Rationality Quotes December 2014

post by Salemicus · 2014-12-03T22:33:20.202Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 447 comments

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

447 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-01T20:30:07.088Z · score: 53 (61 votes) · LW · GW

If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

This one hit home for me. Got a haircut yesterday. :P

comment by woodside · 2014-12-04T20:26:52.309Z · score: 27 (27 votes) · LW · GW

If I could convince Aubrey de Grey to cut off his beard it would increase everyones expected longevity more than any other accomplishment I'm capable of.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-05T17:28:34.556Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

If I could convince Aubrey de Grey to cut off his beard it would increase everyones expected longevity more than any other accomplishment I'm capable of.

This I'm not actually sure about. I think the guru look might be a net positive in his particular situation.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-05T18:14:53.143Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. His fundraising might be benefiting from a strategy that increases the variance of peoples' opinions of him even if it also lowers this mean.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-04T23:53:59.861Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't familiar with the name, so I looked it up. There are some pretty strong criticisms of him here: http://www2.technologyreview.com/sens/docs/estepetal.pdf

Looks like pseudoscience.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T01:31:56.197Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

There no such thing as evidence-based decision on strategies for research funding. Nobody really knows good criteria for deciding which research should get grants to be carried out.

Aubrey de Grey among other things makes the argument that it's good to put out prices for research groups that get mices to a certain increased lifespan. That's the Methuselah Foundation’s Mprize.

Now the Methuselah Foundation worked to set up the new organ liver price that gives 1 million to the first team that creates a regenerative or bioengineered solution that keeps a large animal alive for 90 days without native liver function.

Funding that kind of research is useful whether or not certain arguments Aubrey de Grey made about “Whole Body Interdiction of Lengthening of Telomeres” are correct. In science there's room for people proposing ideas that turn out to be wrong.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-05T10:44:11.419Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The authors provide more arguments than ones about telomeres. Further, they charge that he's misrepresenting evidence systematically, not just making specific proposals that turn out to be wrong. I agree giving prizes for increasing the lifespan of mice is a good idea, but that's not a very strong reason to support him. Do you have examples of novel scientific ideas he's had that have turned out to be useful?

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T16:33:20.669Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I agree giving prizes for increasing the lifespan of mice is a good idea, but that's not a very strong reason to support him.

Why exactly?

Do you have examples of novel scientific ideas he's had that have turned out to be useful?

The SENS website lists 42 published papers that were funded with SENS grant money. The foundation has a yearly budget of 4 million that it uses to award grants to science that's publishable. A lot of that money comes out of Grey's own pocket and Peter Thiel's pocket. Other money comes from private donations. It's mainly additional money for the subject that wouldn't be there without Aubrey de Grey activism.

Aubrey de Grey may very well represent a picture of aging that underestiamtes the difficulties. However the resulting effect is that now a company like Google did start a project with Calico that's speficially targeted on curing aging.

If you want to convince Silicon Valley's billionaires to pay for more anti-aging research Aubrey de Grey might simply be making the right moves when scientists who are more conservative about possible success can't convince donars to put up money.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-08T14:18:25.085Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why exactly?

Because most advances in mouse models don't carry over into humans.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-08T17:36:33.083Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

While mouse model aren't perfect, they do produce new knowledge and you simply can't do some exploratory research in humans.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T23:02:44.822Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I should distinguish between "supporting him as an activist" and "supporting him as a legitimate scientific researcher". I think that the fact he provides prizes to others is a decent reason to support him in the first category but not a reason to support him in the second. Even if we collapse the two categories, the mice thing doesn't seem like enough to outweigh misrepresenting research to the public.

Mostly, I was wondering whether you knew of any innovations or discoveries he found as a scientist. Because as the above link describes it, even if he has been a good activist he has been a poor scientist, not finding anything new and misleading people about the old.

Aubrey de Grey may very well represent a picture of aging that underestiamtes the difficulties. However the resulting effect is that now a company like Google did start a project with Calico that's speficially targeted on curing aging.

If you want to convince Silicon Valley's billionaires to pay for more anti-aging research Aubrey de Grey might simply be making the right moves when scientists who are more conservative about possible success can't convince donars to put up money.

This sounds like Dark Arts, which would make it deserve the label pseudoscience. If your argument is that there's a legitimate place for "marketing" like that, I see your point but I'm reluctant to agree.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-13T13:56:52.687Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I should distinguish between "supporting him as an activist" and "supporting him as a legitimate scientific researcher"

If his core impact would be by standing in the lab then his beard wouldn't matter. He did publish a paper with 36 citations in the last century but that's not where his main impact is.

This sounds like Dark Arts, which would make it deserve the label pseudoscience. If your argument is that there's a legitimate place for "marketing" like that, I see your point but I'm reluctant to agree.

Dark arts would be if he wouldn't believe in his own ideas and just pretends to. I don't think that's true.

If you would label all grant proposal that are misleading about the likely applicability of the research results to real world issues as pseudoscience I doubt that much science is left at the end.

In a perfect world grant committies might hand out money based on evidence-based methods for handing out grant money. We don't live in that world. In our world grant committies might not be better than monkey's that pick randomly.

But as long as the funded research at least produces publishable papers that replicate, that's fine. In the current state of academic biology replicability itself is even a pretty high standard.

comment by waveman · 2014-12-06T05:25:50.569Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I have seen him speak a couple of times and he addressed many of these criticisms in the talks. You might want to read his response to these criticisms before assuming they are valid.

A lot of this comes from a lack of appreciation of the difference between science and engineering. In engineering you just have to find something that works. You don't need to understand everything.

Some debate here and you can easily find his talks online:

http://www2.technologyreview.com/sens/

In his talks I did not get the sense that he is positioning himself as a great misunderstood maverick. He does say that in his opinion much ageing research is unproductive because it is aimed at understanding the problem rather than fixing it.

For example, rather than tweak metabolic processes to produce slightly smaller amounts of toxic substances, remove those substances by various means, or replace the cells grown old from said toxic substances.

His solution to cancer is to remove the telomerase genes. This way cancer cells will die after X divisions. Of course this creates the problem that stem cells will not work. So we will need to replenish germ lines in the immune system, stomach walls, skin etc.

These are "dumb" strategies and rarely of interest to scientists perhaps for that reason.

There is a similar issue in nanotechology discussed in Drexler's book "Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization". For example you do not need to solve the protein folding problem in generality in order to design proteins that have specific shapes. You just need to find a set of patterns that allow you to build proteins of specific shapes.

(edited for typos)

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T23:04:12.359Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I will definitely be going over this, it looks very helpful. Thank you for making this.

comment by ike · 2014-12-05T02:50:19.571Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't finished the document yet, but I noticed it keeps on using the word "unscientific", which sounds problematic as one of its aims is to define pseudoscience.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-05T10:48:51.311Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

which sounds problematic as one of its aims is to define pseudoscience.

?

They explicitly say that there is no rigid definition distinguishing pseudoscience from legitimate science. They claim that in order to distinguish between them it's necessary to point at specific instances of misleading behaviors, and they enumerate these behaviors at the very beginning of the paper.

comment by ike · 2014-12-05T13:39:50.525Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But in that list of problems, they keep on saying "Unscientifically simplified, Unscientifically claimed, etc", which is a problem unless they define science. They clearly haven't learned how to taboo words like science, which shows here.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T22:49:04.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Tabooing words is a tool, not a mandatory exercise. They weren't relying on the word "unscientifically" to do the work for them.

For example, here is the first instance of the word I spotted upon looking at the article again:

de Grey also casually rules out the contributions of non-oncogenic epimutation to aging through “guilt by association” misrepresentation. He groups together nDNA mutation and epimutation, provides grossly insufficient evidence to rule out nDNA mutation as important in aging, and then declares epimutation is ruled out as well without providing any supporting evidence [8, 35]. There is no logical or mechanistic reason for this. In fact, references are available that suggest that epimutation might be common and problematic with advancing age, possibly even more so than nDNA mutation (for example see [36-38]). Furthermore, other known molecular pathologies, such as unrepaired DNA damage in post-mitotic tissues, as well as largely uncharacterized and undiscovered damage and pathologies, are dismissed altogether as contributing to aging (for one example, see [39]). This is baseless and unscientific conjecture.

It seems clear that they're not relying on the word in an inappropriate way. Tabooing is useful sometimes, but requiring others to taboo any subject of conversation is not productive and adds an unnecessary mechanism for biases to influence us.

comment by ike · 2014-12-14T01:01:18.325Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The particular use you quote looks justified. I was referring to this, from earlier:

Table 1. General Features of Pseudoscientific Plans for Extension of Human Life Span

The Problem of Aging

1.Unscientifically simplified; diffuse and undiscovered damage/pathologies excluded as causes of aging without compelling evidence

2.Unscientifically claimed to be curable to some degree by specific therapies

where it looked like anything they didn't like could be included under the unscientific category.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-14T01:28:40.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

simplified; diffuse and undiscovered damage/pathologies excluded as causes of aging without compelling evidence

This seems bad to me and unscientific sounds like a fair label for such practices. I don't know why you disagree.

Unscientifically claimed to be curable to some degree by specific therapies

Admittedly this usage is confusing. But judging from the arguments made elsewhere in the paper, they seem to be saying there's no good evidence suggesting these specific therapies will work. A lot of what he does seems to be highly speculative. Calling speculation unscientific seems fair to me, science is about going out and looking at the world, then creating ideas in response to what you observe.

comment by rhollerith_dot_com · 2014-12-09T00:50:58.426Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

His girlfriend, or one of his girlfriends (I'm not sure how many he had at the time) told me she thinks the beard is really hot.

comment by Baughn · 2014-12-17T18:55:09.115Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There might be a bit of selection bias there.

comment by VAuroch · 2014-12-13T09:05:07.348Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think his look (if his Wikipedia picture and the tiny images from a Google search) is probably not particularly harmful. It's well-positioned to signal Dignified Hippy, which is a group that tends to be skeptical of the general anti-deathist position, or for a general Respectable Elder, which is not wonderful but pretty decent for appealing to institutional-investor-type groups. I'm not familiar enough with his particular relevance to know whether that balance could be improved for what he actually does.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T20:36:25.458Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW · GW

And you end up like this.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-04T09:28:37.507Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Seems to have worked for them.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T15:36:33.658Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For whom? For the Mormon Church or for the specific individuals? :-/

comment by Wes_W · 2014-12-04T19:18:43.372Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As far as achieving "communication and organization", probably both?

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-04T19:10:50.894Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I̶t̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶e̶a̶r̶s̶ ̶m̶o̶s̶t̶l̶y̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶h̶u̶r̶c̶h̶,̶ ̶a̶p̶p̶a̶r̶e̶n̶t̶l̶y̶.̶ ̶W̶o̶w̶.̶

Edit -- missionary.lds.org is latter day saints. One of their quotes was by a Jehovah's Witness, so I thought this was a guide for Jehovah's Witnesses. If the question is "Does it work for the specific individuals in the Mormon Church?" the answer is yes.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-04T19:25:15.784Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Jehovah's Witnesses != Mormons, even though both are known for door-to-door solicitation. Reliable statistics are thin on the ground, but the Mormons seem to be doing a little better than average in terms of personal socioeconomic status. (BYU is not, however, an unbiased source.)

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-04T23:37:47.462Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You are correct. I'm not sure where I got the idea that LDS was Jehovah's Witnesses.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-04T20:32:50.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it's money we're talking about here.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-04T20:53:27.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Money is what the link I was replying to was talking about.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-08T17:31:29.781Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How'd you manage to strikethrough part of your post? I thought the markup for that had been disabled.

comment by faul_sname · 2014-12-08T18:56:22.711Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
"hello, world".replace(/(.)/g, '\u0336$1') == "h̶e̶l̶l̶o̶,̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶"
comment by Dahlen · 2014-12-07T21:57:05.344Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And a thousand female metalheads shall weep.

comment by aausch · 2014-12-04T01:01:15.074Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

it's fun to contemplate alternative methods for avoiding/removing these barriers

comment by WalterL · 2014-12-01T20:30:37.486Z · score: 41 (41 votes) · LW · GW

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

-Damon Runyon

comment by hhadzimu · 2014-12-03T23:13:25.710Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Damon Runyon clearly has not considered point spreads.

comment by grendelkhan · 2014-12-04T21:48:07.576Z · score: 31 (35 votes) · LW · GW

If it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid.

"Murphy's Laws of Combat"

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-05T15:50:03.772Z · score: 57 (57 votes) · LW · GW

If it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid.

This is what survivorship bias looks like from the inside.

comment by aausch · 2014-12-28T20:43:16.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the map is not the territory. if it's stupid and it works, update your map.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-05T15:24:24.914Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of my former fencing instructors had this as a sort of catchphrase. Needless to say, he was a pretty cool guy.

comment by IrritableGourmet · 2014-12-05T14:57:13.088Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I can divorce my wife by beating her to death. Things can work, but that doesn't stop them from being stupid.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-05T15:23:41.623Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

That hypothetical action doesn't "work" in the sense of helping you accomplish all relevant goals, among which, I assume, is the desire to not be incarcerated. (It is also obviously highly immoral.) Put another way, if you define "work" to include something very bad happening to you, that's just "stupid."

comment by IrritableGourmet · 2014-12-09T17:53:57.961Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would wager most people who say the above quote in defense of their actions are doing something that only "works" in the sense of accomplishing one specific goal at the expense of others.

comment by Jay_Schweikert · 2014-12-03T04:40:11.923Z · score: 30 (36 votes) · LW · GW

All the logical work (if not all the rhetorical work) in “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” is being done by the decision about what aspects of liberty are essential, and how much safety is at stake. The slogan might work as a reminder not to make foolish tradeoffs, but the real difficulty is in deciding which tradeoffs are wise and which are foolish. Once we figure that out, we don’t need the slogan to remind us; before we figure it out, the slogan doesn’t really help us.

--Eugene Volokh, "Liberty, safety, and Benjamin Franklin"

A good example of the risk of reading too much into slogans that are basically just applause lights. Also reminds me of "The Choice between Good and Bad is not a matter of saying 'Good!' It is about deciding which is which."

comment by gjm · 2014-12-03T11:30:44.950Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I mostly agree, but I think the slogan (like, I think, many others about which similar things could be said) has some value none the less.

A logically correct but uninspiring version would go like this:

It is a common human failing to pay too much attention to safety and not enough to liberty. As a result, we (individually and corporately) will often be tempted to give up liberty in the name of safety, and in many such cases this will be a really bad tradeoff. So don't do that.

-- Not Benjamin Franklin

Franklin's slogan serves as a sort of reminder that (1) there is a frequent temptation to "give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety" and (2) this is likely a bad idea. Indeed, the actual work of figuring out when the slogan is appropriate still needs to be done, but the reminder can still be useful. And (3) because it's a Famous Saying of a Famous Historical Figure, one can fairly safely draw attention to it and maybe even be taken seriously, even in times when the powers that be are trying to portray any refusal to be terrorized as unpatriotic.

Of course Volokh is aware of the "reminder" function (as he says: "The slogan might work as a reminder") but I think he undervalues it. (He says the "real difficulty" is deciding which tradeoffs to make, but actually just noticing that there's an important tradeoff being proposed is often a real difficulty.) And, alas, its Famous Saying nature is pretty important too.

comment by elharo · 2014-12-03T12:39:07.979Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me that the original Franklin quote really identifies a specific case of the availability heuristic. That is, when you're focused on safety, you tend to adopt policies that increase safety, without even considering other values such as liberty.

There may also be an issue of externalities here. This is really, really common in law enforcement. For example, consider civil asset forfeiture. It is an additional legal tool that enables police to catch and punish more criminals, more easily. That it also harms a lot of innocent people is simply not considered because their is no penalty to the police for doing so. All the cost is borne by people who are irrelevant to them.

comment by Weedlayer · 2014-12-03T08:53:53.625Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The quote always annoyed me too. People bring it up for ANY infringement on liberty, often leaving off the words "Essential" and "Temporary", making a much stronger version of the quote (And of course, obviously wrong).

Tangentially, Sword of Good was my introduction to Yudkowsky, and by extension, LW.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-03T15:56:16.251Z · score: 29 (31 votes) · LW · GW

When you hear an economist on TV "explain" the decline in stock prices by citing a slump in the market (and I have heard this pseudo-explanation more than once) it is time to turn off the television.

Thomas J. McKay, Reasons, Explanations and Decisions

comment by Larks · 2014-12-11T02:24:37.198Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I guess technically if a lot of stocks went paid their dividend on the same day (went ex-divvie) you could get a 0.5-1% fall in the stock prices (depending on the dividend yield at the time) without their being a slump - the value of those dividends which have now been paid out is simply no longer part of the market. But I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-14T01:16:59.547Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know if I agree with this. Suppose the stock market is driven by runaway herd behavior. If that's the case, then an inexplicably bad random perturbation might have cascading effects. Saying that the initial slump in the market is driving further decline seems accurate to me.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-14T13:20:59.455Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That would be a slump in the market caused by a decline in stock prices :)

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-14T21:33:17.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what you're trying to say. As used in the original quote they are interchangeable synonyms.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-15T00:43:53.212Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was poking fun at that.

comment by arundelo · 2014-12-03T00:06:10.496Z · score: 29 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Problem is, "Fucking up when presented with surprising new situations" is actually a chronic human behavior. It's why purse snatchers are so effective -- by the time someone registers Wait, did somebody just yank my purse off my shoulder?, the snatcher is long gone.

-- Ferrett Steinmetz

comment by soreff · 2014-12-07T05:26:53.731Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But is it only a human behavior? I'd think anything with cached thoughts/results/computations would be similarly vulnerable.

comment by MakoYass · 2014-12-21T05:35:19.090Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's true of most frequently referenced elements of human nature, if not all of them.

Even Love.

~The Homo Sapiens Class has a trusted computing override that enables it to lock itself into a state of heightened agreeability towards a particular target unit. More to the point: it can signal this shift in modes in a way that is both recognizable to other units, and which the implementation makes very difficult for it to forge. The Love feature then provides HS units on either side of a reciprocated Love signalling a means of safely cooperating in extremely high-stakes PD scenarios without violating their superrationality circumvention architecture.

Hmm.. On reflection, one would hope that most effective designs for time-constrained intelligent(decentralized, replication-obsessed) agents would not override superrationality("override": Is it reasonable to talk about it like a natural consequence of intelligence?), and that, then, the love override may not occur.

Hard to say.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-07T15:46:52.794Z · score: 24 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste... years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just... take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that's hard.

Lois McMaster Bujold

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-07T18:04:08.947Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The less you care about "the respect" others show towards you, the less power idiots can exert over you. The trick is differentiating whose opinion actually matters (say, in a professional context) and whose does not (say, your neighbors').

Due to being social animals, we're prone to rationalize caring about what anyone thinks of us (say, strangers in a supermarket when your kid is having a tantrum -- "they must think I'm a terrible mom!" -- or in the neighbors case "who knows, I might one day need to rely on them, better put some effort into fitting in"). Only very few people's opinions actually impact you in a tangible / not-just-social-posturing way. (The standard answer on /r/relationships should be "why do you care about what those idiots think, even in the unlikely case they actually want to help your situation, as opposed to reinforcing their make-believe fool's paradise travesty of a world view".)

Interestingly, internalizing such a IDGAF attitude usually does a good job at signalling high status, in most settings. Sigh, damned if you do and damned if you don't.

comment by D_Alex · 2014-12-12T02:41:29.053Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The less you care about "the respect" others show towards you, the less power idiots can exert over you.

I don't think this is generally true. Do you mean:

"The less you care about "the respect" idiots show towards you, the less power idiots can exert over you."??

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-12T08:33:30.927Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Calling my statement A, and yours B, both are true. A is probabilistically true (i.e., in most cases) iff the majority of people are idiots (and assuming a normal distribution of "impact someone can have on you"), B is 'strictly' true, well as far as strictly holds in social dynamics.

