Rationality Quotes: May 2011

post by CronoDAS · 2011-05-02T02:33:45.352Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 124 comments

It looks like, this month, I get to be the one to start the quotes thread.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-05-02T14:02:00.246Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you think something's supposed to hurt, you're less likely to notice if you're doing it wrong.

Paul Graham

Replies from: gwern
comment by CharlesR · 2011-05-02T04:15:40.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

-Paul Graham, Keep Your Identity Small

Replies from: Nornagest, Matt_Simpson
comment by Nornagest · 2011-05-02T18:47:25.193Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice one. I've thought for a while that LW could use more material on identity management, but I'm not well-read enough on the subject to write it.

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2011-05-02T14:44:06.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This quote was timed very well.

Replies from: Document
comment by Document · 2011-05-07T17:07:37.856Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't understand this comment until I came back with comments sorted by Old.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-03T21:43:26.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?" he said.
"Dunno, sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"
"Absol--Well, okay."
"Defending yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?"
"All right, I'll grant you that, but--"
"Saving civilization against a horde of--"
"It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying, Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together," said Fred Colon sharply.
"Yeah, but in the long run what does, sarge?"

-- Terry Pratchett, Thud!

comment by Tesseract · 2011-05-02T04:49:11.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-02T21:11:54.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.

XKCD (the mouseover text)

For "success" and "successful" one might substitute "rationality" and "rational".

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-02T21:12:59.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-02T03:19:18.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Thomas · 2011-05-02T19:36:46.719Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nature is fucked up, and anyone who argues otherwise has not actually seen nature in action.

Michael Anissimov

comment by RobinZ · 2011-05-04T14:48:38.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Too large a proportion of recent "mathematical" economics are mere concoctions, as imprecise as the initial assumptions they rest on, which allow the author to lose sight of the complexities and interdependencies of the real world in a maze of pretentious and unhelpful symbols.

John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment Interest and Money (1935), Book 5, Chapter 21, Section 3, pg. 298

comment by vallinder · 2011-05-02T20:11:01.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is quite easy to show, decision-theoretically, that the greatest chance of survival generally belongs to those who have most of their beliefs about things which affect our survival ability true. Philosophy, however, is totally irrelevant to survival from an evolutionary point of view. Natural selection has no way of weeding out veridical intuitions about the basic constitution of matter, for instance, from false ones, because humans have not generally been killed before they can procreate due to having erroneous metaphysical intuitions. Or bluntly put: having a true metaphysical theory does not help you getting laid.

– Staffan Angere, Theory and Reality: Metaphysics as Second Science, p. 17

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-02T12:39:35.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Put up in a place

where it's easy to see

the cryptic admonishment

 T. T. T.

When you feel how depressingly

slowly you climb,

it's well to remember that

 Things Take Time.

--Piet Hein

When I was eight or so I first picked up a copy of Piet Hein's book of poems. They came with his original doodles, and, having been brought up among academics, I thought 'He doodles just like a physicist!' Many years later I wiki'd him and found out that he was, indeed, a physicist.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-05-02T19:21:49.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you think something's supposed to hurt, you're less likely to notice if you're doing it wrong. -- Paul Graham

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-03T10:59:23.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Duplicate of one posted a few hours previously. Was this supposed to be something else?

Replies from: AdeleneDawner
comment by AdeleneDawner · 2011-05-03T11:08:42.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nope; look at the context.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-02T21:10:18.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a guy tells me the probability of failure is 1 in 10E5, I know he's full of crap.

Richard P. Feynmann, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

Replies from: soreff
comment by soreff · 2011-05-05T14:58:58.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For a complex task, agreed. For a simple task, a failure rate of 10E-5 can happen. How often do people trying to eat put their forks in their eyes rather than in their mouths? And, to consider mechanical processes... If the cpu I'm running this browser on failed every 10E5 instructions, it would fail 10E4 times a second. It doesn't.

Replies from: zntneo
comment by zntneo · 2011-05-11T18:38:42.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

wouldn't the point be that its an amount of precision that is absolutely ridiculous given almost all situations?

comment by Nic_Smith · 2011-05-17T06:59:17.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Judging from polls and personal interviews, half the public seems to believe that there is some sort of "common sense" solution, involving no major cuts or tax hikes, which is eluding politicians only because they're a bunch of partisan jerks. The other half is busily encouraging their politicians to engage in as much partisan jerkitude as possible. Neither is conducive to actually achieving a solution. So we have to cut our politicians a little slack; they're acting insane because we're acting insane. -- Megan McArdle, "Debt and Taxes"

comment by ata · 2011-05-09T04:04:43.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

— Randall Munroe in today's xkcd, Marie Curie.

Replies from: arundelo, sark, Vladimir_Nesov
comment by arundelo · 2011-05-11T03:53:33.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked this half-hour talk by Ransom Stephens on the life of Emmy Noether (with a nontechnical explanation of Noether's theorem).

comment by sark · 2011-05-10T20:27:13.055Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You won't be great just by sitting there of course, but I suspect great people wouldn't be as great if they weren't driven by an urge to achieve greatness to some extent for its own sake.

