just parameters in a text file. So one can self-medicate the balance issues if desired.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-05T15:36:47.844Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I tend to agree. My favorite mix is playing as University, with the Gaians, Peacekeepers, Cybernetic, Planet Cult, and Believers, with one of the progenitor factions to make things interesting.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T19:53:21.883Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

SMAC is the crown jewel of the series, if you ask me. The expansion, Alien Crossfire is almost impossible to find legally though, and adds a lot to the game.

Is it addictive? I don't know, largely because it's difficult to specify what is "addictive" and what isn't. The best answer I can give you is yes, in bursts. I'll play it for eight hours in a row one day and then not touch it for a month.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2012-07-04T22:05:01.588Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I got the original SMAC and SMAX in one set on Amazon a few years ago.

A quick google reveals it's still available. Less than $5.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T22:46:02.989Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's good. I heard somewhere it was really rare. Guess it's not.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-11T23:21:34.855Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know about "addictive", but I can tell you that playing SMAC with 5 to 7 human players, and no AIs, will definitely have a... transformative... effect on your life. You will be amazed at how quickly things go from

We're all coworkers, let's have some strategy game fun !

to

Psst, hey, I saw Joe and Bob talking in the corridor the other day. Couldn't hear what they were saying, but it Bob mimed an airplane with his hands at one point. Yeah. I know they're supposed to be enemies, and so are we, but if they beat us to Air Power, we're both in trouble... When was the last time you talked to your allies, anyway ? Just think about it...

Trust no one.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-12T03:30:01.379Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've successfully played diplomacy games with friends without it ruining any friendships.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-13T18:39:39.380Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Alpha Centauri is much more conducive to abject paranoia than Diplomacy, though -- at least, the way we played it. We would start a game by taking turns on the same machine, for the first 10 turns or so, during lunch. Then, we would go back to work, and take our turn on that machine when it came up (we'd VNC into it). This way, the game doesn't disturb our actual work too much, and each player can take as long to micromanage his cities as he wants.

Thus, all the player-to-player interaction takes place on back channels -- through email, or clandestine meetings. This fact, combined with the knowledge that one tech advance, or one airstrike at the right time, could shift the entire balance of power, results in truly Cold War-grade levels of paranoia. It is an exhilarating experience, in a way.

I should probably mention that no relationships were ruined by our games, either, as far as I can tell. A game is still only a game, after all.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-14T06:51:55.556Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The diplomacy games I'm referring to were also played one move a day.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-07-04T19:57:38.927Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do I want to get SMAC and risk ruining my life?

Yes.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-04T20:28:03.169Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes to all of those questions.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-04T19:52:36.590Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My experience of the single-player game was that it was fun, but the AI was sufficiently stupid that (a) it was trivial to beat unless I was extremely unlucky in the first twenty years or so, and (b) it rewarded tedious amounts of micromanaging. There are various "play with one hand tied behind your back" style variants that can extend the fun for a little while, but that sort of thing only goes so far.

So, no, it wasn't especially addictive... I played it a lot for a little while, played it a little for a longer while, and haven't looked at it in years.

I never got into the multiplayer version, but can see where it might be a lot more addictive.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-03T01:17:14.513Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I recently rediscovered it and realized how many quotes fit into LW memes. And apparently there was an expansion too. I never knew that until about a month ago.

comment by tgb · 2012-07-03T00:45:39.942Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Another amusing one from Alpha Centauri:

'Abort, Retry, Fail?' was the phrase some wormdog scrawled next to the door of the Edit Universe project room. And when the new dataspinners started working, fabricating their worlds on the huge organic comp systems, we'd remind them: if you see this message, always choose 'Retry.'
Bad'l Ron, Wakener
Morgan Polysoft

comment by MBlume · 2012-07-03T19:25:10.025Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This actually seems wrong. Clicking "retry" seems to map to "make the same attempt, in the same way, and hope things go better". It's worth trying once or twice, but eventually you have to update towards the possibility that the strategy you're trying is fundamentally flawed, that it will never work, abort, and come at things from a completely different angle.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-03T19:47:23.588Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Doing the same thing over and over again in the hopes of eventually getting a different result is, I'm told, one definition of insanity.

It is also, in my experience, an important aspect of physical therapy.

comment by dspeyer · 2012-07-04T03:42:19.140Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I've never understood that saying. Most real life actions are practically speaking nondeterministic. I've often found it worthwhile to test each course of action 10 times and keep track of what fraction it worked (if the course of action is quick and easy to test).

comment by MBlume · 2012-07-03T20:01:42.203Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right, which is why sometimes you need help -- sometimes a domain expert tells you that yes, you might naively think that, having tried the same thing 25 times, you can reasonably give up, but that's not true in this case because of these biological mechanisms.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-03T20:17:05.327Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Right, which is why sometimes you need help -- sometimes a domain expert tells you that yes, you might naively think that, having tried the same thing 25 times, you can reasonably give up, but that's not true in this case because of these biological mechanisms.

In lieu of (and in most cases in precedence over) biological mechanisms I would take testimony from the expert that, for example, "30 of the 50 people I have seen learn this took 30 or more attempts and I don't know of a better way to try than what you are doing".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T20:00:25.327Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you really did the same thing in the same environment and expected a different result it would be insane, realistically I never expect the world to respond to my actions the same way twice so that saying holds about as much weight as any other truism.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:20:43.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there will always be a difference in the readings on the clocks on the wall for each try, it is hard for one person to do the same thing 10 times simultaneously.

So if you allow the "except for things you didn't think could possibly matter, or were unaware of" to remain implicit, do you get a better feeling about it?

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:17:47.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've just been doing a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle with the kids while on vacation. I can't tell you how many pieces didn't fit until about the 7th time I tried them.

Anybody who thinks doing a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle has nothing to do with the philosophy of science or engineering either has not done a 750 piece jigsaw puzzle, or has not done science or engineering, or is not thinking optimally.

I think like everything in practical truth, theory is quite different from reality. It is the philosopher's noble task to narrow that difference, even as improvements in practice widen it faster than it can ever be narrowed.

comment by Nominull · 2012-07-08T20:01:12.911Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I never felt I was studying the stupidity of mankind in the third person. I always felt I was studying my own mistakes.

-Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

comment by Stabilizer · 2012-07-05T08:53:15.010Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

A computer is like a violin. You can imagine a novice trying first a phonograph and then a violin. The latter, he says, sounds terrible. That is the argument we have heard from our humanists and most of our computer scientists. Computer programs are good, they say, for particular purposes, but they aren't flexible. Neither is a violin, or a typewriter, until you learn how to use it.

-Marvin Minsky

Thinking of your brain (and yourself) like an instrument to played might be useful for instrumental rationality.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-07-05T10:50:19.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted, but there might be some partiality involved due to the (perceived) dig at those hated Greens. ;)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-07-08T20:45:06.665Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

"Buddhism IS different. It's the followers who aren’t."

-- A Dust Over India.

Commentary: Reading this made me realize that many religions genuinely are different from each other. Christianity is genuinely different from Judaism, Islam is genuinely different from Christianity, Hinduism is genuinely different from all three. It's religious people who are the same everywhere; not the same as each other, obviously, but drawn from the same distribution. Is this true of atheistic humanists? Of transhumanists? Could you devise an experiment to test whether it was so, would you bet on the results of that experiment? Will they say the same of LessWrongers, someday? And if so, what's the point?

Now that I think on it, though, there might be a case for scientists being drawn from a different distribution, or computer programmers, or for that matter science fiction fans (are those all the same distributions as each other, I wonder?). It's not really hopeless.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-14T11:54:45.251Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that the claim is really supported by the observations that he made in the article.

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christanity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddnism. As a result the followers do act differently. They are less likely to use violence against him but more likely to lie to him.

Why do you think that people are the same everywhere? And what do you mean with "the same"?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-15T00:17:37.023Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christanity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddhism. As a result the followers do act differently.

How much of this difference can actually be attributed to the followers attempting to obey religious precepts, and how much is simply floating in the sea of cultural memes in the parts of the world where Buddhism and Christianity respectively happen to be common? Would you expect practicing Christians in Japan, Korea, China, or India (and who are ethnically Japanese, Korean, etc.) behave more like your model of "Buddhists" or "Christians"?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-15T13:51:45.116Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How much of this difference can actually be attributed to the followers attempting to obey religious precepts

Religion is more than obeying general precepts. During the time my Catholic grandmother was in school she wanted to read some book. Before reading it she asked her priest to allow her to read it because it was on the Catholic census. Following the religion seriously and not reading anything that's on the census has an effect that goes beyond the general precepts.

A lot of Buddhists are vegetarians. A lot of Buddhists mediate. Those practices have effects.

and how much is simply floating in the sea of cultural memes in the parts of the world where Buddhism and Christianity respectively happen to be common? Religion isn't more than a bunch of cultural memes packed together into a packet.

Your question assumes that people in Japan can be either "Christians" or "Buddhists" but can't be both. Even when the Chrisitans in Malta pray to Allah you can't be Muslim and a Christian at the same time. There no similar problem with being a Zen Buddhist and being Christian at the same time.

Would you expect practicing Christians in Japan, Korea, China, or India (and who are ethnically Japanese, Korean, etc.) behave more like your model of "Buddhists" or "Christians"?

I think that there a correlation but I'm not sure about the extend to which Far East Christians resemble Western Christians. Making a decision to convert to Christianity when you live in China has a lot of apsects that don't exist when someone who lives in a Christian town simply decides to stay Christian.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-16T05:29:17.951Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand your response. Let me restate what I was getting at above, in responding to this assertion:

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christianity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddhism. As a result the followers do act differently. They are less likely to use violence against him but more likely to lie to him.

This claim makes a prediction regarding the rates of lying and violence among "followers" of Buddhism and Christianity. But what counts as a data point for or against this claim depends on what could be meant by "the followers" of these religions. Two possible interpretations:

  1. "People who explicitly consider themselves to be Buddhists or Christians, and who attempt to live according to what they think the precepts of Buddhism or Christianity are";
  2. "People who come from those cultures which we call 'Buddhist' or 'Christian' respectively, regardless of whether those individuals consider themselves observant or religious at all."

For instance, I consider myself an atheist, but I was raised in a Christian family and live in a society where Christianity is the predominant religious influence. I have read the Gospels (and most of the rest of the Bible); by contrast I have not read the Qur'an, the Tripitaka, the Vedas, or the Talmud. I don't pray, attend church, or listen to the teachings of priests or pastors.

By interpretation 1, I am not a Christian; and whether I happen to lie or do violence would not count for or against the claim above. (It would also not count regarding Buddhism; although I've done Zen meditation more recently than I've done Christian worship ...) By interpretation 2, my cultural background counts me as a Christian; and my tendencies to lie or do violence would count for or against the claim above.

So, I'm asking: What would count as evidence for or against the claim regarding the rate of lying and violence among Christians and Buddhists?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-17T17:10:26.080Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you understand what Buddhism happen to be. If I go into something rumored to be a Buddhist monastry and ask the inhibatans whether they attempt to live according to the precepts of Buddhism there a fairly good chance that the answer is no.

Attempting stuff means having attachment to it. Buddhism is about moving beyond such attachments.

What's my empiric claim?

log(Time spent in Buddhist rituals + X /Time spent in Christian rituals +X) correlates with log(Rate of lying Y / Rate of being violent + Y)

The formula is only supposed to give a general idea. There probably a better way to express the idea.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-10T16:46:08.824Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's religious people who are the same everywhere

That's evidence that the religion does not change people too much.

Which might be a good thing. Religious cults do change people. An average Scientologist does not behave the same way as an average Christian. You could measure the influence of the religion by measuring how the distribution of personalities changes.

On the other hand, let's not reverse stupidity here. Changing personality is generally a bad thing, but that is not necessary, just very probable.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-10T19:09:26.146Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's evidence that the religion does not change people too much.

It's also evidence that religion may change people in the same way regardless of details.

comment by brahmaneya · 2012-08-03T21:06:24.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't his comment about Buddhist people being not different is even true. They are, for example, on the average, less violent than Muslims. They're simply not different to the extent he expected them to be.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T02:51:22.611Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is this true of atheistic humanists? Of transhumanists? Could you devise an experiment to test whether it was so, would you bet on the results of that experiment? Will they say the same of LessWrongers, someday? And if so, what's the point?

Now that I think on it, though, there might be a case for scientists being drawn from a different distribution, or computer programmers, or for that matter science fiction fans (are those all the same distributions as each other, I wonder?).

If LW-rationality goes mainstream, it's followers will then be drawn from the same distribution.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-08-03T17:56:33.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If LW-rationality goes mainstream, it's followers will then be drawn from the same distribution.

I find it unlikely that we'll have to opportunity to observe this.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-03T19:04:29.924Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's plausible that LW-rationality, or rather a third hand version of it, will go mainstream.

comment by kajro · 2012-07-08T23:25:33.934Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You could define equivalence relations on the set of religious people (RP) and the set of atheistic humanists (AH). In most cases, the people in the sets only interact with (or at least influenced by) other members of the same or similar sets. Turn these interactions into operations on members of the set (a,b in RP, a*b = "a makes b feel awkward/scared/unhappy around a" or maybe something based on social relationships between members). These operations would create new "people" whose characteristics are similar to that of the person who has been molded by the defined social interaction(s).

Starting from a certain subset of RP, these operations could possibly generate the entire set of members (i.e a*b = c in RP, where c has the equivalent disposition as someone who has interacted with b under some applicable equivalence relation). Do the same for AH (using the same equivalence relation), and compare the structures. Under different types of interactions between members, this could reveal some interesting group-theoretical properties. Maybe there is a generating set for RP and not for AH if we keep the equivalence relations from getting too specific.

I guess what I'm getting at is that the structural elements of a certain set of people could tell us something about the distribution that the set was pulled from, or even invalidate the need to look at the distribution at all. Maybe the structure is even more important; these sets could pull from the same distribution, but the ideologies that formed these sets could result in drastically different results from operations (social interactions or relationships) between members of the set. Or we could see if only the generating members of the set were pulled from the same distribution, but the social interactions between them created a set member not from the original distribution, resulting in the set having to pull from that distribution also.

Anyway, this is probably not coherent or useful at all, but if nothing else it did lead me to the work of Harrison White on mathematical sociology:

A good summary of White's sociological contributions is provided by his former student and collaborator, Ronald Breiger:

... ... (2) models based on equivalences of actors across networks of multiple types of social relation; (3) theorization of social mobility in systems of organizations; (4) a structural theory of social action that emphasizes control, agency, narrative, and identity ...

This was particularly interesting:

For instance, we are told almost daily how the average European or American feels about a topic. It allows social scientists and pundits to make inferences about cause and say “people are angry at the current administration because the economy is doing poorly.” This kind of generalization certainly makes sense, but it does not tell us anything about an individual. This leads to the idea of an idealized individual, something that is the bedrock of modern economics.[6] Most modern economic theories look at social formations, like organizations, as products of individuals all acting in their own best interest.[7]

comment by baiter · 2012-07-02T23:27:14.036Z · score: 15 (27 votes) · LW · GW

"New rule: If you handle snakes to prove they won't bite you because God is real, and then they bite you -- do the math."

– Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 6/8/2012

video article

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-03T11:46:33.844Z · score: 13 (23 votes) · LW · GW

(An important lesson, but I wonder if it's wise to teach it in the context of politics. Among other things, I worry that the messages "boo religion!", "yay updating on evidence!", "boo religious conservatives!", "yay pointing out my enemies are inferior to me!", "yay rationality!", "yay my side for being comparatively rational!", &c. will become mixed up and seen as constituting a natural category even if they objectively shouldn't be. (Related.))

comment by Ezekiel · 2012-07-03T12:57:58.859Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. But if I handle snakes to prove they won't bite me because God is real, and they don't bite me -- you do the math.

More seriously, though: the sentiment expressed in the quote is flawed, IMHO. Evidence isn't always symmetrical. Any particular transitional fossil is reasonable evidence for evolution; not finding a particular transitional fossil isn't strong evidence against it. A person perjuring themselves once is strong evidence against their honesty; a person once declining to perjure themselves is not strong evidence in favour of their honesty; et cetera.

I think this might have something to do with the prior, actually: The stronger your prior probability, the less evidence it should take to drastically reduce it.

Edit: Nope, that last conclusion is wrong. Never mind.

comment by Jack · 2012-07-04T19:34:00.716Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Right. Sensitivity does not equal specificity. Maher makes the mistake of assuming the rate of false positives and false negatives for the 'snakebite test for god' are equal. The transitional fossil test for evolution and the perjury test for honesty both have high false negative rates and low false positive rates.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-04T10:13:27.588Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hm, I thought that reasoning argued against your own non-serious first paragraph rather than what Bill said. If the idea is "if God is real (and won't let snakes bite me), then they won't bite me", then being bitten shows that the first part is false, but not being bitten doesn't say anything about the first part being true or false.

Or if you don't want to get hung up on formal logic, then it's valid but very weak evidence, like a hypothesis not being falsified in a test.

comment by Ezekiel · 2012-07-04T18:45:01.723Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What Bill Maher said was that if a person claims that ~Bite is significant evidence for God, they must admit that Bite is significant evidence for ~God. I'm saying I don't think that's accurate.

The sentiment that one should update on the evidence is obviously great, but I think we should keep an eye on the maths.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-05T17:00:55.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough, if the premise is that ¬Bite → God exists.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-03T17:06:21.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's more clearly apparent when you

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-04T12:50:02.617Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Strictly speaking, the bible says of Jesus's followers "they will pick up serpents." It doesn't say "they will pick up serpents and not get bitten."

Of course, it does also say they can drink deadly poison without being harmed.

As it happens, I am related to and share my last name with this guy.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-04T16:54:18.975Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, it does also say they can drink deadly poison without being harmed.

Seems like this calls for either preventative antidotes and something to prove or a serious selective breeding program!

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-08T23:37:08.463Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is promised that "these signs will follow those who believe". So if they do bite you, then God is still real, but you didn't have enough faith.

Just doing this.

comment by lavalamp · 2012-07-08T18:51:23.068Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why does this have 12 upvotes? The fact that this is slightly funny and for our "side" doesn't make it good logic. We've no reason to think snakebites and deities ought to be correlated at all. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence and all that. This ought to be below the visibility threshold.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-08T19:12:39.874Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We've no reason to think snakebites and deities ought to be correlated at all.

But if you do think that snakebites and deities are correlated, then the correlation has to run both ways.

I didn't upvote since it's more politics than rationality, but there is a useful lesson there.

comment by lavalamp · 2012-07-08T19:25:23.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, it has to go both ways. And it is evidence against some sort of snake-handling god. But not against gods in general.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-08T19:39:14.880Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If a snake handler supposes that their ability to safely handle snakes is evidence that they're protected by the Christian god as a disciple of Jesus, then they must suppose in turn that their inability to handle snakes safely is evidence that they aren't protected by the Christian god as a disciple of Jesus. At least some part of the edifice has to take a hit.

I don't know if any non-Christian religion uses snake handling as a religious ritual. In Christianity, it's practiced in some minor denominations as an interpretation of a specific line.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-08T19:44:37.872Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but it is entirely consistent for a snake handler to think that handled snakes not biting is very strong evidence for the existence of a Christian god while also thinking that handled snakes biting is very weak evidence against the existence of a Christian god, weak enough not to significantly dent their faith. So Maher's argument as stated doesn't work. "Doing the math" here might just mean very very slightly reducing your credence in God's existence.

comment by lavalamp · 2012-07-09T02:07:32.927Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't disagree with this and am not arguing against it. My point is, there's lots of people (including probably a very large majority of christians) who don't conceive of god as caring particularly one way or the other about snake handlers. For these people, Maher's argument doesn't hold at all.

Of course, the snake handlers themselves should update (modulo what pragmatist said).