If you are a really good idiot oracle, i.e. if you're adept at quickly discerning someone's idiot attribute (or the lack thereof), you should follow B (which is a subset of A , "forall X ..." versus "forall X where P(X)"). If you're not, you should follow A, excepting special cases and, as mentioned, actually undesirable consequences (e.g. professional). For example, there are select people on LW whose approval I covet. So I'm not stringently following A (it's hard to follow one's own advice anyways), but I suppose I'm closer to A than to B, which gives me a better worst-case-scenario in terms of "power idiots exert over you".

comment by gjm · 2014-12-12T12:11:42.187Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A is probabilistically true (i.e., in most cases) iff the majority of people are idiots)

Given that people aren't really good idiot oracles, and in particular that if you care about the respect other show you in general then on some level you will also often be bothered by disrespect from idiots, I think A can very well be true even if most people aren't idiots.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-12T12:26:19.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I often feel that proposed optimal solutions disregard the feeble nature of the human mind. Solving obesity is a trivial program, just control your food intake. One-step-algorithm. Trivial, that is, unless you're a human, in which case it's practically infeasable for most.

Ignoring our human, ahem, let's call them "quirks", when devising solutions is a classic failure mode which transforms supposedly "optimal" solutions into suboptimal or even actively harmful ones. I'd cite socialism as an example, but I just got out of that rabbit hole like 5 comments ago and have no desire to leave Kansas for now (metaphorically speaking).

comment by D_Alex · 2014-12-12T02:37:56.925Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I am having trouble understanding the message here... and consequently how this is a good rationality quote.

Is this trying to say "don't bother trying to please people in childhood"?

Is it "don't bother trying to earn respect as an adult"?

Both are poor advice, in general, IMO.

comment by pjeby · 2014-12-12T06:14:49.179Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it means something more like, "don't expect the behaviors that pleased adults when you were a child, to get you anywhere as an adult. Children are considered pleasing when they're submissive and dependent, but adults are respected for pleasing themselves first."

The rationality connection is, well, winning.

comment by Kinsei · 2014-12-06T13:18:27.207Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

"It’s much better to live in a place like Switzerland where the problems are complex and the solutions are unclear, rather than North Korea where the problems are simple and the solutions are straightforward."

Scott Sumner, A time for nuance

comment by Desrtopa · 2014-12-06T15:40:57.649Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

The problems in North Korea are not so simple with straightforward solutions, when we look at them from the perspective of the actors involved.

For the average citizen in North Korea, there are no clear avenues to political influence that don't increase rather than decrease personal risk. For the people in North Korea who do have significant political influence, from a self-serving perspective, there are no "problems" with how North Korea is run.

North Korea's problems might be simple to solve from the perspective of an altruistic Supreme Leader, but they're hard as coordination problems. Some of our societal problems in the developed world are also simple from the perspective of an altruistic Supreme Leader, but hard as coordination problems. Some of the more salient differences are that those problems didn't occur due to the actions of non altruistic or incompetent Supreme Leaders in the first place, and aren't causing mass subsistence level poverty.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-07T12:14:38.074Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I do think North Korea leaders would prefer a state of affairs where it could educate it's own elite instead of sending the kids to Switzerland to get a real education.

North Korea's military would like to have capable engineers that can produce working technology.

On the other hand a simple act like giving the population access to internet might produce a chain reaction that blows up the whole state.

Jang Sung-taek was someone in North Korea with a lot of political power. According to Wikipedia South Korean believed that Jang Sung-taek was the defacto leader of North Korea in 2008.

Last year the North Korean state television announced his execution. His extended family might also have gotten executed.

One of the charges was that he "made no scruple of committing such act of treachery in May last as selling off the land of the Rason economic and trade zone to a foreign country..."

It's worth noting that Western countries did engage in policies to block Jang Sung-taek efforts to create economic change in North Korea.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-07T15:27:45.477Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

That simply means that Switzerland has already solved the easier problems North Korea struggles with. To paraphrase, an absence of low-hanging fruit on a well-tended tree means you're probably in a garden.

comment by somnicule · 2014-12-08T23:25:29.212Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't that the point of the quote?

comment by lmm · 2014-12-16T12:32:54.130Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe, but if so the quote is ineffective at conveying it.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-15T19:01:03.833Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Your mind is like a compiled program you've lost the source of. It works, but you don't know why.

Paul Graham

comment by ike · 2014-12-15T20:01:40.960Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The situation is far worse than that. At least a compiled program you can: add more memory or run it on a faster computer, disassemble the code and see at which step things go wrong, rewind if there's a problem, interface with programs you've written, etc. If compiled programs really were that bad, hackers would have already won (as security researchers wouldn't be able to take apart malware), drm would work, no emulators for undocumented devices would exist.

The state of the mind is many orders of magnitude worse.

Also, I'd quibble with "we don't know why". The word I'd use is how. We know why, perhaps not in detail (although we sort of know how, in even less detail.)

comment by aausch · 2014-12-28T20:22:16.763Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

i largely agree in context, but i think it's not an entirely accurate picture of reality.

there are definite, well known, documented methods for increasing available resources for the brain, as well as doing the equivalent of decompilation, debugging, etc... sure, the methods are a lot less reliable than what we have available for most simple computer programs.

also, once you get to debugging/adding resources to programming systems which even remotely approximate the complexity of the brain, though, that difference becomes much smaller than you'd expect. in theory you should be able to debug large, complex, computing systems - and figure out where to add which resource, or which portion to rewrite/replace; for most systems, though, i suspect the success rate is much lower than what we get for the brain.

try, for example, comparing success rates/timelines/etc... for psychotherapists helping broken brains rewrite themselves, vs. success rates for startups trying to correctly scale their computer systems without going bankrupt. and these rates are in the context of computer systems which are a lot less complex, in both implementation and function, than most brains. sure, the psychotherapy methods seem much more crude, and the rates are much lower than we'd like to admit them to be - but i wouldn't be surprised if they easily compete with success rates for fixing broken computer systems, if not outperform.

comment by gwern · 2015-01-03T03:19:17.048Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

try, for example, comparing success rates/timelines/etc... for psychotherapists helping broken brains rewrite themselves, vs. success rates for startups trying to correctly scale their computer systems without going bankrupt.

But startups seem to do that pretty routinely. One does not hear about the 'Dodo bird verdict' for startups trying to scale. Startups fail for many reasons, but I'm having a hard time thinking of any, ever, for which the explanation was insurmountable performance problems caused by scaling.

(Wait, I can think of one: Friendster's demise is usually blamed on the social network being so slow due to perpetual performance problems. On the other hand, I can probably go through the last few months of Hacker News and find a number of post-mortems blaming business factors, a platform screwing them over, bad leadership, lack of investment at key points, people just plain not liking their product...)

comment by aausch · 2015-01-04T20:47:18.685Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

in retrospect, that's a highly in-field specific bit of information and difficult to obtain without significant exposure - it's probably a bad example.

for context:

friendster failed at 100m+ users - that's several orders of magnitude more attention than the vast majority of startups ever obtain before failing, and a very unusual point to fail due to scalability problems (with that much attention, and experience scaling, scaling should really be a function of adequate funding more than anything else).

there's a selection effect for startups, at least the ones i've seen so far: ones that fail to adequately scale, almost never make it into the public eye. since failing to scale is a very embarrassing bit of information to admit publicly after the fact - the info is unlikely to be publicly known unless the problem gets independently, externally, publicized, for any startup.

i'd expect any startup that makes it past the O(1m active users) point and then proceeds to noticeably be impeded by performance problems to be unusual - maybe they make it there by cleverly pivoting around their scalability problems (or otherwise dancing around them/putting them off), with the hope of buying (or getting bought) out of the problems later on.

comment by anandjeyahar · 2014-12-16T06:10:10.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah.. a compiled program running on limited computing resources(memory, cpu etc..). I kinda think the metaphor assumes that implicitly. Perhaps it results in a leaky abstraction for most others(i.e: not working with computers), but i don't really see it as a problem.

Agree 'how' is more accurate than why.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-16T00:57:48.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Why" usually resolves to "how" (if not always (in the physical world), with one notable exception).

comment by anandjeyahar · 2014-12-16T06:12:51.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

eventually the truth/reality/answer is indifferent to the phrasing of the question (as why/how). I do think phrasing it as how makes it easier to answer(in the instrumental sense) than why. Also what is the exception, am not aware of it, please point me.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-16T12:40:48.684Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Why are you in the hospital?" - "Because I was injured when a car hit me."

"Why did the car hit you?" - "Because the driver was drunk and I was standing at the intersection."

"Why was the driver drunk?" and "Why were you standing at the intersection?" and so on and so forth.

Every "why" question about something occurring in the natural world is answered by going one (or more) levels down in the granularity, describing one high-level phenomenon via its components, typically lower-level phenomena.

This isn't unlike deriving one corollary from another. You're climbing back* the derivation tree towards the axioms, so to speak. It's the same in any system, the math analogy would be if someone asked you "why does this corollary hold", which you'd answer by tracing it back to the nearest theorem. Then "why does this theorem hold" would be answered by describing its lower-level* lemmata. Back we go, ever towards the axioms.

All these are more aptly described as "how"-questions, "how" is the scientific question, since what we're doing is finding descriptions, not reasons, in some sense.

Of course you could just solve such distinctions via dictionary and then in daily usage use "why" and "how" interchangeably, which is fine. But it's illuminating to notice the underlying logic.

Which leaves as the only truly distinct "why"-question the "why those axioms?", which in the real world is typically phrased as "why anything at all?". Krauss tries to reduce that to a "how" question in A Universe From Nothing, as does the Tegmark multiverse, which doesn't work except snuggling in one more descriptive layer in front of the axioms.

There is a good case to be made that this one remaining true "why"-question, which does not reduce to merely some one-level-lower description, is actually ill-formed and doesn't make sense. The territory just provides us with evidence, the model we build to compress that evidence implicitly surmises the existence of underlying axioms in the territory. But why bother with that single remaining "Why"-question when the answer is forever outside our reach?

*(We know real trees are upside down, unlike these strange biological things in that strange place outside our window.)

comment by anandjeyahar · 2014-12-17T12:42:12.421Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There is a good case to be made that this one remaining true "why"-question, which does not reduce to merely some one-level-lower description, is actually ill-formed and doesn't make sense.

Am Douglas Adams on this one. 42 is the answer, we don't know the question. Seriously, though I've gotten to a stage where I don't wonder much about the one 'why' axiom anymore*. Thanks for the clarification though.

*-- Used to wonder some 10 years ago though.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-01T19:50:06.431Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Geographers crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect that beyond this lies nothing but sandy deserts full of wild beasts, and unapproachable bogs.

Plutarch, from Life of Theseus.

comment by Username · 2014-12-07T19:27:20.913Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This makes me think that some of this practice might have been motivated by professional pride on the part of the mapmakers. Such as, "oh, the only reason I didn't go farther was because of the ravenous beasts, and my rival would never be able to push the boundaries farther either so you might as well buy/trust in my mapmaking"

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-08T14:56:54.422Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

You may be right, but I'm also inclined to include that it's fun to draw monsters.

comment by William_Quixote · 2014-12-04T19:32:39.532Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW · GW

there is a familiar phenomenon here, in which a certain kind of would-be economic expert loves to cite the supposed lessons of economic experiences that are in the distant past, and where we actually have only a faint grasp of what really happened. Harding 1921 “works” only because people don’t know much about it; you have to navigate through some fairly obscure sources to figure out [what actually happened]. And the same goes even more strongly — let’s say, XII times as strongly — when, say, [Name] starts telling us about the Emperor Diocletian. The point is that the vagueness of the information, and even more so what most people [think they] know about it, lets such people project their prejudices onto the past and then claim that they’re discussing the lessons of experience.

Paul Krugman on the use of examples to obscure rather than clarify

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T00:50:04.086Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

What's the alternative. Site what's currently going on in other countries (people generally aren't to familiar with that either)? Generalize from one example (where people don't necessarily now all the details either)?

comment by Izeinwinter · 2014-12-06T19:09:24.068Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. Because both of those have actual data, and are thus useful - your reasoning can be tested against reality.

We just really don't know very much about the roman economy, and are unlikely to find out much more than we currently do. Generalizing from one example isn't good .. science, logic or argument. But it's better than generalizing from the fog of history. Not a lot better - Economics only very barely qualifies as a science on a good day, but Krugman is completely correct to call people out for going in this direction because doing so just outright reduces it to storytelling.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T23:20:43.572Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

We just really don't know very much about the roman economy, and are unlikely to find out much more than we currently do.

On the other hand we do know a lot about what happened in 1921, Krugman just wishes we didn't because it appears to contradict his theories.

Generalizing from one example isn't good .. science, logic or argument. But it's better than generalizing from the fog of history.

Um, no. History contains evidence, it's not particularly clean evidence, but evidence nonetheless and we shouldn't be throwing it away.

comment by lukeprog · 2014-12-01T23:27:14.424Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Rationalizations are more important than sex... Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

  • Jeff Goldblum's character in The Big Chill
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-03T21:38:03.225Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Frequency is not importance. I think this quote has more humorous than practical merit.

comment by Brillyant · 2014-12-07T17:03:26.629Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

But frequency can be strong evidence of importance.

I suspect many people would experience significant psychological trauma if they were unable to rationalize for a week.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-08T00:03:54.016Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But frequency can be strong evidence of importance.

Yes. But probably not above the importance of sex...

I suspect many people would experience significant psychological trauma if they were unable to rationalize for a week.

Interesting. This suggests a method or measure of the importance of compartmentalization. Maybe rationalization is even neccessary for dealing rationally with real life (the word kind of gives it away). Could it be that is needed (in one way or the other) for AI to work in the face of uncertainty?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-08T00:37:31.829Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe rationalization is even neccessary for dealing rationally with real life (the word kind of gives it away).

Only in the sense that lying can be called "truthization".

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-08T14:27:46.345Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I read that. I agree with the argument. But it doesn't really address my intuition behind my argument.

The idea is that you have concurrent processes creating partial models of partial but overlapping aspects of reality. These models a) help making predictions for each aspect (descriptively), b) may help acting in the context of the aspect (operational/prescriptively) and c) may be on the symbolic layer inconsistent.

Do you want to kick out all the benefits to gain consistency? It could be that you can't achieve consistency of overlapping models at all without some super all encompassing model. Or it could be that such a super-model is horribly big and slow.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-09T05:45:47.903Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If we're going to be building a Seed AI, I really don't think a good design would involve the AI reasoning using multiple, partially overlapping, possibly inconsistent models, especially since I'm not sure how the AI would go about updating those models if it made contradictory observations. For example, upon receiving contradictory evidence, which of its models would it update? One? Two? All of them? If you decide to work with ad hoc hypotheses that contradict not only reality, but each other, just because it's useful to do so, the price you pay is throwing the entire idea of updating out the window.

If it's uncertainty you're concerned about, you don't need to go to the trouble of having multiple models; good old Bayesian reasoning is designed to deal with uncertainties in reasoning--no overlapping models required. Moreover, I have a difficult time believing that a sufficiently intelligent AI would face much of an issue with regard to processing speed or memory capacity; if anything, working with multiple models might actually take longer in some situations, e.g. when dealing with a scenario in which several different models could apply. In short, the "super all encompassing model" would seem to work just fine.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-26T02:34:17.460Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bayesianism works well with known unknowns. But it doesn't work any better than any other system else with unknown unknowns. I would say that while Bayesian reasoning can deal well with risk, it's not great with uncertainty - that's not to say uncertainty invalidates Bayesianism, only to say that Bayesianism is not so spectacularly strong it is able to overwhelm such fundamental difficulties of epistemology.

To my mind, using multiple models of reality is more or less essential. My reasons for thinking this are difficult to articulate because they're mired in deep intuitions of mine I don't understand very well, but an analogy might help somewhat.

Think of the universe's workings as a large and enormously complicated jigsaw puzzle. At least for human beings, when trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle, focusing exclusively on the overall picture and how each individual puzzle piece integrates into it is an inefficient process. You're better off thinking of the puzzle as several separate puzzles instead, and working with clusters of pieces.

By doing this, you'll make mistakes - one of your clusters might actually be upside down or sideways, in a way that won't be consistent with the overall picture's orientation. However, this drawback can be countered as long as you don't look at the puzzle exclusively in terms of the individual clustered pieces. A mixed view is best.

Maybe a sufficiently advanced AI would be able to most efficiently sort through the puzzle of the universe in a more rigid manner. But IMO, what evidence we currently have about intelligence suggests the opposite. AI that's worthy of the name will probably heuristically optimize on multiple levels at once, as that capability's one of the greatest strengths machine-learning has so far offered us.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-09T11:25:11.290Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your points are valid. But the question remains whether a pure approach is efficient enought to work at all. Once it does it could scale as it sees fit.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-01T20:25:59.082Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-11T19:13:11.581Z · score: 15 (21 votes) · LW · GW

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

--Marcel Proust

comment by Jay_Schweikert · 2014-12-18T05:02:23.228Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation, For fear they should succumb and go astray; So when you are requested to pay up or be molested, You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld, No matter how trifling the cost; For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that pays it is lost!"

--Rudyard Kipling, "Dane-Geld"

A nice reminder about the value of one-boxing, especially in light of current events.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-12-18T08:07:41.517Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't see that last link as a publicity stunt? I tentatively suspect that it is - though maybe I should put that under 50% - with a lot of the remaining probability going to blackmail of some individual(s).

comment by alienist · 2014-12-19T07:25:20.480Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Well, when this capitulation happened in 2012 no one except a few "right-wing nuts" seemed to care.

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-21T17:47:36.992Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This was definitely not the right link to use, at all - how about wikipedia instead? Nor am I sure what point you want to make besides scoring political points - how about specific recommendations?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-17T22:00:43.937Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Where you are going to spend your time and your energy is one of the most important decisions you get to make in life.

Jeff Bezos

comment by elharo · 2014-12-09T12:30:01.196Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

We're similarly shocked whenever authority figures who are supposed to know what they're doing make it plain that they don't, President Obama's healthcare launch being probably the most serious recent example. We shouldn't really be shocked, though. Because all these stories illustrate one of the most fundamental yet still under-appreciated truths of human existence, which is this: everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.

Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and politicial parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.

In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.

-- Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, May 21, 2014

comment by wadavis · 2014-12-09T14:59:13.109Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I enjoyed this quote, and have had a great number of self depreciating laughs with other young professionals about how we were totally winging it.

But it is not true.

There are those winging it, but they are faking it until they make it, and make up a smaller group than represented above. The much larger group is made from a rainbow of wrong! Biases, ignorance, bad information, misinformation, conflicting agendas, the list goes on.

The group of people just winging it, pushing their limits, faking it until they make it, are only piece of the bigger picture of stuff done wrong. It is not fair to overrepresent their influence. Although, it is always a comfort to know there are others out their in the same boat, just winging it.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-10T05:53:10.496Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking.

George S. Patton

comment by ike · 2014-12-10T16:35:31.681Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, everyone should be thinking alike. How about

If not everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-11T02:58:00.909Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think the intended meaning (phrased in LessWrong terminology) is something more along the lines of the following:

Humans are not perfect Bayesians, and even if they were, they don't start from the same priors and encounter the same evidence. Therefore, Aumann's Agreement Theorem does not hold for human beings; thus, if a large number of human beings is observed to agree on the truth of a proposition, you should be suspicious. It's far more likely that they are signalling tribal agreement or, worse yet, accepting the proposition without thinking it through for themselves, than that they have each individually thought it through and independently reached identical conclusions. In general, then, civilized disagreement is a strong indicator of a healthy rationalist community; look at how often people disagree with each other on LW, for example. If everyone on LW was chanting, "Yes, Many Worlds is true, you should prefer torture to dust specks, mainstream philosophy is worthless," then that would be worrying, even if it is true. (I am not claiming that it is, nor am I claiming that it is not; such topics are, I feel, beyond the scope of this discussion and were brought up purely as examples.)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T16:48:26.619Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

deally, everyone should be thinking alike.

Why? Thinking is not limited to answering well-defined questions about empirical reality.

As a practical matter, I think lack of diversity in thinking is a bigger problem than too much diversity.

comment by ike · 2014-12-10T18:20:44.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Lack of diversity may be a problem because then you've got a lower chance of getting the right answer somewhere in there. It doesn't mean that everyone is thinking correctly. Do you subscribe to truth relativism? Otherwise, what could be thought about that doesn't have a correct answer?

comment by VAuroch · 2014-12-13T10:47:24.364Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If everyone is thinking in the same way, you have a good result only if that one way is the correct way. If there are a variety of different ways, all of which appear good, they will produce varying proposals which can be considered for their direct practical consequences, and when the different methods come into conflict, all can be tested and potentially improved.