Great people also like to countersignal how their greatness was never something they had in mind, and that they are just truly dedicated to their art.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-05-09T10:38:51.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which relates to this heuristic.

comment by ewang · 2011-05-04T03:42:09.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sokka: Can your fortune telling explain that?! (points to volcano eruption)

Villager: Can your science explain why it rains?

Sokka: Yes! Yes it can!

-- Avatar: The Last Airbender

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-05T00:22:40.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A repeat but with more context this time.

Replies from: ewang
comment by ewang · 2011-05-05T03:51:25.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really need to generalize my search terms. Feel free to de-upvote.

comment by KenChen · 2011-05-02T22:41:28.644Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a statement is false, that's the worst thing you can say about it.

-- Paul Graham

Replies from: Tyrrell_McAllister, SilasBarta, arundelo
comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-05-05T18:10:43.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a statement is false, that's the worst thing you can say about it.

-- Paul Graham

But see also:

John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

-Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong

(This was quoted by MichaelGR in a previous quote-thread.)

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-05-04T16:44:07.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh? Isn't it worse to say that a statement is "not even wrong" -- that's it's content-free and doesn't specify a probability distribution you should move toward?

Replies from: shokwave, wedrifid
comment by shokwave · 2011-05-05T04:59:10.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a statement is false - that presupposes it having content of some sort, albeit wrong content. There are plenty of worse things that can be said about statements (not even wrong, for example) but these can't be said of statements that are true or false; they can only be said of statements that have no content. So the hierarchy goes: True > False > Not Even Wrong, and false statements are better than not even wrong ones.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:37:14.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't it worse to say that a statement is "not even wrong

I was thinking of making that rebuttal myself - but realised I had been preemptively countered. Because the statement is wrong and so already ahead of those statements that qualify for the even worse charge.

comment by AngryParsley · 2011-05-07T23:10:11.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Until the third morning, when Wim finally declared, "Everything's a trick, if'n you can see behind it, just like with them witches in the hills. Everything's got a–reason. I think there ain't no such thing as magic!"

Jagit fixed him with a long mild look, and the specter of the night in the Grandfather Grove seemed to flicker in the dark eyes. "You think not, eh?"

Wim looked down nervously.

"There’s magic, all right, Wim; all around you here. Only now you’re seeing it with a magician’s eyes. Because there’s a reason behind everything that happens; you may not know what it is, but it’s there. And knowing that doesn’t make the thing less magic, or strange, or terrible—it just makes it easier to deal with. That’s something to keep in mind, wherever you are … . Also keep in mind that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

Wim nodded, chastened, felt his ears grow red as the peddler muttered, "So's a little ignorance…"

-- The Peddler's Apprentice by Joan and Vernor Vinge

comment by Danielle · 2011-05-02T13:18:31.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"And what are the rules? Ask me and I will strike you because you are not looking; I will have decapitated you without your knowing. One can try to formulate obscure theories to avoid playing the game or one can play the game to win."

– Daniel Kolak, Wittgenstein’s Tractatus: Translator’s Preface

(Mind, I love formulating obscure theories. Which is perhaps why I also love this quote - because it's such a necessary reminder to myself at times.)

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-05-04T21:50:28.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't this an anti-rationality quote?

Replies from: shokwave, wedrifid
comment by shokwave · 2011-05-05T05:18:46.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I took "formulate obscure theories to avoid playing the game" as anti-epistemology, and "one can play the game to win" as instrumental rationality. You could convincingly argue that you need to formulate, test, and confirm extremely not-obscure (clear? obvious?) theories to avoid losing.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:42:47.135Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It does not seem to be. It seems to be instrumental rationality along the lines of Prince or 'Laws of Power'.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-08T23:27:02.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have long entertained a suspicion, with regard to the decisions of philosophers upon all subjects, and found in myself a greater inclination to dispute, than assent to their conclusions. There is one mistake, to which they seem liable, almost without exception; they confine too much their principles, and make no account of that vast variety, which nature has so much affected in all her operations. When a philosopher has once laid hold of a favourite principle, which perhaps accounts for many natural effects, he extends the same principle over the whole creation, and reduces to it every phænomenon, though by the most violent and absurd reasoning.

-- David Hume

Related LessWrong post.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-05-02T03:10:45.395Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kind of cheesy, but worthwhile, and ironic since it occurs in the context of a game where Gods and magic are real.

"Remember when we first met in Kvatch? I told you that I didn't want any part of the gods' plan. I still don't know if there is a divine plan. But I've come to realize that it doesn't matter. What matters is that we act. That we do what's right, when confronted with evil. That's what you did at Kvatch. It wasn't the gods that saved us, it was you."

--Emporer-apparent Martin Septim, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

comment by ewang · 2011-05-09T04:50:42.691Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's. --William Blake

Best taken in the context of AI.

comment by Eneasz · 2011-05-08T23:03:13.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"You never say anything straight out. It's all I believe this or I've found that. You never say, The sun rises in the morning. It's always, I think the sun rises in the morning. It's like you're trying not to promise anything."