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-07-09T20:28:40.499Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like a lot of comments you made there. Are you saying that if people consistently held poisonous snakes without getting bitten, and on inspection only their vocal faith distinguished them from other people, you personally would not increase your belief in literal god(s) one whit? If so, how do you justify this seemingly anti-Bayesian position?

comment by lavalamp · 2012-07-09T23:27:12.981Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

All pro-snake-handling gods are gods, but not all gods are pro-snake-handling gods.

Evidence against pro-snake-handling gods is evidence against such a tiny slice of god-space that I'm calling it a rounding error.

Evidence in the other direction would have a drastically different effect, of course. In the hypothetical world where snake handling ability was perfectly correlated with stated beliefe and all confounding factors have been accounted for, I would massively increase the probability mass I give to pro-snake-handling gods (and consequently, gods in general).

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-10T00:46:28.148Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

All pro-snake-handling gods are gods, but not all gods are pro-snake-handling gods.

Is that still true at the limit of zero gods existing? It certainly precludes a counter-example!

comment by lavalamp · 2012-07-10T03:24:05.317Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does it help if I add the qualifier "hypothetical" or "possible"?

I.e., All possible pro-snake-handling gods are gods, but not all possible gods are pro-snake-handling gods.

Otherwise I'm not sure I follow what you're saying...

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-10T03:41:24.271Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does it help if I add the qualifier "hypothetical" or "possible"?

Yes. (And I only mentioned the exception because it surprised me that the near tautology had a counterexample.)

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-07-04T08:11:35.851Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Religion begins by being taken for granted; after a time, it is elaborately proved; at last comes a time (the present) when the whole effort is to induce people to let it alone.

--John Stuart Mill (1854).

comment by peter_hurford · 2012-07-02T19:35:13.324Z · score: 14 (20 votes) · LW · GW

I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. I think most people will agree about this, although one may reach the same view by different routes. I shall not argue for this view. People can hold all sorts of eccentric positions, and perhaps from some of them it would not follow that death by starvation is in itself bad. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to refute such positions, and so for brevity I will henceforth take this assumption as accepted. Those who disagree need read no further.

Peter Singer

comment by gwern · 2012-07-05T01:31:21.247Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Reminds me a little of Avicenna.

comment by arundelo · 2012-07-05T14:13:49.468Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

-- Clay Shirky

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-05T18:28:09.124Z · score: 29 (29 votes) · LW · GW

From the same page:

if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. [...] And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is

This gives me a new perspective on human insanity, or more positively, on how much relatively low-hanging fruit is out there.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-08-03T17:58:28.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.

This seems ridiculously low. That's an average of less than one minute per person worldwide.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-03T20:15:33.024Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Most people don't contribute to Wikipedia.

comment by thomblake · 2012-08-03T20:21:57.596Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think I've spent about a minute contributing to Wikipedia - and I'm one of those rare humans with access to a computer and clean water.

EDIT: Wait, including talk pages... probably several minutes.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T15:16:55.497Z · score: 12 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you insist that the human genetic code is "sacred" or "taboo"? It is a chemical process and nothing more. For that matter—we—are chemical processes and nothing more. If you deny yourself a useful tool simply because it reminds you uncomfortably of your mortality, you have uselessly and pointlessly crippled yourself.

– Chairman Sheng-ji Yang in Alpha Centauri

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-07-02T16:13:44.072Z · score: 21 (27 votes) · LW · GW

For that matter—we—are chemical processes and nothing more.

While this is in some sense true, it doesn't add up to normality; it is an excuse for avoiding the actual moral issues. Humans are chemical processes; humans are morally significant; therefore at least some chemical processes have moral significance even if we don't, currently, understand how it arises, and you cannot dismiss a moral question by saying "Chemistry!" any more than you can do so by saying "God says so!"

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T16:21:33.726Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's an excuse - it's an aside from the rest of the quote. If you take out that sentence, the quote still makes sense. I think the moral question (from a consequentialist point of view, at least) is put aside when he assumes (accurately, in my opinion) that the tool is "useful". It's usefulness to humans is all that matters, which is his point.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-07-04T19:25:24.435Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's an excuse - it's an aside from the rest of the quote.

In-game, Yang does view it as an excuse, though, because he's more or less a totalitarian, nihilistic sociopath.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-02T21:54:43.779Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

at least some chemical processes have moral significance even if we don't, currently, understand how it arises

Moral significance is not a fact about morally significant humans. It's a fact about the other humans who view them as morally significant.

Our brains' moral reasoning doesn't know about, or depend on, the chemical implementations of morally significant humans' bodies. Therefore there are no moral questions about chemistry, including human biochemistry.

The original quote is correct: DNA should not be held sacred; DNA-related therapy is a tool like any biological or medical procedure. It has no moral status, and should not be assigned qualities like sacredness. Only specific applications of tools have moral status.

As I said, morality is in the eye of the beholder; one might therefore think it's possible to assign moral status to anything one wishes. However, assigning moral status to tools, methods, nonspecific operations, generally leads to repugnant conclusions and/or contradictions. Some people nevertheless say certain tools are immoral in their eyes. Other people value e.g. logical consistency higher than moral instincts. It's a matter of choice.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-07-02T22:03:22.779Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Our brains' moral reasoning doesn't know about, or depend on, the chemical implementations of morally significant humans' bodies. Therefore there are no moral questions about chemistry, including human biochemistry.

I suspect that, if I propose to drip an unknown liquid into your eyes, you will find the question of its chemistry very morally significant indeed.

Since our morality is embedded in, and arises from, physics, the moral questions are indeed at some level about chemistry even if the current black-box reasoning we use has no idea how to deal with information expressed in chemical terms. When we fully understand morality, we will be able to take apart the high-level reasoning that our brains implement into reasoning about the moral significance of individual atoms.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-02T22:48:08.871Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As I said: "Only specific applications of tools have moral status." The action of dripping liquid into my eyes has moral status. The chemical formula of the liquid, whatever it may be, does not. The only chemistry really relevant to morality is the chemistry of our brains that assign moral status to other things.

I know other formulations of "what is morally significant" are possible and sometimes seem useful, but they also seem to lead to the conclusion that everything is morally significant - e.g. assigning moral value to entire universe-states - which does away with the useful concept of some smaller thing being morally significant vs. amoral.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-07-03T01:14:23.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The only chemistry really relevant to morality is the chemistry of our brains that assign moral status to other things.

Right. Which is the same as the point I was originally making: At least one chemical process has moral significance.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-03T08:14:05.135Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's true. It seems I've been arguing past you or at a strawman. Sorry.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-04T06:06:15.209Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"It is every citizen's final duty to step into the Tanks, and become one with all the people."

-- Recycling Tanks, Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, Alpha Centauri

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:25:15.840Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Great quote, especially the last line should be emphasised. Awesome audio of Yang quotes. The comments are also surprisingly entertaining and interesting especially consider this is on YouTube.

Post-humanism, egalitarianism, and authoritarianism. MMmmmm. . . I wish I could vote for Chairman Yang.

...

I would say that Yang represents the new view on the chinese philisophy of legalism. Legalism promotes the rule of law, where peace and happyness is achieved through the fear of the punishments. If people fear the law, they don't commit crime, if crime is not commited the people are happy. Sheng-ji Yang has a very simillar view to Shang Yang- the core philisopher of legalism and the advisor of the Qin Dynasty.

...

I don't think that view of Legalism really fits the snapshot we see of Shen-ji Yang's philosophy in the game. His subjects are not meant to be afraid of violating the law, they are meant to be genetically tailored to follow biological imperatives and instincts that are compatible with a code of laws. Like his quote about the Gene Jack not being oppressed because he is created with the desire to work and live as he does without urges that would contradict his role.

...

Yang was supposed to be representative of a political/social philosophy without making it unambiguously evil. Whether you percieve any faction leader as evil or good has more to do with what you think would be an ideal society than the writters pinning the villain tag on them. That makes SMAC very awesome compared to all those "Civ" games where the civs are all pretty much the same.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:27:57.407Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack's muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?

-- Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, "Essays on Mind and Matter"

This argument may have influenced my thoughts several years later.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:19:11.610Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I love the Alpha Centauri quotes, the game probably infected me with lost of the memes that made LW appealing. For the longest time I couldn't see any virtue or weirdtopia in the Yang's Human Hive society, but I eventually came to saw the dystopian possibilities of it are no greater than that those of the other factions. Also in the context of the difficulty of a positive singularity (transcendence in the game) it has pragmatic arguments in its favour.

comment by dspeyer · 2012-07-03T14:53:33.355Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Susan: Oh that's just --

Death of Rats: WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'JUST'?

--Terry Pratchett, Hogfather, tweaked for greater generality

In the original, Susan finishes her line with "an old story", but by having DoR cut her off she could just as easily have said "chemistry" or "data" or something like that.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-03T18:29:19.373Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Technically, he just said SQUEAK. Which is even more general.

comment by alex_zag_al · 2012-07-02T18:55:34.019Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Lineage has been considered sacred since before it was known what chemicals made it up - think royal families, horror at the idea of racial intermixing, etc. And I don't see why that should change because we know what it's made of - for other reasons maybe, but not that.

comment by scav · 2012-07-09T15:57:48.279Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Because some of the crazy reasons people have had for believing in stupidities like the divine right of kings, blood purity, racial supremacy etc. DO NOT SURVIVE EXAMINATION when you understand the underlying process.

Once you re-name racial purity as, at best, a vulnerable monoculture (and at worst, inbreeding), racism becomes harder to defend intellectually. I have no idea how much its declining social acceptability is related to that. Probably not much. My intuition is that most "inbreeders" (as I call 'em) are not very intellectual about their racism anyway.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-03T00:56:18.561Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Reality is the ultimate arbiter of truth. If your thoughts, beliefs, and actions aren't aligned with truth, your results will suffer.

--Steve Pavlina

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-03T01:49:20.794Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Or, because running into heavy objects is a good intuition pump:

Reality is what trips you up when you run around with your eyes closed.

I think this was in a book by James P. Hogan, but a bit of Googling only reveals one or two other people quoting it but not remembering where it came from.

comment by CannibalSmith · 2012-07-04T05:48:57.007Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Haven't followed Steve since about 2008. What has he been up to? Is he still newageous?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-04T09:21:12.757Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, he is. Steve's idea of truth differs a bit from the lesswrong consensus.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-04T07:17:44.310Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't looked into his new material in around a year, now, and even then I was focused on his old stuff (I found him through researching Uberman, I think). I believe the answer is "even more than he was then." That quote is from his 2009 book.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-07-02T15:29:42.468Z · score: 11 (39 votes) · LW · GW

All mushrooms are edible. But some of them you can eat only once.

From Paleohacks.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T18:06:53.321Z · score: 13 (27 votes) · LW · GW

It seems like the author is defying the common usage without a reason here. The common usage of edible is "safe to eat", or more precisely "able to be eaten without killing you", and I don't see what use redefining it to mean "able to be swallowed" is. It just seems like a trite, definitional argument that is primarily about status.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-07-02T23:32:35.573Z · score: 7 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Nonetheless, the sentiment "You can do X, but only once" seems broadly useful.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T23:46:03.274Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Can you explain how so? This does not seem obvious to me. It seems broadly true, but not broadly useful. (And I'm not really sure what you mean by useful anyway.)

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-03T02:01:54.809Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

My model of Eliezer says: "You can launch AGI, but only once."

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-03T02:29:57.027Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think I get it. If you have a big weapon of doom that will ruin everything, it's not useless; you can use it when you're absolutely desperate. So options that sound completely stupid are worth looking at when you need a last resort.

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-07T06:30:49.284Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Having a scary desperate option, along with clear, publicly-known criteria which will trigger it, can prevent things from deteriorating to the point where you'll be tempted to use that desperate option. A honeybee will die if it stings you, but it will sting you if it feels too threatened, so people try to avoid antagonizing honeybees, and the bees don't end up dead because people didn't antagonize them.

Related: Thomas Schelling's "Strategy of Conflict".

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:01:29.222Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just because you can do something doesn't mean the price for doing it is acceptable.

Just because the price for doing something is your own death (or consignment to non-volatile ROM) doesn't mean the price is unacceptable.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-02T18:58:55.842Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with the sense of your comment but wish to nitpick - I think "nontoxic" means you can eat it without it killing you. Crayons fit this definition, but are not properly called "edible"; many flowers can be eaten without killing you but "edible flowers" are the ones you might actually want to eat on purpose. "Edible" is narrower.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-06T18:04:35.739Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I take "All mushrooms are edible. But some of them you can eat only once." to be a useful warning, hopefully made more memorable by being framed as a joke.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-07-09T17:34:54.916Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Apart from the hilarious joke, this quote makes the point that "will kill you" is not actually the same as impossible to eat, which more generally generally points out that impossible is often used in place of "really bad idea."

I read edible as a synonym for eatable. Poisonous mushrooms: edible. rocks, not edible. That's how that word is attatched in my head. I assume you read it as non-poisonous/fit to eat so it feels like a crass and overt redefinition. If the guy who wrote that reads that word the same way I assume you do it's a really cheap joke. If he doesn't the quote makes a lot of sense.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-07-05T04:26:46.105Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. It's really an amusing play on words more than a rationality quote.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-04T20:40:30.527Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You and Alicorn are confusing denotation and connotation here. "Edible" simply means "able to be eaten"; it is used instead of "eatable", because the latter is for some reason not considered a "standard" or "legitimate" word. As such, it possesses exactly the same semantics as "eatable" would; in fact, a sufficiently supercilious English teacher will correct you to "edible" if you say "eatable". (Similarly "legible" instead of "readable", although "readable" seems to be increasingly accepted these days.)

Yes, it's true that people only usually apply the word to a more restricted subset of things than those which won't kill the eater; but such a behavioral tendency should not be confused with the actual semantics of the word.

The sense of the quote is exactly the same as if it had been:

All mushrooms can be eaten. But some of them can be eaten only once.

In this case, it would hardly be legitimate to complain that "can be eaten" means "safe to be eaten". The fact is that the phrase is ambiguous, and the quote is a play on that ambiguity. Likewise in its original form, with "edible".

It just seems like a...definitional argument that is primarily about status.

You've just provided a reasonable first-approximation analysis of wit!

comment by bbleeker · 2012-07-06T10:46:05.050Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Of course 'edible' does literally mean 'can be eaten', and equally of course, it is normally interpreted as 'fit to be eaten'. That's why paleohacks writes it that way. It's a joke!

comment by tut · 2012-07-07T16:08:23.111Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When did this turn into the jokes thread?

comment by scav · 2012-07-09T15:45:50.357Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you're not having fun, why bother?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-05T06:05:14.659Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(Similarly "legible" instead of "readable", although "readable" seems to be increasingly accepted these days.)

Something "illegible" cannot have its component characters distinguished or identified. Something that is merely "unreadable" might just have ridiculously convoluted syntax or something.

comment by shminux · 2012-07-05T00:05:29.352Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Edible" simply means "able to be eaten"

The standard definition of edible is fit to be eaten, not "able to be eaten".

comment by gwern · 2012-07-05T00:57:24.766Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. Given people like Monsieur Mangetout or disorders like pica, it's hard to see why we would even bother using the word 'edible' if it didn't mean fit to be eaten.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T00:07:55.233Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that there exist lexicographers who are guilty of the same confusion does not make it any less of a confusion.

"-ible" is the same as "-able". (The difference has only to do with which conjugation the Latin verb belonged to.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T01:13:20.185Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that there exist lexicographers who are guilty of the same confusion does not make it any less of a confusion.

What would, then? If every English speaker on this planet only normally used “edible” to mean ‘fit to be eaten’, would they be all wrong?

"-ible" is the same as "-able". (The difference has only to do with which conjugation the Latin verb belonged to.)

So what? “Forgivable” normally means ‘easy to forgive’, not ‘which could be forgiven, at least in principle’. So it's not just -ible words to which that applies.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T01:33:58.545Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What would, then?

Actually not being confused. This isn't a question of authority, at all.

If every English speaker on this planet only normally used “edible” to mean ‘fit to be eaten’, would they be all wrong?

There are a number of issues to untangle here.

First, "fit to be eaten" is not actually very different from "able to be eaten". The meaning of "able" depends on context. In normal life, one describes something as "able to be eaten" if it is "fit to be eaten". But this may not apply in all contexts. So, the meaning of "able" is not fixed. Therefore, neither is the meaning of "-able/-ible".

Secondly, as I discussed in the comments above regarding denotation and connotation, a word can have patterns of being applied that do not affect its inherent meaning. So, even if nobody on the planet bothered to utter the following sentence:

Monsieur Mangetout demonstrated that many more things are edible than previously believed.

that does not, in itself, make the sentence false. (In fact, the sentence, in its own context, is true -- it's just that the meaning of "able" implicit in the word "edible" is not the ordinary one. For ordinary purposes, metals etc. are not "able to be eaten". But technically, in extreme contexts, they may be.)

“Forgivable” normally means ‘easy to forgive’, not ‘which could be forgiven, at least in principle’

Disagree entirely. If I say something is "unforgivable", I mean it cannot be forgiven, not merely that forgiveness would be difficult.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T14:04:02.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Disagree entirely. If I say something is "unforgivable", I mean it cannot be forgiven, not merely that forgiveness would be difficult.

What about “f\*able”? Does it mean ‘anybody with a functional penis and/or any orifice able to be penetrated by one’? :-)

comment by Never_Seen_Belgrade · 2012-07-05T14:57:34.943Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What about “f*able”? Does it mean ‘anybody with a functional penis and/or any orifice able to be penetrated by one’?

Psst. Your penetrate-centricity is showing.

I don't want to detour into "What is fuck?" but I do want to drop by to snipe. Just like that.

(Edited in response to reasonable criticism.)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-05T18:08:50.596Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Psst. Your androcentricity is showing.

The reference includes both sexes and if anything placing the first emphasis on "having a penis" when describing "f*able" is a perspective biased towards people who would like to have sex with males---a primarily female attitude with homosexual (or bisexual) males as a secondary group. The "androcentric" answer would have only mentioned (or at least opened with) the things that the "andro" kind of person would have sex with.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-05T19:54:07.689Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

By Army1987's proposed definition, an entity that neither has a functional penis nor can be penetrated by a functional penis is definitionally not fuckable.

That seems pretty clearly to be a penis-centric definition of fuckability. (A functional-penis-centric definition, at that. Cucumbers, for example, are not by this definition fuckable, however women may feel about them.) In the same way that "has a functional vagina or is capable of being inserted into one" would be a vagina-centric definition of fuckability.

Admittedly, penis-centric isn't quite the same thing as androcentric... not all men have penises, after all, and not all penises are attached to men... but given that the community of penis-havers overlaps so significantly with the set of men, treating the two groups as roughly equivalent doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

I don't say here that this is a bad thing, or really express any moral judgment about it at all. Mostly I think it's a silly digression from a silly discussion, my own contribution to it no less so than anyone's, and we should all be downvoted for contributing to it.

But if we're going to get pedantic about it, I'd have to say that Never_Seen_Belgrade's position here is at least more straightforward than yours.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-05T19:55:52.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if we're going to get pedantic about it, I'd have to say that NeverSeenBelgrade's position here is at least more straightforward than yours.

It is more 'straightforward' only in as much as it is a simplification in the direction of 'wrong'. (And self described 'sniping' should be more accurate than the sniped comment, not less.)

comment by Never_Seen_Belgrade · 2012-07-06T04:18:36.017Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're missing the point but you're still kind of right. So I fixed it.

The fault for the point missed likely lies on the absent clarity I sacrificed for brevity.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T14:24:50.432Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What about “f*able”?

Take a look at the syllogism I provided here for "edible", and construct the analogous one yourself.

comment by bentarm · 2012-07-05T12:25:15.995Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, it's true that people only usually apply the word to a more restricted subset of things than those which won't kill the eater; but such a behavioral tendency should not be confused with the actual semantics of the word.