You might object that you have deduced the correct way of thinking, and therefore you do not need to be concerned with this. Two counter-arguments: 1) You are most likely overconfident, and the consequences of overconfidently removing all other methods of thinking are likely to be a catastrophic Black Swan when an unseen flaw hits you. 2) To the best of our knowledge, the objectively correct way of thinking is AIXI, which is literally unimplementable.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T18:35:52.058Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Lack of diversity may be a problem because then you've got a lower chance of getting the right answer somewhere in there.

That, too, but there are other issues as well -- e.g. risk management through diversification.

Otherwise, what could be thought about that doesn't have a correct answer?

Is she pretty?

Should I be a vegetarian?

What's the best way of tackling that problem?

comment by lmm · 2014-12-16T12:39:53.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A disagreement on any of those questions reduces to either incorrect reasoning or differing preferences. People having identical preferences may be uncommon, but I don't think you can say it means someone isn't thinking.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T16:20:01.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The issue discussed isn't whether it is a problem that some people might think (or prefer) alike. The issue is (emphasis mine):

Ideally, everyone should be thinking alike

comment by ike · 2014-12-10T18:51:23.802Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Risk management through diversification is a totally different use of the word diversification, and that can be followed by a single person also; I don't have to have two contradictory opinions to not invest all my money/resources/time in one basket.

Of the 3 examples you mentioned:

1 is not something people actively "think" about, but is in a sense "automatic", although there is disagreement.

If you feel 2 doesn't have a correct answer, then it seems you're endorsing some form of moral nihilism, in which case the question is meaningless. (Note: this is the position which I myself hold.)

For 3, people are not actually looking for the "best" answer; they want a satisfactory answer. There is a best answer, but it's usually not worth the effort to find. (For any sufficiently complicated problem, of course.) There may be multiple satisfactory answers, but it's not a sign that someone isn't thinking if everyone comes up with the same satisfactory answer.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:12:25.983Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Risk management through diversification is a totally different use of the word diversification

Totally different than what?

1 is not something people actively "think" about

Sure they do, but to make it more stark let me change it a bit: "Am I pretty?"

More generally, this example represents the whole class of subjective opinions.

If you feel 2 doesn't have a correct answer, then it seems you're endorsing some form of moral nihilism

Not quite, just rejecting moral realism is quite sufficient here. But in any case, people do think about it, in different ways, and I don't know how would one determine what is a "correct" answer.

This example represents the distinction between descriptive and normative.

For 3, people are not actually looking for the "best" answer; they want a satisfactory answer.

Also, not quite. People do want the best answer, it's just that they are often satisfied with a good-enough answer. However the question of what is "best" is a hard one and in many cases there is no single correct answer -- the optimality is conditional on certain parameters.

This example represents the individuality of many "correct" answers -- what is correct depends on the person.

comment by ike · 2014-12-10T19:18:25.381Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We were talking about diversity of opinions, and you switched to talking about diversity for risk management.

Also, if you don't know how to determine a correct answer, there's not much to think about until you do.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:20:47.356Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Diversity of opinions is helpful for risk management, specifically the risk that you commit all your resources to the single idea that turns out to be wrong. This is commonly known as "don't put all your eggs into one basket". Risk management is not only about money.

if you don't know how to determine a correct answer, there's not much to think about until you do.

I strongly disagree. In fact, figuring out how would you recognize a correct answer if it happens to bite you on the ass is the major thing to think about for many problems.

comment by ike · 2014-12-10T19:53:38.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The benefit I mentioned above of diversity (higher chance of getting the right answer) is the same thing as what you're talking about then, not like you said :"That, too, but there are other issues as well". If you can recognize the correct answer when you see it, then the use of diversity is to increase your chances of getting the right answer.

So are we down to the only correct use of the original quote is when people aren't sure how to recognize a correct answer?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T20:04:51.302Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

is the same thing

Nope. The thing is, it's not a "correct" -- "not correct" binary dilemma. For any reasonably complex problem there might be a single "correct" answer (provided what you consider optimal is fully specified) and a lot of different "technically not correct" answers. Those "technically not correct" answers are all different and will rise to different consequences. They are not the same -- and if getting the "technically correct" answer is unlikely, you do care about which "incorrect" answers you'll end up using.

Basically, diversification helps with dealing with the risks of having to accept "technically not correct" answers because the technically correct one is out of reach.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-16T13:13:20.130Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, everyone should be thinking alike.

Twenty art students are drawing the same life model. They are all thinking about the task; they will produce twenty different drawings. In what world would it be ideal for them to produce identical drawings?

Twenty animators apply for the same job at Pixar. They put a great deal of thought into their applications, and submit twenty different demo reels. In what world would it be ideal for them to produce identical demo reels?

Twenty designers compete to design the new logo for a company. In what world would it be ideal for them to come up with identical logos?

Twenty would-be startup founders come up with ideas for new products. In what world would it be ideal for them to come up with the same idea?

Twenty students take the same exam. In what world would it be ideal for them to give the same answers?

Twenty people thinking alike lynch an innocent man. Does this happen in an ideal world?

comment by ike · 2014-12-16T14:20:46.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In 1 and 2, the thinking is not the type being referred to in the quote. In 3, assuming only one of theirs get chosen, then there are 19 failures, hence 19 non-thinkers or non-sufficient thinking. In 4, they're not all trying to answer the same question "what's the best way to make money", but the question "what's a good way to make money". (That may also apply to 3.) I touched on the difference in another thread. In 5, yes, every test-taker should give the correct answer to every question. Obvious for multiple choice tests, and even other tests usually only have one really correct answer, even if there may be more than one way to phrase it.

In 6, first of all, your example is isomorphic to its complement; where 20 people decide not to lynch an innocent man. If you defend the original quote, then some of them must not be thinking. And the actual answer is that my quoted version is one-sided; agreement doesn't imply idealism, idealism implies agreement.

I could add a disclaimer; everyone should be thinking alike in cases referred to by the first quote. I don't have a good way to narrow down exactly what that is off-hand right now, it's kind of intuitional. Do you have an example where my claim conflicts directly with what the first quote would say, and you think it's obvious in that scenario that they are right and not me?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-16T20:30:29.489Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You are invited by a friend to what he calls a "cool organization". You walk into the building, and are promptly greeted by around twenty different people, all using variations on the same welcome phrase. You ask what the main point of the organization is, and several different people chime in at the same time, all answering, "Politics." You ask what kind of politics. Every single one of them proceeds to endorse the idea that abortion is unconditionally bad. Now feeling rather creeped out, you ask them for their reasoning. Several of them give answers, but all of those answers are variations of the same argument, and the way in which they say it gives you the feeling as though they are reciting this argument from memory.

Would you be inclined to stay at this "cool organization" a moment longer than you have to?

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-17T15:51:25.490Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now substitute "abortion is unconditionally bad" with "creationism should not be taught as science in public schools".

If you would still be creeped out by that, then your creep detector is miscalibrated; that would mean nobody can have an organization dedicated to a cause without creeping you out.

If you would not be creeped out by that, then your initial reaction to the abortion example was probably being mindkilled by abortion, not being creeped out by the fact that a lot of people agreed on something.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T16:00:13.767Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just because I agree with their ideas doesn't mean I won't find it creepy. A cult is a cult, regardless of what it promotes. If I wanted to join an anti-creationist community, I certainly wouldn't join that one, and there are plenty such communities that manage to get their message across without coming off as cultish.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-17T16:15:54.778Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The example is supposed to sound cultist because the people think alike. But I have a hard time seeing how a non-cultist anti-creationist group would produce different arguments against creationism.

The non-cultist group could of course not all use the same welcome phrase, but that's not really the heart of what the example is supposed to illustrate,

comment by dxu · 2014-12-18T23:16:46.558Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There are multiple anti-creationist arguments out there, so if they all immediately jump to the same one, I'd be suspicious. But even beyond that, it's natural for humans to disagree about stuff, because we're not perfect Bayesians. If you see a bunch of humans agreeing completely, you should immediately think "cult", or at the very least "these people don't think for themselves". (I'd be much less suspicious if we replace humans with Bayesian superintelligences, however, because those actually follow Aumann's Agreement Theorem.)

comment by alienist · 2014-12-17T03:09:35.890Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would you be inclined to stay at this "cool organization" a moment longer than you have to?

Yes, actually, and I don't see why it is creepy despite your repeated assertions that it is.

Several of them give answers, but all of those answers are variations of the same argument,

And if they gave completely different arguments, you'd complain about the remarkable co-incidence that all these arguments suggest the same policy.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T15:53:13.344Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, actually, and I don't see why it is creepy despite your repeated assertions that it is.

Difference of opinion, then. I would find it creepy as all hell.

And if they gave completely different arguments, you'd complain about the remarkable co-incidence that all these arguments suggest the same policy.

I probably would, yes, but I would still prefer that world to the one in which they gave only one argument.

comment by ike · 2014-12-16T21:08:56.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Now you're just arguing from creepiness.

Just because people should reach the same conclusions does not imply they should always do the same thing; e.g. some versions of chicken have the optimal solution where both players have the same options but they should do different things. (On a one-off with binding preconditions (or TDT done right), where the sum of outcomes on their doing different things is higher than any symmetrical outcome, they should commit to choose randomly in coordination.)

This example looks similiar to me; the cool cultists don't know how to assign turns. Even if I had several clones, we wouldn't all be doing the same things; not because we would disagree on what was important, but because it's unnecessary to do some things more than once.

Also, this organization sounds really cool! Where can I join? (Seriously, I've never been in a cult before and would love to have the experience.)

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-16T21:25:33.967Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Seriously, I've never been in a cult before and would love to have the experience.

You really don't want that.


edit: A concrete useful suggestion is to reorganize your life in such a way that you have better things to do with your time than be a tourist in other people's misery and ruin.

comment by ike · 2014-12-16T21:44:17.787Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are you speaking from experience or general knowledge?

If I go in knowing it's a cult, doesn't that change a lot? I'd be interested in a comparison of survival rates (of general sanity) between people depending on their mindset upon joining

comment by Bugmaster · 2014-12-16T22:24:53.530Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you join a cult, then even your physical survival will suddenly become a lot more perilous. You will likely have to conform, or die. Keep that in mind.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T01:22:16.160Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

...Not that I know much about cults or their relationship to the law, but that seems kind of illegal.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-16T22:24:10.819Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The main problem with joining a cult isn't physical danger, or even the chance of having your mind permanently changed (retention rates for cult membership are very low). It's what they'll get out of you while you're in there. In most cases you can expect to see a lot of pressure to do things like handing over large sums of money, or donating large amounts of unpaid labor, or abandoning social links outside the organization, and those aren't necessarily things you can get back once you've burned them.

I'd expect going in with eyes open to mitigate this to some extent, but not perfectly.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-17T09:11:31.672Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In 1 and 2, the thinking is not the type being referred to in the quote.

The quote is without a provenance that I can discover. If authentic, I presume that Patton was referring to military planning. I don't see a line separating that type of thinking from cases (1)-(4) and some of (5). Ideas must be found or created to achieve results that are not totally ordered. Thinking better is helpful but thinking alike is not.

In 3, assuming only one of theirs get chosen, then there are 19 failures, hence 19 non-thinkers or non-sufficient thinking.

Only if you "thinking better" to retroactively mean "won". But that is not what the word "thinking" means.

In 4, they're not all trying to answer the same question "what's the best way to make money", but the question "what's a good way to make money".

I doubt any of those entrepreneurs are indifferent between a given level of success and 10 times that level.

In 5, yes, every test-taker should give the correct answer to every question. Obvious for multiple choice tests, and even other tests usually only have one really correct answer, even if there may be more than one way to phrase it.

Perhaps you are thinking only of a limited type of exam. There is only one correct answer to "what is 23 times 87?"[1] Not all exams are like that.

Philosophy:

Do we need a notion of innateness in order to explain how humans come to know about objects, causes, words, numbers, colours, actions or minds? (Your answer may focus on a single domain of knowledge.)

Ancient history (from here:

"The mother of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, follower of Horus, she who is in charge of the affairs of the Harem, whose every word is done for her, daughter of the god (begotten) of his body, Hetepheres." -- Inscription from the tomb of Hetepheres

With reference to the quotation, discuss the power and influence of queens in this period [of ancient Egypt].

The link also provides the marking criteria for the question. The ideal result can only be described as "twenty students giving the same answer" if, as in case (3), "the same answer" is redefined to mean "anything that gets top marks", in which case it becomes tautological.

In 6, first of all, your example is isomorphic to its complement; where 20 people decide not to lynch an innocent man. If you defend the original quote, then some of them must not be thinking. And the actual answer is that my quoted version is one-sided; agreement doesn't imply idealism, idealism implies agreement.

I reject both of those. Agreement doesn't imply ideal, of course (case 6 was just a test to see if people were thinking). But neither does ideal imply agreement, except by definitional shenanigans. And your version of Patton's quote doesn't include the hypothesis of ideality anyway. Neither does Patton's. We are, or should be, talking about the real world.

I could add a disclaimer; everyone should be thinking alike in cases referred to by the first quote. I don't have a good way to narrow down exactly what that is off-hand right now, it's kind of intuitional. Do you have an example where my claim conflicts directly with what the first quote would say, and you think it's obvious in that scenario that they are right and not me?

What are those cases? Military planning, I am assuming, on the basis of who Patton was. Twenty generals gather to decide how to address the present juncture of a war. All will have ideas; these ideas will not all be the same. They will bring different backgrounds of knowledge and experience to the matter. In that situation, if they all all agree at once on what to do, I believe Patton's version applies.

(1) Ubj znal crbcyr'f svefg gubhtug ba ernqvat gung jnf "nun, urknqrpvzny!" Whfg...qba'g.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-17T03:36:41.343Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, everyone should be thinking alike.

Humans have bounded rationality, different available data sets, and different sets of accumulated experience (which is freqently labeled as part of intuition).

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-09T13:58:44.028Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.

Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Reflections on Exile

comment by gjm · 2014-12-12T11:42:07.472Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Cf. Tolstoy: all happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

What happens twice probably happens more than twice: are there other notable expressions of this idea?

(There's a well-known principle in software development that's pretty close, though I can't find a Famous Quotation of it right now: when you're choosing a name for a variable or function or whatever, avoid abbreviations: there's only one way to spell a word right, and lots of ways to spell it wrong. Though this is not always good advice.)

comment by emr · 2015-01-01T05:31:06.946Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Biblical verse on the asymmetry of error: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."

comment by gjm · 2015-01-01T14:00:05.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's an interesting comparison. I always took the broad/narrow contrast to be about how easy each path is, and about how many take them, rather than how varied each is, but clearly the ideas are related.

comment by soreff · 2014-12-13T06:58:16.801Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What happens twice probably happens more than twice: are there other notable expressions of this idea?

...

there's only one way to spell a word right, and lots of ways to spell it wrong.

Usually agreed, on both counts. But: color/colour (and other US/UK pairs...)

comment by gjm · 2014-12-13T13:47:44.069Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True enough. But then there are even more ways to spell it wrong, and the general principle still holds. (With a possible exception for cases where you abbreviate a word in such a way as to remove the bits whose spelling differs. But, e.g. "col" is seldom likely to be a good abbreviation for "colo[u]r", not least because "column" will be a distracting other meaning...)

comment by tjohnson314 · 2014-12-17T01:02:59.044Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1 against."

  • Ernest Rutherford
comment by gwern · 2015-01-04T03:18:05.032Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alas, as nice a quote as it is, it seems to be bogus:

comment by DanielLC · 2015-03-02T19:35:43.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The neutrino anomaly was about 5*10^6 to 1 against. Not quite 10^12 to 1, but I still think it shows that odds that small aren't what they're cracked up to be.

comment by JQuinton · 2014-12-16T02:32:02.872Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-16T19:01:38.173Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't something good happening correctly result in a Bayseian update on the probability that you are a genius, and something bad a Bayseian update on the probability that someone is an idiot? (perhaps even you)

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-17T03:07:51.047Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but if something good happens you have to update on the probability that someone besides you is a genius, and if something bad happens you have to update on the probability that you're the idiot. The problem is people only update the parts that make them look better.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-16T20:22:44.103Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but the issue is whether or not those are the dominant hypotheses that come to mind. It's better to see success and failure as results of plans and facts than innate ability or disability.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T20:20:23.712Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not without a causal link, the absence of which is conspicuous.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-16T20:40:29.052Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. Causation might not be present, true, but causation is not necessary for correlation, and statistical correlation is what Bayes is all about. Correlation often implies causation, and even when it doesn't, it should still be respected as a real statistical phenomenon. All Jiro's update would require is that P(success|genius) > P(success|~genius), which I don't think is too hard to grant. It might not update enough to make the hypothesis the dominant hypothesis, true, but the update definitely occurs.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-12-16T20:48:19.186Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Because" (in the original quote) is about causality. Your inequality implies nothing causal without a lot of assumptions. I don't understand what your setup is for increasing belief about a causal link based on an observed correlation (not saying it is impossible, but I think it would be helpful to be precise here).

Jiro's comment is correct but a non-sequitur because he was (correctly) pointing out there is a dependence between success and genius that you can exploit to update. But that is not what the original quote was talking about at all, it was talking about an incorrect, self-serving assignment of a causal link in a complicated situation.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T01:14:15.387Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Because" (in the original quote) is about causality. Your inequality implies nothing causal without a lot of assumptions.

Yes, naturally. I suppose I should have made myself a little clearer there; I was not making any reference to the original quote, but rather to Jiro's comment, which makes no mention of causation, only Bayesian updates.

I don't understand what your setup is for increasing belief about a causal link based on an observed correlation (not saying it is impossible, but I think it would be helpful to be precise here).

Because P(causation|correlation) > P(causation|~correlation). That is, it's more likely that a causal link exists if you see a correlation than if you don't see a correlation.

As for your second paragraph, Jiro himself/herself has come to clarify, so I don't think it's necessary (for me) to continue that particular discussion.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-17T08:17:11.987Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Because P(causation|correlation) > P(causation|~correlation). That is, it's more likely that a causal link exists if you see a correlation than if you don't see a correlation.

Where are you getting this? What are the numerical values of those probabilities?

You can have presence or absence of a correlation between A and B, coexisting with presence or absence of a causal arrow between A and B. All four combinations occur in ordinary, everyday phenomena.

I cannot see how to define, let alone measure, probabilities P(causation|correlation) and P(causation|~correlation) over all possible phenomena.

I also don't know what distinction you intend in other comments in this thread between "correlation" and "real correlation". This is what I understand by "correlation", and there is nothing I would contrast with this and call "real correlation".

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T16:14:01.313Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You can have presence or absence of a correlation between A and B, coexisting with presence or absence of a causal arrow between A and B. All four combinations occur in ordinary, everyday phenomena.

Do you think it is literally equally likely that causation exists if you observe a correlation, and if you don't? That observing the presence or absence of a correlation should not change your probability estimate of a causal link at all? If not, then you acknowledge that P(causation|correlation) != P(causation|~correlation). Then it's just a question of which probability is greater. I assert that, intuitively, the former seems likely to be greater.

I also don't know what distinction you intend in other comments in this thread between "correlation" and "real correlation". This is what I understand by "correlation", and there is nothing I would contrast with this and call "real correlation".

By "real correlation" I mean a correlation that is not simply an artifact of your statistical analysis, but is actually "present in the data", so to speak. Let me know if you still find this unclear. (For some examples of "unreal" correlations, take a look here.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-18T16:47:25.085Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think it is literally equally likely that causation exists if you observe a correlation, and if you don't?

I think I have no way of assigning numbers to the quantities P(causation|correlation) and P(causation|~correlation) assessed over all examples of pairs of variables. If you do, tell me what numbers you get.

I assert that, intuitively, the former seems likely to be greater.

I asked why and you have said "intuition", which means that you don't know why.