"I'm surprised you noticed that," he said, then smiled at having done it again. "I have a talent for being believed, and I've found it to be problematic. I suppose I've adopted habits to soften the effect, and so I try not to assert things unless I'm certain of them. Absolutely certain, I mean. I'm often surprised by how little I'm absolutely certain of."

-- The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

comment by r_claypool · 2011-05-08T05:18:28.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are an intelligent human being. Your life is valuable for its own sake. You are not second-class in the universe, deriving meaning and purpose from some other mind. You are not inherently evil — you are inherently human, possessing the positive rational potential to help make this a world of morality, peace, and joy. Trust yourself.

-- Dan Barker

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-05-06T00:39:26.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many people believe that they are able to be fully objective in evaluating claims - even those which run counter to their deeply-held beliefs. They further believe that by claiming themselves to be objective, this is reason for others to accept that they are objective. Not only is this false, but in fact the reverse is often true. People who delude themselves into thinking that they are objective are even more likely to fool themselves in other areas. The first step in overcoming bias is acknowledging its existence.

  • Natan Slifkin, The Seven Principles of Bias. (All seven are actually pretty short and make good points, although I'd be inclined to disagree with point 2.)
Replies from: MinibearRex
comment by MinibearRex · 2011-05-06T01:33:22.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be inclined to disagree with part 3 as well. If you are biased, your probability estimates are off. The fact that everyone's probability estimates are off to at least some extent does not change the fact that yours are off.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-05-06T01:36:14.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be inclined to disagree with part 3 as well. If you are biased, your probability estimates are off. The fact that everyone's probability estimates are off to at least some extent does not change the fact that yours are off.

I don't think Slifkin is talking there about wrong or right in the Bayesian sense. To translate that into a more Bayesian form it might be something like "Just because one is biased doesn't mean that one's probability estimate is drastically off" or something like that.

comment by Theist · 2011-05-05T19:55:49.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where does a ball alight,
Falling through the bright midair?
Hit it with your snout!

-- unnamed neo-dolphin poet, Uplift War by David Brin

Replies from: wedrifid, Desrtopa
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T19:58:56.054Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What the?

Replies from: Theist
comment by Theist · 2011-05-06T16:31:53.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll take the upvotes here as a request for explanation.

I see two things in the poem. The first that occurred to me was the best way to predict the future is to create it. The second is related: Observe the situation and put yourself in the best position to affect or determine the outcome.

Replies from: wedrifid, None
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-06T17:04:21.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the best way to predict the future is to create it. The second is related: Observe the situation and put yourself in the best position to affect or determine the outcome.

That is something to quote. :)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-06T12:58:45.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the context in the book, I always thought it was a sort of gentle Zen-esque admonishment. "Why are you worrying over hypotheticals and subjunctives? Get busy doing or get busy dying."

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-05-11T17:39:59.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this supposed to be a haiku? It almost is one, but it's off by one syllable.

Replies from: Theist
comment by Theist · 2011-05-19T17:17:23.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the book, it's presented as a translation from the neo-dolphin language Trinary. I expect the resemblence to haiku is intentional.

comment by beriukay · 2011-05-05T14:26:23.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From my fortune cookie yesterday:

Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.

A brief search said it is attributed to Sudie Back .

Replies from: Nominull
comment by Nominull · 2011-05-05T17:33:55.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like many deep sayings, the really interesting thing is the extent to which it is not true. There's a reason we send kids to school, and then older kids to college, even if they are only interested in kite-flying and binge-drinking respectively. If you stop for a moment of honest reflection, it is amazing what you pick up without even trying.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-05T18:45:20.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can send a kid to college, but you can't make him think.

Replies from: Nominull
comment by Nominull · 2011-05-08T05:58:04.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I bet if you took a sample of random kids and sent some to college and prevented the others from going, the college group would spend more time thinking about certain specific socially-valued college-related topics than the control group.

If you want a horse to drink, it often helps to lead him to water.

Replies from: CronoDAS, zntneo
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-08T06:43:19.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I bet if you took a sample of random kids and sent some to college and prevented the others from going, the college group would spend more time thinking about certain specific socially-valued college-related topics than the control group.

Or it could go horribly wrong... ;)

comment by zntneo · 2011-05-11T18:36:10.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

pfft college is just about liberal indoctrination anyway.....

Replies from: Zetetic
comment by Zetetic · 2011-05-13T22:55:52.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For your own edification, I have up-voted your comment so that it is now visible to others who might have a similar urge to post this sort of thing, and will issue this piece of advice: it is not wise to talk about politics on this site. We generally all agree with the sentiment that politics is a mind killer, and even though you likely made that comment in jest and you peer group would likely think that it is amusing, you are likely being voted down because of the inflammatory and political nature of your post. It is not a matter of political affiliation, only of objection to certain types of content by the community.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-02T21:09:09.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The few exceptional men who really sought peace and true brotherly love reached this condition by perfecting their awareness, not by suppressing their passions.