To claim that the actual semantics of a word can be defined by anything other than the behavioural tendencies of its users is, at best, highly controversial. Whatever you or I may think, "irregardless" just is a (near) synonym for "regardless" and, to judge from my own experience (and the majority of comments from native speakers on the thread) "edible" actually means "safe to eat" (although, as Alicorn says, it's a little bit more complicated than that).

Words mean exactly what people use them to mean - there is no higher authority (in English, at least, there isn't even a plausible candidate for a higher authority).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-05T15:26:07.566Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To claim that the actual semantics of a word can be defined by anything other than the behavioural tendencies of its users is, at best, highly controversial. Whatever you or I may think, "irregardless" just is a (near) synonym for "regardless"

I'm advisedly ignoring the original context, but I'm curious about the idea that your behavioral tendencies in particular (and mine) with respect to the usage of "irregardless" don't affect the actual semantics of the word. At best, it seems that "irregardless" both is and is not a synonym for "regardless"... as well as both being and not being an antonym of it.

Unless only some usages count? Perhaps there's some kind of mechanism for extrapolating coherent semantics from the jumble of conflicting usages. Is it simple majoritarianism?

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T14:14:00.793Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

To claim that the actual semantics of a word can be defined by anything other than the behavioural tendencies of its users is, at best, highly controversial.

On the contrary, it's trivially true. If semantics depended exclusively on behavior patterns, then novel thoughts would not be expressible. The meaning of the word "yellow" does not logically depend solely on which yellow objects in the universe accidentally happen to have been labeled "yellow" by humans. It is entirely possible that, sitting on a planet somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy, is a yellow glekdoftx. Under the negation-of-my-theory (I'll try not to strawman you by saying "under your theory"), that would be impossible, because, due to the fact that humans have never previously described a glekdoftx as "yellow", the extension of that term does not include any glekdoftxes. Examples like this should suffice to demonstrate that semantic information does not just contain information about verbal behavior; it also contains information about logical relationships.

edible" actually means "safe to eat

Guess what: I agree! Here, indeed, is my proof of this fact:

  1. "Edible" means "able to be eaten".
  2. In the relevant contexts, "able to be eaten" means "safe to eat".
  3. Therefore, "edible" means "safe to eat".

See how easy that was? And yet, here I am, dealing with a combinatorial explosion of hostile comments (and even downvotes), all because I dared to make a mildly nontrivial, ever-so-slightly inferentially distant point!

Insert exclamation of frustration here.

Words mean exactly what people use them to mean - there is no higher authority

Yes, that thought is in my cache too. It doesn't address my point, which is more subtle.

comment by TimS · 2012-07-05T14:29:15.126Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's reasonable to play with the expected meanings - but playing with the expected meanings in this case seems inconsistent with applying the label "Rationality Quote."

The quote is isomorphic to "Don't eat poisonous things - and some things are poisonous." That quote won't get upvotes if posted as a Rationality Quote - why should its equivalent?

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T14:38:05.023Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The quote is isomorphic to "Don't eat poisonous things - and some things are poisonous." That quote won't get upvotes if posted as a Rationality Quote - why should its equivalent?

I don't see the equivalence.

But remember, I'm not defending the quote as a Rationality Quote. I'm only defending the quote against the charge of inappropriate word choice.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T01:06:11.645Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Similarly "legible" instead of "readable", although "readable" seems to be increasingly accepted these days.)

I've seen a distinction being made between “legible” applying to typography etc. and “readable” applying to grammar etc., so that a über-complicated technical text typeset in LaTeX would be legible but not readable, and a story for children written in an awful handwriting would be readable but not legible.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T04:50:31.075Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It just seems like a...definitional argument that is primarily about status.

You've just provided a reasonable first-approximation analysis of wit!

Upvoted for this.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T21:08:47.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I'm confusing the two, I'm saying the connotation is what's important when the connotation is what is almost always used. And I'm not claiming that the quote is wrong, just that it's not really a rationality quote.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-04T22:03:57.826Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I'm confusing the two, I'm saying the connotation is what's important when the connotation is what is almost always used.

Unfortunately, this sentence itself seems to betray some confusion: "connotation" is not a kind of alternative definition; hence it makes no sense to say that "the connotation is what is almost always used". Rather, both denotation and connotation are always present whenever a word is used. "Connotation" refers to implications a word has outside of its meaning. For example, the words "copulate" and "fuck" have the same meaning (denotation), but differing connotations.

The crucial difference is that, while changing the denotation of a word (or getting it wrong) can change the truth-value of a statement, merely changing the connotation never can. Instead, it merely changes the register, signaling-value, or "appropriateness" of the statement. A scientist, in the ordinary course of affairs, might report having observed two lizards copulating; but it would be rather shocking to read in a scientific paper about lizards fucking, and one virtually never does. However, if a scientist ever were to write such a thing, the complaint would not be that they had claimed something false; it would be merely that they had made an inappropriate choice of language.

A lot of verbal humor results from using "inappropriate" connotations. The "edible" quote is an example of this, in fact. The listener understands that the sentence is true but still "off" in some way. Using an inappropriate connotation is not a misuse of the word, otherwise the humor wouldn't work (or at least, it wouldn't work in the same way -- there are other forms of verbal humor which do involve incorrect usage).

And I'm not claiming that the quote is wrong, just that it's not really a rationality quote

Well, I agree about that -- but that doesn't really seem to have been the main thrust of your comment. Your claim seemed to be that the quotee had redefined the word "edible"; and this is what I am disputing.

comment by Username · 2012-07-05T00:19:02.680Z · score: 0 (16 votes) · LW · GW

This is a silly argument.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T00:42:00.873Z · score: -3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This is a silly argument.

This is an unjustifiably rude comment.

The fact that you may not personally be interested in a topic does not mean that no one else is entitled to be.

comment by Username · 2012-07-05T07:31:35.816Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't mean that your reasoning was silly, I mean that the an argument over the interpretation of a word, when you all know exactly what was meant in the original comment, is silly.

So I do think that the topic is unimportant, but my intended message was rather that you two are beating a dead horse rather vigorously. It's kind of funny, from the outside looking in.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-05T03:37:45.004Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not clear to me that it follows, hypothetically, from the fact that an argument is silly, that no one is entitled to be interested in the topic the argument is ostensibly about.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-05T03:44:28.211Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I took "argument" to mean "dispute" in the context, and interpreted the comment as meaning "this dispute is about an unimportant topic".

If the meaning was specifically that my argument (i.e. in support of my position) was "silly", then of course the comment -- which lacked any attempt at justification -- was even more rude.

comment by mindspillage · 2012-07-04T01:18:02.298Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Reminds me of advice to people who want to know if they can sue someone: You can always sue. You just can't always expect to win.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-06T18:06:44.244Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I can call spirits from the vasty deep. Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-03T01:05:20.450Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Similarly:

11. Everything is air-droppable at least once.

The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

I don't really see the point of either of these quotes.

Edit: Fixed. Thanks.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T10:20:28.522Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Its not air-droppable if there's no aircraft capable of lifting it!

comment by arundelo · 2012-07-03T01:12:58.722Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Because Markdown renumbers numbered lists for you (making it easier for you to re-order them). Prevent it with a backslash before the period:

> 11\. Everything is air-droppable at least once.
comment by MBlume · 2012-07-05T19:06:11.486Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are the maxims actually collected somewhere, or just referenced piecemeal in the comic?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-05T20:45:15.543Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia has them.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:41:30.780Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

And here we tinker with metal, to try to give it a kind of life, and suffer those who would scoff at our efforts. But who's to say that, if intelligence had evolved in some other form in past millennia, the ancestors of these beings would not now scoff at the idea of intelligence residing within meat?

--Prime Function Aki Zeta-5, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:15:07.749Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

@Konkvistador you will enjoy They're Made Out Of Meat

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-04T18:34:57.167Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer the original version.

comment by AngryParsley · 2012-07-05T02:33:31.105Z · score: 9 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to propose a new guideline for rationality quotes:

  • Please don't post multiple quotes from the same source.

I enjoy the Alpha Centauri quotes, but I think posting 5 of them at once is going a bit overboard. It dominates the conversation. I'm fine with them all getting posted eventually. If they're good quotes, they can wait a couple months.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-03T00:58:26.735Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Many difficulties which nature throws our way, may be smoothed away by the exercise of intelligence.

--Titus Livius

comment by shminux · 2012-07-02T18:07:27.157Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Rational politician:

It certainly isn't the government's job to educate voters. Our system is designed to make candidates compete for votes, and the most effective way to compete is by appealing to emotion and ignorance. The last thing a politician wants is to be labeled professorial. That's the same as boring.

Dilbert blog

comment by Emile · 2012-07-04T15:45:57.722Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see the implied link between

It certainly isn't the government's job to educate voters.

... and

Our system is designed to make candidates compete for votes, and the most effective way to compete is by appealing to emotion and ignorance.

The fact that appealing to emotion works to get elected doesn't mean that elected politicians have any incentive one way or the other towards educating voters.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-04T20:26:01.299Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that appealing to emotion works to get elected doesn't mean that elected politicians have any incentive one way or the other towards educating voters.

That's the point. They have no incentive one way or another, so it's not their job. The quote doesn't say it's their job not to, just that it isn't their job.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-07-07T10:05:25.644Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

-Chinese proverb

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-04T18:12:36.145Z · score: 8 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good. In area after area - crime, education, housing, race relations - the situation has gotten worse after the bright new theories were put into operation. The amazing thing is that this history of failure and disaster has neither discouraged the social engineers nor discredited them.

-- Thomas Sowell

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-04T23:07:12.325Z · score: 9 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Without having a date on the quote, it's hard to know exactly which three decades he's referring to, but we certainly seem to be in a better position regarding crime, housing and race relations than three decades ago. Education, probably not so much. This sounds to me like just a meta-contrarian longing for a return to the imagined "good old days".

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-06T05:44:07.534Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Without having a date on the quote, it's hard to know exactly which three decades he's referring to,

He published that in 1993, which was about at the historic peak of violent crime in the US since 1960. The situation has improved a lot since then, but through the decades of 1960-1990, things looked pretty grim.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-06T20:17:37.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good to know. Updated.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T06:01:13.313Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Crime.

In the US at least the murder rates today are comparable to those of the 1960s only because of advances in trauma medicine.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-07-05T17:36:02.887Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Another important reason is that Americans have in the meantime embraced a lifestyle that would have struck earlier generations as incredibly paranoid siege mentality. (But which is completely understandable given the realities of the crime wave in the second half of the 20th century.)

Yet another reason is, of course, the draconian toughening of law enforcement and criminal penalties.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T17:49:35.065Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

To clarify I was commenting on murder rates specifically in light of how trauma medicine has reduced the fraction of violent assaults that cause death. The factors you describe seem more along the lines of avoiding violent assault in the first place.

Controlling for improvements in trauma medicine, today's murder rate would be three times that of the 1960s, but the numbers would be better than the controlled for medicine 1990s numbers, which where five times 1960s levels.

In other words yes in the past 20 years Americans seem to be getting assaulted less and I think all of what you describe played a role. There is also the unfortunate problem of police sometimes having nasty incentives to misclassify crimes so some of the drop might be fictional.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T05:19:58.663Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yet another reason is, of course, the draconian toughening of law enforcement and criminal penalties.

Which would, nevertheless, be considered absurdly lenient by the standards of any pre-20th century society.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-07-07T04:27:25.402Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't call the present U.S. system "absurdly lenient." The system is bungling, inefficient, and operating under numerous absurd rules and perverse incentives imposed by ideology and politics. At the same time, it tries to compensate for this, wherever possible, by ever harsher and more pitiless severity. It also increasingly operates with the mentality and tactics of an armed force subduing a hostile population, severed from all normal human social relations.

The end result is a dysfunctional system, unable to reduce crime to a reasonable level and unable to ensure a tolerable level of public safety -- but if you're unlucky enough to attract its attention, guilty or innocent, "absurd leniency" is most definitely not what awaits you.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-05T06:08:33.090Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Where did you find this fact? Are there others like it there?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T06:28:10.237Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Murder and Medicine: The Lethality of Criminal Assault 1960-1999

Despite the proliferation of increasingly dangerous weapons and the very large increase in rates of serious criminal assault, since 1960, the lethality of such assault in the United States has dropped dramatically. This paradox has barely been studied and needs to be examined using national time-series data. Starting from the basic view that homicides are aggravated assaults with the outcome of the victim’s death, we assembled evidence from national data sources to show that the principal explanation of the downward trend in lethality involves parallel developments in medical technology and related medical support services that have suppressed the homicide rate compared to what it would be had such progress not been made.We argue that research into the causes and deterrability of homicide would benefit from a “lethality perspective” that focuses on serious assaults, only a small proportion of which end in death.

To be clear there are other possible explanations for why violent assault as recorded has become less lethal, I just think this one is by far the most plausible.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-05T16:56:06.168Z · score: 7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I always think it's weird on cop shows and the like where an assaulter is in custody, the victim is in the hospital, and someone says "If he dies, you're in big trouble!". The criminal has already done whatever he did, and now somehow the severity of that doing rests with the competence of doctors.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-07T05:32:11.233Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, this seems to be an area where the legal system opts for a consequentialist approach; no surprise, then, that you would find it weird.

comment by scav · 2012-07-09T08:21:35.553Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Um, I thought consequentialism was about evaluating the goodness of a course of action based on its probable consequences. If all it amounts to is hindsight then it's not much use for making ethical decisions about future actions. But I think that would be a straw man.

If you apply that crazy approach to consequentialism then I should be allowed to stand on a roof heaving bricks out into the street, and I'm not doing anything wrong unless and until one of them actually hits somebody.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-09T15:07:06.044Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Consequentialism is about deriving the ethical value of actions from their consequences. If someone thinks that the badness of an action is not determined until the consequences are known (like the police in Alicorn's example, or more to the pont the legal system they represent), then, necessarily, they are applying consequentialist moral intuitions, and not deontological moral intuitions.

No one said anything about "all it amounts to" being "hindsight". Your second paragraph is a straw man. While it is true that if someone believes that, they must be a consequentialist, it does not follow that a consequentialist must necessarily believe that.

comment by scav · 2012-07-09T16:13:05.445Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I did say that it would be a straw man version of consequentialism. But I think I misunderstood what you were saying, or at least where your emphasis was, so I was kind of talking past you there :(

Thankfully in other areas the law is not concerned only with the contingent consequences of actions in general. Conspiracy to commit a crime is a crime. Attempted murder is a crime. Blackmail is a crime even if the victim refuses to be bullied and the blackmailer doesn't follow through on their threat. Kidnapping isn't considered to be babysitting if the victim is released unharmed.

So yeah. I think anyone could find it a little weird with or without calling it consequentialist.

comment by komponisto · 2012-07-09T17:26:53.876Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think anyone could find it a little weird with or without calling it consequentialist

Perhaps, but my point was that, since it does presuppose consequentialism, non-consequentialists such as Alicorn would be particularly disposed to find it weird (whether or not some consequentialists would also have a similar reaction).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-05T17:18:08.536Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can see the logic of treating the severity of the crime as contingent on the actions (and perhaps intentions) of the criminal rather than the actual results, such that the fact that someone dies as a consequence of my battering them doesn't make it an act of murder.

But that also applies to shorter-window consequences, like when I shoot someone and they dodge to the left and the bullet hits them in the shoulder vs. I shoot someone, they dodge to the right, and the bullet hits them in the throat.

Treating the severity of the crime as contingent on consequences in the firing-a-gun case and contingent on actions in the battering-someone case would seem equally weird to me.

comment by asparisi · 2012-07-13T01:15:22.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It makes sense as an interrogation tactic, at any rate. If you're going for a confession and the person is distraught (either by what they did or by getting caught doing what they did) then it's a variation on "confess now or you'll get a worse sentence" with the added bonus that the timeline on the "confess" is both out of the interrogator's hands and it doesn't seem artifiical to the suspect.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-07-05T17:18:45.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I suppose it's easier to prove that the victim could have died from the violence inflicted, if they do actually die.... but yeah, on the whole I agree.

comment by Alicorn · 2012-07-05T17:51:20.710Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If we're relying on doctor competence anyway here, we could see about getting official professional opinions on to what extent the injuries could have been lethal. Like retroactive triage.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-07-06T07:08:17.457Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I've no idea of the data's provenance, but this table claims aggravated assault rates of 86/100,000 in 1960, 440/100,000 in 1993, and 252/100,000 in 2010 if I've got my math right. Murder rates are 5.08/100,000, 9.51/100,000, and 4.77/100,000 respectively. So the decline in murder since 1993 has outpaced the decline in assault (it also rose less steeply between '60 and '93), and trauma medicine's a plausible cause, but both declines are quite real: I wouldn't say the comparison to the 1960s is valid only because of medical improvements.

In any case, 1960 was more like fifty years ago. The per-100,000 aggravated assault rate in 1980 was just under 300 -- substantially over the 2010 numbers.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-07-04T19:29:43.302Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

race relations

Downvoted for several obvious reasons. Seriously, just fucking THINK of the quote in this context a little bit!

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-04T19:54:48.144Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Are you assuming that Thomas Sowell is defending, say, racial discrimination? If so, then you'd be wrong. He's talking about things like affirmative action which are intended to help disadvantaged groups, but which he contends have had the exact opposite effect.

If you meant something else, then please say it instead of assuming that it's obvious.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-07-04T19:59:57.062Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Oh, sorry! I did indeed assume just that (and some things about the general racial supremacist attitude of Western societies before decolonization, etc), while totally overlooking that he's an American and that they indeed have that curious issue. In fact... yeah, not to defend my brashness or anything, but mentioning "race relations" in that context so off-handedly is indeed bound to make people think of one as a Segregationist or something!

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2012-07-04T23:47:27.162Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

totally overlooking that [Thomas Sowell is] an American

He also happens to be black, if that's relevant.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-08T09:36:06.818Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

yeah, not to defend my brashness or anything, but mentioning "race relations" in that context so off-handedly is indeed bound to make people think of one as a Segregationist or something!

Not me.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-04T19:47:30.761Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Can you expand on what additional information you believe you're providing when you "explain" a downvote in this way, rather than just downvoting silently?

From where I sit the "explanation" seems purely an attempt to shame Viliam_Bur in public, and by extension to shame anyone who might agree with that quote or think it at all compelling. Is that what you have in mind?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-04T18:05:47.783Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Intellectuals may like to think of themselves as people who "speak truth to power" but too often they are people who speak lies to gain power.

-- Thomas Sowell

comment by TimS · 2012-07-10T17:30:35.331Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Depending on the speaker, this quote has the potential for reinforcing substantial status quo bias, since taking it serious would dramatically reduce the frequency of truly attempting to speak truth to power. In other words, the quote seems tailor-made for justifying a generalized counter-argument to all speak-truth-to-power actions.

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-07-09T19:56:21.231Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They fashioned a tomb for thee, O holy and high one The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies! But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever, For in thee we live and move and have our being.

— Epimenides the Cretan

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-07-03T00:44:35.816Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Likewise people have their rituals in argument evaluation. Philosophers like to set out the premises in an orderly numbered fashion, and tend to regard this as making an argument clear. Whether or not it actually does so depends; unless the argument is being made from scratch, this procedure involves rearrangement and interpretation, so whether it actually does make things more clear, in terms of increasing understanding, seems to vary considerably. But it still feels like you are bringing order and clarity to a disordered muddle, so you find people who will swear by it, even though it's not difficult to find cases where it clearly introduced a distortion. There's an argument to be made -- it would, of course, be controversial among those who engage in this kind of practice -- that such people are taking the ritual itself to be a kind of clarity, by sympathetic magic, and are taking arguments in this form to be better arguments simply because they conform to ritual expectation. It may even have good practical results, if so; a ritual might well put one in the right state of mind for a certain kind of work, and there's no reason to think that philosophical thinking doesn't sometimes need 'being in the right state of mind' as much as any difficult endeavor. And, of course, you find people who try to refute arguments by naming them -- a practice difficult to avoid, but not really all that different from shamans casting out illness by naming it.