My belief is different, but I also know why I hold it. Leaping from correlation to causation is never justified without reasons other than the correlation itself, reasons specific to the particular quantities being studied. Examples such as the one you just linked to illustrate why. There is no end of correlations that exist without a causal arrow between the two quantities. Merely observing a correlation tells you nothing about whether such an arrow exists. For what it's worth, I believe that is in accordance with the views of statisticians generally. If you want to overturn basic knowledge in statistics, you will need a lot more than a pronouncement of your intuition.

By "real correlation" I mean a correlation that is not simply an artifact of your statistical analysis, but is actually "present in the data", so to speak.

A correlation (or any other measure of statistical dependence) is something computed from the data. There is no such thing as a correlation not "present in the data".

What I think you mean by a "real correlation" seems to be an actual causal link, but that reduces your claim that "real correlation" implies causation to a tautology. What observations would you undertake to determine whether a correlation is, in your terms, a "real" correlation?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-18T21:31:38.096Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think I have no way of assigning numbers to the quantities P(causation|correlation) and P(causation|~correlation) assessed over all examples of pairs of variables. If you do, tell me what numbers you get.

My original question was whether you think the probabilities are equal. This reply does not appear to address that question. Even if you have no way of assigning numbers, that does not imply that the three possibilities (>, =, <) are equally likely. Let's say we somehow did find those probabilities. Would you be willing to say, right now, that they would turn out to be equal (with high probability)?

I asked why and you have said "intuition", which means that you don't know why.

Okay, here's my reasoning (which I thought was intuitively obvious, hence the talk of "intuition", but illusion of transparency, I guess):

The presence of a correlation between two variables means (among other things) that those two variables are statistically dependent. There are many ways for variables to be dependent, one of which is causation. When you observe that a correlation is present, you are effectively eliminating the possibility that the variables are independent. With this possibility gone, the remaining possibilities must increase in probability mass, i.e. become more likely, if we still want the total to sum to 1. This includes the possibility of causation. Thus, the probability of some causal link existing is higher after we observe a correlation than before: P(causation|correlation) > P(causation|~correlation).

There is no such thing as a correlation not "present in the data".

If you are using a flawed or unsuitable analysis method, it is very possible for you to (seemingly) get a correlation when in fact no such correlation exists. An example of such a flawed method may be found here, where a correlation is found between ratios of quantities despite those quantities being statistically independent, thus giving the false impression that a correlation is present when it is actually not.

What observations would you undertake to determine whether a correlation is, in your terms, a "real" correlation?

As I suggested in my reply to Lumifer, redundancy helps.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-31T12:48:28.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to this.

Okay, here's my reasoning (which I thought was intuitively obvious, hence the talk of "intuition", but illusion of transparency, I guess):

The illusion of transparency applies not only to explaining things to other people, but to explaining things to oneself.

The presence of a correlation between two variables means (among other things) that those two variables are statistically dependent. There are many ways for variables to be dependent, one of which is causation. When you observe that a correlation is present, you are effectively eliminating the possibility that the variables are independent. With this possibility gone, the remaining possibilities must increase in probability mass, i.e. become more likely, if we still want the total to sum to 1. This includes the possibility of causation. Thus, the probability of some causal link existing is higher after we observe a correlation than before: P(causation|correlation) > P(causation|~correlation).

The argument still does not work. Statistical independence does not imply causal independence. In causal reasoning the idea that it does is called the assumption or axiom of faithfulness, and there are at least two reasons why it may fail. Firstly, the finiteness of sample sizes mean that observations can never prove statistical independence, only put likely upper bounds on its magnitude. As Andrew Gelman has put it, with enough data, nothing in independent. Secondly, dynamical systems and systems of cyclic causation are capable of producing robust statistical independence of variables that are directly causally related. There may be reasons for expecting faithfulness to hold in a specific situation, but it cannot be regarded as a physical law true always and everywhere.

Even when faithfulness does hold, statistical dependence tells you only that either causation or selection is happening somewhere. If your observations are selected on a common effect of the two variables, you may observe correlation when the variables are causally independent. If you have reason to think that selection is absent, you still have to decide whether you are looking at one variable causing the other, both being effects of common causes, or a combination.

Given all of these complications, which in a real application of statistics you would have to have thought about before even collecting any data, the argument that correlation is evidence for causation, in the absence of any other information about the variables, has no role to play. The supposed conclusion that P(causation|correlation) > P(causation|~correlation) is useless unless there is reason to think that the difference in probabilities is substantial, which is something you have not addressed, and which would require coming up with something like actual values for the probabilities.

Redundancy helps. Use multiple analysis methods, show someone else your results, etc. If everything turns out the way it's supposed to, then that's strong evidence that the correlation is "real".

This is too vague to be helpful. What multiple analysis methods? The correlation coefficient simply is what it is. There are other statistics you can calculate for statistical dependency in general, but they are subject to the same problem as correlation: none of them imply causation. What does showing someone else your results accomplish? What are you expecting them to do that you did not? What is "the way everything is supposed to turn out"?

What, in concrete terms, would you do to determine the causal efficacy of a medication? You won't get anywhere trying to publish results with no better argument than "correlation raises the probability of causation".

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-17T16:37:02.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

a correlation that is not simply an artifact of your statistical analysis, but is actually "present in the data", so to speak.

How will you be able to distinguish between the two?

You also seem to be using the word "correlation" to mean "any kind of relationship or dependency" which is not what it normally means.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T16:42:10.500Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Redundancy helps. Use multiple analysis methods, show someone else your results, etc. If everything turns out the way it's supposed to, then that's strong evidence that the correlation is "real".

EDIT: It appears I've been ninja'd. Yes, I am not using the term "correlation" in the technical sense, but in the colloquial sense of "any dependency". Sorry if that's been making things unclear.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-17T19:31:31.647Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I still don't understand in which sense do you use the word "real" in 'correlation is "real"'.

Let's say you have two time series 100 data points in length each. You calculate their correlation, say, Pearson's correlation. It's a number. In which sense can that number be "real" or "not real"?

Do you implicitly have in mind the sampling theory where what you observe is a sample estimate and what's "real" is the true parameter of the unobserved underlying process? In this case there is a very large body of research that mostly goes by the name of "frequentist statistics" about figuring out what does your sample estimate tell you about the unobserved true value (to call which "real" is a bit of stretch since normally it is not real).

comment by dxu · 2014-12-18T21:42:11.674Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems as though my attempts to define my term intensionally aren't working, so I'll try and give an extensional definition instead:

An example would be that site you linked earlier. Those quantities appear to be correlated, but the correlations are not "real".

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-18T21:50:54.202Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So you are using "real" in the sense of "matching my current ideas of what's likely". I think this approach is likely to... lead to problems.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-18T21:55:48.628Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Er... no. Okay, look, here's the definition I provided from an earlier comment:

By "real correlation" I mean a correlation that is not simply an artifact of your statistical analysis, but is actually "present in the data", so to speak.

You seemed to understand this well enough to engage with it, even going so far as to ask me how I would distinguish between the two (answer: redundancy), but now you're saying that I'm using "real" to mean "matching my current ideas of what's likely"? If there's something in the quote that you don't understand, please feel free to ask, but right now I'm feeling a bit bewildered by the fact that you seem to have entirely forgotten that definition.

See also: spurious correlation.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-18T22:26:36.073Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sigh.

All measured correlations are "actually present in the data". If you take two data series and calculate their correlation it would be a number. This measured (or sample) correlation is certainly real and not fake. The question is what does it represent.

You claim the ability to decide -- on a completely unclear to me basis -- that sometimes this measured correlation represents something (and then you call it "real") and sometimes it represents nothing (and then you call it "not real"). "Redundancy" is not an adequate answer because all it means is that you will re-measure your sample again and, not surprisingly, will get similar results because it's still the same data. As an example of "not real" correlation you offered the graphs from the linked page, but I see no reason for you to declare them "not real" other than because it does not look likely to you.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-18T22:53:54.293Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

All measured correlations are "actually present in the data". If you take two data series and calculate their correlation it would be a number. This measured (or sample) correlation is certainly real and not fake. The question is what does it represent.

Depending on which statistical method you use, the number you calculate may not be the number you're looking for, or the number you'd have gotten had you used some other method. If you don't like my use of the word "real" to denote this, feel free to substitute some other word--"representative", maybe. By "redundancy" I'm not referring to the act of analyzing the data multiple times; I'm referring to using multiple methods to do so and seeing if you get the same result each time (possibly checking with a friend or two in the process).

As an example of "not real" correlation you offered the graphs from the linked page, but I see no reason for you to declare them "not real" other than because it does not look likely to you.

No, I am declaring them "not real" because they were calculated using a statistical method widely regarded as suspect. This suspect method is known to produce correlations that are called "spurious", and my link in the grandparent comment was to this method's Wikipedia page. I'm not sure if you thought the link I provided led to the original page you linked, but as you made no mention of "spurious correlations" (the method, not the page), I thought I'd mention it again.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-16T22:50:14.553Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The quote about causality is a characterization of an opponent's view. I was suggesting that the quote's author may have mischaracterized his opponent's view by interpreting a Bayseian update as an assertion of causality.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T20:53:18.533Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

statistical correlation is what Bayes is all about

No, I don't think so at all.

Bayes is about updating your estimates on the basis of new data points. You are not required to be stupid about it.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T01:04:50.123Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

At a cursory glance, that site you linked does not appear to give any information on how it's generating those correlations, but the term "spurious correlation" actually has a specific meaning. Essentially, one can make even statistically uncorrelated variables appear to be correlated by introducing a third variable and taking the respective ratios and finding those to be correlated instead. It should go without saying that you should make sure your correlations are actual correlations rather than mere artifacts of your analysis method. As it is, the first thing I'd do is question the validity of those correlations.

However, if the correlations actually are real, then I'd argue that they actually do constitute Bayesian evidence. The problem is that said evidence will likely be "drowned out" in a sea of much more convincing evidence. That being said, the evidence still exists; you just happen to also be updating on other pieces of evidence, potentially much more convincing evidence. So "You are not required to be stupid about it" is just the observation that you should take into account other forms of evidence when performing a Bayesian update, specifically (in this case) the plausibility of the claim (because plausibility correlates semi-strongly with truth). And to that I have but one thing to say: duh!

Bayes is definitely about statistical correlation. You can call it "updating your estimates on the basis of new data points" if you want, but it's still all probabilities--and you need correlations for those. For example: if you don't know how much phenomenon A correlates with phenomenon B, how are you supposed to calculate the conditional probabilities P(A|B) and P(B|A)?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-17T04:46:39.020Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Bayes is definitely about statistical correlation.

No, I strongly disagree.

it's still all probabilities--and you need correlations for those

I do not need correlations for probabilities -- where did you get that strange idea?

To make a simple observation, "correlation" is a linear relationship and there are many things in this world that are dependent in more complex ways. Are you familiar with the Anscombe's quartet, by the way?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-17T04:58:45.845Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I do not need correlations for probabilities -- where did you get that strange idea?

In that case, I'll repeat my earlier question:

if you don't know how much phenomenon A correlates with phenomenon B, how are you supposed to calculate the conditional probabilities P(A|B) and P(B|A)?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-17T05:44:34.833Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There is no general answer -- this question goes to why do you consider a particular data point to be evidence suitable for updating your prior. Ideally you have causal (structural) knowledge about the relationship between A & B, but lacking that you probably should have some model (implicit or explicit) about that relationship. The relationship does not have to be linear and does not have to show up as correlation (though it, of course, might).

comment by arundelo · 2014-12-17T15:24:59.159Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Which [sports] teams win is largely a function of which teams have the best players, and each league has its own way of determining which players end up on which teams. So, in a sense, Team 1 vs. Team 2 is no more a contest of athletic prowess than chess is a test of whether queens are more powerful than bishops. The real battle is between groups of executives, and the sport is player acquisition.

-- Adam Cadre

comment by Manfred · 2014-12-21T17:53:24.956Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like explaining vs. explaining away. The process by which better players pick up wins is by winning the "contest of athletic prowess." The game itself is interesting to watch because we like to see competent people play, and when upsets happen, they often happen for reasons that are easily displayed and engaged with in terms of the mechanics of the game.

comment by BloodyShrimp · 2014-12-17T20:36:08.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is similar to choosing strict determinism over compatibilism. Which players are the "best" depends on each of those players' individual efforts during the game. You could extend the idea to the executives too, anyway--which groups of executives acquire better players is largely a function of which have the best executives.

Efforts are only one variable here, and the quote did say "largely a function of". Those being said, look at how often teams replay each other during a season with a different winner.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-07T23:55:40.850Z · score: 9 (27 votes) · LW · GW

"As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown."

Ayn Rand

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2014-12-15T22:37:37.660Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If the bolded pair of words were struck, I'd agree completely. Different people will have different balls and chains.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-16T01:16:38.966Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This quote was from a speech given to West Point cadets. By no means are they identical but it would be relatively hard to find a group of people more identical (from the perspective of being of the same gender, same age (within a few years) same nationality, and same general ideology).

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T22:39:07.582Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A. False dichotomy - there are other choices. We might choose to compartmentalize our rationality, for example.

B. False dichotomy in a different sense - we actually don't have access to this choice. No matter how hard we work, our brains are going to be biased and our philosophies are going to be sloppy. It's a question of making one's brain marginally more organized or less disorganized, not of jumping from insanity onto reason. I'm suspicious that working with the insanity and trying to guide its flow is a better strategy than trying to destroy it.

C. Although not having a philosophy leaves us open to bias, having a philosophy can sometimes expose us to bias even further. It's about comparative advantage. Agnosticism has wiggle room that sometimes can be a place for bias to hide, but conversely ideology without self-doubt often serves to crush the truth.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-16T01:15:01.120Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A. How would you implement that choice?

B. We is a loaded term, speak for yourself. There's benefit to realizing that as a human you have bias. There's no benefit to declaring that you can't overcome some of this bias.

C Wouldn't that depend on your philosophy?

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-16T02:04:52.301Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

C. Yes.

B. Agreed that there's benefit to realizing we have bias, disagree that there's no benefit to declaring some biases aren't overcomeable. Trying to overcome biases takes effort. Wasted effort is bad. It's better to pursue mixed strategies that aim at instrumental rationality than to aim at the perfection described in the Rand quotation. Thoughts that seem complex or messy should not be something we shy away from, reality is complicated and our brains are imperfect.

A. I don't know how to describe how to do it, but I do it all the time. It's something humans have to fight against to avoid doing, as it's essentially automatic under normal conditions.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-16T06:38:23.943Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Trying to overcome biases takes effort. Wasted effort is bad. It's better to pursue mixed strategies that aim at instrumental rationality

I think you are assuming hyperbolic discounting/short time preference. It requires a lot of effort to overcome bias, perhaps years. But there are times when it is worth it.

than to aim at the perfection described in the Rand quotation

What perfection? Choosing philosophy? You can always update your philosophy.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-17T01:02:25.936Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It requires a lot of effort to overcome bias, perhaps years. But there are times when it is worth it.

There are also times when it's not worth it, in my opinion.

What perfection?

Rand contrasts "a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation" with "a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain".

I think it's possible to avoid becoming such a disgrace without scrupulously logical deliberation. Most people are severely biased but are not as unhappy or helpless as Rand's argument would imply. Trimming the excesses of our biases seems more reasonable than eliminating them, to me.

comment by Grif · 2014-12-19T01:39:44.811Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You lost me at "junk heap." There is no conscious choice available to a layperson ignorant of philosophy and logic, and such ways of life are perfectly copacetic with small-enough communities. If anything, it is the careful thinker who is more shackled by self-doubt, better understood as the Dunning-Kruger effect, but Ayn Rand has made it obvious she never picked up any primary literature on cognitive science so it's not surprising to see her confusion here.

Quote from 1971's The Romantic Manifesto.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-19T13:26:10.094Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You lost me at "junk heap."

Sorry you're so averse to negative descriptions of the average person's philosophy.

There is no conscious choice available to a layperson ignorant of philosophy and logic

Yes there is, they can choose what music, TV, movies, videos etc to buy/view/play.

and such ways of life are perfectly copacetic with small-enough communities

Do you mean communities where the leader knows about philosophy and can order people around?

If anything, it is the careful thinker who is more shackled by self-doubt

It's reasonable to doubt certain things, but if learning increases your self doubt than you're doing it wrong.

better understood as the Dunning-Kruger effect, but Ayn Rand has made it obvious she never picked up any primary literature on cognitive science

She was associated with Nathaniel Branden, a well regarded psychologist. Cognitive Science is a relatively new field.

so it's not surprising to see her confusion here.

I don't think she's confused, she's saying something you disagree with. If you think you've refuted it, I think you're the confused one.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T22:33:51.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
  1. False dichotomy - there are other choices than those. We might choose to compartmentalize our rationality, for example.

  2. False dichotomy in the other direction - we don't have access to this choice. No matter how hard we work, our brains are going to be biased and our philosophies are going to be sloppy. It's a question of making one's brain marginally more organized or less disorganized, not of jumping from insanity onto reason.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-22T07:35:53.808Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Our human tendency is to disguise all evidence of the reality that most frustrates us: death. We need only look at the cemeteries, the gravestones. the monuments to understand the ways in which we seek to embellish our mortality and banish from our minds this ultimate failure of our humanity. Sometimes we even resort to “canonizing” our dead. After Saint Peter’s Square, the place where most people are canonized is at wakes: usually the dead person is described as a “saint.” Of course, he was a saint because now he can’t bother us! These are just ways of camouflaging the failure that is death.

-- Pope Francis, Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-22T21:44:49.181Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

-- Pope Francis and Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus

I think it's worth clarifying that Pope Francis and Jorge Mario Bergoglio are one and the same person.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-22T21:50:47.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Lesson learned: do not just copy-paste from Amazon.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-22T21:10:04.904Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I assume this is a pro-cryonics quote, but I don't quite see how it relates to rationality. Its point is, quite clearly, "Accept Jesus as your personal savior and gain the gift of Eternal Life".

comment by gjm · 2014-12-22T23:27:02.047Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me it's anti-death rather than pro-cryonics; the two aren't quite the same, and in particular being anti-death no more implies being pro-cryonics than it implies being pro-Jesus. And while no doubt Bergoglio's (= Pope Francis's) anti-death-ism is tightly tied up with his pro-Jesus-ism, what he's written here can stand on its own as an expression of an anti-death attitude.

(I'm not sure being strongly opposed to death should really qualify something as a Rationality Quote either, but that's a different complaint from "it's really all about Jesus".)

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-23T01:32:10.458Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the two aren't quite the same

They are on LW :-/

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-12-17T08:34:13.539Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

...human brains do many absurd things while failing to do many sensible things. Our purpose in developing a formal theory of inference is not to imitate them, but to correct them.

E. T. Jaynes, Probability: The Logic of Science

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-16T01:49:55.042Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, "I know what Zen is," or "I have attained enlightenment." This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner.

--Shunryu Suzuki

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-16T13:35:20.694Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is a very important sentiment. I'm however not sure how to get others to adopt it.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T16:37:33.829Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's the wisdom that comes with age. Doctors call it Alzheimer's.

:-D

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-16T17:19:54.588Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that because you don't understand the point that the orginal quote wants to make, or are you using it to try to make a unrelated joke?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T17:24:11.549Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm using it to make a related joke.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-16T17:32:07.231Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alzheimer's first attacks short term memory before long-term memory. It makes learning harder. It has little to do with being open to new learning.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-16T17:37:49.325Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The quote doesn't talk about easier learning. Alzheimer's makes it easier to approach problems as "a beginner", with "a fresh mind" :-P

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-12-16T18:49:10.224Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Tough crowd.

Or, in ChristianKI's case, tough Kraut. Since IIRC he's a Berliner (an actual one, not like JFK).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T16:38:54.355Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

We so often confuse “what can be translated into print well” with “what is important and interesting.”

Tyler Cowen

comment by AndHisHorse · 2014-12-11T17:25:01.921Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

We also confuse "what is important" with "what is interesting" fairly often.

comment by arundelo · 2014-12-23T11:45:08.075Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"Hah! Please. Find me a more universally rewarded quality than hubris. Go on, I'll wait. The word is just ancient Greek for 'uppity,' as far as I'm concerned. Hubris isn't something that destroys you, it's something you are punished for. By the gods! Well, I've never met a god, just powerful human beings with a lot to gain by keeping people scared."