-- Moshe Feldenkreis, "Awareness Through Movement" p.172.

comment by Kutta · 2011-05-02T07:39:23.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agitating for a specific policy is like complaining about a price — and forgetting that it’s set by supply and demand.

Patri Friedman, source

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-05-04T17:32:29.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's true that both prices and policies are unlikely to be changed by individual efforts if everyone has perfect information and is perfectly rational. We don't live in that world, though. Both prices and policies are often far out of equilibrium. This quote is witty, but at the cost of being entirely wrong.

Replies from: Kutta
comment by Kutta · 2011-05-05T12:16:26.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The quote - as in the context of the source - hasn't much to do with perfect rationality or perfect market considerations. Supply and demand of policies undeniably influence policymaking regardless of the actors' rationality, in a political environment like the US. Patri Friedman's point was that if you support a policy that cuts against the grain of mainstream (libertarianism in his case) it is ineffective to engage in the usual lobbying behavior.

In a nutshell, it's not that policies are already perfect, but that policies are already set by people other than you.

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-05-05T18:11:12.880Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, yeah, reading the context, that makes a bit more sense. Although people trying to get specific policies implemented is a very important part of our political ecosystem, he's not satisfied with "incremental increases in freedom" and recognizes that agitation (and, more importantly, the U.S. democracy) is not going to give him radical changes. The impression that agitation flat out doesn't work is just an emotional argument for the real ideas.

comment by ewang · 2011-05-02T02:57:22.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's snowing on the goddamn map, not the territory[!]

-Michael Pemulis, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-05-02T03:26:08.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This scene is hilarious.

In case you haven't read the book,

The kids at a tennis academy are playing a nuclear war simulation by having countries, silos, cities, armies and whatnot represented by particular articles of clothing on specific places on a tennis court. You attack a target with a thermonuclear missile by lobbing a tennis ball at it, and then intense calculations are done in order to determine damage caused and scoring.

The particular game in the book goes horribly horribly wrong when one player lobs a tennis ball at another player, and then tries to argue that that player is vaporized, and that that entire country can no longer use nukes. It also starts snowing.

Replies from: ewang
comment by ewang · 2011-05-02T23:23:18.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I believe that the snowing on the map, which is claimed to affect the blast radius of a nuclear strike on the territory, occurs before the Global Crisis as the beginning a sort of slippery slope into the complete confusion of map and territory and the resultant chaos.

comment by sark · 2011-05-12T17:18:57.397Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is easier to say new things than to reconcile those which have already been said.

Vauvenargues, Reflections and Maxims, 1746

comment by HonoreDB · 2011-05-07T00:59:51.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I think that’s actually an interesting thing about my brain. If there’s a God and he/she/they made me this way, they chose a real fun way to go about it. They gave me utter domination and brilliance over certain things and then they just stopped.

--Mark Oshiro

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-05-05T19:04:33.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” -Walt Disney

comment by TrE · 2011-05-04T17:23:25.126Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."

-- Carl Sagan

comment by Manfred · 2011-05-02T04:09:38.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have always had a great deal of difficulty
understanding the world view
that quantum mechanics represents.
At least I do,
because I’m an old enough man
that I haven't got to the point
that this stuff is obvious to me.
Okay, I still get nervous with it…
You know how it always is,
every new idea,
it takes a generation or two
until it becomes obvious
that there’s no real problem.
I cannot define the real problem,
therefore I suspect there’s no real problem,
but I’m not sure
there’s no real problem.

-Richard Feynman, set in verse by David Mermin

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-18T19:57:44.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"No pupil should be an exact copy of his master, otherwise the art would make little progress."

Frederick Grinke, quoted by Donald Brook in "Violinists of Today" (1948).

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-18T20:20:15.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"No pupil should be an exact copy of his master, otherwise the art would make little progress."

Unless, of course, 'progress' is not the goal. Sometimes simple productive output is important, in which case exact copies may be just what you need!

comment by Zetetic · 2011-05-04T17:57:50.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I think that it is a relatively good approximation to truth - which is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations-that mathematical ideas originate in empirics, although the genealogy is sometimes long and obscure. But, once they are so conceived, the subject begins to live a peculiar life of its own and is better compared to a creative one, governed by almost entirely aesthetical motivations, than to anything else and, in particular, to an empirical science. There is, however, a further point which, I believe, needs stressing. As a mathematical discipline travels far from its empirical source, or still more, if it is a second and third generation only indirectly inspired by ideas coming from "reality" it is beset with very grave dangers. It becomes more and more purely aestheticizing, more and more purely I'art pour I'art. This need not be bad, if the field is surrounded by correlated subjects, which still have closer empirical connections, or if the discipline is under the influence of men with an exceptionally well-developed taste. But there is a grave danger that the subject will develop along the line of least resistance, that the stream, so far from its source, will separate into a multitude of insignificant branches, and that the discipline will become a disorganized mass of details and complexities. In other words, at a great distance from its empirical source, or after much "abstract" inbreeding, a mathematical subject is in danger of degeneration. At the inception the style is usually classical; when it shows signs of becoming baroque, then the danger signal is up."