-- Brandon Watson

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2012-07-03T12:42:33.149Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Clarity is subjective. By reformatting something into a familiar pattern, it can easily become clearer to them, but muddier to someone else.

But yes, sometimes, such systems don't do anyone any real good.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-07-27T04:08:50.055Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

...there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from ... the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Niccolo Machiavelli

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-27T19:21:15.297Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This coolness arises partly from ... the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

As well they should.

comment by woodside · 2012-07-12T07:37:31.392Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."

General Patton

Obviously not true in all cases, but good advice for folks that have trouble getting things done despite being extremely intelligent (which this community has more than its fair share of).

comment by matabele · 2012-07-23T14:51:18.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-23T15:15:37.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, I am sorry, this aphorism may only be defended in those instances where poor planning results in a situatiion where insufficient time is available for any planning, and events now dictate action. In which case, what right does the 'good plan' have to be called a plan?

Consider Eisenhower:

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.

Other humans must be interacted with in real-time. Consider a non-military analogy: a good comeback confidently issued now is better than a perfect comeback issued next week.

It also works for computing. Consider languages which have a REPL to those that don't: for many applications, good code executed now is better than perfect code executed next week. This is often because requirements change over time, and the future cannot be predicted- the customers won't know what module they want next until they've used the current module.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-23T15:37:18.402Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A fellow director is fond of saying, as she puts together rehearsal plans for the show she's about to direct, that while 95% of what she ends up doing in rehearsal is pulled out of her ass rather than planned, rehearsal plans are nevertheless an indispensable part of preparing her ass for rehearsals.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T10:23:40.159Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist." Academician Prokhor Zakharov, Alpha Centauri

comment by Danfly · 2012-07-09T19:28:33.476Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Wasn't a temporary moratorium called on smac quotes recently? I have to admit this was one of my favourites from it though.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T21:04:30.252Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oops. I didn't see anything about a moratorium.

comment by Danfly · 2012-07-18T09:31:03.302Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I see what my mistake was now. It was just a recommendation by AngryParsley. It wasn't anything official. As I'm still something of a newbie here, I figured it was said by someone with a bit more clout.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-06T11:17:14.475Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.

John Ioannidis Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-13T18:58:42.378Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Combining the two statements, many research findings are inaccurate measures of the prevailing bias.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T15:17:43.808Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Scientific theories are judged by the coherence they lend to our natural experience and the simplicity with which they do so.”

– Commissioner Pravin Lal in Alpha Centauri

comment by Ezekiel · 2012-07-02T18:13:22.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Scientific theories are judged by the coherence they lend to our natural experience and the simplicity with which they do so.

Eloquent!

The grand principle of the heavens balances on the razor's edge of truth.

What.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T18:37:28.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I can see how that second sentence is a bit confusing. FWIW, my interpretation is "Our understanding of the fundamental laws of nature delicately balance on our observations." But in retrospect, I agree it is better without that sentence.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:05:52.956Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry I had to downvote this because I just read Popper. Biblical creationism and moral theory is a remarkably simple and coherent guide to our natural experience. It certainly isn't the Bible's accuracy or utility for designing working stuff that makes it so popular.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T19:48:44.892Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you think creationism is a simple explanation for existence, you don't really have a great grasp on Occam's Razor. Saying "God did it" sounds nice and simple in English words. But it's one heck of a lot more complicated if you actually want to simulate that happening.

comment by Jay_Schweikert · 2012-07-09T16:57:27.752Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

In the department of economy, an act, a habit, an institution, a law, gives birth not only to an effect, but to a series of effects. Of these effects, the first only is immediate; it manifests itself simultaneously with its cause -- it is seen. The others unfold in succession -- they are not seen: it is well for us, if they are foreseen. Between a good and a bad economist this constitutes the whole difference -- the one takes account of the visible effect; the other takes account both of the effects which are seen, and also of those which it is necessary to foresee. Now this difference is enormous, for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favourable, the ultimate consequences are fatal, and the converse. Hence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good, which will be followed by a great evil to come, while the true economist pursues a great good to come, -- at the risk of a small present evil.

In fact, it is the same in the science of health, arts, and in that of morals. It often happens, that the sweeter the first fruit of a habit is, the more bitter are the consequences. Take, for example, debauchery, idleness, prodigality. When, therefore, a man absorbed in the effect which is seen has not yet learned to discern those which are not seen, he gives way to fatal habits, not only by inclination, but by calculation.

--From the introduction of Frederic Bastiat's "That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen".

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-04T23:08:27.741Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Never do anything on principle alone. If the principle of the thing is the only reason to do it, don't.

-- Bill Bryson

comment by Nominull · 2012-07-06T02:52:37.576Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a bad principle to try to uphold. It means you have to understand the motivations behind all your principles, rather than just knowing that they are good principles. Which may be valuable for a small class of philosophers, but it's wasted effort for the general population.

comment by Joe · 2012-07-06T21:13:47.941Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt this is being put forward as a "principle to uphold" since that would be self-contradictory. It is probably aimed at the sorts of cases where someone might say "well I wouldn't have bothered but it was the principle of the thing".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T07:01:19.965Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And in most of those cases "the principle of the thing" refers to what we would call TDT/UDT-type considerations.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-07-04T04:03:51.268Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In the case of any person whose judgement is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself...the fallacy of what was fallacious.

–John Stuart Mill

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-02T21:43:27.803Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Every argument must start from some unargued (because commonly accepted) assumptions. This is both logically necessary (as with axioms) and crucial for brevity of the argument. Since many truths are entangled, explaining all assumptions would eventually lead to listing a lot of our knowledge from many domains, and including many other arguments.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:55:23.943Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If all truths are entangled, does that mean in some worlds these truths are false?

comment by gwern · 2012-07-30T14:58:42.323Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

...’Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
...The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid?
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

--"The Exposed Nest", Robert Frost; I googled some interpretation & discussions of it after reading, and was surprised to see I seem to be the only person to take it as a discussion of ethics.

comment by arundelo · 2012-07-05T14:07:13.115Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

[H]ow you get to Carnegie Hall is you sell out Town Hall twice in a year, and now you sell enough tickets to do a show at Carnegie Hall.

-- Louis C.K.

comment by shminux · 2012-07-04T04:09:21.211Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.

Susan B. Anthony

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-04T08:20:23.431Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

That is not always true.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-09T21:15:07.096Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Mortification of the flesh is at least a mixed case. Delicious kinky endorphins.

comment by dspeyer · 2012-07-03T01:06:34.698Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's worth remembering, especially for people who are interested in meta-ethics, that often you can skip the confusion and jump ahead to Rough Consensus and Running Code. On rare occasions this will come back to bite you, but usually not (and if it does, you can jump back to the beginning).

comment by lukeprog · 2012-07-23T07:23:55.882Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Misunderstanding of probability may be the greatest of all impediments to scientific literacy.

Stephen Jay Gould

comment by lukeprog · 2012-07-23T04:04:54.453Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hope is the confusion of the desire for a thing with its probability.

Arthur Schopenhauer

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-29T17:02:56.026Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If that's how it works, then I suspect paranoia is the same thing, but with fear instead of desire.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-04T18:04:50.631Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It may be expecting too much to expect most intellectuals to have common sense, when their whole life is based on their being uncommon -- that is, saying things that are different from what everyone else is saying. There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.

-- Thomas Sowell

Retracted, because it's a duplicate.

comment by gwern · 2012-07-05T02:02:22.718Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation."

--Dr. Samuel Johnson; "The Life of Cowley", Lives of the English Poets (1781)

comment by Nominull · 2012-07-04T19:25:48.775Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

duplicate

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-07-05T08:52:11.326Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Link to the original.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-07-31T14:15:28.625Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We are accustomed to thinking of evolution in a biological context, but modern evolutionary theory views evolution as something much more general. Evolution is an algorithm; it is an all-purpose formula for innovation, a formula that, through its special brand of trial and error, creates new designs and solves difficult problems. Evolution can perform its tricks not just in the "substrate" of DNA, but in any system that has the right information processing and information-storage characteristics. In short, evolution s simple recipe of "differentiate, select, and amplify" is a type of computer program—a program for creating novelty, knowledge, and growth. Because evolution is a form of information processing, it can do its order-creating work in realms ranging from computer software to the mind, to human culture, and to the economy.

Eric Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-31T14:57:12.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This piques my curiosity on a certain point of interest: Has the argument "It's just an algorithm" ever been used as a counter to the claim that Evolution as a biological phenomenon should not be conflated with "Technological Evolution", "Corporate Evolution", "Personal Evolution", etc.?

More importantly, would there be an efficient way of defusing this potentially mind-killer-route argument without misleading the other party into thinking their assumption is correct when the inferential distance is too large for a technical explanation of the misuse of categories and labels (AKA They're not even aware of Lesswrong's existence and are not trained in scientific thought or rationality)?

comment by TimS · 2012-07-31T15:31:07.702Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can you be more clear about what types of conflation you find problematic?

If I do a better job representing my clients, then when new lawyer hiring decisions are made, I expect to receive additional clients. Do you feel it is unclear to call that natural selection, or evolution?

I agree that using "evolution" as a synonym for change (i.e. Personal Evolution vs. Personal Self-Improvement) is problematic, but I'm not sure that the quote under discussion helps that issue.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-31T16:47:05.003Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can certainly try to!

Well, I do find problematic any types of conflation that lead to incorrect assumptions and unreasonable predictions, but that's a little unclear too. In general day-to-day interactions, the most common problematic is where someone with whom I'm discussing will know of "darwinian evolution" and, of course, the phrase "Survival of the fittest!", but will have no technical understanding of the actual algorithm.

Thus, what they see is that when a species lives where there are a lot of large, tough, and highly nutricious hard-shelled nuts, that species will gradually get longer beaks or stronger claws to pierce through the shell and get at the tasty bits. They don't see how all kinds of other possible variations also get tried, and get rejected because they die and the ones more adapted keep reproducing. Thus, in their model, it's as if the entire membership of the species suddenly started growing longer beaks. The approximate generalization is fairly accurate on evolutionary timescales, but misrepresents the cause of the change, which is where things start going wrong.

They then translate it to being the same in, say, better lawyers, to steal your example. The misunderstanding often mixes with hindsight bias, in my experience, to produce beliefs that lawyers who fail to survive in a fictive environment where clients like cookie-bribes are incompetent by property of being unable to evolve and adapt. Those lawyers were clearly incompetent. It's simple Evolution theory that you should be more adapted and provide cookie-bribes to your clients if the environment is like that. That was obvious.

Beyond this, however, I now notice that something is wrong because I'm unable to clarify the exact issue further, which suggests that I may mentally be myself wrongly unifying or inferencing several things in my mental model and in my memory of related events. Perhaps if I re-read (once I find it) the article by Eliezer that talked about something similar, I might clarify my thoughts. I've had no luck finding it so far, however.

EDIT: With a bit of self-reviewing, I've noticed that that last paragraph above somewhat feels like an applause light. It was an obvious statement where the opposite is clearly not what we want here. I'm also gradually updating towards the idea that the initial spark to my question was in fact either a cached idea or an error in belief propagation; I felt like I knew that there were cases where "such conflations" were problematic, and so I skipped over that part to go directly to asking the question. I knew that I knew, so I didn't bother to verify the low-level knowledge, but the low-level knowledge may not have been there and I might have failed to update the meta-knowledge. I shall allocate more brainwork on this after I've eaten and made myself more apt to think clearly.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T17:28:19.639Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

(re-posted on request.)

comment by matabele · 2012-07-21T14:58:46.270Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A perennial favourite: "If you torture the data enough, they will confess."

Often attributed to Ronald Coase, however this version was likely: "If you torture the data long enough, nature will confess" - perhaps implying a confession of truth. Another version, attributed to Paolo Magrassi: "If you torture the data enough, it will confess anything" - perhaps implying a confession of falsehood.

Personally, I find the ambiguous version of greater interest.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-22T08:23:08.132Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But if you torture them too long, they will confess falsehoods.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-23T14:27:38.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting that you should prefer 'they', referring to the plural data; some versions of the aphorism also use this form - in retrospect, I prefer this form.

Torturing data is a common problem in my field (geophysics). With large but sparse datasets, data can be manipulated to mean almost anything. Normal procedure: first make a reasonable model for the given context; then make a measureable prediction based upon your model; then collect an appropriate dataset by 'tuning' your measuring apparatus to the model; then process your data in a standard way. In the case that that your model is not necessarily wrong; then make another measureable prediction based upon your model; collect another dataset by an independent experimental method; then ...

Even when following this procedure, models are often later found to be wildly erroneous; in other words, all of the experimental support for your model was dreamt up.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-23T16:55:45.575Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I was thinking about when typing that was indeed a model by some geophysicists. They had found some kind of correlation between some function of solar activity and some function of seismic activity, but those functions were so unnatural-looking that I couldn't help thinking they tweaked the crap out of everything before getting a strong-enough result.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-24T19:55:45.154Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You were likely referring to some of the recent work of Vincent Courtillot. A video summarizing some of his work here.

The most interesting aspect of this work, is that Courtillot did not start out with any intention of finding correlations with climate; his field is geomagnetism. Only after noticing certain correlations between geomagnetic cycles and sun spot cycles, did suspected correlations with natural climate cycles become evident.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-06T17:09:56.124Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

After a while, Kit noticed that a large part of the pattern that made a bridge or a tower was built entirely out of people.

Kij Johnson, "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"

nominated for this year's Hugo

comment by Will_Newsome · 2012-07-03T06:35:04.604Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Anything can be an instrument, Chigurh said. Small things. Things you wouldnt even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there's an accounting. And after that nothing is the same. Well, you say. It's just a coin. For instance. Nothing special there. What could that be an instrument of? You see the problem. To separate the act from the thing. As if the parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it's just a coin. Yes. That's true. Is it?

— Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

comment by shokwave · 2012-07-03T06:43:58.386Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?

--- the character Chigurh, from the same novel and author.

It's almost like a koan for me - thinking about what in my history I have lost on a coin toss is a great jumping point into more introspection.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:30:14.567Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Do you one-coin or two-coin?

I've lost plenty of karma by taking the wrong side in "discussions."

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-07-04T21:10:26.032Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Are you sure it's not because of inane comments like that one?

comment by shminux · 2012-07-05T00:11:34.934Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do you one-coin or two-coin?

Do you one-koan or two-koan?

TCIYAKS (this comment is yet another karma sink)

comment by gwern · 2012-07-05T02:22:37.828Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nothing would happen now. All that had happened was that some pieces of metal had innocently lifted other metal; nothing more. And that pouch would lie there in the dark for an unknowable span of days, and nothing would happen then, either. It is a mysterious trait of this world that the slightest cipher or symbol of which one is utterly ignorant can determine the days of one’s life.

--The Ones Who Walk Toward Acre

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-03T00:57:05.172Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.

--Seneca

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-03T13:34:57.715Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.

Don't know about that. He who has everyone else in his power sounds rather powerful too.

comment by MBlume · 2012-07-03T19:26:42.573Z · score: 1 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Ey who has everyone else in eir power has everyone else in the power of someone ey doesn't have control over.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-03T19:29:17.022Z · score: 13 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Too many not-words in one sentence for me I'm afraid.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-03T19:46:00.742Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Reframed with more standard pronouns: if I have everyone else in my power, but not myself, then everyone else is in the power of someone I don't control.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-04T09:48:08.520Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, most powerful is she who has herself in her own power, plus the greatest number of other people.

(I opt for Eliezer's coin flip method of gender-neutral pronoun usage, by the way.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-04T14:29:31.481Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm reminded of a propositional logic class that spent some time discussing "Everybody loves my baby, but my baby don't love nobody but me."

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:39:10.249Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In that case, most powerful is he who has herself in his own power, plus the greatest number of other people.

Rephrased using an honest coin.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-05T16:53:38.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(I rolled my die just once because the latter two pronouns are anaphors that refer back to the first, and this statement doesn't only apply to genderqueer people. :) )

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T13:38:46.102Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

– James Baldwin

The obscure language was likely due to the political context of the original; try substituting 'identified' for 'faced'.

comment by tut · 2012-07-30T09:44:18.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

try substituting 'identified' for 'faced'.

Or acknowledged, or accepted. I don't see facing an issue as obscure language, but this is a good aphorism. Upvoted.

comment by lukeprog · 2012-07-23T07:22:41.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.

Albert Einstein

(Quoted here but not in any LW quotes thread.)

comment by Eneasz · 2012-08-20T18:53:16.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Posted to wrong month, moved.

An excerpt from Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. Boxing is not safe.

The innkeeper looked up. "I have to admit I don't see the trouble," he said apologetically. "I've seen monsters, Bast. The Cthaeh falls short of that."

"That was the wrong word for me to use, Reshi," Bast admitted. "But I can't think of a better one. If there was a word that meant poisonous and hateful and contagious, I'd use that."

Bast drew a deep breath and leaned forward in his chair. "Reshi, the Cthaeh can see the future. Not in some vague, oracular way. It sees all the future. Clearly. Perfectly. Everything that can possibly come to pass, branching out endlessly from the current moment."

Kvothe raised an eyebrow. "It can, can it?"

"It can," Bast said gravely. "And it is purely, perfectly malicious. This isn't a problem for the most part, as it can't leave the tree. But when someone comes to visit..."

Kvothe's eyes went distant as he nodded to himself. "If it knows the future perfectly," he said slowly, "then it must know exactly how a person will react to anything it says."

Bast nodded. "And it is vicious, Reshi."

Kvothe continued in a musing tone. "That means anyone influenced by the Cthaeh would be like an arrow shot into the future."

"An arrow only hits on person, Reshi." Bast's dark eyes were hollow and hopeless. "Anyone influenced by the Cthaeh is like a plague ship sailing for a harbor." Bast pointed at the half-filled sheet Chronicler held in his lap. "If the Sithe knew that existed, they would spare no effort to destroy it. They would kill us for having heard what the Cthaeh said."

"Because anything carrying the Cthaeh's influence away from the tree..." Kvothe said, looking down at his hands. He sat silently for a long moment, nodding thoughtfully. "So a young man seeking his fortune goes to the Cthaeh and takes away a flower. The daughter of the king is deathly ill, and he takes the flower to heal her. They fall in love despite the fact that she's betrothed to the neighboring prince..."

Bast stared at Kvothe, watching blankly as he spoke.

"They attempt a daring moonlight escape," Kvothe continued. "But he falls from the rooftops and they're caught. The princess is married against her will and stabs the neighboring prince on their wedding night. The prince dies. Civil war. Fields burned and salted. Famine. Plague..."

"That's the story of the Fastingsway War," Bast said faintly.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T19:47:47.466Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Another Goethe quote, whilst on that tack; seems appropriate for disciples of GS.

Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-27T19:58:48.972Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There's one (okay, more like 1.6) major problem with that quote, everything else being otherwise good:

The implicitly absolute categorization of "love" as "ideal", and the likewise-implicit (sneaky?) connotation that love is not as real as it is ideal or marriage as ideal as it is real.

Love is a very real thing. There are very real, natural, empirically-observable and testable things happening for whatever someone identifies as "love". However, further discussion is problematic, as "love" has become such a wide-reaching symbol that it becomes almost essential to specify just what interpretation, definition or sub-element of "love" we're talking about in most contexts if ambiguity is to be avoided.

comment by gwern · 2012-07-27T20:36:01.131Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Goethe is writing in a time influenced by German Romanticism (for which he was partly guilty); it would not be amiss if one were to capitalize love there as 'Love' - an abstraction, not some empirical neural correlates.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-27T21:31:04.227Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not quite sure what this abstraction would even correspond to. In fact, when I ask myself what abstract meaning 'Love' could possibly have, I find myself confused. It seems there might be some 'Love' somewhere that feels like it is the ideal, abstract 'Love', but no matter where I search I cannot find it on my map.