-- Lisa Bradley, a character in Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag's Strong Female Protagonist

comment by wedrifid · 2014-12-31T11:06:22.403Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Hubris isn't something that destroys you, it's something you are punished for. By the gods!

Or by physics. Not all consequences for overconfidence are social.

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-23T17:38:28.816Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure this is very rational. Assuming that you are more competent than you really are -- which seems to be a matter of hubris -- is indeed capable of destroying you.

comment by shminux · 2014-12-23T22:40:38.721Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but more favorable outcomes are also possible, like becoming the [e.g. 43rd] President.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T20:56:59.023Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the way it works is that people are built to have hubris for signalling purposes, and then they're built to be lazy and risk-averse to counter the dangers of hubris. If you don't get rid of risk-aversion and akrasia but you do get rid of hubris, that can be problematic.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-24T07:48:12.904Z · score: -4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I've never met a god,

Actually, well I suppose it depends on what you mean by "met".

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-24T12:06:21.352Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

There's no such things as gods.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-26T00:14:57.613Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is about the only scenario on LW that someone can be justifiably downvoted for that statement.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-27T06:52:14.975Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why. Non-agents simply don't fit the definition of "god", so equivocating on the definition of "god" from "world-changingly powerful agent" to "abstract personification of causality itself" does not really shed any light on anything.

comment by JQuinton · 2015-01-02T22:53:58.506Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Non-agents simply don't fit the definition of "god"

This is false. Not only does the LW wiki have a definition of "god" that is a non-agent, the study of theology points one to numerous gods that people believe in that are non-agents. There's a reason that many of the popular monotheisms refer to their god as a personal god; it stands in contrast to the heresy of a non-personal (i.e., non-agent) god.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-01-02T23:22:33.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why are you arguing about taste? People adapt metaphors to help them think and act effectively. Human brains like agent-metaphors a lot: witness the popularity of the Moloch essay.

Your problem with classical religion might be that a lot of silly people are classically religious.


"But is the metaphor true" is kind of a silly question, imo.


Also, if there is an agenty God, it/she/he made sure to construct a world where nudges here and there are hard to trace.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-03T10:29:53.298Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your problem with classical religion might be that a lot of silly people are classically religious.

No, my actual problem here is that these metaphors are not useful for making predictions.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-01-03T18:23:39.768Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is that your line for good language use, prediction effectiveness? Do you have an issue with Scott's Moloch metaphor also? What about poetic language more generally?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-04T12:39:52.823Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Look: I am not a major fan of using poetic language to describe real life. Really. Just don't like it. And the problem with Scott's "metaphor" is that it wasn't a metaphor: he actually explicitly tagged the post as having an epistemic status of Fanciful Visionary Visions. It wasn't supposed to be anything approaching a useful sociological analysis that cuts reality at the joints. It wasn't supposed to be a rational way to think about the world.

But because it told a colorful story that stirs the emotions, people remember it far more prominently than any of Scott's writing on mere statistics that actually addresses reality, and now I have to put up with people pretending there's a demon at work in the world.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-01-05T09:16:51.028Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not a major fan of using poetic language to describe real life. Really. Just don't like it.

Fair enough. Why insist others share this preference? I like poetry (T. S. Eliot for example).


A ton of math is about metaphors (Lakoff wrote a book about this).

comment by alienist · 2014-12-30T00:42:39.280Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Let's look at why are asking the question. The relevant property in this discussion is "will punish you for being 'uppity" ". Being an agent isn't directly relevant to that.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-30T06:35:32.278Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But causality can't punish you for being uppity. You basically just cannot be uppity against causality.

comment by bramflakes · 2014-12-27T13:08:10.312Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It isn't meant to be some rigorous account of how the world works, it's a deliberate mythology. I'm not entirely convinced as to whether it's a good idea, but aspie criticisms that amount to "god don't real" are missing the point entirely.

http://www.moreright.net/postrat-religion/

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-27T16:00:00.739Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, upon reading that article you've linked, I've found it to be cogent and well-written but emotionally toxic, tenuous in its connection to facts, and philosophically/existentially filled to the brim with lost purposes. To give examples, the obsession with preserving "European civilization" and the admiration for the internet's cult of ultra-masculinity (which should really be called pseudo-masculinity since it so exaggerates the present day's Masculinity Tropes that it dramatically misses other modes of masculinity, despite their actual historicity) portray the writer as chiefly, bizarrely concerned with present-day cultural trends rather than with the kind of good-in-themselves terminal values around which one could design a society from scratch if necessary.

I mean, sorry to be uncharitable in my reading, but I just don't see why I should want to build white European Christian or post-Christian society, in the first place. I know that reactionary and conservative communities give immense weight and worry to cultural goal-drift away from whatever weird version of white Christian/post-Christian society it is they actually like (derisive tone because it often seems they like The Silmarillion more than Actually Existing Europe), but it seems to me that the only way to really avoid random drift is to ground one's worldview in things that are actually, verifiably, literally true. Only an epistemic thought process will obtain consistent, nonrandom, meaningful results.

And since there is a truth of the matter when it comes to human beings' emotional and existential needs, it seems you couldn't get anywhere by doing anything but anchoring yourself to that truth and drawing as close as possible. Any deviation into lost purposes, ill-posed questions, and fallacious reasoning will be punished.

If you attach yourself to some invented image of some particular time-period in European history and try to pump all the entropy out of it, try to optimize everything to forcibly fit that image you've got in your head, you will only succeed in destroying everything else that you aren't acknowledging you care about. And since that image isn't even a terminal goal, a good-in-itself, the everything else will just be more-or-less everything.

If you separate Myth from Truth, Truth will burn you in hellfire. There is no escape.

(Also, citing an imageboard as a source of information about mythology and religion is just embarrassingly bad scholarship.)

comment by lmm · 2015-01-01T10:12:10.030Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Says the guy citing a deliberately informal wiki as a source of information about historical cultures :P

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-27T14:12:03.161Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Fine, but Dungeons and Dragons is also a constructed, deliberate mythology, and you wouldn't respond to a quote about "You haven't met gods" by saying, "Actually, I role-played encountering Boccob the Uncaring, God of Magic, just last Tuesday."

Well actually, I would respond that way, but as a joke. I would not expect to be taken seriously.

comment by wedrifid · 2014-12-31T11:14:19.726Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think this is about the only scenario on LW that someone can be justifiably downvoted for that statement.

I up-voted it for dissenting against sloppy thinking disguised as being deep or clever. Twisting the word 'god' to include other things that do fit the original, literal or intended meaning of the term results in useless equivocation.

comment by timeholmes · 2014-12-31T18:26:45.039Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Whether or not gods "exist" is beside the point, I feel. Whatever it is that forms one's basis of belief in the world serves the same role. We all "believe" in something that forms our worldview, even if it is a refusal to commit. I think it is being pitched into grief (essentially the membership card of humanity), that exposes our true god. If you believe in nothing, that is what you end up with.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-31T18:52:27.517Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What are you talking about?

comment by anandjeyahar · 2014-12-16T06:06:27.988Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

But, as compiler optimizations exploit increasingly recondite properties of the programming language definition, we find ourselves having to program as if the compiler were our ex-wife’s or ex-husband’s divorce lawyer, lest it introduce security bugs into our kernels, as happened with FreeBSD a couple of years back with a function erroneously annotated as noreturn, and as is happening now with bounds checks depending on signed overflow behavior.

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comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-03T01:31:27.886Z · score: 7 (33 votes) · LW · GW

We have remarked that one reason offered for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow better. But the only real reason for being a progressive is that things naturally tend to grow worse. The corruption in things is not only the best argument for being progressive; it is also the only argument against being conservative. The conservative theory would really be quite sweeping and unanswerable if it were not for this one fact. But all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. Briefly, if you want the old white post you must have a new white post.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.

comment by Kindly · 2014-12-03T21:07:47.776Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I am reminded of:

"Arf arf arf! Not because arf arf! But exactly because arf NOT arf!" GK Chesterton's dog

@stevenkaas

In trying to find the above quote by wildcard searching on Google, I stumbled upon another quote of this nature by the dog's owner himself: "I want to love my neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I." There appears to be another one about science being bad not because it encourages doubt, but because it encourages credulity, but I'm unable to find the exact quote.

comment by frnzkfk · 2014-12-03T22:51:19.983Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Who could have imagined that Zizek was so derivative! Oh wait...

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-04T00:33:10.280Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Zizek himself lampshades the method here.

comment by Leon · 2014-12-04T22:57:17.777Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

As does Chesterton, less explicitly:

Mere light sophistry is the thing that I happen to despise most of all things, and it is perhaps a wholesome fact that this is the thing of which I am generally accused. I know nothing so contemptible as a mere paradox; a mere ingenious defence of the indefensible.

and at length.

I get the impression that he (thankfully!) eased off on that particular template as time went on.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-03T20:09:50.457Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm inclined to think that non-ideological autocracy (we're in charge because we're us and you're you) is the human default. Anything better or worse takes work to maintain.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-04T04:13:56.719Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm inclined to think that non-ideological autocracy (we're in charge because we're us and you're you) is the human default.

I'm not sure about that. In fact, I can't think of any actually non-ideologically autocratic society in history. Are you sure you're not confusing "non-ideological" with "having an ideology I don't find at all convincing"?

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-03T23:00:28.228Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I seem to remember reading that tribes were more egalitarian than modern society, although its possible the author was just romanticising the noble savage.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-04T00:37:02.506Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I seem to remember reading that tribes were more egalitarian than modern society, although its possible the author was just romanticising the noble savage.

There's reason to believe that foragers were more materially egalitarian than farmers, just because material wealth was harder to store. But it's not obvious that they were more egalitarian when it comes to political power or ability to do violence.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-06T09:50:23.952Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But it's not obvious that they were more egalitarian when it comes to political power or ability to do violence.

When the most powerful weapon is a mounted knight in full plate mail, its easy for a small minority to dominate. When the most powerful weapon is the pointed stick...

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T23:24:36.005Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When the most powerful weapon is the pointed stick…

Skill is an a large premium. Thus those who have the free time to practice can end up dominating.

comment by Desrtopa · 2014-12-07T00:46:44.218Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, one thing that I noticed while reading this book is that despite engaging in violence far more frequently than people in non-tribal cultures, the Yanomamo don't really seem to have a conception of martial arts or weapons skills, aside from skill with a bow. The takeaway I got was that in small tribal groups like the ones they live in, there isn't really the sort of labor differentiation necessary to support a warrior class. Rather, it seems that while all men are expected to be available for forays into violence, nobody seems to practice combat skills, except for archery which is also used for food acquisition. While many men were spoken of as being particularly dangerous, in all cases discussed in the book, it was because of their ferocity, physical strength, and quickness to resort to violence. In fact, some of the most common forms of violent confrontation within tribes are forms of "fighting" where the participants simply take turns hitting each other, without being allowed to attempt to defend or evade, in order to demonstrate who's physically tougher.

I'm not sure how representative the Yanomamo are of small tribal societies as a whole, but it may be that serious differentiation of martial skill didn't come until later forms of societal organization.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-06T16:45:47.860Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When the most powerful weapon is a mounted knight in full plate mail, its easy for a small minority to dominate.

The medieval period is pretty late in the history of farming; I had in mind the early period of farming, when foraging and farming were more competitive.

But I think this focuses too much on visible organized violence and not enough on total violence. Were forager men more or less likely to beat their wives than farmer men? Forager parents vs. farmer parents? It seems possible that a larger percentage of the male forager population had potential access to rape through raids than the percentage of the male farmer population that had potential access to rape through soldiering, but I would want a lot of anthropological data before I made that claim confidently, which is why I don't think it's obvious.

This is a bit of a change in topic from the original comparison- tribal hunter-gatherers to modern society- but I think that the sorts of things people use violence and political power for are so different that they can't be compared that directly. As the saying goes, God created man but Sam Colt made them equal: in America it's not that uncommon for individual losers to shoot the most politically powerful man in the country, often leading to his death. I suspect the rate of losers in tribes murdering the local chief is much lower. But maybe what we want to compare is not 'ability to do violence' but 'ability to get away with doing violence,' but even then I don't think we have the data to make a good comparison. Was the ability of tribals to go on the run to escape vengeance better or worse than the ability of moderns? It seems like there are multiple dimensions with different directions for that comparison.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-06T19:44:07.664Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An interesting read, but I was not claiming that a more egalitarian distribution of physical power decreases violence - if anything, having one dominant power leads to peace because no-one challenges them, while as you say, the levelling power of firearms means that anyone can inflict violence.

AFAIK many tribal societies were much more violent - I read somewhere that in some tribes the majority of adult male deaths were due to homicide.

comment by gwern · 2015-01-03T03:43:02.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like Chesterton is making it up completely. Most progressives base the impulse on the hope that things could be better; dealing with the decay of conservatism is not a hypothesis that even enters in their minds. The 'truth of conservatism' (at least, the straw-conservatism defined by Chesterton here) is taken for granted by most people: if things keep on going like this, they'll keep on being like this.

No one has ever become a feminist by saying 'my god! if we leave things alone, the patriarchy will keep becoming even more oppressive and brutal with each year! We need to fight this slide of the status quo, and incidentally, it would be nice if we could not just repair the rot but also yank the status quo towards feminism and get women the vote and stuff like that'.

No, it tends to be more like 'the status quo is awful! Let's try to move it towards getting women the vote and stuff like that'.

comment by ike · 2014-12-24T14:39:35.920Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It is, of course, worrying in itself that there's an open question about whether an extortionist attack via malicious software on a huge company has been conducted by a nation-state, an organised crime group, or a bored teenager.

AlyssaRowan On Hacker News

comment by aausch · 2014-12-28T19:52:57.193Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This whole incident is a perfect illustration of how technology is equalizing capability. In both the original attack against Sony, and this attack against North Korea, we can't tell the difference between a couple of hackers and a government.

Schneier on Security blog post

comment by Robin · 2014-12-20T18:02:40.564Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I am an intransigent atheist, but not a militant one. This means that I am an uncompromising advocate of reason and that I am fighting for reason, not against religion. I must also mention that I do respect religion in its philosophical aspects, in the sense that it represents an early form of philosophy.

Ayn Rand, to a Catholic Priest.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-12-20T20:51:03.841Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Philosophers have played a game going way back where they believe that popular religion comes in handy as a fiction for keeping the mob in line, but they view themselves as god-optional. The philosophes in the Enlightenment started the experiment of letting the mob in on the truth, and the experiment has apparently gone so far in parts of Europe like Estonia that some populations have lost familiarity with christian beliefs, or even how to pronounce Jesus' name in their own language. Or so Phil Zuckerman claims:

https://books.google.com/books?id=C-glNscSpiUC&lpg=PP1&dq=phil%20zuckerman&pg=PA96#v=onepage&q=estonia&f=false

comment by hyporational · 2014-12-21T04:45:51.091Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The mob is pretty well educated these days, and the standard of living is so high that there's much less incentive to step out of line. I don't think we can compare modern nations to historical nations to make any claim about whether religion keeps people in line.

The claim that people can't pronounce Jesus' name might apply to former Soviet Union countries, but I doubt it applies anywhere else in Europe.

comment by timujin · 2014-12-21T14:23:37.710Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The claim that people can't pronounce Jesus' name might apply to former Soviet Union countries, but I doubt it applies anywhere else in Europe.

Do you know that Jesus's actual name is Yeshua?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-21T16:04:01.706Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

We don't know that. It was likely some variant of the name commonly translated as "Joshua" in English. It could have been Yeshua or Yehoshua or a variety of slightly Aramacized variants of that.

comment by timujin · 2014-12-21T17:01:24.848Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But English language's "Jesus" is still far off.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2014-12-21T18:16:10.342Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, but I fail to see how that's relevant to the point in question.

comment by hyporational · 2014-12-22T12:00:58.245Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"some populations have lost familiarity with christian beliefs, or even how to pronounce Jesus' name in their own language."

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-12T15:25:32.399Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I've been killing characters my entire career, maybe I'm just a bloody minded bastard, I don't know, [but] when my characters are in danger, I want you to be afraid to turn the page (and to do that) you need to show right from the beginning that you're playing for keeps.

— George R. R. Martin, Wikiquote, audio interview source

(Changed from an earlier quote I decided I'd keep for later.)

comment by dxu · 2014-12-15T05:14:05.069Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. I am, uh, embarrassed to say that I somehow managed to get caught up in the replies to this comment without ever actually seeing the quote itself until now. (In my defense, I did get here through the Recent Comments sidebar, but still... yeah, not one of my prouder moments.) So, now that I've finally gotten around to reading the quote, uh...

...Maybe I'm dense, but I'm not quite understanding this one. I mean, I understand that it's an explanation of Martin's philosophy of writing, but I'm not really seeing the rationality tie-in. I could probably shoehorn in an explanation for why and how it relates, but the problem with such an explanation is that it would be exactly that: shoehorned in. I feel as though advice of this sort would be much better suited to a writing thread than to a rationality quotes thread. Could someone explain this one to me? Thanks in advance.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-15T21:23:00.182Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Fair point. To be honest, I just got this quote from Martin's Wikiquote page after I decided to save the original and needed something to replace it. (I suppose I could've done something like change the whole post to "[DELETED]" and then retract it, but this seemed good enough at the time.)

I can't really make a rigorous case for this quote's appropriateness here, what actually drove my decision to use this was basically a hunch. My after-the-fact rationalization is that maybe this quote sort of touched on the Beyond the Reach of God sense that death is allowed to happen to anyone, at any time, and especially in dangerous situations, as opposed to most fiction which would only allow the hero to die in some big heroic sacrifice?

comment by dxu · 2014-12-16T03:43:17.723Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For an after-the-fact rationalization, that's actually not bad. On the other hand, I think Martin might actually push it a little too far; reality isn't as pretty as most fiction writers make it out to be, true, but it isn't actively out to get you, either. The universe is just neutral. While it doesn't prevent people from suffering or dying, neither does it go out of its way to make sure they do. In ASoIaF, on the other hand, it's as though events are conspiring to screw everyone over, almost as if Martin is trying to show that he isn't like those other writers who are too "soft" on their characters. In doing so, however, I feel he fell into the opposite trap: that of making his world too hostile. Everything went wrong for the characters, which broke my suspension of disbelief every bit as badly as it would have if everything had gone right.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-12-17T17:57:51.547Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For me, it's not just a problem of suspension of disbelief, it's a problem of destroying involvement in the story. If too much bad happens to the characters, I'm less likely to be emotionally invested in them. Martin's "The Princess and the Queen" (a prequel to ASoIaF) in Dangerous Women is especially awful that way, through the characters aren't developed very much, either. I'm hoping he does a better job in the main series.

comment by taelor · 2014-12-18T06:31:41.142Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

His reputation as a "bloody minded bastard" aside, Martin has creznaragyl xvyyrq bss n tenaq gbgny bs bar CBI punenpgre va gur ebhtuyl svir gubhfnaq phzhyngvir cntrf bs gur NFbVnS frevrf fb sne (abg pbhagvat cebybthr/rcvybthr punenpgref, jubz ab bar rkcrpgf gb fheivir sbe zber guna bar puncgre). Gur raqvat bs gur zbfg erprag obbx yrnirf bar CBI punenpgre'f sngr hapyrne, ohg gur infg znwbevgl bs gur snaqbz rkcrpgf uvz gb or onpx va fbzr sbez be nabgure. (Aba-CBI graq gb qebc yvxr syvrf, ohg gur nhqvrapr vf yrff nggnpurq gb gurz.)

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T22:26:17.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Changed from an earlier quote I decided I'd keep for later.)

Prediction: 30% chance it's a Christmas related quote.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-12T22:57:19.511Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Nope, just saving my first choice of quote for the beginning of the next thread. I figure if I post a good quote now, people will mostly only see it from the recent comment and recent quote feeds, and after a few others get posted, people will mostly forget about it and not, if they were to like it, upvote it. Whereas if it were one of the first posts in a thread, and people liked it and started upvoting it, it would stay high on the page and gather even more attention and upvotes, creating a positive feedback loop which would give me karma.