John Von Neumann, written in his article The Mathematician

Replies from: Skatche
comment by Skatche · 2011-05-04T18:45:35.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm inclined to disagree. Deep abstraction gives us powerful tools for solving less abstract problems, including those that come out of the empirical sciences. Even fields developed with a deliberate eye to avoiding practical applications have sometimes turned out to make significant contributions to the sciences (I understand knot theory, for example, began this way, but has since turned out to have important applications in biochemistry).

Replies from: Zetetic
comment by Zetetic · 2011-05-04T19:36:34.038Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You make a strong point, however; the question as to whether we can or cannot improve the efficiency of mathematical research appears to be an open one. I think that perhaps the real issue is that we don't have a correct reductionist account of mathematics, and thus are not able to see clearly what we are doing when we build our theories. If we had a better road-map, I think that at the very least we could tie mathematics down to level 1/level 2 space so that we could have a better idea as to how we can measure the profitability of various possible lines of inquiry.

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-05-04T21:11:16.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you mean, we don't have a correct reductionist account of mathematics?

I could define mathematics as the study of systems with a complete reductionist account.

Replies from: Zetetic
comment by Zetetic · 2011-05-04T21:33:47.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, my idea would be along the lines of thinking of mathematics as a combination of certain types of cognition combined with some sort of social feedback loop. We are phenomena and so are our actions. We do mathematics, therefore we should be able to make an empirical study of it.

I suppose that I would like an empirical dissection of mathematics as it is practiced by humans, something that would allow us to measure the statistical usefulness of various areas of mathematical thought. Do you think that this can't be done? Do you think that it has already been done? If so I would be interested to hear your views, but I was under the impression that numerical cognition was still an open field. Or do you not think that this is related to numerical cognition?

I'm really not sure what to make of your reply. Even if you do

define mathematics as the study of systems with a complete reductionist account

shouldn't we be able to give a reductionist account of the methods we use to give a reductionist account? This is one of those things that I do not feel I have a clear method for thinking around, yet it still seems like a problem, and a not-quite-mysterious one to boot. Intuitively it seems that we should be able to give a neurological account of mathematical thought and gain an empirical understanding of why some mathematics appears/is more applicable than others and what sorts of applications we might expect out of certain types of mathematical thought.'

Any insight you feel like sharing on this topic would be greatly appreciated. Am I just confused by some embedded mysterious question?

comment by Cyan · 2011-05-16T03:01:52.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!"

--W.S.Gilbert, from the opera "Patience"

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-05-02T20:51:55.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grem: I am a goblin prince. I know when to fight. Dies: I AM A COWARD! I KNOW WHEN TO RUN!

Goblins Comic

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-05-03T17:48:40.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not quite sure whether this is a rationality quote - I do not completely understand it, but Charlie Munger said this (in a Bloomberg interview), so at the very least it's food for thought.

I fixed one of the flaw in my life, having tantrums, at four or five, for the rest of the flaws I balanced them with opposite virtues.

Replies from: wedrifid, khafra
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:48:36.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not quite sure whether this is a rationality quote - I do not completely understand it

A good rule of thumb is that if you aren't sure whether or not a quote is valuable... discard it. Quotes are the sort of thing that can be constructed to sound deep and be persuasive even when they are bullshit. So only accept them if you already understand in detail exactly what the reasoning is and find the quote just serves as a concise reminder of the theory.

Replies from: Dr_Manhattan
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-05-05T12:35:45.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree in general, but having read quite a bit of Munger I have a low prior on him saying something that's deep BS. I prefer to keep things like this filed until a possible moment when the blanks fill themselves.

comment by khafra · 2011-05-05T12:36:47.592Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with wedrifid in principle, but there's an opposing rule of thumb that if Charlie Munger said it, it's probably rational.

This may be related to flaw balancing.

Replies from: Dr_Manhattan
comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-05-05T13:10:29.497Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think you need a separate rule, having a prior covers it.

What Mungers statement makes me think of is an alternative approach to weakness; I think the default approach for many people is to "improve themselves". In many cases this might just not be worth the time; looking for an imperfect "opposite virtue" might be workable. E.g. if life demands you to rise early instead of trying to become an "early riser" get an alarm that works and move on.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-05-02T10:44:43.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is from our earliest experiences, which are necessarily of the parental type, that follows the attitude we will later have towards the other. We may then, with the help of reason, moderate this imprinting, going even as far as reversing it, and thus switch from being prone to believe that the other is fundamentally good to thinking that he is fundamentally evil, or vice versa, but usually reason will only help to find points supporting of the imprinting. Thus we will end up with points supporting the thesis that man is born good or the opposite one (that he is born evil), while in reality, cut to the bone, every debate about man, and about men, will be nothing but a weighing of such points against the prototype of the results of the earliest experiences.