I'd like it if you could help me map this "abstract ideal" in my conceptspace map, if that's possible.

comment by gwern · 2012-07-27T21:34:40.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's not worth trying to understand beyond Goethe having fun at some idealists' expense. I took a course on Romanticism, and came out with little better understanding than you have now.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T22:16:22.840Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When mapping labels (symbols) to their underlying concepts, look for the distinction, not the concept. Distinctions divide a particular perspective of the map; each side of the distinction being marked with a label. In early Greek philosophy the opposites were: love and strife (see empedocles.)

(An abstraction corresponds to a class of distinctions, where each particular distinction of the class, corresponds to another abstraction.)

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-27T22:23:27.778Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh! That makes a lot more sense. It doesn't seem like the most reliable technique, but this particular term is now a lot clearer. Thanks!

Of course, this seems to me like 'Love' is then merely a general "Interface Method", to be implemented depending on the Class in whatever manner, in context, will go against strife and/or promote well-being of cared-for others.

Which is indeed not something real, but a simple part of a larger utility function, in a sense.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-28T07:49:37.692Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A good resource on distinctions (if you are not yet aware of it), is George Spencer-Brown's Laws of Form. These ideas are being further explored (Bricken, Awbrey), and various resources on boundary logic and differential logic, are now available on the web.

comment by gwern · 2012-08-02T14:27:21.968Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really sure Laws of Form is a good resource, and I'm not sure it's good at all. A crazy philosophy acquaintance of mine recommended it, so I read it, and couldn't make very much of it (although I was disturbed that the author apparently thought he had proved the four-color theorem?). Searching, I got the impression that one could say of the book 'what was good in it was not original, and what was original was not good'; later I came across a post by a Haskeller/mathematician I respect implementing it in Haskell which concluded much the same thing:

So, Laws of Form succeeds in defining a boolean style algebra and propositional style calculus. It then shows how to build circuits using logic gates. And that, as far as I can see, is the complete content of the book. It's fun, it works, but it's not very profound and I don't think that even in its day it could have been terribly original. (Who first proved NAND and NOT gates are universal? Sheffer? Peirce?) In my view this makes GSB's mathematics not of the crackpot variety, despite his talk of imaginary logical values....So my final opinion, for all of the two cents that it's worth, is that GSB is a little on the crackpot side, but that his mathematics in Laws of Form is sound, fun, cute, but, despite the trappings, not terribly profound.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T21:48:43.063Z · score: -13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Not to say that everyone is a heathen ;-) but as for those who missed out on the subtlety of my original Goethe post ... if they wish to further advertise their lack of sophistication ... diss this post.

Please ignore this, unless you are a hydrophobic Canis antarcticus, barking up the wrong tree. Its only purpose is to provide a pissing post to discourage the great unwashed from otherwise fouling the streets. With any luck the post, complete with its surrounding territory, will soon disappear completely off the bottom of the map. There, unfettered by the strictures of reason, the pack can feel free to bark and scratch, whilst attending to their compulsions to lick the sweat off each others balls.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-27T22:18:47.451Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is not a lack of sophistication to fail to immediately grasp and assume-true one single subtle undermeaning/interpretation of a vague statement.

It is rational prudence. It is the wilful, deliberate, careful act of steeling one's mind to the resolute knowledge that things are uncertain, and of not seeing patterns where there merely might be, of not projecting meanings onto phrases where meanings are in the mind, of applying what is learned and trained and practiced here on LessWrong.

Or, it might also simply indicate the lack of social training towards guessing passwords.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T08:17:11.443Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am new to LW, and I don't get it; this is supposed to be a forum promoting rationality, and anyone who dissed this comment appears to be behaving re-actively.

Any rational justifications as to why anyone would respond to the above comment are welcomed, and may be appended below.

comment by shminux · 2012-07-30T23:29:46.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

anyone who dissed this comment appears to be behaving re-actively.

It is rational to downvote comments you want to see fewer of, and your failed attempt at trolling certainly qualifies.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-29T12:05:43.904Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that you seem to be underestimating the relevant inferential distance. Specifically you're using a lot of jargon in both this and the parent, and we have no idea what you're talking about.

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-07-29T08:48:06.881Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get it; this is supposed to be a forum promoting rationality, and anyone who dissed this comment is behaving re-actively

a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-07-13T09:33:50.834Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

-Proverbs 10:14

comment by chaosmosis · 2012-07-13T02:25:32.562Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to learn why you think whatever it is you think, strip away existing context and force it into a new one and see what happens.

The Last Psychiatrist, at http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2011/11/judge_beats_his_daughter_for_b.html

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-07T09:07:00.013Z · score: 0 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Minor spoiler alert. (I think you know the drill.)

Nsgre Oebaa jvaf n qhry:

Ynql Neela: "Lbh qba'g svtug jvgu ubabe!"

Oebaa: "Ab."

Oebaa fzvyrf naq cbvagf gb gur zna ur whfg qrsrngrq.

"Ur qvq."

Game of Thrones (TV series), episode S01E06

(Rational agents should WIN.)

comment by MinibearRex · 2012-07-13T00:33:48.380Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I like the quote, though really there's no particular reason to put it in rot13.

Minor point: The character's name is spelled Oebaa

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-13T13:34:36.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[Hiding a spoiler in the alt tag of a fake link]

...huh. Well wow. I'm going to remember that trick, that's clever. I had no idea you could do that here.

Also, noted, and fixed.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-08T14:26:53.113Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If those four people who downvoted this would enlighten me as to why this is a bad quote, that would be much appreciated.

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-12T04:22:48.253Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have a general policy of downvoting anything in rot13. No, I'm not going to work to read your comment!

Instead, put your spoiler text in the hover text of a fake url, like this

Syntax:

[like this](http://notareal.url/ "See? See how much better this is?")
comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-13T13:59:37.110Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I just picked up that technique from MinibearRex up there. I see you said it first, so kudos to you, then. It's a useful trick. I'll remember it.

...incidentally, if it's too much work to click the link, copy-paste the text and click the button, then you might save yourself even more time and effort by just scrolling on without bothering to click the thumbs-down button either. There are friendlier ways to express disapproval, too. But thanks for the advice, I'll try to be less of a bother next time.

comment by MinibearRex · 2012-07-13T21:25:04.852Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is kind of funny. I learned this trick from Grognor's comment when I saw it in the recent comments section. And then I decided to try it out when I noticed the misspelling, not realizing it was on the same post.

comment by tut · 2012-07-08T18:33:04.787Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

First, it is an appeal to consequences against honor. Worse, it is an appeal to fictional consequences.

Second, honor is not the opposite of rationality. Just making an argument against honor would not automatically be a rationality quote even if it was a good argument.

Third it was encrypted which made me waste more than three times the amount of time reading it that I would have if it was in plain text. When it turned out to be bad this made the disappointment much worse.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-08T19:19:28.159Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Jeez, you guys. You miss the point.

But at any rate, WIN. Don't lose reasonably, WIN.

-

If you fail to achieve a correct answer, it is futile to protest that you acted with propriety.

-

(...) what good does a sense of violated entitlement do? At all? Ever? What good does it do to tell ourselves that we did everything right and deserved better, and that someone or something else is to blame?

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky

The point isn't that honour is bad, the point is (much more generally) that rational agents shouldn't follow the Rules and lose anyway, they should WIN. Whether the Rules are the rules of honour, of mainstream science or of traditional rationalism, or whatever, if they don't get you to win, find a way that does. And it's futile to complain about unfairness after you lost, or the guy you were rooting for did.

The only part that appeals to fictional consequences is the additional implication that oftentimes, an ounce of down-to-earth pragmatism beats any amount of lofty ideals if you need to actually achieve concrete goals.

I thought adding that "rational agents should win" reference would make the intended idea clear enough. But I'll take my own advice and just make a mental note to be clearer next time.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2012-07-13T02:47:44.539Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I dunno, I think all of that is overstated. I mean, sure, perfectly rational agents will always win, where "win" is defined as "achieving the best possible outcome under the circumstances."

But aspiring rationalists will sometimes lose, and therefore be forced to choose the lesser of two evils, and, in making that choice, may very rationally decide that the pain of not achieving your (stated, proactive) goal is easier to bear than the pain of transgressing your (implicit, background) code of morality.

And if by "win" you mean not "achieve the best possible outcome under the circumstances," but "achieve your stated, proactive goal," then no, rationalists won't and shouldn't always win. Sometimes rationalists will correctly note that the best possible outcome under the circumstances is to suffer a negative consequence in order to uphold an ideal. Sometimes your competitors are significantly more talented and better-equipped than you, and only a little less rational than you, such that you can't outwit your way to an honorable upset victory. If you value winning more than honor, fine, and if you value honor more than winning, fine, but don't prod yourself to cheat simply because you have some misguided sense that rationalists never lose.

EDIT: Anyone care to comment on the downvotes?

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-08T19:36:01.092Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

P.S.: Regarding your third point, is there a less bothersome way to handle spoilers? I've only seen rot13 being used for that purpose here. I'd gladly make it less cumbersome to read if I could do so without risking diminishing the fun of other people who watch or intend to watch this series.

(Or maybe the annoyance caused by the encryption is worse than the risk of spoiling just one scene in case there's anyone reading this who watches the series and is a season and a half behind... I dunno. Neither course of action should be a big deal.)

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-12T04:20:30.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a general policy of downvoting anything in rot13. No, I'm not going to work to read your comment!

Do this instead, put your spoiler text in the hover text of a fake url, like this

Syntax:

[like this](http://notareal.url/ See? See how much better this is?)
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T02:47:24.484Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To the extent honor encodes valid ethical injunctions, ignoring it will cause you to loose in the long run.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-09T15:32:24.550Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly-- compare Protected from Myself to "rationalists should win!".

comment by Never_Seen_Belgrade · 2012-07-08T14:38:47.694Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It could be more than four. Someone might have upvoted you.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-13T06:08:33.618Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would your opinion of the quote change if "fighting dishonorably" were replaced by "violating the Geneva convention"?

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-13T14:04:31.091Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps. I'd say that should depend on the price for failure and how that compares to the violation. But point taken.

comment by Jay_Schweikert · 2012-07-09T16:38:51.772Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted. It's maybe not obvious from the quote alone, but in context, "honor" doesn't mean abstaining from deceit or manipulation -- it means following the largely impractical "rules" of dueling, when the bottom line is just who kills the other man.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T18:03:15.515Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I predict that if we were to poll professional economists a century from now about who is the intellectual founder of the discipline [economics], I say we'd get a majority responding by naming Charles Darwin, not Adam Smith.

Robert H. Frank, 2011 September 12, speaking on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast. The rest of the quote can be found near 14:11 in the transcript. Robert H Frank was talking a lot about his book The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good.

comment by Swimmy · 2012-07-04T19:59:01.779Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting, and I would happily bet against that prediction.

comment by algekalipso · 2012-07-04T02:54:59.647Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"'Whereof one cannot speak thereof be silent,' the seventh and final proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, is to me the most beautiful but also the most errant. 'Whereof one cannot speak thereof write books, and music, and invent new and better terminology through mathematics and science,' something like that, is how I would put it. Or, if one is not predisposed to some such productivity, '. . . thereof look steadfastly and directly into it forever.'"

-- Daniel Kolak, comment on a post by Gordon Cornwall.

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-07-04T10:01:23.211Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This misses the point that Wittgenstein made. Inventing better terminology doesn't help you if you don't have any information in the first place.

Something might have happened before the big bang. The big bang erased all information about what happened before the big bang. Therefore we shouldn't speak about what happened before the big bang.

Gods might exist or might not exist. We don't have any evidence to decide whether they exist. Therefore we should stop speaking about gods.

To come to a question that more central to this community: We have no way to decide through the scientific method whether the Many Worlds Hypothesis is true. According to Wittgenstein we should therefore be silent.

Inventing new terminology doesn't help with those issues.

comment by Danfly · 2012-07-04T11:56:20.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm by no means an expert on this, but I was under the impression that Wittgenstein meant that language was an insufficient tool to express the "things we must pass over in silence", e.g. metaphysics, religion, ethics etc., but that he nevertheless believed that these were the only things worth talking about. My understanding was that he believed that language is only good for dealing with the world of hard facts and the natural sciences and, while we cannot use it to express certain things, some of these things might be "shown" by different means, in line with his comment that the unwritten part of the tractatus was the most important part.

This conclusion from one of hist lectures largely sums up how I would understand his view of many of the "things we must pass over in silence".

"This running against the walls of our cage is perfectly, absolutely hopeless. Ethics so far as it springs from the desire to say something about the ultimate meaning of life, the absolute good, the absolute valuable, can be no science. What it says does not add to our knowledge in any sense. But it is a document of a tendency in the human mind which I personally cannot help respecting deeply and I would not for my life ridicule it."

This is largely the way I have been led to interpret it through reading other people's interpretations and it is probably wrong, but I thought that I'd try and express it here, because I do have a strong desire to expand my knowledge of Wittgensteinian philosophy. One thing which I do think is quite likely though, is that Wittgenstein would consider any written "interpretation" of his work to ultimately be "nonsense" insofar as any written part of it is concerned.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-04T15:40:58.962Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

IIRC, in "On Certainty" in particular, Wittgenstein had a lot to say about the role of language and how it is not primarily a mechanism for evaluating the truth-value of propositions but rather a mechanism for getting people to do things. In particular, I think he dismisses the entire enterprise of Cartesian doubt as just a game we play with language; arguing that statements like "There exists an external reality" and "There exists no external reality" simply don't mean anything.

So I'd be surprised if he were on board with language as a particularly useful tool for hard facts or natural sciences, either.

Admittedly, it's been like 20 years since I read it, and it's a decidedly gnomic book to begin with, and I'm no kind of expert on Wittgenstein. So take it with a pound of salt.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-07-05T07:21:43.231Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Tractatus is a product of what is called the early or first Wittgenstein, while "On Certainty" belongs to his latter stage. By that time he had repudiated the emphasis of the Tractatus on logical correspondence with facts and switched to speaking of language games and practical uses. In both phases his position on "unspeakable" things like ethics and metaphysics was similar (roughly the one Danfly summarizes at the beginning of the parent quote).

comment by Danfly · 2012-07-06T10:27:16.732Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just noticed how poorly written part of my above comment was. I think I've fixed it now. I'm glad to see a positive response to it at least, since it shows that people care more about substance than the clarity of writing, which seems more than a little apt when talking about Wittgenstein. It also indicates that I haven't been entirely misled in my interpretation of a notoriously difficult philosopher.

As much as it might be fun to pretend that my strange writing style was intended as a way of reaching people with "similar thoughts" in a truly Wittgensteinian sense, it was not. It was a boring old mistype. I am nowhere near smart enough to pull that off.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T15:13:17.021Z · score: 0 (18 votes) · LW · GW

If our society seems more nihilistic than that of previous eras, perhaps this is simply a sign of our maturity as a sentient species. As our collective consciousness expands beyond a crucial point, we are at last ready to accept life's fundamental truth: that life's only purpose is life itself.

– Chairman Sheng-Ji Yang in Alpha Centauri

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-02T21:59:13.570Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand the quote. Under what definition of "nihilistic" does it make sense?

Wikipedia says:

nihilism: a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded

Often true and valid. Agrees with the quote in that life has no purpose beyond itself - e.g. no supernatural gods.

and that existence is senseless and useless.

Doesn't follow, and is false in any case. Unless one argues that all existing or even possible things are senseless and useless. Which would render these two words quite senseless and useless, in my view.

What is meant by 'nihilism' anyway?

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:36:24.433Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In that same wikipedia article, follow the link to Moral Nihilism to learn

Moral nihilism, also known as ethical nihilism, is the meta-ethical view that morality does not exist as something inherent to objective reality...

If morality is not objective, than moral propositions do not have true-or-falseness about them, and all the discussions about morality are vapid.

What Chang means is he gets to make it up as he goes along because 1) it is not wrong to make it up as he goes along because in nihilism, nothing is "wrong," and 2) there isn't a "right" either.

Its possible a slightly warm-and-fuzzier Chang would choose Moral Relativism which is Moral Nihilism's more conventional 2nd cousin. But Nihilism makes for a much better story, it is stark and even the word sounds ominous.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-05T15:29:57.002Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If morality is not objective, than moral propositions do not have true-or-falseness about them, and all the discussions about morality are vapid.

It seems very obvious and uncontroversial to me that morality is not objective. (Yay typical mind fallacy!) Morality is, or arises from, a description of human actions, judgements and thoughts. Aliens who behaved completely differently should be said to have different morals.

It's not clear to me why someone would even think to argue for objective (=universally correct and unique) morals unless motivated by religion or tradition.

Of course, it's also clear to me that our subjective morals add up to normality. For instance murder is generally morally wrong. Of course that should be read to say it's wrong in our eyes! Of course things are not right or wrong in themselves; value judgements, including moral values, are passed by observers who have values/preferences/moral theories.

It seems to me that nihilism, if it is commonly understood to mean this, should be accepted by pretty much any materialist. This doesn't seem to be the case. What am I missing? What are the reasons to think there's something in nature (or in logic, perhaps) that should be identified as "objective morals"?

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-05T16:32:09.391Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I said "Murder is NOT wrong for humans, it is just a matter of personal choice" and you said "no you are wrong, murder is wrong for humans" I would conclude you are a moral realist, not a nihilist. I made a moral statement and you told me I was wrong. You seem to believe that that moral statement is either true or false no matter who says it, that "I think I'll murder Dan" is not just a subjective choice like "I think I'll read a Neil Gaiman book tonight" might be.

But you also characterize morality as a description of human actions. If I say "I notice that murder is said to be wrong by many people but is practiced by some non-trivial minority of humans, there fore, since I observe it is part of the human moral landscape, I will pick a kid at random in the mall and shoot him." and you say "no, you shouldn't" then you are probably a moral realist. You apparently think that the proposition I proposed has a truth or falseness to it that exists outside yourself, and you are expressing to me that this statement I made is false.

My moral nihilism which I have abandoned perhaps a week ago arose from my comparing the quality of moral facts and fact finding to the quality of scientific facts and fact finding. Science seemed developed through an objective process: you had to test the world to see if statements about the world were true or false. Whereas morality seemed to come entirely from intuitions and introspection. "you shouldn't kill random kids in the mall." "You should recycle." Blah blah blah where is even the test? In my case I was a nihilist in that I thought there was no sensible way to declare a moral statement to be a "fact" rather than a choice, but I was totally willing to kill reflecting my choices (i.e., kill someone who threatened me or my friends or my family). So I had what I thought was a de facto morality that I thought could not be justified as "fact" in the same way that engineering and physics textbooks could be justified.

Upon being reminded of "the problem of induction" I remembered that scientific facts are deduced from ASSUMPTIONS. We just do a pretty good job if aligning with reality is your standard. So the feature that any moral conclusions I was going to reach would necessarily be deduced from assumptions was not enough to relegate them to mere choices.

It could be that we are nowhere near as good at figuring out what the moral facts are as we are at figuring out what the scientific facts are. But 3000 years ago, we weren't very good at scientific facts either, and that presumably didn't stop them from being facts, we just didn't know much about them yet.

So maybe morality CAN'T be known as well as science, or maybe it can, we just haven't figure it out yet.

But to be a proper nihilist, you need to accept that murder is not wrong (it is not right either). Are you down with that?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-05T17:38:39.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I said "Murder is NOT wrong for humans, it is just a matter of personal choice" and you said "no you are wrong, murder is wrong for humans" I would conclude you are a moral realist, not a nihilist.