Machiavellian, isn't it? I doubt it'll work out that well, but I figure it's worth a shot.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-12T23:06:23.094Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

^Everyone should upvote this in an ironic celebration of your honesty.

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-12T23:52:03.392Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that we use "Best" (which is a complicated thing other than "absolute points") rather than "Top" (absolute points) precisely to reduce the effectiveness of that strategy.

comment by dxu · 2014-12-13T02:42:57.854Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's interesting. What criterion/criteria does "Best" use, then?

And on a different but related note: does it really negate the strategy? I note that, despite using the "Best" setting, this page still tends to display higher-karma comments near the top; furthermore, most of those high-karma comments seem to have been posted pretty early in the month. That suggests to me that Gondolinian's strategy may still have a shot.

comment by Vulture · 2014-12-13T02:55:55.889Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Technical explanation

Non-technical explanation

comment by dxu · 2014-12-15T04:57:28.602Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All right, thanks. So, I gave both articles a read-through, and I think that as described, the system implemented won't necessarily negate the strategy (though it may somewhat reduce said strategy's effectiveness). Really, it all depends on how awesome Gondolinian's quote is; if it's awesome enough to get a rating that's 100% positive, then the display order will be organized by confidence level, which in practice just means a greater number of votes most of the time (more votes → less uncertainty), which in turn means it'll need to be posted earlier, which brings us back to the original situation, blah blah blah etc. (A single downvote, however, would be sufficient to screw up the entire affair, so there's that.) I guess that's why you originally said it would only reduce the strategy's effectiveness, not eliminate it entirely.

That's awesome. My metaphorical hat is off to Gondolinian for figuring out a way to game the system--and crucially, take the second step: countering akrasia and actually doing it. Instrumental rationality at its finest.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-15T21:55:44.188Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

if it's awesome enough to get a rating that's 100% positive

Don't bet on it. :)

comment by Ixiel · 2014-12-01T20:26:10.291Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"There is no such thing as uncharted waters. You may not have the chart on hand to show you how to navigate these waters, but the charts exist. Google them."

Joe Queenan, WSJ 11/30/14

Too strong to be literally true but still

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T20:31:21.214Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Think it's false, both literally and figuratively. Moreover, the guy needs to get out of his cubicle and go to interesting places :-)

comment by Ixiel · 2014-12-02T01:45:46.915Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

95% of the people, 95% of the time is a less good standard when dealing with interesting people, isn't it ;)

EDIT: Downvote for... accepting a different opinion? Duly noted; will do so more quietly in future.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-02T01:52:03.885Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a law about that :-P

comment by Strange7 · 2014-12-01T20:45:46.405Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

As far as literal charts of literal bodies of water on the surface of the earth, satelite photography actually has pretty much solved that problem.

As far as metaphorical waters, human civilization is larger than most people really think, and consists disproportionately of people finding and publishing answers to interesting questions. "Don't assume the waters are uncharted until you've done at least a cursory search for the charts" is sound advice.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-01T20:52:16.860Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

As far as literal charts of literal bodies of water on the surface of the earth, satelite photography actually has pretty much solved that problem.

Ahem. Do you really think that a picture of water surface which looks pretty much the same anywhere is equivalent to a nautical chart?

Proper nautical charts are very information-dense (take a look) and some of the more important bits refer to things underwater.

comment by Strange7 · 2014-12-02T17:04:31.976Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm fully aware that there's more to nautical charts than the water's surface, and I used the term 'satellite photography' somewhat broadly. More of the deep ocean has been mapped by sensors in polar orbits, which can stay on-station indefinitely and cover the entire globe without regard for local obstacles, than ever was (or likely would have been) by surface craft and submarines.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-03T19:21:21.276Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To quote the National Ocean Service:

Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.

NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research is leading efforts to explore the ocean by supporting expeditions to investigate and document unknown and poorly known areas of the ocean. These expeditions represent a bold and innovative approach by infusing teams of scientist-explorers with a "Lewis and Clark" spirit of discovery and equipping them with the latest exploration tools.

From mapping and describing the physical, biological, geological, chemical, and archaeological aspects of the ocean to understanding ocean dynamics, developing new technologies, and helping us all unlock the secrets of the ocean, NOAA is working to increase our understanding of the ocean realm.

In general water is an obstacle for satellites mapping deep ocean ground.

comment by LyleN · 2014-12-11T03:10:51.852Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Recently I was with a group of mathematicians and philosophers. One philosopher asked me whether I believed man was a machine. I replied, “Do you really think it makes any difference?” He most earnestly replied, “Of course! To me it is the most important question in philosophy.”

...I imagine that if my friend finally came to the conclusion that he were a machine, he would be infinitely crestfallen. I think he would think: “My God! How horrible! I am only a machine!” But if I should find out I were a machine, my attitude would be totally different. I would say: “How amazing! I never before realized that machines could be so marvelous!

Raymond Smullyan, This Book Needs No Title, taking joy in the merely real

comment by TheMajor · 2014-12-11T06:22:59.286Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Duplicate

comment by LyleN · 2014-12-12T19:02:32.116Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Whoops! Thank you.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-10T17:02:38.085Z · score: 2 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Carthage must be saved.

Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum

Since you're probably aware that one Roman senator (Cato) ended his speeches with "Carthage must be destroyed," you should also know that another responded with the opposite.

comment by timujin · 2014-12-10T17:54:09.473Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How is this a rationality quote?

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-10T18:35:18.347Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Accurate beliefs, efficient altruism, and giving historical credit to the good guys. What does it say about us that (I would guess) most well educated westerners know about the "Carthage must be destroyed" quote but not the "Carthage must be saved" one?

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-11T14:43:17.643Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

What does it say about us that (I would guess) most well educated westerners know about the "Carthage must be destroyed" quote but not the "Carthage must be saved" one?

It says that we care about the real as opposed to the imaginary. That is entirely to our credit.

Regardless of what may be considered moral, Carthage was destroyed. Educated people who wish to understand ancient history therefore naturally wish to learn of Cato's anti-Carthaginian campaign, precisely because it was successful. In addition, Cato the Elder was considered a model of behaviour by subsequent generations of Romans, in a way that Corculum was not, therefore to understand ancient Rome we have to understand the behaviour they valourised.

Similarly, Fumimaro Konoe is not nearly as famous as Hideki Tojo. This is not because educated Westerners favour Tojo's foreign policy, but because Tojo won the debate and Japan went to war.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T16:08:28.280Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

While I agree with the overall sentiment, I think it's important not to overdo this approach. Let me explain.

Consider the situation where you have a stochastic process which generates values -- for example, you're drawing random values from a certain distribution. So you draw a number and let's say it is 17.

On the one hand you did draw 17 -- that number is "real" and the rest of the distribution which didn't get realized is only "imaginary". You should care about that 17 and not about what did not happen.

On the other hand, if we're interested not just in a single sample, but in the whole process and the distribution underlying it, that number 17 is almost irrelevant. We want to understand the entire distribution and that involves parts which did not get realized but had potential to be realized. We care about them because they inform our understanding of what might happen if the process runs again and generates another value.

Similarly, if you treat history as a sequence of one-off events, you should pay attention only to what actually happened and ignore what did not. But if you want to see history as a set of long-term processes which generate many events, you're probably interested in estimating the entire shape of these processes and that includes "invisible" parts which did not actually happen but could have happened.

There are obvious methodological pitfalls here and I would recommend wielding Occam's Razor with abandon, but that should not conceal the underlying epistemic point that what did not happen could be important, too.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-11T17:41:56.748Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You make a good point.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-11T16:55:24.746Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T18:58:23.913Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

and giving historical credit to the good guys

Why is Publius Scipio Nasica a "good guy"? His opposition to Carthage's destruction was based on his idea that without a strong external enemy Rome will descend into decadence. (see Plutarch). That, to me, tentatively places him into the "pain builds character so I will make sure you will have lots of pain" camp which is not quite the good guys camp.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-11T04:05:50.778Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Why is Publius Scipio Nasica a "good guy"? His opposition to Carthage's destruction was based on his idea that without a strong external enemy Rome will descend into decadence.

Well, it did.

comment by WalterL · 2014-12-17T20:35:01.733Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's an awesome response.

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-10T19:04:31.966Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Forgive my fulfilling of Godwin's Law, but if a Nazi leader repeatedly told Hitler "Don't kill the Jews because struggling against them in the economic marketplace will make Germans stronger" would you consider this leader a "good guy"?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-10T19:15:15.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, I would not.

And the equivalent position, actually, would be "Do not kill all the Jews at once, keep on killing them for a long time because the struggle will keep the Germans morally pure".

The intent matters.

comment by timujin · 2014-12-10T18:41:30.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, what does it have to do with efficient altruism?

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-10T18:58:17.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's an example of someone speaking out against genocide. The effort ultimately failed, but engaging in political advocacy against mass murder could reasonably be considered efficient altruism?

comment by timujin · 2014-12-10T19:02:49.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Arguable, but let's suppose it can. So, you gave an example of efficient altruism failing. Did you mean it as contra-efficient altruism quote?

comment by James_Miller · 2014-12-10T19:17:43.381Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I meant it as having a high positive expected value, not a counter-example.

comment by timujin · 2014-12-10T19:31:53.368Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, it ended up being a counterexample. Downvote.

comment by pgbh · 2014-12-31T02:03:21.190Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

After reading Contrafactus, a friend said to me: "My uncle was almost President of the U.S.!"

"Really?" I said.

"Sure," he replied, "he was skipper of the PT 108." (John F. Kennedy was skipper of the PT 109).

-- Douglas Hofstadter, Godel, Escher, Bach

comment by timujin · 2014-12-31T08:57:27.012Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is a good quote in general, but not quite a rationality quote.

comment by pgbh · 2015-01-01T20:17:53.354Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought it was a nice illustration of the distinction between map and territory, or between different maps of the same territory. In other words, JFK and the speaker's uncle were very close together by a certain map, but that doesn't mean they were very similar in real life.

comment by ike · 2014-12-22T02:58:55.306Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

“The birthrate in the United States is at an all-time low. Whereas our death rate is still holding strong at 100 percent.”

Jimmy Kimmel

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T21:01:45.350Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's actually only about 45 percent. The death rate for the world as a whole is about 93 percent.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-01-03T13:55:46.557Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's just not true. Death rate, as the name implies, is a rate - the population that died in this year divided by the average total population. If "death rate" is 100%, then "birth rate" is 100% by the same reasoning, because 100% of people were born.

comment by ike · 2015-01-04T00:33:51.112Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That depends on whether fetuses are people ...

If yes, the actual birth rate is around 80%. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/Data_Stats/Abortion.htm

comment by Philip_W · 2015-01-05T08:07:24.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

birth rate

I wouldn't consider abortion a "birth", per se.

comment by ike · 2015-01-05T16:53:01.358Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Exactly, so only people who aren't aborted count as born, in which case the birth rate is 80%.

comment by Philip_W · 2015-01-06T13:30:34.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, "actual" threw me off. So you mean something close to "The lifetime projected probability of being born(/dying) for people who came into existence during the last year".

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2014-12-12T22:58:23.541Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

A quote from my son (just turned eleven years):

Me: "What is the meaning of life?"

He: "To live it."

This sounds trite but I think it is actually the correct (or most sensible) answer. I was kind of impressed. Maybe we should ask children more of these grande questions and gain factual answers instead of taking them as deeper as they are.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-12-13T12:12:19.955Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer:

To be the eyes, and ears, and conscience of the Creator of the Universe, you fool.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast Of Champions

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2014-12-13T09:31:34.944Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe we should ask children more of these grande questions and gain factual answers instead of taking them as deeper as they are.

Indeed, I suppose their worldview are much clearer and in some ways unbiased than ours. When child is born he sees the world as it is, not through many prisms including our subjective value judgements

comment by Capla · 2014-12-12T23:11:56.720Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvMiXk2gGSk

Insightful? I give him credit for his epistemic humility, at least.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-11T18:31:13.574Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You got it in one, and non-Martians don't get it. I tell them, you're just used to it here on Earth, and out there it's simple. Out there, no scissors come between word and deed. Out there, word and deed is one, like time and space. You said you'd do - you do...

  • Boris Shtern, A Dinosaur's Notes. Translation mine.
comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-11T18:54:35.132Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think

blockquotes

are generally preferred on Rationality Quotes threads. You can make blockquotes by typing a greater-than symbol (>) followed by a space before each paragraph in your quote (no need for quotation marks).

Also, that specific quote doesn't make much sense to me without context.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-11T19:25:03.098Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

After a joint American-Soviet mission to Mars, the astronauts return home and refuse to tell who was the first to put their feet on the planet. Everybody pesters them, but they say they did it together (though they really couldn't.) The Soviet one is drinking with a new friend, whom he knows for a few hours, and the friend says it is impossible that Harrison will claim the honour - and so gets dubbed 'a Martian' himself. Martianss here is really a name for humans for whom petty things don't matter, who work for mankind.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T21:53:42.683Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is off on a tangent, but why couldn't they? If they went through all the effort to make it a joint mission, stepping off of the ship at the same time, at least to the point where neither could tell who landed first, seems comparatively easy.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-28T06:57:03.017Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wondered myself. Maybe they decided not to risk anything-just in case.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-12T18:18:32.928Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Offend with substance, don't offend with style.

Fixing broken windows is useful even if you don't care about the actual window.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-12T19:11:51.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find myself confused...: (

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-12T20:13:49.031Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Formatting quotes properly isn't hard, there no good reason against it.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-11T21:12:23.788Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Supporters of the Soviets were keen on moral equivalency.

Imagine if that was done with Nazis. "Petty things like the difference between people who burn others in ovens, and people who don't, don't matter".

comment by Kindly · 2014-12-15T02:47:19.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the quote means "petty things like who stepped out of the spaceship first don't matter", not "petty things like the difference between us and those capitalist pigs don't matter".

It's also true that the line between "American" and "Soviet" (or, for that matter, between "American" and "1940s German") is not drawn in remotely the same way as the line between "burns others in ovens" and "doesn't": it is mainly indicative of which part of the world you were born in. I have much greater sympathy for moral equivalency in the first case than in the second.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-15T03:24:13.576Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The line between a random American and a random Soviet person depends mostly on what part of the world they were born in. A person who lands on Mars is not random; they couldn't get to Mars without enthusiastically participating in the system. The people who praise the astronauts are aware of this too, and will treat the astronauts' successes as a success of the system, not mainly as the success of an individual astronaut.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T22:05:14.252Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They both landed on Mars. Which one touched first is random. If it wasn't, it would be signalling that one country is better, which is the exact opposite of the point of a joint mission to Mars. It's to show the two countries respect each other as equals. Getting to Mars is just a bonus.

comment by Kindly · 2014-12-17T22:27:51.109Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find it hard to think of someone who "enthusiastically participates in the system" in order to go to space as being morally culpable for everything that the system has done.

It's not quite a matter of choosing between participating in the system or being punished by the system. It's possible to live an inconspicuous life with only mild risk of suffering the consequences of no enthusiastic participation. But this is incompatible with accomplishing something noteworthy.

I can admire someone who has the ambition of going to space, but denies that ambition on moral grounds because it would support a political faction. However, I think a moral framework that demands this is unreasonably strict.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-18T02:00:28.656Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not holding the astronaut responsible for anything. It's the reverse: because the astronaut had to work within the system to succeed, his success is not his personal success, it's the system's success. Saying "it doesn't matter which astronaut won" is saying "it doesn't matter which system won". When one system starved up to 7.5 million people to death and another didn't, which system won is not a petty issue.

(You could, however, argue that "first man on Mars" and "second man on Mars" are very similar achievements and that one is so marginally close to the other the difference between the two is petty. But I don't think that's what most people who express this kind of pettiness sentiment mean.)

comment by Kindly · 2014-12-18T17:28:13.116Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I see your point; I think that saying "the system won", though, is an easy story to tell that doesn't reflect what actually happens very well. I don't see how the starving-people-to-death part of the system and the space-race part are sufficiently connected that the space-race part winning helps the starving-people-to-death part.

(If you disagree about this prediction, I will be unhappy to discuss it further but happy to say "okay, this is the underlying fact on which we disagree, let's stop there". Is this the underlying fact on which we disagree, or is there more to it?)

Thus, my understanding of the original quote is "The Pursuit of Science lies above political differences, and sabotaging the former because of the latter is petty."

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-18T17:53:49.602Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the space-race part winning helps the starving-people-to-death part

Via propaganda.

Specifically, in the form of "Yes, all y'all are starving and we had to shoot a few of your friends and relatives for not being enthusiastic enough, but look! We are actually achieving GREAT THINGS! Digging ditches in Siberian permafrost is part of the common effort which makes our society SUCCESSFUL and we can prove that it is successful because we just WON THE SPACE RACE!".

I think that the Soviet Union actually got a lot of propaganda mileage out of Sputnik and Gagarin in real life.

And that is, of course, ignoring the other part -- that space rockets with minor modifications function perfectly well as ICBMs...

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-18T19:29:29.348Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Also, there's a more direct connection: They both involve the government deciding to allocate resources. In the case of the space race, the government allocates resources to something; in the case of the starving Ukrainians, the government takes resources away from someone. But they're flip sides of the same process, which is a top-down dictatorship using ideology to decide who gets to have the resources.

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-18T20:02:29.552Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They both involve the government deciding to allocate resources

All governments are in the business of allocating resources, both directly (US government spending is about one third of GDP) and indirectly through laws and regulations.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-19T02:26:24.921Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I see your point; I think that saying "the system won", though, is an easy story to tell that doesn't reflect what actually happens very well. I don't see how the starving-people-to-death part of the system and the space-race part are sufficiently connected that the space-race part winning helps the starving-people-to-death part.

Try replacing "starving people to death" with "putting people in ovens".

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-15T06:37:07.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That particular person didn't care for the system. He was the Editor-in-chief of a (fictional) journal 'Science and thought', dedicated to protecting population from fraud and literally wasn't afraid of the devil. But he did care about space exploration. The quote was meant to express the muchsimpler message about selective pressure'out there' that makes ordinary oneupmanship as a habit of mind irrelevant.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-16T01:50:11.946Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's also true that the line between "American" and "Soviet" (or, for that matter, between "American" and "1940s German") is not drawn in remotely the same way as the line between "burns others in ovens" and "doesn't"

Ok, how about the difference between "sends people to the gulags on trumped up charges" and "doesn't", or "engineers famines" and "doesn't"?

comment by Kindly · 2014-12-17T22:27:58.145Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's (approximately) the difference between Stalin and not Stalin. I'm pretty sure most Soviet astronauts had never engineered a single famine.

The "participating in the system" argument given by Jiro is more reasonable, so see my cousin comment for my reply to that.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-18T04:02:01.881Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's (approximately) the difference between Stalin and not Stalin. I'm pretty sure most Soviet astronauts had never engineered a single famine.

And most members of the Nazi rocket program never put anyone into an oven.

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-12-12T17:35:18.122Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, imagine. (Spoilers for "Worm".)

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-13T00:23:17.440Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have a summary? I don't want to bother reading that.

comment by Nomad · 2014-12-14T02:15:33.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Summary: The superheroes of Worm regularly fight against existential threats called Endbringers, and have to work together with villains (some of whom are neo-nazis) to do it. They've been able to set up rules to ensure the villains can co-operate (no arrests, no using villains as bait, everyone gets medical attention afterwards), without which the Endbringers would win. However, the linked chapter explains that they've failed to extend this to post-fight celebrations, since the public won't accept any form of moral equivalence. Since the public will protest if villains are honoured for their sacrifices, and the villains riot if heroes are honoured but villains are not, no-one gets honoured.

comment by Jiro · 2014-12-14T09:08:12.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think "petty things don't matter" connotes that the differences are small on an absolute scale and that working together demonstrates this, not that the differences are merely small in relation to the goal on which everyone works together. The latter is honoring Nazis for their sacrifices; the former is saying "the fact that Nazis can sacrifice shows that it's not important to oppose Naziism".

comment by hairyfigment · 2014-12-13T02:57:53.570Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you were writing any story in which the protagonist works with Nazis or neo-Nazis, you'd want them to face a greater threat - perhaps an existential threat, like nuclear war in the time when the USSR existed. Otherwise you'd be writing a ridiculous straw-man.