I suppose it is not hard to guess why, since pretty much forever, the thesis has prevailed that men are "weak, vicious, worthless, and rebellious" (the judgment that Ivan Karamazov has the Grand Inquisitor state), i.e. evil and dangerous: a society built on that judgment will have to renounce freedom in exchange for security, and in exchange for bread and hope it will entrust its fear to an authority, and since every authority tends to perpetuate itself, it will do so by reproducing itself in the parental relationship, which in turn will raise itself as the model for social relationships. The child must be prepared to become a man prone to a convenient distrust towards his kin: being unable to ever completely rely on a pact between kin, he must feel the need for a power that rules him because "so awful it will seem to [him] to be free".

As I write this, it's been less than two or three centuries since we figured out that reason can be put to a better use: for example, challenging the meaning of "good" and "evil"; for example, stopping thinking of freedom as an absolute and learning to pair it with responsibility; for example, abandoning the belief that a society cannot hold without being founded on some transcendental principle. Three examples that let us understand that we will not have a different child, not until we have a different family, not until we have a different society: nothing left but to imagine the possibility of some human progress built on reason's ability to deconstruct that imprinting.

With one implication: the more we understand the society that created Dostoevskij's parents, the more we will be able to do without the Grand Inquisitor.

Malvino, April 4th 2011 blog post (original)

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2011-05-04T02:21:03.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, that strikes me as a bit long for a quote. I've upvoted longer quotes in the past, but only when they had a really good payoff.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-05-06T06:38:23.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The difference between the strong emperor and the weak is simply this: the former makes the world his arena, while the latter makes it his harem.

-- The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker

comment by Kutta · 2011-05-02T04:26:07.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is freedom, after all? It's discerned necessity.

A. and B. Strugatsky, from Escape Attempt, translated by me from Hungarian translation.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2011-05-02T07:30:29.524Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a mangled quote from Marx: "Freedom is the consciousness of necessity". In the Soviet Union this phrase was a staple of state ideology, and a popular folk mockery of it went like "freedom of speech is the conscious necessity to stay silent".

Replies from: Kutta
comment by Kutta · 2011-05-02T07:38:10.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting, I wasn't aware of that. Nevertheless I didn't detect any purpose of social commentary in the way the Strugatskys used it. Instead, I posted this as a comment because it gels well with Eliezer's take on free will.

Replies from: cousin_it
comment by cousin_it · 2011-05-02T07:41:40.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The alternate future Earth of "Escape Attempt" is a communist utopia. Many (most?) of their other works are set in the same world. Some of them describe it in more detail, like "Midday, XXII".

Replies from: Kutta
comment by Kutta · 2011-05-02T07:57:36.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't read Noon: 22nd century, but the other works I did read either steered clear of discussion of communism (like Dead Mountaineer's Hotel or Definitely Maybe) or more or less subtly criticized it (Inhabited Island, Roadside Picnic, Beetle in the Anthill).

comment by lukeprog · 2011-05-21T19:39:57.007Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rats are very similar to humans except that they are not stupid enough to purchase lottery tickets.

Dave Barry

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-03T10:56:25.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the common soldier, the strategy of a general may seem obscure. But to the general himself, his way is as clear as if he were marching his army down a broad, straight highway.

Source unknown. I'm sure I read this in some ancient military writing, but I've never been able to find it again.

Replies from: Eneasz
comment by Eneasz · 2011-05-03T20:03:30.058Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds suspiciously like something a general would say even if it was untrue

Replies from: wedrifid, RichardKennaway
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:28:41.146Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds suspiciously like something a general would say even if it was untrue

And if I saw a general make that claim I would start looking into the options I had for defecting.

Generals who see the path that clearly lose in the face of underwhelming odds.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-05-03T23:21:14.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One could make a similar remark about most of the quotes.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:30:05.370Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that is the case.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-05-26T21:37:08.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If you break it down, each of my comic pages is viewed over a million times. If each page is read for about 5 minutes, that translates to about two years of reading time per update. One month's work for two years is pretty good if you ask me."

  • Aaron Diaz

Source: http://www.formspring.me/dresdencodak/q/198161294036078826

comment by Ivanbaj · 2011-05-02T05:37:15.738Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans, and I'm rooting for the machines. Claude E. Shannon

Information is the resolution of uncertainty. Claude Shannon

Information: the negative reciprocal value of probability. Claude Shannon

JUGGLING THEOREM proposed by Claude E. Shannon


where F is the time a ball spends in the air, D is the time a ball spends in a hand, V is the time a hand is vacant, N is the number of balls juggled, and H is the number of hands.

Replies from: gwern, Oscar_Cunningham
comment by gwern · 2011-05-04T02:22:35.270Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, none of those strike me as interesting. The first is pretty much contentless sans any justification for preferring the machines; the second and third are just definitions which LWers or anyone who knows the rudiments of information theory will understand; and I have no idea what interest a 'juggling theorem' has.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-05-02T14:06:41.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We don't like it when people post a lot of quotes in one post, because it's nice to be able to up/down vote them separately. For more info see the rules at the top of the thread.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-02T02:43:35.845Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most libertarians would agree that it’s a messed-up state that:

  • Creates a massive crime problem in poor minority neighborhoods with a futile, vicious and every more far-reaching attempt to prevent commerce in popular, highly portable intoxicants that leaves absurd numbers of young men with felony records, making them marginally employable.