This is a bad framing of the issue. Murder (for humans) is not, properly speaking, right or wrong. Saying that it is will do for casual conversation but let's make things precise. The term "murder" also presupposes wrong-ness, so I'll replace it with 'killing'.

Moral judgments (right/wrong) are descriptions given by people to actions. Killing may be wrong in my eyes, and separately in your eyes; it is not wrong or right in itself. This is true whether 'killing' stands here for a very specific case we are discussing, or whether we are making a generalization over some or all cases of actual or possible killing. (In the latter case, we will be implying some generalization such as 'most/all/typical/... cases of killing are wrong in X's eyes'.)

We can also generalize over the person doing the moral judgment. For instance, if most/all/typical/... people think a case of killing is morally wrong, I can simply say that "it is wrong" without making explicit who does or doesn't agree with this judgment. This, as I noted above, is what we typically do in conversation - and it's OK, but only as long as everyone understands and agrees on who is said to (dis)approve of the action in question!

Finally, all that I have said isn't necessarily incorrect even if you believe in objective moral truth. In that case you can view it as a definition of the words 'morally right/wrong'. We can talk about people's moral opinions even if there is a separate Objective Moral Truth that not all people agree with. We should just be clear when we're talking about truth, and when about opinions.

However, I believe there is no such thing as objective moral truth. This isn't just because there's no evidence for it (which is true); the very concept seems to me to be confused. You say:

Upon being reminded of "the problem of induction" I remembered that scientific facts are deduced from ASSUMPTIONS. We just do a pretty good job if aligning with reality is your standard. So the feature that any moral conclusions I was going to reach would necessarily be deduced from assumptions was not enough to relegate them to mere choices.

Science starts with assumptions, and fundamental observations, that are about the objective world it describes. Morals start with assumptions and observations about human moral judgments. These judgments are the functions of human brains, which of course exist objectively. The morals you deduce from these assumptions are an objective fact - but they are a fact about human brains! That's what you deduced them from! They are not a fact about e.g. the action of killing in itself.

Imagine an alien that doesn't think killing kittens is morally wrong. It can do so without any compunctions. This is of course its subjective view. However, some humans think killing kittens is generally morally wrong, no matter who does it (as long as it's an intelligent being that makes choice about its actions).

In a universe with aliens and kittens but no humans, would an alien killing kittens be morally right or wrong? My answer: this is a wrong question; a correct question about morality is e.g. "do humans think that xxx is wrong", and there is no morality without reference to some agents (human or otherwise) doing the moral judging. Your answer is, presumably, that it is as right or as wrong as it is in our universe. (Are moral truths like logical truths? Or contingent on physical law?)

So maybe morality CAN'T be known as well as science, or maybe it can, we just haven't figure it out yet.

You think there are objective moral facts. Are they logical facts, like mathematical truths? Or are they physical facts, contingent on physical law and our actual universe, out there to be discovered?

In the latter case at least you have to say what physical evidence causes you to believe they exist.

And what does it mean for an objective moral truth to exist? If it's a logical truth, and my morals are different, does that mean my behavior is irrational in some sense? If it's a physical truth, and my morals are different, does that mean I will make wrong predictions about physical facts I don't know yet?

If I gave you an oracle for logical truths, and an oracle for physical facts, could you in principle deduce all moral truths? How?

But to be a proper nihilist, you need to accept that murder is not wrong (it is not right either). Are you down with that?

"Murder" presupposes "moral wrong", that's just what the word means. I certainly agree that "killing" - any particular instance of killing, as well as killing in general - is not in itself right or wrong; it is only right or wrong in the eyes of some people. Most people in any given society agree about most killings, which creates a consensus useful for many purposes, which all adds up to normality.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-05T19:50:48.990Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To make it unambiguous, let us consider the action "mwengler, a human, goes to a randomly chosen location, abducts the first child under 4' tall he sees there, then takes that child, and kills it with a chainsaw. When asked about it he says 'I've done things like this before, I do it because I like the way it makes me feel.' "

You say:

Killing may be wrong in my eyes, and separately in your eyes; it is not wrong or right in itself.

This is an assertion which is either true or false. You assert it as true. By my reading of the definition, this makes you a moral nihilist. This on my part is not an act of judgment, but rather of labeling in a way which is common enough among a community who thinks about stuff like this to have been spelled out rather clearly in a wikipedia article.

However, I believe there is no such thing as objective moral truth. This isn't just because there's no evidence for it (which is true); the very concept seems to me to be confused.

There are plenty of people who do believe there is an objective moral truth. So many that there is a label for it: moral realism. You can read about it in wikipedia and in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The concept may be "confused," but it may be less "confused" after you read what some real clear philosophy writers have to say about it.

people think a case of killing is morally wrong, I can simply say that "it is wrong" without making explicit who does or doesn't agree with this judgment.

By this I take it to mean you would like to define "it is wrong" and "it is right" to mean "most people think it is wrong" and "most people think it is right." I find a lot of problems with that definition.

First, as a physicist I recognize a world of difference between 1) "electrons repel each other" and 2) "most physicists think electrons repel each other." They are probably both true, but negating the first would have vast implications for all of electronics, while the second would represent a remarkable, and possibly disastrous, social phenomenon. So I'd love to keep the semantic distinction between what is and what people think is.

I guess my point about this would be, yes its natural to translate objective language into subjective rough equivalents if you think the subjectivity of morality is natural, inescapable, unavoidable. But you will misunderstand other people and be misunderstood by them if you do so and assume that they do so as well, because there are a lot of moral realists out there.

Killing may be wrong in my eyes, and separately in your eyes; it is not wrong or right in itself.

I'm curious how you interpret this situation in this light:

You think my joy-killing random children is wrong. I think it is right, or perhaps I merely think it is not wrong because I don't think anything is right or wrong. And I have decided that to live life fully I must have many unique and exciting experiences, especially those that define me as an individual that would set me apart from other men. As part of that program, I have traveled to Antarctica, scuba'd in caves in deep volcanic lakes. And killed the odd child. I find the experience somewhat distasteful, but also somewhat fascinating, and although I don't expect to want to kill children forever, I feel that I'll probably need to kill 2 or 3 more to get everything I want from the experience.

What do you do about me? Incarcerate me while telling me that I am being imprisoned for life not because I did or want to do something wrong but because "most people think I did something wrong?" Well I would ask you what YOU think. I do ask you what YOU think. Do you think I am wrong to kill these children? How much does it matter that I disagree with you? If it doesn't matter that I disagree with you, doesn't that mean that you think it is objectively wrong?

I think some confronting this might want to say there was something wrong with me if I liked killing children and didn't feel there was something wrong with it. In this case, you are essentially defining "humans" as, among other things, "people who think randomly killing children because it is fun" as wrong. You know have the problem of having to identify the disease process in me (and others) that leads me to this error. Perhaps "wrong" is objective in that it is part of a common genetic heritage we have evolved to live with each other? And that as with insulin or albinism or senility, there can be a genetic defect in some people? Then wrong would be some kind of disease, but it would still be objective.

But it would not be normative. (Read about normative in wikipedia and encyclopedia). Just because most humans genetically found killing children wrong, wouldn't tell me, with my genetic disease, that I "should" think that too. It merely tells me that I am different from most humans in this respect.

I don't know where it all ends. I do think there are powerful reasons to think morality is objective, just as there are powerful reasons to wonder if it isn't.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-05T20:50:12.928Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is an assertion which is either true or false. You assert it as true.

Correct. I want to point out what this is an assertion about: it is about the meaning of the word 'morals'. I.e. a definition, not a statement of logical or physical fact.

If you think that "there are objective morals" that is a different claim about the meaning of the word, but also (and much more importantly) a claim about the existence of something - and I'm asking you to define that something. Let's leave aside for now the issue of why you call this something "morals", let's taboo that word. Please describe this objectively existing something you are talking about.

There are plenty of people who do believe there is an objective moral truth.

I don't even know if this is evidence for or against them being right. There are plenty of people who are very wrong about lots of things that are not part of their everyday lives.

You can read about it in wikipedia and in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I have now read both articles. (You linked to Stanford twice, so I read the WP article "Moral Realism".)

Wikipedia doesn't give a single argument for moral realism, it just says that if we accept it, that makes it convenient to reason about morals. Which is not evidence.

The Stanford article lists many arguments against realism, but no arguments for it. It seems to conclude that because realism arises from "common sense and initial appearances" [I disagree strongly] and because they identify problems with some alternatives, realism should not be dismissed. Yet they identify no problems with my approach; and even if they did find problems with all known other approaches, as long as there is no problem to be found with the rejection of realism in itself, then there is no valid reason to accept realism.

To sum up: moral realism claims truth-properties for moral statements, but it also claims they cannot be evaluated for truth on the basis of any observations of the physical objective universe. That reduces it to the statement "our common sense tells us so, you can't prove us wrong, we don't have to prove ourselves right". Not very great philosophy.

By this I take it to mean you would like to define "it is wrong" and "it is right" to mean "most people think it is wrong" and "most people think it is right." I find a lot of problems with that definition.

No I don't want to define it so. It can and does mean different things in different contexts. Whenever there is doubt we should make it explicit what we mean.

Whether I understand moral realists is a separate issue. First I would like to understand moral realism itself. Please taboo "something is right" and tell me what your claim of objective moral truths or moral realism means.

What do you do about me? Incarcerate me while telling me that I am being imprisoned for life not because I did or want to do something wrong but because "most people think I did something wrong?"

I don't like incarceration itself, but it might be the best alternative available. Regardless of what I do with you, it would be because "most people (including me) think you did something wrong", not because "it is somehow objectively wrong".

I do ask you what YOU think. Do you think I am wrong to kill these children?

Yes I do.

How much does it matter that I disagree with you?

It matters for some purposes. For instance, if there were reliable ways to check and modify a person's actual moral feelings, I would want to impose on you modifications that would make you view killing children as immoral. I would prefer that to incarcerating you.

Another possible difference is in the severity of punishment, if any. One goal of punishment is deterring other potential criminals (and your own potential recidivism). People who don't have moral feelings stopping them from killing children, might need more punishment (ceteris paribus) to achieve the same deterrence. So it might make sense to punish you more severly, to influence people like you who don't share the social morals being enforced to follow them anyway out of self-interest.

Also, your lack of these moral feeling makes you likely to kill children again in the future (as you noted yourself), so I would want to incarcerate you for longer so as to protect children from you for longer.

If it doesn't matter that I disagree with you, doesn't that mean that you think it is objectively wrong?

As I said, it does matter. But suppose it didn't matter: suppose I sentenced you without regard to your moral feelings. That wouldn't mean I thought your behavior was "objectively wrong". It would simply mean I was sentencing according to the moral beliefs of myself (and, by stipulation, most people). I see nothing wrong in doing so. To refrain from doing so would be to refrain from acting according to my moral beliefs.

I think some confronting this might want to say there was something wrong with me if I liked killing children and didn't feel there was something wrong with it.

"There is something wrong with you" is yet another different, confusing, usage of the word 'wrong' in this discussion :-) Tabooing 'wrong' it means simply: you are unusual in this regard. Which is true by stipulation of our scenario - as you said, "most people think you did something wrong". Anything else ("who is human?") is arguing about the definitions of words and is not interesting or relevant.

I do think there are powerful reasons to think morality is objective

So tell me what they are already!

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-06T01:52:39.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I got lost in all the comments and accidentally replied to you in a reply to myself. That comment is here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/dei/rationality_quotes_july_2012/6z6h?context=3

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T04:31:46.304Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That reduces it to the statement "our common sense tells us so, you can't prove us wrong, we don't have to prove ourselves right".

This is ultimately the case for all statements.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-06T11:04:02.698Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I fail to see the relevance. Humans convince each other of many things all the time. If we couldn't, we wouldn't be here on this site! There are minds "out there" in mind-space whom we couldn't convince, but that doesn't mean there are such human minds, because humans are quite similar to one another.

Are you seriously suggesting humanity is divided into moral realists and anti-realists, and no realist can possibly explain to me or convince me of their position and even talking about it is pointless?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T06:31:17.692Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I fail to see the relevance. Humans convince each other of many things all the time. If we couldn't, we wouldn't be here on this site!

Yes, and those things include moral statements.

Are you seriously suggesting humanity is divided into moral realists and anti-realists, and no realist can possibly explain to me or convince me of their position and even talking about it is pointless?

No, because most if not all humans who call themselves moral non-realists are actually moral realists who believe themselves to be moral non-realists.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T12:48:14.756Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, and those things include moral statements.

Exactly. So I'm asking to be convinced - I'm asking for the evidence that convinced others to be moral realists. So far no such evidence has been given.

most if not all humans who call themselves moral non-realists are actually moral realists who believe themselves to be moral non-realists.

Why do you think so? Where do I act as if I believed in moral realism? I am not aware of such.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T23:06:20.786Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think so? Where do I act as if I believed in moral realism? I am not aware of such.

This is similar to the way people who claim to be physical non-realists still manage to avoid walking out of high story windows. If someone punched you or stole your stuff, I strongly suspect you'd object in moral terms.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T04:11:25.881Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If someone punched you or stole your stuff, I strongly suspect you'd object in moral terms.

To me, this is a point in favor of anti-realism. I hardly react at all when strangers get punched and worse (as we speak, probably). Tragedy is when I cut my finger.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-10T07:51:17.158Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ethical egoism is still a form of moral realism.

(Disclaimer: I don't necessarily endorse full ethical egoism.)

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T23:16:55.984Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course I would, and that doesn't make me a moral realist. I would say: by the morals that I feel, and most other people also feel and agree on, the person who assaulted me acted immorally. Nothing to do with objective moral rules: just rules that I and most other people feel to be moral and agree on.

More importantly, if some people in my place would appeal to "objective/factual morals", that is not in itself evidence for the existence of such objective morals. Since when I ask them (you) how they perceive these objective morals, how they even know them to exist, I receive so far no answer.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T03:09:46.905Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course I would, and that doesn't make me a moral realist. I would say: by the morals that I feel, and most other people also feel and agree on, the person who assaulted me acted immorally.

What if I said that by the morals I feel it's ok for me to hit you? You could answer that most people disagree with me, but I suspect you'd object to being punched even if, e.g., you belonged to a low status group that people thought it was ok to abuse.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T10:32:13.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I live by my morals, whether or not others share them. This doesn't change the fact that they are my morals, a feature of my brain state, and not some sort of objective independently existing morals. It's exactly the same situation as saying that I feel that my girlfriend is beautiful whether or not others agree, but that doesn't mean there's an objective standard of beauty in the universe that doesn't depend on observers.

If I belonged to a low status group that most people had no moral issues with abusing, then I would keep saying they behave immorally according to my views, and they would keep ignoring my words and abusing me. I fail to see what about this situation suggests that I behave as if I believe in realist morals.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-10T07:47:33.228Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I belonged to a low status group that most people had no moral issues with abusing, then I would keep saying they behave immorally according to my views, and they would keep ignoring my words and abusing me. I fail to see what about this situation suggests that I behave as if I believe in realist morals.

And you would really be ok with them living by their morals and abusing you?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-10T10:10:04.528Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course I would not be OK. I would want them to change their behavior and I would try to change it. This would be because of my preferences as to how people should behave towards me. These preferences don't exist independently of me. Morals are a special kind of preferences.

Saying "there exist someone's morals but there do not exist morals by themselves" is exactly the same as saying "there exist someone's preferences but there do not exist preferences by themselves".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-11T08:18:23.647Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So why should they act in accordance with your preferences?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-11T15:02:30.050Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They wouldn't. Nobody ever acts other than by their own preferences. Me by mine, they by theirs. This is pretty much baked into the definition of 'preferences', although with non-utility-maximizers like humans the situation is more complex than we'd like.

This is inherent in your own description of the scenario. You said they abuse me. So presumably their preferences (including their morals) are OK with that.

I'm sure you understand all this. What made you think I believed anything different?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-12T03:42:42.561Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Prediction: If you were forced to consider the situation in near mode, e.g., if you had something to protect that was being threatened, you wouldn't be arguing that preferences are relative to the individual, but why the other person was acting amorally.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-12T06:58:01.401Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I were in a crisis, I would be arguing whatever was most likely to convince the other person. If the other person was a moral realist - and most people instinctively are if they never really thought about the issue - then I would argue moral realism. And if the other person was religious - as again most people instinctively are - then I would argue about god. In neither case is that evidence that I believe in moral realism, or in gods; I would just be choosing the most effective argument.

And even if I did believe in moral realism, or the fact that many others do - that is not strong evidence for moral realism itself, because it is explained by evolutionary reasons that made us feel this way. Valid evidence is not that people believe one way or another, but the reasons they can explicitly articulate for that belief. When you observe that most or even all people behave like moral realists under pressure, that is a fact about people, not about moral realism.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T04:17:56.031Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You think there are objective moral facts. Are they logical facts, like mathematical truths? Or are they physical facts, contingent on physical law and our actual universe, out there to be discovered?

So you admit that there are two different kinds of objective facts. Given that there are two different kinds, why can't there be more?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-06T11:46:39.177Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These are two quite different things. We group them under one name, 'facts', but that is just a convention. That's why I wanted to find out which kind we were talking about.

Saying that "there might be a third kind" is misleading: it is a matter of definitions of words. You propose there might be some undiscoverd X. You also propose that if we discovered X, we would be willing to call it "a new kind of fact". But X itself is vastly more interesting than what words we might use.

Therefore please taboo "fact" and tell me, what is it you think there may be more of?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T06:38:26.178Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

These are two quite different things. We group them under one name, 'facts', but that is just a convention.

There's a reason we use the same word for both of them. They have a lot in common, for example being extremely objective in practice.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T12:46:07.909Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly, they have a lot in common, as well as a lot of differences.

But this discussion doesn't seem profitable. We shouldn't be discussing the probability that "another kind of fact" exists. Either someone has a suggestion for a new kind of fact, which we can then evaluate, or else the subject is barren. The mere fact that "we've not ruled out that there might exist more things we would choose to apply the word 'fact' to" is very weak evidence. We've not ruled out china teacups in solar orbit, either, but we don't spend time discussing them.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T22:59:07.298Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But this discussion doesn't seem profitable. We shouldn't be discussing the probability that "another kind of fact" exists. Either someone has a suggestion for a new kind of fact, which we can then evaluate, or else the subject is barren.

So if I understand your meta-theory correctly, anyone living before the scientific method, or simple hasn't heard of it, should be a Cartesian skeptic.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T23:27:31.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean. By "Cartesian skeptic" do you mean a Cartesian dualist who is skeptical of pure materialism? Or a Cartesian skeptic who does not wish to rely on his senses, who is skeptical of scientific inquiry into objective reality? Or something else?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T02:57:01.601Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Someone who doesn't believe his sense inputs necessarily reflect any reality.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T10:44:38.039Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's not physical anti-realism, but it's a sort of skepticism about physical realism. However, nothing can "prove" physical realism correct if you don't already accept it.

If someone doesn't believe his sense inputs reflect something with independent existence, then any new information they receive via those very same sense inputs can't logically influence their belief. Learning about the scientific method would not matter. Living today or at Descartes' time or ten thousand years ago, there are still exactly the same reasons for being a physical realist: the world just seems that way, we act that way even if we proclaim we don't believe in it, we can't change or escape the world we perceive via our senses by wishing it, and we have a strong instinct not to die.

comment by TimS · 2012-07-06T04:28:30.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There could be more. It just turns out that there aren't.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-06T04:48:15.501Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any evidence for this besides not being able to think of a third meta-theory?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-06T11:34:21.415Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any evidence against it? Are you able to think of a third?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T06:39:26.185Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have any evidence against it?