Interesting note for people who've read "Worm" - gur svefg Raqoevatre gb nccrne va gur jbeyq bs gur fgbel jnf enqvbnpgvir, gur frpbaq bprna-eryngrq, naq gur fpnel bar znxrf zr guvax bs NTV.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-12T23:33:40.984Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Better, but make sure you keep the stuff you don't want quoted on a different paragraph.

comment by Epictetus · 2014-12-26T03:35:37.467Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW · GW

At this point it should become apparent that I do not think that theorems are really proved. As G. H. Hardy said long ago, we emit some symbols, another person reads them, and they are either convinced or not by them. To simple people who believe whatever they read and do not question things for themselves, a proof is a proof is a proof, but to others a proof merely supplies a way of thinking about the theorem, and it is up to the individual to form an opinion. Formal proofs, where there is deliberately no meaning, can convince only formalists, and of the results obtained they themselves seem to deny any meaning. Is that to be the mathematics we are to use in understanding the world we live in?

-Richard Hamming, Mathematics on a Distant Planet

comment by ike · 2014-12-26T03:59:41.865Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's actually called Mathematics on a Distant Planet.

comment by Epictetus · 2014-12-26T04:16:48.955Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I've made the change.

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-26T05:39:32.390Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with the quote, but don't really see any point or importance to it.

comment by Capla · 2014-12-18T04:55:25.905Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

All the human being need do is see what needs to be done, and do it.

Abigail

(Is self-reference ok? This struck me.)

comment by woodside · 2014-12-10T20:20:05.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

After that incident, my doctor and I had a long, spirited conversation about statistics and Bayesian analysis. And one reason he is no longer my doctor is that he displayed very poor judgment in handling the trade-off between false positives and false negatives. That test should never have been run, because it was vastly more likely to produce unnecessary emotional anguish (and health-care spending!) than useful information.

Megan McArdle

comment by aausch · 2014-12-04T18:05:50.809Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

“Never confuse honor with stupidity!” ― R.A. Salvatore, The Crystal Shard

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-01T20:28:57.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

(This one hit home. :p)

comment by 27chaos · 2014-12-01T20:22:40.146Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-08T16:59:50.543Z · score: -1 (21 votes) · LW · GW

"Don’t let anybody discourage you or tell you that intelligence doesn’t pay or that success in life has to be achieved through dishonesty or through sheer blind luck. That is not true. Real success is never accidental and real happiness cannot be found except by the honest use of your intelligence."

Ayn Rand

comment by Weedlayer · 2014-12-08T19:20:11.774Z · score: 16 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Too strong.

Nobody EVER got successful from luck? Not even people born billionaires or royalty?

Nobody can EVER be happy without using intelligence? Only if you're using some definition of happiness that includes a term like "Philosophical fulfillment" or some such, which makes the issue tautological.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-08T19:31:31.610Z · score: -2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody EVER got successful from luck? Not even people born billionaires or royalty?

I don't think you're applying the negation correctly; "not every success was from luck" means "at least one success was not from luck." Similarly, if you broaden your viewpoint to before the moment of someone's birth, it seems silly to claim that it's an accident that they were born a billionaire or royalty; it's not like their ancestors put no planning into acquiring their wealth or their titles.

Only if you're using some definition of happiness that includes a term like "Philosophical fulfillment" or some such, which makes the issue tautological.

Not really; this is a nontrivial empirical claim that turns out to be correct. People with solid philosophical grounding are measurably happier (on standard psychological surveys of happiness) than people without.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-08T19:36:27.607Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't read that as a negation of "success in life has to be achieved... through sheer blind luck" but rather of "real success is never accidental". Both, of course, are descriptively false (at least for values of "real" that don't bake in the conclusion), though as a normative statement I'd rate the former as much more problematic.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-08T20:09:20.316Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

at least for values of "real" that don't bake in the conclusion

That was the impression I had. Yes, Rand is making the normative claim that 'accidental' success is not 'real,' and that 'happiness' acquired in ways other than 'honest use of your intelligence' is not 'real,' but those seem like fine normative claims to me.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-10T02:13:09.073Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

They sound like no true Scotsman to me. And they make the whole thing tautological. Would you consider it worth quoting if she said "nobody ever achieves anything by luck, except for the times they get lucky"? Or "happiness is only achieved through honest use of your intelligence if it's achieved through honest use of your intelligence"?

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-10T13:33:35.061Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And they make the whole thing tautological.

Some people hold the view that all normative claims are either tautological or false. Does that describe you, or can you provide an example of a normative statement that you consider true and non-tautological?

In the second case, I'm happy to discuss underlying value systems and the similarities or differences. In the first, I don't think I'm interested in discussing whether or not value systems should be communicated through normative claims.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-11T01:45:17.895Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Did you read what you linked to?

"No true Scotsman is an informal fallacy, an ad hoc attempt to retain an unreasoned assertion.[1] When faced with a counterexample to a universal claim ("no Scotsman would do such a thing"), rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original universal claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule ("no true Scotsman would do such a thing")"

Where is the counterexample? Success refers to an abstract concept. Luck and success are different things. Luck usually contributes to success, but luck usually implies undeserved success. So successful people get lucky, but on average everybody gets lucky sometimes. The quote encourages people to focus on the things in which luck plays a minor factor. That's what intelligence is for, intelligence is not for optimizing luck.

And yes, that does make it tautological. So what?

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-11T06:39:13.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The counterexample is the many people who have succeeded through luck. Everybody gets lucky sometimes, but they might not get lucky on the really important things. If you're born to a poor family in Africa, the law of large numbers is not going to make up for this setback.

Given what I know if Ayn Rand, I'm inclined to think that the quote is suggesting that successful people deserve to be successful, so you shouldn't take their money and give it to unsuccessful people.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-11T17:16:39.386Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The counterexample is the many people who have succeeded through luck

That's not an example, it's a claim with no evidence to support it. Give me an example of a person who has succeeded with only luck. There are about seven billion candidates so it shouldn't be hard to select one.

Everybody gets lucky sometimes, but they might not get lucky on the really important things

What is really important is subjective.

If you're born to a poor family in Africa, the law of large numbers is not going to make up for this setback.

Time will tell. African people often have different values than non-African people. Their value of success probably isn't the same as your's.

Given what I know if Ayn Rand

It seems like what you know about Ayn Rand comes from textbook propaganda. Nothing you've said has convinced me you've read thousands of pages of what she wrote.

I'm inclined to think that the quote is suggesting that successful people deserve to be successful, so you shouldn't take their money and give it to unsuccessful people.

This isn't an unreasonable assumption. But it's incorrect. Money is just one factor in success. Ayn Rand realized that, which is why her books are still read today and why most authors of her day (all of whom are now dead) don't have books which sell in large numbers.

comment by Wes_W · 2014-12-11T18:13:50.215Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's not an example, it's a claim with no evidence to support it. Give me an example of a person who has succeeded with only luck. There are about seven billion candidates so it shouldn't be hard to select one.

James Harrison is the first example that leaps to my mind. His blood plasma contains a unique antibody which can be used to treat Rhesus disease, which seems like a near-perfect example of pure luck: neither he nor his parents nor anyone earned those antibodies in any useful sense of the word. He just coincidentally discovered that he had them. His lifetime blood donations are estimated to have treated two million children.

Now, James Harrison surely gets some credit for his. He has, after all, donated blood a thousand times, which is far better than most of us. And he made a pledge to start donating blood before he learned about his antibodies!

But a thousand blood donations, if you don't happen to have unique biology, will be multiple orders of magnitude less effective at helping people than James Harrison was, for the same effort. To find people as successful in their goal of helping others as James Harrison, you have to look far beyond "people who donate blood regularly". Perhaps Bill Gates, having become one of the richest men alive and then dedicating his life to charity, can claim to have accomplished more?

When blind luck can put some random guy in the same league as the world's top altruist, it seems unreasonable to claim that literally nobody succeeds primarily through luck or by accident.

What is really important is subjective.

So? Whatever you subjectively consider really important, you can get unlucky on those things. Also, some things like "not starving to death" or "not constantly being in pain" are subjectively important to basically everyone, and some get unlucky on these too.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-11T18:39:10.028Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I hadn't heard of James Harrison before. I would consider him successful, of course that doesn't mean that he considers himself successful or that you consider him successful.

I wouldn't view donating blood as inherently good either. There have been times when people were given money to donate blood, but then AIDS came about...

When blind luck can put some random guy in the same league as the world's top altruist

Ahh... you think the world's top altruist is successful... That's what we disagree about. I think the world's top altruist is the person who desires the image of success the most.

FWIW the definition of Altruism I am using is NOT the same as the EA people... they've culturally appropriated that term and made it mean something very different from what Ayn Rand meant when she used it.

comment by Wes_W · 2014-12-11T18:42:40.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world's top altruist is the person who desires the image of success the most.

Who cares? You just spent half this thread claiming that success is subjective. Bill Gates and James Harrison are going by their own ideas of altruistic success, not yours.

(For what it's worth, I personally do consider James Harrison successful at helping people. It explicitly was his goal, he made a pledge and everything.)

comment by Robin · 2014-12-12T20:46:17.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You just spent half this thread claiming that success is subjective

Really? I'm pretty sure I didn't. Success is hard to define, but that doesn't mean it's subjective.

Bill Gates and James Harrison are going by their own ideas of altruistic success, not yours.

Oh really? Can you read their minds? I've read about Bill Gates motivations and I didn't see the word altruism once. It's all good and well to claim Bill Gates is part of your movement but for all you know he's never heard of it.

Why don't you call Jesus an altruist? Or some other religious figure?

comment by gjm · 2014-12-11T21:47:20.130Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the world's top altruist is the person who desires the image of success the most.

Please tell us more about your inside information on the psychology of Bill and Melinda Gates.

what Ayn Rand meant when she used it

You do understand, don't you, that Ayn Rand did not invent the term "altruism"?

comment by Robin · 2014-12-12T20:39:56.991Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Please tell us more about your inside information on the psychology of Bill and Melinda Gates

I have none. Just an opinion that given my posts downvote counts suggests that I shouldn't share.

Ayn Rand did not invent the term "altruism"?

Neither did the Effective Altruism people. But Ayn Rand's books have sold a lot and are read by influential people, so I'll use her definition until I have a reason not to.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-11T18:18:58.494Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Give me an example of a person who has succeeded with only luck.

The annual US GDP per capita is $55,036. For Somalia, it's $145. I cannot give you a specific example of someone who succeeded by luck, but I can assure you that successful people are not born in the US by chance.

African people often have different values than non-African people.

As of 2005, there were 2.6 billion people who lived on the equivalent of under $2 per day [source]. What possible values could they have where that could be considered success?

comment by Robin · 2014-12-11T18:28:10.944Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The annual US GDP per capita is $55,036. For Somalia, it's $145

This is availability bias. There are clearly other factors differentiating Somalia and the US. If there weren't, there would be massive starvation in Somalia because you can't get by on $145 a year in the US.

I can assure you that successful people are not born in the US by chance.

Really? Do you think successful people don't have children? And that they don't try to make these children US citizens by 'immigrating' (often illegally) to the USA? I can assure you this happens frequently.

As of 2005, there were 2.6 billion people who lived on the equivalent of under $2 per day

Yes, but most of those people live in areas where $2 goes a long way.

What possible values could they have where that could be considered success?

That's up for them to define, not for you to define. Why should they care about your standards? Let them say they are successful if they believe they are successful. You lose nothing but your ego by acknowledging somebody else's success.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-11T19:41:58.268Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but most of those people live in areas where $2 goes a long way.

The GDP statistics I cited were nominal. The $2 a day thing was not. They don't make $2 a day. The make enough to go as far as $2 would in the US.

Really? Do you think successful people don't have children? And that they don't try to make these children US citizens by 'immigrating' (often illegally) to the USA? I can assure you this happens frequently.

Only 13% of the US population is immigrants. 20% of the world's immigrant population is in the US, so it works out to about two million immigrants. Less than a thirtieth of a percent of the world population. I does not explain the discrepancy of income.

That's up for them to define, not for you to define.

It's not up for you to define either. It seems highly unlikely that living on a fifteenth of what the US would call poor is successful. There are certainly people who value living on next to nothing, but I don't think there are billions of them. It would take powerful evidence to show that they consider themselves more successful than a US citizen. How much evidence do you have of this?

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-11T19:57:22.961Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The GDP statistics I cited were nominal. The $2 a day thing was not. They don't make $2 a day. The make enough to go as far as $2 would in the US.

Well, there is a caveat there. The PPP estimates that drive statistics like that are based on the prices corresponding to a basket of consumer goods, but don't (in fact can't) preserve the ratio of prices within that basket. That's not a big deal if you can make some assumptions about distribution, or if everyone you're dealing with has roughly the same lifestyle, but in areas like Somalia I'd expect local distribution costs to make things like, say, razor blades a lot more expensive relative to locally produced goods like, say, sorghum flour. And that does have subsistence implications.

Somalia's still a really poor country, though.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-12T20:50:03.147Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This argument has gone far away from the original quote. I'm not going to argue about the details. If you want to try to disprove your ability to become successful by using your intelligence, go ahead.

It's very difficult to make economic comparisons between countries while simultaneously acknowledging all of the cultural differences between countries. You can do it, but the results aren't necessarily meaningful.

comment by Nornagest · 2014-12-11T19:01:55.292Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are clearly other factors differentiating Somalia and the US. If there weren't, there would be massive starvation in Somalia because you can't get by on $145 a year in the US.

There's a couple of things going on there. One is that Somalia is in fact a very malnourished country. Another is that the GDP figures DanielLC cites are nominal, not based on purchasing power parity, and therefore can be skewed by exchange rates. The currencies of poor third-world nations tend to be very weak, so going by nominal GDP will end up making them look even poorer than they actually are.

PPP estimates for Somalia seem uncommon for some reason, but the CIA estimated a per-capita annual value of around $600 USD in 2010.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-12T20:47:40.280Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the information. My point is that money is a poor predictor of happiness and success.

comment by Wes_W · 2014-12-11T18:38:28.257Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is availability bias. There are clearly other factors differentiating Somalia and the US. If there weren't, there would be massive starvation in Somalia because you can't get by on $145 a year in the US.

There is, in fact, massive starvation in Somalia, price differences notwithstanding. The first sentence of the first link from a Google search for "malnutrition statistics somalia" says that "Somalia has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the world".

comment by Robin · 2014-12-12T20:42:38.260Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Malnutrition and Starvation are different things. It's much better to be malnourished than to starve. And it's much harder to feed people the optimal food than to just feed them some food...

But you're missing the point. There are successful people in Somalia, if you manage to not be malnourished in Somalia then you are successful (unless you value eating bad food for religious reasons...).

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-11T18:53:23.665Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What possible values could they have where that could be considered success?

Asking broad rhetorical questions is risky :-) There are, of course, many valid answers to yours. Consider e.g. religious asceticism.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-11T19:46:04.111Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some people would value that, but I don't think billions would.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T12:22:32.857Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So successful people get lucky, but on average everybody gets lucky sometimes.

But not everybody wins sometimes the lottery.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-11T17:19:35.822Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is that supposed to be funny? The fact that you have a computer means you have won something. I'd be willing to guess that more technologies will emerge and you'll use them. That's like winning a lottery. But you don't get more successful unless you make intelligent decisions. Stupid decisions are punished, there are exceptions to this...

But seriously, lottery is a loaded term. It's often used as a metaphor for 'capitalist trick' (which smart people avoid).

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-11T17:36:07.416Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The idea that thing average out depend on the assumption of success being due to a lot of independent events.

Computer simulations of markets with trades of equal skill have no problem to produce the kind of difference in financial results that the traders we observe in reality produce.

The fact that some authors write books that are more popular than the book of other authors is explainable without difference in skill or book quality.

comment by LizzardWizzard · 2014-12-11T13:50:39.443Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

in a Pickwickian sense everybody does, only their payoffs varies

comment by Robin · 2014-12-08T19:38:47.209Z · score: -14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Too strong.

Ahh, nothing like discussing the value of strength with somebody named Weedlayer. Seriously, how can a quote be too strong?

Only if you're using some definition of happiness that includes a term like "Philosophical fulfillment" or some such, which makes the issue tautological.

No, if you define happiness internally (ie something that you feel but others cannot observe) then you can justify the statement based on personal experience and relationship to the person the quote is addressed to.

How do you define happiness? Are you willing to argue about the definition of happiness just so you end up not being happy?

comment by Wes_W · 2014-12-08T20:08:05.797Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Seriously, how can a quote be too strong?

Primarily, by pretending that a "usually" is an "always". "Real success is never accidental" is, empirically, definitely false. "Real success is almost never accidental" would be the less strong, but more correct, version.

On the other hand, this objection can be applied to a very large fraction of rationality quotes. I'm not sure it matters much, when we're essentially just collecting proverbs, and including all the necessary caveats for perfect technical accuracy tends to take away the punchiness that makes proverbs worth collecting.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-09T04:14:13.288Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Primarily, by pretending that a "usually" is an "always". "Real success is never accidental" is, empirically, definitely false. "Real success is almost never accidental" would be the less strong, but more correct, version.

That would depend on what you mean by success now wouldn't it? If you believe people who take calculated risks and get unlucky aren't successful, then perhaps you're right. But you can't claim you can make a statement more correct by assuming you know what every word means. Parsing ambiguity is part of rationality. (Though my downvotes would indicate it's not...)

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-03T01:43:28.414Z · score: -1 (27 votes) · LW · GW

When men have come to the edge of a precipice, it is the lover of life who has the spirit to leap backwards, and only the pessimist who continues to believe in progress.

G. K. Chesterton

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2014-12-03T22:54:49.092Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW · GW

... the lateral thinker who finds a new route forward, the hedonist who bungee jumps off the edge, and the engineer who builds a bridge.

(Of course, there might not be another route to find, the bungee jumping could get you killed, and a bridge might not be cost-effective, but I'd like to at least consider a third way out of a dilemma)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2014-12-03T22:34:14.345Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I think all the work here is done by determining what actually constitutes a precipice.

comment by alanwil2 · 2014-12-24T01:52:55.618Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

-- Bertrand Russell

comment by arundelo · 2014-12-24T16:06:53.740Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Duplicate.

comment by Gondolinian · 2014-12-24T14:13:38.749Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dunning–Kruger effect

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-03T01:47:32.530Z · score: -2 (22 votes) · LW · GW

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

comment by MotivationalAppeal · 2014-12-07T16:12:06.184Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Pathological counter example: "Passive propulsion in vortex wakes" by Beal et al. PDF

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-03T06:30:11.244Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Chesterton was talking about Neoreaction, right?

ETA: A note of clarification for those in need of it: I am not actually claiming that Chesterton was talking about Neoreaction.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-03T14:59:46.819Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What Chesterton was actually talking about was a reaction against liberal Protestantism in favour of more traditional Catholicism (represented e.g. by the "Oxford Movement" in the Church of England), against a prevailing tide in the direction of greater liberalism within Christianity and greater skepticism about Christianity.

So: not literally neoreaction, obviously, but something with a thing or two in common with neoreaction.

If RichardKennaway's meaning is "ha ha, Azathoth123 is using this as support for a neoreactionary view, when in fact Chesterton had something entirely different in mind" then I don't think that's altogether fair.

(I have no idea whether the people who have downvoted Richard did so because they thought he was saying that and that Chesterton really was talking about (something like) neoreaction, or because they thought he was actually claiming that Chesterton was talking about neoreaction when really he wasn't. This is one of the problems with downvoting as opposed to disagreeing. On the other hand, perhaps they downvoted because RK's comment could be taken either way with roughly equal plausibility and was therefore needlessly unclear.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-04T11:08:35.906Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If RichardKennaway's meaning is "ha ha, Azathoth123 is using this as support for a neoreactionary view, when in fact Chesterton had something entirely different in mind" then I don't think that's altogether fair.