  • Fails to provide adequate policing for such neighborhoods.

  • Fails to provide effective education in such neighborhoods after installing itself as the educator of first resort.

  • Uses regulatory power to sharply curtail entry into lines of business from hair-care to ride provision, further limiting the employment options of people in such neighborhoods.

  • Has in the past actively fostered the oppression of said minority, up to and including spending state money and time in keeping its members in bondage.

  • To make up for all of the above, provides a nominal amount of tax-financed welfare for the afflicted.

But it’s a messed-up libertarianism that looks at that situation and says, "Man, first thing we gotta do is get rid of that welfare!"

-- Jim Henley, via Alas A Blog

Replies from: None, ciphergoth, Psychohistorian, Psychohistorian
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-02T02:54:36.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Politics is the Mind-Killer.

Replies from: Tenek, CronoDAS
comment by Tenek · 2011-05-04T17:42:11.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cached Thoughts

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-05T05:15:31.118Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now that you've read this blog post, the next time you hear someone unhesitatingly repeating a meme you think is silly or false, you'll think, "Cached thoughts." My belief is now there in your mind, waiting to complete the pattern. But is it true? Don't let your mind complete the pattern! Think!

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-05-02T05:39:09.504Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So what?

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, NMJablonski
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-05-02T19:25:14.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So there wasn't anything especially related to explicit rationality in the quote. Or rather, it wasn't extraordinarily rational enough to make up for its extraordinary politicalness.

comment by NMJablonski · 2011-05-02T05:55:56.713Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, there are people who disagree with what you posted, and may be inclined to argue about it. That, combined with the idea shared in the Paul Graham quote in this very thread (about politics frequently being used as a form of identity) leads to defensiveness, leads to rationalization, and leads to stupidity.

So, in order to avoid stupid arguments, people would prefer fewer posts like your quote on LW.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-05-03T14:20:38.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW I am very sympathetic to the sentiment expressed here, but I still downvoted it, for being more about politics than rationality.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-05-04T19:15:58.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll defend this. I think it is closely related to rationality, and I find it ironic that the "Politics is the mind-killer" is such a popular response to an unpopular quote - it makes that point.

A rather basic fallacy is: A, B, and C lead to D. We must stop D. Therefore, we must stop A. The error, of course, is that without further premises, you could equally well get stop or C. Stopping A is merely sufficient, not necessary.

Libertarianism is usually more of an ideology than a politics (just as liberal and conservative are ideologies, to Democratic and Republican politics). This quote shows how it tends to be shaped into a politics. When there are clearly many things to be done, it is in fact bizarre that people focus heavily on one of them, particularly given the above structure.

People are very willing to believe that the market is unfree in ways that unfairly benefit others. People are not nearly as willing or interested when the market is unfree in ways that harms others or benefits themselves. I can see why people are concerned with this being excessively political, but it does seem accurate. Of course, there may be additional factors or explanations that the speaker was not crediting, but I'm not really aware of any.

Inconsistently applying an ideology is kind of the essence of politics being the mind killer, and this seems to be a good point about that.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-04T22:10:50.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question is, who exactly is being targeted in this statement:

But it’s a messed-up libertarianism that looks at that situation and says, "Man, first thing we gotta do is get rid of that welfare!"

Looking at the article from which the quote comes, the target of the discussion is apparently this quote, to which he claims to have a "sequencing objection":

The Libertarian Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope or power of government at any level or for any purpose.

The problem here is that I see nothing in that quote that says "first thing we gotta do is get rid of that welfare".

What is possibly going through Jim Henley's head? The quote that he's attacking does nothing except oppose increasing government and support reducing government, period. Nothing there about what sequence to do it in. The sequencing stuff seems to be something that Jim Henley just made up, so that he would have something to attack.

As things stand, the quote looks like a straw man and a smear. A smear is guaranteed to make the blood boil. Hence: politics is the mind killer.

Replies from: Psychohistorian
comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-05-05T02:54:34.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately, my impression here is based on general experience and observation; there isn't a specific document that contains the libertarian view.

But in general, a lot of people who describe themselves either as libertarian, conservative, or pro-small government are opposed to welfare with near-religious fervor, but are likely unaware of the issue of occupational licensing and (in some cases) basically indifferent to charter schools or education related issues. It's just the interesting observation that even though there are numerous types of bad government interference, it's one specific one that generates ire. This suggests more of a political objection (I don't like those people!) than an ideological one (this action is inconsistent with a belief system I hold).