The zero-one-infinity hueristic.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T12:43:27.135Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting point. But that's very weak evidence (because as I said the two known instances have significant differences). Also, this is a heuristic and produces many false positives.

At best it motivates me to remain open to arguments that there might be more kinds of 'truth', which I am. But the mere argument that there might be is not interesting, unless someone can provide an argument for a concrete example. Or even a suggestion of what a concrete example might be like.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T23:13:43.349Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At best it motivates me to remain open to arguments that there might be more kinds of 'truth', which I am. But the mere argument that there might be is not interesting, unless someone can provide an argument for a concrete example.

You should study more history of ideas; once you see several examples of seemingly-unsolvable philosophical problems that were later solved by intellectual paradigm shifts, you become much less willing to believe that a particular problem is unsolvable simple because we currently don't have any idea how to solve it.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T23:47:28.675Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe a problem is unsolvable. I don't see a problem in the first place. I don't have any unsolved questions in my world model.

You keep saying I should be more open to new ideas and unsure of my existing ideas. But you do not suggest any concrete new idea. You also do not point to the need for a new idea, such as an unsolved problem. You're not saying anything that isn't fully general and applicable to all of everyone's beliefs.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T02:58:53.747Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see a problem in the first place. I don't have any unsolved questions in my world model.

The physical anti-realist doesn't see any problem in his world view either.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T10:38:02.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not interested in dialogue with physical anti-realists. Certain mutual assumptions are necessary to hold a meaningful conversation, and some kind of physical realism is one of them. Another example is the Past Hypothesis: we must assume the past had lower entropy, otherwise we would believe that we are Boltzmann brains and be unable to trust our memories or senses. A third example is induction: believing the universe is more likely to be lawful than not, that our past experience is at least in principle a guide to the future.

If moral realists are on the same level as physical realists - if they have no meaningful arguments for their position based on shared assumptions, but rather say "we are moral realists first and everything else follows, and if it conflicts with any other epistemological principles so much the worse for them" - then I'm not interested in talking to them (about moral realism). And I expect a very large proportion of people who agree with LW norms on rational thinking would say the same.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-06T00:58:39.777Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd like to tie up some of the things you said in your first and second posts in this thread.

You started with:

I don't understand the quote. Under what definition of "nihilistic" does it make sense?

and I responded with a link to the definition of moral nihilism in wikipedia, saying moral nihilism is the label for the belief that there are no objective moral truths or falsehoods.

You responded with

It seems very obvious and uncontroversial to me that morality is not objective.

When you say something is "uncontroversial," that means that, barring some class of people too stupid or whacky to be bothered with, people competent to have an opinion agree with you that it is obvious that morality is not objective.

In response to that I briefly summarized moral realism and linked to its wikipedia entry. By this I intended to show that the community of people who believed morality to be objective was competent and obvious enough to have a simple label on their belief, with that label cited and explained widely by (it seems) everybody who bothers to summarize moral philosophy.

I did NOT mean to suggest that moral realism is obvious or that I believe it or that the negation of moral realism is obvious or that I believe that. I DID mean to suggest that it IS controversial, meaning literally that there are moral realists who controvert ("speak against") nihilists and nihilists who speak against moral realists.

From there we go in to the weeds, or at least I do. First, I muddied the waters by talking about a particular example which I thought clarified some issues but which seems to clarify nothing, so it is not worth even mentioning again.

But the other sort of amazing thing to me is you keep asking me to defiine moral realism. What do you want me to do, copy the first few paragraphs from the wikipedia article? I'm not going to do a better job than they do. If you think the definition is dopey or meaningless or whatever, then oh well. I have nothing to add.

A belief that morality is subjective is controversial by any straightforward meaning of that word, nothing else I have said is as relevant to anything else you have said as that.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-06T11:30:03.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But the other sort of amazing thing to me is you keep asking me to defiine moral realism. What do you want me to do, copy the first few paragraphs from the wikipedia article? I'm not going to do a better job than they do. If you think the definition is dopey or meaningless or whatever, then oh well. I have nothing to add.

To quote the definition of moral realism from Wikipedia:

  1. Ethical sentences express propositions.
  2. Some such propositions are true.
  3. Those propositions are made true by objective features of the world, independent of subjective opinion.

This immediately raises three questions:

  1. How are propositions made true by objective features of the world?
  2. Do we find that these objectively true propositions match our moral intuitions? If they do, then whose?

But most importantly:

  1. Why do you think some answer to (1), this mapping of non-moral fact to moral fact, of 'is' to 'ought', is unique, objective, morally important?

The knowledge or belief in moral realism is acquired. People may be born with moral realist intuitions, but they are not born with coherent arguments in favor of moral realism. And no-one has the right to just believe something without proof.

So my question is: what is the evidence that convinced any moral realist to be a moral realist? This is essential, all else is secondary.

I've not found such evidence anywhere. In everything that I've read about moral realism, people are just trying to justify intuitions they have about morals, to claim that if not their morals then at least some morals must be objective and universal. As far as I can tell right now, the sole cause of some people being moral realists is that it gives them pleasure to believe so. They have faith in moral realism, as it were.

Then, assuming that belief is provisionally true, they look for models of that world that will allow it to be true. But such reasoning is wrong. They must show evidence for moral realism in order to have the right to believe in it.

A belief that morality is subjective is controversial by any straightforward meaning of that word, nothing else I have said is as relevant to anything else you have said as that.

Beliefs in gods, fairies, and p-zombies are also controversial. That doesn't make them worthy of discussion.

In my phrasing in previous posts I may have assumed you yourself were at least uncertain about the truth of moral realism, and therefore knew of some valid argument for it. I talked of things being controversial or not on LW, not among all humanity. I'm sorry that that was unclear and confused the conversation.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T06:46:21.438Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The knowledge or belief in moral realism is acquired. People may be born with moral realist intuitions, but they are not born with coherent arguments in favor of moral realism. And no-one has the right to just believe something without proof.

You can replace the phrase "moral realist" with "physical realist" in the above statement and your subsequent argument and it remains equally valid.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T12:40:03.997Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly do you mean by 'physical realism'? At first I thought it was something like the simple claim that "the physical world objectively exists independently of us", or maybe like positivism. But googling 'physical realism' brings up mostly pseudoscientific nonsense, so it may not be a commonly used term, and there are no wikipedia/Stanford/etc. entries. So I wanted to make sure what you meant by it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-07T22:54:49.002Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly do you mean by 'physical realism'? At first I thought it was something like the simple claim that "the physical world objectively exists independently of us",

More or less this.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-07T23:43:55.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK. Then your point is that people believe in physical reality, that exists independently of them, only because of intuition - the way their minds are shaped. This is correct as a description of why people in fact believe in it.

The rejection of physical realism is solipsism. It is not a fruitful position, however, in the sense that people who say they don't believe in physical reality still act as if though they believe in it. They don't get to ignore pain, or retreat into an imaginary world inside their heads. I believe this is known as the "I refute it thus!" kicking-a-stone argument.

My argument against moral realism does not work against physical realism. My argument is basically "show me the evidence", and physical anti-realism rejects the very concept of evidence. Physical realism is a requirement for my argument and for every other argument about the physical world, too.

Regarding the more general point that we only believe in physical realism because of intuitions, and we have similar intuitions for moral realism. Once we understand why a certain intuition exists, evolutionarily speaking, that accounts for the entirety of the evidence given by the intuition.

For instance we have a strong intuition that physics is Aristotelian in nature, and not relativistic or quantum. We understand why: because it is a good model of the physical world we deal with at our scale; relativistic and quantum phenomena do not happen much at our scale, so evolution didn't build us to intuit them.

Similarly, we have moral intuitions, which both say things about morals and also say that morals are objective. From an evolutionary perspective, we understand why humans who believed their morals to be objective tended to win out over those who publicly proclaimed they were subjective and malleable. And that's a complete explanation of that intuition; it doesn't provide evidence that morals are really objective.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-07-08T11:02:53.655Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At this point I might ask you what you both think you mean by morals being "really objective".

Does it mean that all minds must be persuaded by it? But that is of course false, since there is always a mind that does the opposite. Does it mean that it's written on a stone tablet in space somewhere? But that seems irrelevant, because who would want to follow random stone-commandments found in space anyway, and what if someone modified the stone tablet? Does it mean something else?

The definition of prime numbers isn't found on a stone tablet anywhere, or written in the fabric of space-time. Only the pebblesorters would be persuaded by an argument that a heap of 21 pebbles is composite. Yet would you say that the number 21 is "objectively" composite? Is the "existence" of anything necessary to make 21 composite?

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-09T18:59:57.300Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At this point I might ask you what you both think you mean by morals being "really objective".

I'm a fan of using other people's definitions of words, what with the purpose of words being to communicate with other people and all.

Wikipedia does a nice job.#Objectivity_in_ethics) This article gives very concise descriptions of different types of subjective and objective ethical theories.

The basic meaning, my summary of an already very summary wikipedia article is this. Subjective ethical theories say that moral statements are LIMITED TO ones on which fully informed well-functioning rational minds could (or do?) disagree, while objective ethical theories hypothesize AT LEAST SOME moral statements which are "mind independent," fully informed well-functioning rational minds would agree because the truth is "out there in the world" and not a creation of the mind.

Dan made an interesting point early on that 'what was right and wrong for humans could be very different from what is right and wrong for an alien intelligence.' On its face, I would measure this statement as an objective and moral statement, and therefore if true, this statement would be part of an objective moral theory. A slightly different statement that I would judge as objective, but not moral, would be 'what a human believes is right and wrong may be very different from what an alien intelligence believes is right and wrong.' In the first version, we are actually making a statement about what IS right and wrong. Saying that ANYTHING is right or wrong is a moral statement.

The fact that we say what IS right and wrong for humans and aliens might be different doesn't make these statements any less objective, anymore than saying "it is wrong to drive on the right side of the road in Britain, but it is wrong to drive on the left side of the road in France." is subjective. Any fully qualified moral statement will need to have the conditions under which the moral statement applies or not. If those qualifications include facts of location, genetics, rank or office, this does not make these statements subjective. As qualified, these statements are still statements about the world whose truth or falsehood would be agreed on by sufficiently informed, well-functioning rational minds.

In favor of subjective morality from my point of view is the idea that in describing human morality, I would have a hard time saying "For Saudi Arabian women, driving a car is wrong." is a true statement. The best I could manage is "Many Saudi Arabians believe that it is wrong for a woman to drive a car." So the idea that the moral opinions of the morons around you would actually obligate you in any way runs counter to my moral intuition.

In favor of objective morality for me is something like "for humans, picking an 8 year old human child at random and chopping off its limbs because you want to see what that feels like to do is wrong." I can't realistically imagine any sense in which I could ever NOT believe that. Following through on that by saying "yeah, but I can't PROVE it so I'm going to call it subjective" seems wimpy to me. Like saying I'm going to claim I don't think "the sun will rise tomorrow" is a true statement so I can enjoy the puerile pleasure of claiming not to need to assume induction.

Note also there don't have to be many moral statements which are objectively true for objective morality to be the case. One will do. If there is one action that is known to be right or wrong about as well as we know the sun will rise tomorrow, then moral statements are in the same neighborhood as physical statements, and you either go the full monty solipsist and NOTHING is real, not even the sun, or you have to describe sensibly why you are willing to make the assumptions necessary to call physical truths "truths," but the analagous assumptions needed to call moral truths "truths" is a step too far.

To summarize, to believe anything is 'objective' requires assumptions. One can justify those assumptions in a variety of ways, but one cannot prove them without at best being circular and at worst just being wrong. To adopt the assumptions necessary for physical realism, and then decide morality is subjective because it doesn't prove objective under the assumptions necessary for physical realism is to only do half the job. The REASON we accept the assumptions necessary for physical realism to be objectively true is because "objectively true" is a useful concept, it helps us build things. Moral truths help us build productive societies, and possibly other things, so the concept of a Moral truth is useful. To accept some physical objective truths, but to decide that moral truths just don't cut it is something I would expect you would have to have a good reason for.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T11:27:48.163Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what it means. I hear people say the words, "morals are or may be objective", and I ask them what they mean. And they only answer very vaguely and talk about things like "how can you be sure nothing is objective besides physics and logic" and "there exist undiscovered things that if we knew about we'd describe using the word 'objective'" and so on.

At this point I don't want to assign meaning to "morals are objective". I want to taboo the word and hear some actual statements from someone who came into this discussion assigning concrete meaning to that statement (whether or not they believed it).

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-09T03:03:34.841Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At this point I might ask you what you both think you mean by morals being "really objective".

Belonging to the same similarity cluster in thing space as mathematics and statements about the world.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T11:39:41.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In your comment that you link to, you give a more narrow definition, specifying "the scientific method". I agree there might be things outside of that (which will undoubtedly be absorbed into accepted science over time, mutating the concepts of the scientific method to suit new knowledge).

But here you specify all "statements about the world". In that case I can say outright that in no meaningful sense does there "exist" something not in the world which cannot interact with the world. By the generalized p-zombie principle: if it cannot interact with us, then it is not causally involved with your reason for speaking about it. Nothing you will ever think or do or say or believe in, or perceive with your senses, will be causally related to something outside "the world". So there is no reason to ever discuss such a thing.

Further, math (logic) is in the world. It does not have some Platonic independent "existence" because existence is a predicate of things in the physical world; it makes as much sense for a pure circle to exist as to not exist.

The reason we talk about math is that it is lawfully embodied in the physical world. Our brains are so built as to be able to think about math. When we think about math we find that we enjoy it, and also that we can use it for useful purposes of applied science. So we keep talking more about math. That is a complete explanation of where math comes from. No additional postulate of math "objectively existing" is required or indeed meaningful.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-10T07:37:30.666Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But here you specify all "statements about the world". In that case I can say outright that in no meaningful sense does there "exist" something not in the world which cannot interact with the world. By the generalized p-zombie principle: if it cannot interact with us, then it is not causally involved with your reason for speaking about it.

I don't find the generalized p-zombie principle particularly convincing, in part because it's not clear what "interact" means.

It does not have some Platonic independent "existence" because existence is a predicate of things in the physical world; it makes as much sense for a pure circle to exist as to not exist.

I think you're using the word "exists" to mean something different from what I mean by it. This may be one source of confusion.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-10T10:12:48.528Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

it's not clear what "interact" means

It means 'causally influence in at least one direction'. Two systems are said to interact if knowing something about one of them gives you information about the other.

I think you're using the word "exists" to mean something different from what I mean by it. This may be one source of confusion.

I know two meanings of the word 'exist'. First, predicate about states of the physical world (and by extension of other counterfactual or hypothetical worlds that may be discussed). There exists the chair I am sitting on. There does not exist in this room a sofa.

Second, 'exists' may be a statement about a mathematical structure. There exist irrational numbers. There exists a solution to a certain problem, but not to another.

What do you mean by 'exists'?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-11T08:15:36.186Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It means 'causally influence in at least one direction'.

Well, when you start dealing with mathematical systems, causality becomes a very tricky concept.

Two systems are said to interact if knowing something about one of them gives you information about the other.

Well, knowing mathematics certainly helps with studying the physical world.

I know two meanings of the word 'exist'. First, predicate about states of the physical world (and by extension of other counterfactual or hypothetical worlds that may be discussed). There exists the chair I am sitting on. There does not exist in this room a sofa.

Second, 'exists' may be a statement about a mathematical structure. There exist irrational numbers. There exists a solution to a certain problem, but not to another.

What do you mean by 'exists'?

Belong to the same cluster in thing space as your two examples.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-11T15:23:39.055Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Belong to the same cluster in thing space as your two examples.

IIUC this unpacks to "things such that if we talked about them, we would decide to use the same words as we do for the two examples".

Applying this to "objective morals", I don't feel that the statement tells me much. If this is all you meant, that's a valid position, but not very interesting in my view. Could you more explicitly describe some property of objective morals, assuming they "exist" by your definition? Something that is not a description of humans (what word we would use to describe something) but of the thing itself?

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-08T16:35:49.663Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And no-one has the right to just believe something without proof.

It would seem that you believe that. So what is your proof?

And that is a moral statement to boot.

From the more physicsy side, I'd guess you believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that electrons at the center of the earth have the same rest mass and charge as the insanely small number of electrons that have actually had their mass and charge carefully measured. You probably believe a or not-a and that 2+2=4. Are you familiar with Godel's theorem? My recollection of it is that he proved that any formal system above a certain trivial level of complexity had true statements in it that were unprovable.

I can tell you the easy way out is to claim you don't believe anything, that it is all in your head, not just the moral stuff. Of course then we need to invent new language to describe the difference between statements like "no-one has the right to just believe something without proof" and "no-one has the right to just believe something with proof." I guess you could say that just because you believe something doesn't mean you believe it is true, but that starts to sound more like a non-standard definition of the word "believe" than anything with useful content.

As to my explaining to you the details of why anyone should be a moral realist, I"m not interested in attempting that. I'm not a committed moral realist myself, and I'd just have to do a lot of reading myself to find a good description of what ask for. Sorry.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-09T11:22:52.537Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It would seem that you believe that. So what is your proof?

Proof is only meaningful in a system of shared assumptions (physics) or axioms (logic).

The statement that "it's wrong to believe without proof", equivalently, that "a single correct set of beliefs is mandated given by your proof (=evidence) and assumptions (=prior)", is a logical consequence of the rules of Bayesian deduction.

If moral realists, or anyone else, doesn't agree to Bayesianism or another commonly understood framework of proof, logic, and common assumptions, then I'm not interested in talking to them (about moral realism).

From the more physicsy side [...]

I believe all those things (with very high probability, to be pedantic). I know Godel's incompleteness theorems.

Saying that some true things are formally unprovable in a logic system is not significant evidence that any specific unproven statement (eg moral realism) is in fact true just because it's not disproven. And the theorem doesn't apply to probabilistic belief systems modeling the physical universe: I can have an arbitrary degree of confidence in a belief, as long as it's not probability 1, without requiring logical proof.

However, the situation for moral realism isn't "unproven conjecture", it's more like "unformalized conjecture whose proponents refuse to specify what it actually means". At least that's the state of debate in this thread.

As to my explaining to you the details of why anyone should be a moral realist, I"m not interested in attempting that. I'm not a committed moral realist myself, and I'd just have to do a lot of reading myself to find a good description of what ask for. Sorry.

Yet you assign sufficient probability to moral realism to think it's worth discussing or reading about. Otherwise you'd have said from the start, "I agree with you that moral realism has no evidence for it, let's just drop the subject". To have such a high prior requires evidence. If you don't have such evidence, you are wrong.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-09T19:45:16.987Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would seem that you believe that. So what is your proof?

Proof is only meaningful in a system of shared assumptions (physics) or axioms (logic).

I'm glad you recognize that. Then you should also recognize that for reasons having nothing to do with logical necessity you have accepted some things as true which are unprovable, in your case a particular interpretation of how to do Bayesian.

All you have offered so far is assertion, and the appearance that you don't even realize that you are making assumptions until after it is pointed out. When I found my self in that position, it humbled me a bit. In Bayesian terms, it moved all of my estimates further from 0 and 1 than they had been.

In any case, whatever program you have used to decide what you could assume, what if your assumptions are incomplete? What if you simply haven't tried hard enough to have something "more than zero" on the moral side?

If moral realists, or anyone else, doesn't agree to Bayesianism or another commonly understood framework of proof, logic, and common assumptions, then I'm not interested in talking to them (about moral realism).

So you have picked your church and your doctrine and you wish to preserve your orthodoxy by avoiding intelligent apostates. This is not a new position to take, but it has always seemed to me to be a very human bias, so I am surprised to see it stated so baldly on a website devoted to avoiding human biases in the twenty-first century. Which is to say, are you SURE you want to treat your assumptions as if they were the one true religion?

However, the situation for moral realism isn't "unproven conjecture", it's more like "unformalized conjecture whose proponents refuse to specify what it actually means". At least that's the state of debate in this thread.

Why limit yourself to this one thread, populated as it isn't by anyone who claims any real expertise?

Yet you assign sufficient probability to moral realism to think it's worth discussing or reading about. Otherwise you'd have said from the start, "I agree with you that moral realism has no evidence for it, let's just drop the subject". To have such a high prior requires evidence. If you don't have such evidence, you are wrong.

Your particular rejection of moral realism doesn't seem to reflect much knowledge. For a Bayesian, knowing that other intelligent minds have looked at something, gathered LOTS of evidence and done lots of analysis, and reached a different conclusion than your prior should LOWER your certainty in your prior. Finding one guy who can't or won't spoonfeed you concentrated moral realism, and claiming on that basis that your prior of essentially zero must stand is not at all how I interpret the Bayesian program. In my interpretation, it is when I am ignorant that my mind is most open, that my estimates are furthest from 0 and 1.

I wish someone like Eliezer, or who knows his morality well enough, would pipe in on this, because from my reading of Eliezer, he is also a moral realist. Not that that proves anything, but it is relevant bayesian evidence.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-11T21:09:08.200Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies for replying late.

You seem to misunderstand my comments.

what if your assumptions are incomplete? What if you simply haven't tried hard enough to have something "more than zero" on the moral side?

Normally one tries to assume as little as necessary. To argue in favour of new assumptions, one might show that they are necessary (or even sufficient) for some useful, desirable conclusions. Are there any such here? If not, why assume e.g. moral realism when one could just as well assume any of infinitely many alternatives?

So you have picked your church and your doctrine and you wish to preserve your orthodoxy by avoiding intelligent apostates.

NO. This is completely wrong. You have not understood my position.

I said:

If moral realists, or anyone else, doesn't agree to Bayesianism or another commonly understood framework of proof, logic, and common assumptions...

Note emphasis. I am not demanding dialogue within a specific worldview. I'm asking that the rules of the worldview being discussed be stated clearly. I'm asking for rigorous definitions instead of words like "morality objectively exists", which everyone may understand differently.

Why limit yourself to this one thread, populated as it isn't by anyone who claims any real expertise?

This thread is on LW. When people here said they gave a high prior to moral realism (i.e. did not dismiss it as I did), I assumed they were rational about it: that they had some evidence to support such a prior. By now it's pretty clear that this is not the case, so after these last few posts of clarification I think the thread should end.

As for looking elsewhere, I did when referred - as with the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy - and the presumably high quality summaries there confirmed me in my belief that there's nothing to moral realism, it's not a defensible or even well defined position, and it is not worth investigating.

Your particular rejection of moral realism doesn't seem to reflect much knowledge. For a Bayesian, knowing that other intelligent minds have looked at something, gathered LOTS of evidence and done lots of analysis, and reached a different conclusion than your prior should LOWER your certainty in your prior.

I lowered it. That's why I was willing to spend time on this conversation. Then I examined the evidence those other minds could offer and raised my certainty way back up.

In my interpretation, it is when I am ignorant that my mind is most open, that my estimates are furthest from 0 and 1.

That is just wrong. A prior of zero knowledge does not mean assigning 0.5 probability to every proposition. Propositions are entangled, so that would be inconsistent. Besides, you have evidence-based priors about other propositions entangled with this one, so your prior isn't naive anyway.

from my reading of Eliezer, he is also a moral realist.

No he's not. See this post which was recently on Sequence Reruns and the other posts linked from it. See also the entire Metaethics Sequence in the wiki and in particular this post in two parts arguing against simple moral realism.

comment by nshepperd · 2012-07-12T16:16:17.332Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When people here said they gave a high prior to moral realism (i.e. did not dismiss it as I did), I assumed they were rational about it: that they had some evidence to support such a prior. By now it's pretty clear that this is not the case,

Perhaps they misunderstood what was referred to by "moral realism". The phrase certainly doesn't seem to be very well defined. For example Eliezer does say that there are things that are actually right, and actually wrong. mwengler seems to think this is sufficient to make him a moral realist. You don't. Classic recipe for confusion.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T23:44:07.343Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think "more nihilistic" is only meant to imply the progression of philosophical thought away from the dogmas of what "the purpose of life" was, which was for awhile, very broadly generalized, a progression from religion to nihilism.

I also think nihilistic was chosen because it is a trope that is is much more present in the cultural vernacular than other, more more philosophically precise words, like absurdist, which would be more accurate.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-07-03T08:17:15.377Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I look at the Wikipedia one-line definition again, that seems to match:

nihilism: a viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are unfounded

...a sensible move away from religious, traditional values...

and that existence is senseless and useless.

...which is branded by religionists as leading to thinking "existence is senseless and useless", although that's both empirically and logically wrong. This part is the 'meaning' of 'nihilism' in the vernacular, as you say.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-07-09T17:04:07.611Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nihilist means moral anti-realist here I assume. This was how i always used the term originally.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-09T17:29:40.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've found it useful to taboo and reduce "nihilist" because there are so many different definitions and connotations. I think Richard Joyce authored a paper on a similar point.

comment by amcknight · 2012-07-03T04:54:52.283Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't use wikipedia to get the gist of a philosophical view. At least to me, I find it to be way off a lot of the time, this time included. Sorry I don't have a clear definition for you right now though.

comment by mwengler · 2012-07-04T19:26:30.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because for certain concepts, this is an lesswrong is an echo chamber. Unfortunately, the idea that lesswrong is NOT an echo chamber is another one of those concepts So I will retract this comment.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-04T05:30:09.415Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't quite see why this is so down voted.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-04T05:56:37.465Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Me either. This is one of my favorites. But that's why I posted it. :-)

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T10:55:17.694Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T14:35:11.591Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you wish to advance into the infinite, explore the finite in all directions.

That sounds incredibly deep. (By which I mean it is bullshit.)

comment by olalonde · 2012-07-28T06:20:08.251Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For some reason, this thread reminds me of this Simpsons quote:

"The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies, and in the end, isn't that the real truth?"

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-27T17:42:51.338Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for correct usage of a technical term. :-)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-28T06:07:45.128Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for correct usage of a technical term.

My favourite technical term out of all the technical terms!

comment by Incorrect · 2012-07-27T14:53:34.826Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is intended to mean "If you want to accomplish impractical things, work on practical subtasks."

I don't see what's wrong with that.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T15:14:22.507Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is intended to mean "If you want to accomplish impractical things, work on practical subtasks."

That's an excellent quote. Let's find an impressive external source who says that and quote them!

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-27T17:42:02.481Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Or, failing that, pick an impressive external source and ask them to write back to you saying that, so you can subsequently quote it attributed to "Impressive Source (private communication)"

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T18:31:29.434Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Or, failing that, pick an impressive external source and ask them to write back to you saying that, so you can subsequently quote it attributed to "Impressive Source (private communication)"

Excellent idea. I used to do this on certain assignments at times.

comment by DaFranker · 2012-07-27T18:22:15.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As a variant: Introduce some freeloader code in Watson to have it randomly blurt out quotes from a list of quotations sent to a specific email address each time it appears in public.

This gives you both the Impressive Source criterion and a public statement of the quote.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T15:21:38.794Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily deep; a couple of concrete interpretations:

'Do not let what you can not do, interfere with what you can do;' and 'If you wish to discover the unknown, begin by exploring what is known.'

There is often much hidden wisdom in interpretation of aphorisms, which perhaps explains my preference for the poetic turn of phrase.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T15:38:22.994Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There is often much hidden wisdom

No, there are intentionally vague deep sounding comments to which wisdom can be associated. You've just given multiple meanings to the same words. Those other meanings may be useful but the words themselves are nonsense.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T16:11:02.600Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

... intentionally vague deep sounding ... (symbols) ... to which wisdom can be associated. You've just given multiple meanings to the same ... (symbols) ... Those other meanings may be useful but the ... (symbols) ... themselves are nonsense.

That pretty much describes any proposition. If you wish, substitute the word 'noise' for the word 'symbol, then the paragraph describes an utterance.

There is a good resource on semiotics here.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T16:15:36.097Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That pretty much describes any proposition.

No it doesn't. Not all propositions are intentionally vague and deep sounding.

If you wish, substitute the word 'noise' for the word 'symbol

Were I inclined to substitute in 'noise' it would be as a contrast to 'signal'.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T16:46:38.070Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.

-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T16:48:58.226Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent quote and belongs at the top level.

(I downvoted it here because the point you are trying to make by replying with it is approximately backwards. An intended insult which would make more sense as a compliment.)

comment by matabele · 2012-07-27T17:26:03.269Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

And there you have it: symbols (or strings of symbols) have different sense in different contexts.

One of the contexts in which I found this aphorism insightful, was in certain interpretations of quantum physics.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T08:24:13.254Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T09:07:49.697Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have based this assumption on my perhaps mistaken impression that many LW users appear to have a bias toward Hugh Everett's many worlds interpretation of QM. If you have rational arguments to defend this position, please feel free to defend your position below.

I doubt the QM reference has anything to do with the reaction to your comment. It was downvoted for persistent confusion in the thread and smug irrelevance.

As for QM interpretations, that is boring and has been argued to death and is completely of-topic here. Look here for a list of subjects that have been thoroughly covered (the QM sequence) and if you must argue argue in the "the winner is many worlds" post that you'll see there. A few people will agree with you. Some may argue. Most will ignore you because it is not their responsibility.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T13:00:45.731Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the case that the second proposition (with respect QM) is irrelevant to the thread, any apparent dislike of the comment must associate to the first proposition.

... symbols (or strings of symbols) have different sense in different contexts ...

This in response to your comment:

This is an excellent quote ... I downvoted it here ...

Please elaborate.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T13:42:21.827Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is an excellent quote ... I downvoted it here ...

Please elaborate.

See the second set of ellipsis? Find the part that went there. That is all.

comment by tgb · 2012-07-29T14:02:41.216Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think matabele is asking for elaborations of why his post starting "And there you have it..." was downvoted, given that if people aren't complaining about the QM part, they are complaining about the "have different sense in different contexts" which was a reply to your "This is an excellent quote ... I downvoted it here...".

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T13:57:58.806Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

... any rational defences are welcomed and may be appended below.

What part of that in unclear?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T15:15:01.980Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am finding it difficult to communicate with matabele. Expected payoff is low in this tangent. I will stop attempting.

comment by matabele · 2012-07-29T15:41:33.957Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

... Expected payoff is low in this tangent ...

Expected payoff for whom?

I am new to this forum; as far as I remember I came here via the QM sequence. I was immediately impressed by the material, and became interested in other sequences (I have a long term interest in rationality, and especially general semantics.)

In order to acquaint myself with the general gist of the forums, I made a couple of innocuous posts on this thread; to which I received this response:

... I mean it is bullshit.

I have a natural aversion to narcissistic types, and my hackles were immediately alerted. After one or two more pokes, I was on full alert.

Do you consider yourself to be a moderator of this forum? If so, why are you both moderating and rating comments? If not, why do you think your opinions are privileged?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-30T19:52:20.131Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Expected payoff for whom?

In terms of expected utility.

I am new to this forum; as far as I remember I came here via the QM sequence. I was immediately impressed by the material, and became interested in other sequences (I have a long term interest in rationality, and especially general semantics.)

The QM sequence is most definitely not representative of either the sequences or the other material here.

Do you consider yourself to be a moderator of this forum? If so, why are you both moderating and rating comments? If not, why do you think your opinions are privileged?

I don't know what kind of forums you're used to, but on LW non-moderators are allowed to criticize other comments and everyone is allowed to vote on them.

Also one piece of advise, you may want to avoid comments like this one that are so full of jargon that nobody can tell what you're saying, but seem vaguely insulting.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-11T00:11:11.746Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds.

Dr Frank Mandel from Suspiria by Dario Argento

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T15:13:48.209Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Duplicate.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-02T16:17:11.031Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You double posted this quote and, while this came first, the other has a meaningful reply on it.

comment by RobertLumley · 2012-07-02T16:22:09.501Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whoops. You're right. I meant to grab another one. I'll delete this, thanks.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-06T13:35:59.534Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There is no mutually exclusive 'is – ought' distinction. The only mutually exclusive alternative to 'is' is 'is not'. This means that 'ought' either needs to find a comfortable home in the realm of 'is', or needs to be tossed into the realm of 'is not'.

A person comes to me and says, "Alonzo, you ought to do X."

I answer, "Prove it."

That person then says, "Well, as you know, an 'ought' statement cannot be derived from any set of 'is' statements . . . .”

"You can stop right there," I say. "We're done. You have just told me that your 'ought' statement is a work of fiction – an artifact of the realm of make-believe. If your claim that I ought to do X is false, then why are you telling me I ought to do X?"

-- Alonzo Fyfe

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-06T14:35:13.751Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem very sensible to call a claim that someone "ought" to do something "false" if you're denying that an "ought" claim could ever be meaningful in the first place.

Anyway, it's a very annoying argument. It seems an awful lot like saying "You can't prove there's a such thing as value, therefore I refuse to take your money."

I'd be tempted to respond by hitting him with a stick until he conceded that stopping getting hit by a stick was a sufficient motivation to do X.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-06T14:45:33.556Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem very sensible to call a claim that someone "ought" to do something "false" if you're denying that an "ought" claim could ever be meaningful in the first place.

I think you misinterpreted the quote; Alonzo Fyfe is criticizing ethical non-naturalism (the claim that moral facts are not reducible to facts about the world), not endorsing it.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-06T14:59:04.582Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're right that I misinterpreted it, but from reading the essay, it seems less like a substantive argument to me than dicking around with semantics. The whole point could have been made much more succinctly with a "taboo 'ought.'"

Any argument that entails responding to "you ought to do X" with "prove it" is awfully unlikely to convince your interlocutor; it's rude and will only set them on edge.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-07-06T15:07:51.742Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The whole point could have been made much more succinctly with a "taboo 'ought.'"

"Taboo X" is a LessWrong-ism...

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-06T15:55:43.655Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is, but Less Wrong didn't invent the idea of recognizing arguments as conflicts of semantics.

comment by Nominull · 2012-07-07T07:30:53.736Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you're trying to win points for succinctness, including by reference the Sequences is probably not a good plan. That's the sin of hidden complexity.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-07-07T12:42:24.619Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming that your audience isn't familiar with the sequences and proceeds to go read the article, yes, that's not succinct. But the audience probably already has a cached idea of disagreements being semantic conflicts, so while he's not literally in a position to get the same idea across in two words, it could probably be compressed down at least as far as

"When I say that I 'ought' to do something, I mean that it's in accordance with my own innate desires and values as a human. My values and desires are real 'is' facts about the universe with a physical basis, and so 'ought' facts can be neatly derived from 'is' facts. This is as useful a definition of 'ought' as you're likely to get, and a definition that divorces normative facts from positive ones, saying that you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is' doesn't offer any practical advantage."

comment by TimS · 2012-07-06T14:28:50.672Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Quote from later in the post.

My opponent answers, "Yes, but you still can't get from an 'is' to an 'ought'. You can't get from, 'people generally have many and strong reasons for action that exist to condemn those who do not do X' to 'I ought to do X'. How do you justify that one final step?"

I would tell my opponent, "I have no need for that 'last final step' that you're talking about. If I can demonstrate that people generally have many and strong reasons for action that exist to condemn those who would not do X. That's all I need to do. Why would I want to go further? Why would I want to carry my 'ought' statement into your realm of fiction and make-believe?"

It seems like Fyfe is saying "'Everyone else is doing it' is a reason for me to do the same." Does that seem right?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-06T15:30:26.626Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just looking at what you quote, it seems to me rather that he's saying that once I can demonstrate that others have sufficient reason for doing X, I have consequently demonstrated that sufficient reasons for doing X exist, and that was all I needed to do as far as ethics was concerned.

In other words, that ethics is about determining reasons for action, full stop.

Which I agree with, though I find Fyfe's presentation style here tendentious.

(Edit: I would also say that I do think going further is useful. Specifically, "...further, those reasons apply to me just as well as those other people, and therefore I ought to do X" or "...however, those reasons don't apply to me, and therefore it is not the case that I ought to do X")

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-04T04:01:09.408Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

will you ever forgive yourself after this realization?

Cognitron2

Yeah, okay, I get it; I give up. No more trying to post quotes that make people think.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-07-05T10:42:31.722Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

How about instead not trying to present an empty canvas as if it was a painting, and not trying to present empty words as if they contain meaning?

comment by Grognor · 2012-07-05T18:36:59.935Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How about shut up?

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-04T16:51:32.931Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, okay, I get it; I give up. No more trying to post quotes that make people think.

I sincerely don't understand how that quote is supposed to make me think. The answer to "Will I ever forgive myself X?" is "yes". Not much thought is necessary. I'm kind of cool with the self-acceptance thing.

comment by algekalipso · 2012-07-04T03:00:34.239Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Arguing over the meaning of a word nearly always means that you've lost track of the original question."

  • Eliezer Yudkowsky
comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-04T03:44:50.657Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted for quoting LW..

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-13T17:13:30.481Z · score: -9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Everything is true, nothing is permitted.

Jerod Poore

comment by Fyrius · 2012-07-14T09:58:34.702Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get this one. What does it mean?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-29T16:57:07.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

On the first pass, it's a not particularly interesting reversal of "Nothing is true, everything is permitted", which was attributed to the original assassins.

In context, it seems to be a joke from a site that offers a patient-centered view of psychiatric and some other drugs-- there's a serious effort at accuracy (as far as I can tell from a casual look), but patients have limited choices because of restrictions on prescription drugs. A that point, I'd say it's a reasonably clever joke, but not a maxim which applies to life in general.

comment by Psychosmurf · 2012-07-18T02:47:48.764Z · score: -12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

2 deep 4 u

comment by Psychosmurf · 2012-07-21T19:50:06.946Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Will somebody please tell me why this is being downvoted so heavily? I was just making a joke...

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-21T22:21:07.553Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Will somebody please tell me why this is being downvoted so heavily? I was just making a joke...

Your joke was poorly calibrated to this audience. (Further, the audience to whom that joke is well calibrated are obnoxious prats.)

TheOtherDave's description of why the joke doesn't work here is spot on. In some (most) circumstances it is possible to score cheap social points at the expense of anyone who admits ignorance. That is discouraged here. You can still get away with it (unfortunately) but at least have to do so with a modicum of subtlety.

Another factor is that things being "too deep" usually just means they are bullshit. It is the "deepness" that should be penalized, not those people who admit that the Emperor Has No Clothes!

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-07-22T06:12:21.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

SyntaxError: Parentheses not matching. *twitch*

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-21T20:24:54.068Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In general, downvotes reflect people's interest in seeing less of the thing being downvoted. Accordingly, I'd recommend making fewer jokes of this sort in the future.

More specifically, I suspect the SMS-shorthand message style plays a role here, as does insulting Fyrius for asking a question.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-07-22T05:56:16.746Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Downvotes are basically "no"-answers to the question "would I want to see more of this here?" And even though I got your joke, I certainly would not want this place to start looking more like that. Both due to style and due to the fact that it's noise (doesn't have anything to say).

On the other hand, upvoted you for politely asking for feedback.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-22T05:05:16.254Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Useful advise: on the internet no one can tell when you're being sarcastic.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-13T16:48:11.799Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

His books celebrated the joyful wonders of scientific investigation and included such exuberant passages as this one written about the successful prediction of the location of the new planet Uranus: "Praised be this science! Praised be the men who do it! And praised be the human mind, which sees more sharply than does the human eye."

Walter Isaacson, Einstein (quoting Aaron Bernstein's People's Books on Natural Science)