Ideologically, libertarians should oppose all of these things, probably in proportion to the inefficiencies they represent. As that's often not the case, it indicates irrationality.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-05T06:46:49.953Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a lot of people who describe themselves either as libertarian, conservative, or pro-small government are opposed to welfare with near-religious fervor, but are likely unaware of the issue of occupational licensing

First, you're no longer talking about libertarians but about a much, much larger group of people, the vast majority of whom neither are, nor consider themselves to be, libertarian. So, already, you've essentially changed the subject.

Second, lack of awareness is not irrational. On the contrary, ignorance is rational, for reasons explained by James Buchanan.

It's just the interesting observation that even though there are numerous types of bad government interference, it's one specific one that generates ire.

As a blanket statement this is simply false. The standard libertarian publications are Reason Magazine and Liberty Magazine. Both magazines are very wide-ranging in their critique of the government from a standpoint of liberty. Your statement is only "true" if you qualify it - but once you qualify it, the statement becomes meaningless. Qualified, it's something like, "if you consider only people who are single-issue, those people are single-issue". It's an empty tautology.

I would like to point out, by the way, that your "evidence" for your claims amounts to your own unverifiable eyewitness accounts. In contrast, in my previous comment I offered evidence pulled from the linked article, and here in this comment I offer evidence in the form of the two major libertarian publications. If you want I can add blogs. Check out Econlog. Also check out Cafe Hayek.

Ideologically, libertarians should oppose all of these things, probably in proportion to the inefficiencies they represent. As that's often not the case, it indicates irrationality.

First of all, I would like to point out that the word "often" is a weasel word, because it is virtually unfalsifiable. It gives us no quantity, nothing even approximating a quantity. It's virtually meaningless.

Second, I would like to point out that earlier in your comment you already massively increased the population you're talking about from just libertarians to libertarians and conservatives and anybody who wants to shrink government. You can't draw conclusions about libertarians based on your earlier assertions about a very different population.

Third, your argument is based on the claim that it is irrational for a person to have beliefs which are inconsistent with his own ideology. But in order to establish that anybody has beliefs inconsistent with their ideology, you need to establish what their ideology is. You have done the opposite - you have drawn in such a diverse group of people into your generalization that there is no common ideology to establish.

Fourth, I seriously doubt the truth of your claims. I'm not saying you're lying. I'm saying that I think you've probably misunderstood. For starters, if somebody tells me that they're a libertarian, I will infer that they might be what I consider a libertarian but are probably something quite different - what I would call somebody with vaguely libertarian-ish views on some but not all topics. In contrast, what I see you've done here is to jump from the fact that some people call themselves libertarian all the way to the conclusion that they must subscribe to the hard core libertarian belief system. Only once you've done this can you then accuse them of being inconsistent. I personally think that that jump is unwarranted.

Replies from: Tyrrell_McAllister
comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-05-05T18:03:02.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, didn't Hayek support some amount of government provided welfare? My understanding is that he basically said, "Hey, in the right doses, it probably makes some peoples' lives better who would otherwise be miserable, and our society is rich enough to afford the harm that it causes at the social level (e.g., economic inefficiencies), so why not?"

I heard this second- or third-hand, though, so I may be mischaracterizing his views.

comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-05-05T02:56:12.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find it very interesting that this quote, which is also political, does not appear to have been heavily downvoted. It's doubtlessly much less contentious among the particular demographics of this site, but it's probably more politically antagonistic among the population in general - I don't know, but I suspect pacifists are at least as common as libertarians, and this is far more antagonistic towards them.

So why upvote that quote but downvote this one?

Replies from: wedrifid, None
comment by wedrifid · 2011-05-05T04:17:39.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So why upvote that quote?

  • Because it has Nobby at his best.
  • It is about cutting through bullshit. Ruthlessly. It takes a slogan "War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing." and utterly tears it to shreds. Because it is obviously and overwhelmingly wrong for the kind of reasons we have all sorts of posts about here.
  • It's exactly the response I would make if someone tried the "What is it good for?" rhetorical question on me. Come to think of it I have used the same response.
  • If something is transparently and obviously contradicted without even having to make two inferential leaps then politics hasn't even had a chance to kill your mind.
  • Naive pacifists are annoying. (And dangerous.)
  • It is a necessary counter to that obnoxious 'never ever never nerr nerr bullet' quote that somehow became popular here.

but downvote this one?

I upvoted (or rather countered one downvote) on this one.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-05T09:48:00.486Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvotes and downvotes probably weight various factors. Hypothetically, two equally political statements might not be equally false, equally obnoxious, equally brilliant, equally hilarious, and so on.

Replies from: Psychohistorian
comment by Psychohistorian · 2011-05-05T15:29:39.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

True. My entire point is that I'm curious as to which is going on here. I suspect that people down-voting this one are explaining their actions by saying it's too "political," whereas they are not applying the exact same formula to the other one. This indicates that, "It's too political" actually just means, "It's politics I disagree with."

Of course, I admit it's possible that everyone who downvoted for political reasons downvoted both, and the other was just more popular. I don't think that's likely, which I why I asked what people are doing. Could admittedly have phrased it better.