Something along those lines. What makes Azathoth123's recent Chesterton quotes rationality quotes? Chesterton wrote:

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.

and of course neoreaction is something that is going against a stream, and in its eyes progressivism is, well, I'm not sure how the metaphor works out from here, because what neoreaction is going against is progressivism, which makes progressivism the stream itself, rather than a dead thing floating down some other stream. But anyway, why should we take Chesterton's quote as real wisdom? As a literal statement about the physics of floating bodies, it is true but uninteresting. As a metaphor, he is applying it to Christianity, or to his preferred form of it, everything else being either the stream or the flotsam (the metaphor has the same problem here).

So just what truth is being asserted here, that for Chesterton supports Catholicism and for Azathoth123 supports neoreaction? Contrarianism, the view that the majority is always wrong? That is all the metaphor amounts to. This sits oddly with the contention, also made by neoreactionaries, that their preferred view of society is actually the great stream within which progressivism is a historical anomaly, a trifling eddy that will not last (e.g. Anissimov and advancedatheist in recent comments on LW). I'm sure that if that metaphor had suited Chesterton in making some point, he would have elaborated it at no less length. But a metaphor proves nothing: it is a method of presentation, not of argument.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-04T13:10:45.899Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

So now that you've made your argument more explicit, I largely agree, but let me defend Chesterton (and maybe to some extent Azathoth123) just a little. Specifically, I'll argue (1) that his metaphor is a bit more coherent than you give it credit for, (2) that he isn't claiming anything as silly as that the majority is always wrong, and (3) that if he's understood right then what he says isn't as hard to reconcile with the neoreactionaries' claims as you suggest. But I agree (4) that he isn't making any very interesting factual statement, (5) that it doesn't offer all that much support for neoreaction, and (6) that he's engaging in rhetoric rather than anything much like reasoned argument.

Chesterton's argument, so far as there is one, seems to go like this. "Everyone thought traditional Christianity was dying or dead, washed away by a great stream of enlightenment and skepticism and liberalism. Some of its parts might stay in place for a while before eventually being eroded away, but the ultimate outcome seemed in little doubt. But now we see something -- let's call it neocatholicism -- not merely hanging on as the tide rushes past but actually heading in the opposite direction, getting more traditional over time rather than less. This shows that neocatholicism, and by extension traditional Christianity generally, is still alive and kicking. Let us put this in the context of these other times I've described, when Christianity appeared to be dead or dying but then regained ascendancy; this is just another example of the same phenomenon, even though we haven't yet quite reached the bit where the Church triumphs again."

So Chesterton is saying that his Great Thingy is enduring where what presently looks like a great all-consuming stream is in fact ephemeral; give it another century or so, he says, and the Church will still be there stronger than ever while the stream of skeptical enlightenment dwindles and is eventually forgotten. So I don't see the difference you do with the neoreactionaries' view of their model of society.

I don't think the claim here is that the majority is always wrong. Nor that "only a living thing can go against the stream" proved Christianity right or proves neoreaction right. I think it's intended to be something less ambitious: the emergence in Chesterton's time of a Catholic reaction showed (according to Chesterton) that Catholic Christianity was a still-somewhat-vigorous living thing and shouldn't be written off, and the emergence of neoreaction in our time shows (according to Azathoth123, if I'm interpreting him right) that a reactionary view of society is a still-somewhat-vigorous living thing and shouldn't be written off.

(So the actual alleged truth being asserted would be something like this: "Something that goes against the current of popular opinion, not merely holding on but pushing in the opposite direction, must have some vigour to it, and it may turn out to win in the end." Which, like the literal statement about floating bodies, is probably true but not very interesting.)

To support his stronger thesis that traditional Catholic Christianity is (not merely not quite dead yet, but) everlasting and always ultimately triumphant, Chesterton appeals to a bigger historical context in which (so he says) it has repeatedly seemed dead but returned greater and more terrible than ever before. I'm not sure whether the neoreactionaries make a similar claim.

There's still very little here in the way of actual argument, but that's how Chesterton rolls. Some clever and counterintuitive ideas, a paradoxical way of presenting them, lots of rhetorical fireworks and ingenious metaphors, and his work is done. If you get as far as thinking carefully about whether what he says is actually correct then his verbal pyrotechnics obviously weren't impressive enough.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T00:46:09.216Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

which makes progressivism the stream itself, rather than a dead thing floating down some other stream.

Well progressivism self-identifies as "being on the right side of history".

comment by RichardKennaway · 2014-12-06T15:06:58.514Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Well progressivism self-identifies as "being on the right side of history".

Indeed it does. It sees itself as the stream and the tide, not dead flotsam. At least, when it is not casting its enemies as the stream and itself as the living thing valiantly fighting against oppression. Chesterton, progressivism, and neoreaction all have that equivocation in common, casting their favoured ideology as either the tide or as fighting against the tide, as it suits their rhetoric.

comment by HalMorris · 2014-12-05T00:47:50.875Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If atheism is a religion then "OFF" is a TV channel

(from: http://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/do-atheists-reject-the-wrong-kind-of-god-not-likely/comment-page-1/#comments)

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T02:16:04.403Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Obligatory link to relevant sequence post.

comment by CCC · 2014-12-05T12:49:26.100Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And "zero" is a number; and "silence" is a musical chord; and "transparent" is a colour.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T13:14:02.070Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A curious choice of examples, since zero certainly is a number but silence certainly isn't a musical chord.

comment by IrritableGourmet · 2014-12-05T15:00:39.826Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Tell that to John Cage

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T15:56:39.175Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Silence can be part of a piece of music (and that's been obvious since long before Cage; that's not the point he was making) but that doesn't mean silence is a musical chord.

Similarly, atheism is an opinion on a question relevant to religion but it isn't a religion.

comment by dspeyer · 2014-12-14T06:22:39.966Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Better, to Death:

For once, Death appeared not to smile.

He brought his hand down on the strings.

There was no sound.

There was, instead, a cessation of sound, the end of a noise which Susan realized she'd been hearing all along. All the time. All her life. A kind of sound you never notice until it stops . . .

The strings were still.

There are millions of chords. There are millions of numbers. And everyone forgets the one that is a zero. But without the zero, numbers are just arithmetic. Without the empty chord, music is just noise.

Death played the empty chord.

The beat slowed. And began to weaken. The universe spun on, every atom of it. But soon the whirling would end and the dancers would look around and wonder what to do next.

It's not time for THAT! Play something else!

--Soul Music, Terry Pratchett

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T22:08:34.776Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A musical chord is defined as three or more notes played at the same time. I could see complaining about the definition being wrong if it was one or more notes, or even two or more notes, but when it's three or more notes I think it's clear that it means something more specific than a set of notes.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-28T23:20:48.074Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

three or more notes

I see that's the definition in Wikipedia. It has two citations. One is to a source that says "three or more". The other is to a different source that says "two or more". Hmm.

The OED says "three or more ... rarely of two notes only". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music says any number "but usually of not fewer than 3". The Chambers Dictionary of Music says three or more. I have a bunch of elementary music theory books but curiously none of them sees fit to define the word "chord" so far as I can tell. Everything else I can find basically assumes the reader knows well enough what a chord is.

My guess is that most practicing musicians, if asked "does something need three notes to be a chord?", would say something like "meh, who cares?".

comment by CCC · 2014-12-17T14:44:11.379Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's more-or-less the point; the entire basis for the original comparison is flawed, as in some cases the comparison works and in others it doesn't.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T01:18:57.222Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

It very much depends on what you consider a religion to be about. When Richard Dawkins preaches militant atheism that does have attributes of religion.

People draw self identity from feeling themselves as part of that movement. They consider it to be important to advance the movement. That's more than just lacking a certain belief.

It happens more often in the US where religion is a thing, then in Europe where there often a default of not believing in God.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T12:17:28.838Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Many things have "attributes of religion" that no one would actually want to call a religion.

Questions of the form "is X really a Y?" notoriously tend to have ill-defined answers, but here are some things that I suggest are usually features of religions but not of atheism:

  • Sacred scriptures
  • Sacred places
  • Rituals
  • Elaborate bodies of doctrine adherents are meant to agree with
  • Superior supernatural beings
  • An afterlife
  • A system of ethics
  • Activities intended to induce altered states of consciousness
  • A hierarchy of authority figures with special power/permission to perform rituals, define doctrine, etc.

Of course particular atheistic movements, or individual atheists, may have some of these. But they aren't features of atheism in the way that most of them are features of, say, Islam or Buddhism or Shinto.

"But the scientific method is a ritual!" No it isn't, and in any case science is not the same thing as atheism.

"But Richard Dawkins is an authority figure just like the pope!" No he isn't. No atheist (with the usual caveat that "all universal generalizations are wrong") sees Dawkins as having any special authority to define atheists' beliefs or to tell atheists what they ought to do.

"But you guys believe in eternal life through cryonics!" No. Some people here think there's enough chance of substantial life extension through cryonics to sign up for it. Many don't. No one thinks it offers eternal life.

"Ha ha, you admitted that atheists have no morals!" No. Atheism as such doesn't have a moral code attached, any more than Christianity has a theory of gravitation attached. Atheists can still behave morally, just as Christians can still fall when dropped from a great height; atheists can still have moral codes, just as Christians can still have theories of gravitation.

comment by Unknowns · 2014-12-05T15:41:25.644Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think when people say that "atheism is a religion" they don't usually mean to say that atheism is a religion in some technical sense. Rather they want to say that if there is something bad about their religion, that bad thing will apply to atheism too. And this may be either true or false, depending on what that bad thing is and which atheism you are talking about, but it will very often be false.

But calling atheism a religion in this way is a rather uninteresting attempt at self-defense. Note that it never happens in a positive sense, i.e. no one says "my religion is good, atheism is religious too, so it has some good aspects." In reality, though, instead of talking about "religions", where is it clear in an objective sense that atheism is not a religion, you could talk about religious instincts, and in this case it would be reasonable to say that atheists have religious instincts just like theists do, because these instincts have evolved to become a part of human nature. This could also be related to the sorts of comparisons mentioned. For example, even if no one thinks that cryonics offers eternal life, this does not necessarily mean the desire to use cryonics to overcome death (for at least a while) is not related to the desire of religious people for eternal life. And such similarities could be either good or bad, depending on the particular feature of human nature in question.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-12-07T10:54:21.050Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Even religious people have a concept of "bad religion" -- the religion of their enemies. What they worship is not some abstract concept of religion in general, but one specific religion. Other specific religions are wrong.

Saying "atheism is a religion" is reducing a new enemy to a subtype of the old enemy they already have millenia of experience fighting against. It's not suggesting that atheism is equivalent to e.g. Christianity (something high status), but rather that it is equivalent to Baal worship (something low status).

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T16:03:05.868Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right.

And, in particular, I think that when someone says "atheism is a religion" they're (almost?) always saying it for rhetorical effect rather than as a carefully considered statement they'd be prepared to explain the exact meaning of and give justification for. Which means, I think, that it's reasonable to respond in a way optimized for rhetorical effect (e.g., with the sort of comparison HalMorris posted upthread -- I don't really think it's a "rationality quote", but I think it's a perfectly good response to "atheism is just another religion").

If the person who said "atheism is a religion" then follows up with something more carefully considered that isn't refuted by likening atheism to turning the TV off, or being bald, or not playing any notes on the piano, or whatever, that's a good outcome: you've got something actually worth discussing. If they just drop the subject, that's a different kind of good outcome: a silly rhetorical trick has been neutralized by a less silly rhetorical trick. (Less silly because I think the response is more defensible than the original provocation.)

comment by Epictetus · 2014-12-28T08:00:02.312Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would say that atheism is a religion in the sense that it addresses the big questions that our familiar religions do. A religion that answers "Does God exist?" in the affirmative will have to address the follow-up questions like "What is the nature of God?", "What is the relationship between God and man?", and "How can I get God to stop smiting me?". These follow-up questions are where traditional religions hit their stride and build an apparatus for communicating with God, educating people about the answers to these questions, etc. Atheism denies the existence of God (broadly speaking) and doesn't have to answer the sorts of follow-up questions that theists do.

I think the issue gets complicated by the fact that our world is a lot different from the one that spawned the major religions. In olden days, priests were the learned class. They were philosophers, healers, historians and thinkers as well as spiritual leaders. Religion was inextricably tied to culture. You got philosophy, jurisprudence, history, and cultural norms along with the spiritual stuff. For example, think of how much of Jewish culture is tied up in Judaism.

Nowadays we have access to accurate information on many different beliefs and theories on any topic imaginable. It's an intellectual buffet. Atheism grew in an environment where it wasn't so closely tied to these cultural norms or that philosophy. Atheism is restricted to spiritual matters alone. So, I suppose the question of whether atheism is a religion depends on whether you think religion should provide a comprehensive guide to living.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-28T11:24:20.559Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

a religion in the sense that it addresses the big questions that our familiar religions do

It addresses one big question that our familiar religions do. The others it leaves alone (beyond rejecting one specific claim that's alleged to answer several of them.) What is the nature of right and wrong? Where do human beings come from? Do we have anything like souls and if so can they survive (or be restored after) death? Is there a purpose to our existence (individually or collectively) and if so what?

There are lots of possible answers to those questions that don't involve gods.

(I think it's probably true that most atheists in present-day Western society have similar answers to most of those questions. If so, I think that indicates not that atheism is really a religion but that there are other things besides atheism pushing us towards those answers. For instance, actual evidence that they're right; or historically contingent groupthink; or other possibilities that will readily occur to the imaginative reader.)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-28T12:58:28.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's probably true that most atheists in present-day Western society have similar answers to most of those questions.

The real point, however, is to ask whether they've got the right answers to those questions.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-28T17:04:51.863Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's a very good thing to ask, but it happens not to be the point actually at issue in this discussion.

(Is it churlish to point out that the remainder of the paragraph you quoted really ought to make it abundantly clear that I'm aware that the answers could be right or wrong and that it matters which?)

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-28T11:20:49.227Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think atheism is a religion, precisely because it does not provide a comprehensive guide to living. However, our form of "rationality" - with its precise reasons for atheism, its specific moral aspirations and justifications therefor, and even its prophecies of the defeat of death and suffering by science - does qualify.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-12-08T15:48:10.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Ha ha, you admitted that atheists have no morals!" No. Atheism as such doesn't have a moral code attached, any more than Christianity has a theory of gravitation attached. Atheists can still behave morally, just as Christians can still fall when dropped from a great height; atheists can still have moral codes, just as Christians can still have theories of gravitation.

It is however, true that atheists cannot obtain a meta-ethical position similar to Divine Command, which is how most people define code of morals.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T22:24:31.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It might be how they would explicitly define a code of morals, but I think they just don't understand why they have morality. When I was still a theist, I wondered why there'd be any reason for an atheist to have morals without the promise of heaven and the threat of hell. I suspect lots of theists ask that. I didn't base my every action on greed for heaven and fear of hell and I doubt many theists do.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-08T16:20:54.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it? My impression is that most people would consider utilitarianism to be a moral code, even if they thought it a terrible one.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T22:21:17.565Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think sacred scriptures, elaborate bodies of doctrine, and hierarchies of authority figures are usually features of religions. I'm pretty sure it's just Abrahamic religions that are like that. They have stories that they think happened, but if that's all it takes to call something scripture then atheists have scriptures. I'm pretty sure that authority figures in most religions are just people who are generally respected, and fit perfectly with someone like Richard Dawkins.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-28T01:12:44.529Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What would you call the Vedas or the Tripitaka, if not sacred scriptures embodying elaborate bodies of doctrine?

You might be right about the hierarchies of authority figures, but since the "Abrahamic" religions account for more than half the religious population of the world I'm not too bothered if one item in my list is specific to those.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T16:41:34.642Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

No atheist (with the usual caveat that "all universal generalizations are wrong") sees Dawkins as having any special authority to define atheists' beliefs or to tell atheists what they ought to do.

In a perfect world that might be the case. In the real world I doubt that's true.

There are people who deconvert from Christianity by reading "The God Delusion" and who don't really change the structure of their belief system. They just replace one authority with another. They say things like: "The purpose of life is to spread one's genes."

"But the scientific method is a ritual!" No it isn't, and in any case science is not the same thing as atheism.

The scientific method as such is a vague term that different people use to mean slightly different things.

Using 5% as cut of for significiance is an example of practice that's a bit ritualistic.

University graduates wearing silly hats when the graduate on the other hand has parts of ritual. People changing their legal names because they completed initation proceedings also has something of a ritual.

As far as those things not being about atheism that's motte-and-bailey.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T18:53:47.800Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

In the real world I doubt that's true.

That's why I remarked that all universal generalizations are wrong. I bet there are, here and there, a few people whose attitude to Richard Dawkins is similar to a typical Roman Catholic's attitude to the pope. But I'm pretty sure they're rare. "Atheism has a rare failure mode where X happens" is not at all the same proposition as "In atheism, X happens".

an example of practice that's a bit ritualistic.

Oh yes, you reminded me of a category of unreasonable response I failed to mock in my original comment, so let me go ahead and mock it now.

"But atheists admire the writings of people like Russell and Ingersoll, which is like having sacred scriptures! And some of them do significance tests or always check the same things when they get into the car, which is like having rituals! And to be an atheist you have to not believe in a god, which is like having a body of doctrine you have to agree with! And many atheists expect there to be super-advanced aliens, or superintelligent AIs, now or in the future, and that's like believing in supernatural superior beings! Etc., etc., etc.!" Nope. Those similarities are vague enough that if you're willing to accept that sort of thing then everything "is a religion". Software development is a religion: the scriptures are things like Kernighan & Ritchie or Knuth; the sacred places are maybe the Googleplex and (in memory only, now) Bell Labs; there are rituals like checking that all your tests pass before committing code to the version control repository; etc. Business is a religion: the prophets are famously effective businesspeople like Carnegie and Rockefeller in the past or Jobs and Elon Musk more recently; the system of ethics is the principle of always maximizing profits; the authority figures are CEOs; etc. Playing chess is a religion; the scriptures are opening manuals and books of famous games; there are lots of rituals like saying "j'adoube" before touching a piece you aren't moving, and shaking hands with your opponent at the start or end of the game; the rules of chess somewhat resemble an ethical code and a body of doctrine; etc. I could go on for hours but I hope you're bored already.

If a standard of comparison is broad enough to say that every institution or practice is "like a religion", then the fact that it says atheism is like a religion is completely uninteresting.

motte-and-bailey

I'd agree if atheists were, when not being challenged by theists, busily engaged in worshipping the shade of Christopher Hitchens, or insisting that everyone has to read "The God Delusion" once a year, or otherwise behaving in ways that would plausibly count as religious. But I don't see that; I genuinely think such things are really rare. There may be a bailey corresponding to the motte of just-disbelieving-in-gods (I put it that way because I do think the common claim that atheism means only not positively believing in any particular god has a whiff of motte-and-bailey about it, but that's not something I've been arguing for or assuming) but if there is I don't think it has anything to do with atheism being religion-like. (Things that might go in the bailey: the idea that religion is harmful as well as merely factually incorrect on the question of gods; admiration for science and maybe some preference for treating all questions in a broadly scientific manner; secularism.)

comment by CCC · 2014-12-05T12:55:55.064Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My view on the matter is that there are those individual atheists, or atheistic movements, that do have a lot in common with various religions; and because they are loud, and vocal, and make a good try at being missionaries in their own way, they are also the groups of atheists that a lot of people will run into first, despite quite possibly being in the minority; and thus, despite being quite possibly a minority, there exist quite a lot of people who have only, ever met that sort of atheist; that is to say, in their minds, that is the pattern which the word "atheist" matches to.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T16:41:52.943Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not only a matter of meet.

It's a matter of those people strongly self identifying as atheist will other people don't care that much about the question.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-05T16:12:45.089Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When Richard Dawkins preaches militant atheism that does have attributes of religion.

Eh... I think it's problematic to refer to Dawkins as a militant atheist. Militant atheists look like anti-clericalism, which typically involves actually arresting or murdering priests or expropriating the property of the church. Dawkins just doesn't respect its dignity; that's insult rather than injury.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-05T16:26:30.338Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's problematic to refer to Dawkins as a militant atheist.

The reason for calling him that way is that he hold a big talk in front of TED preaching militant atheism.

Now, it may sound as though I'm about to preach atheism, and I want to reassure you that that's not what I'm going to do. In an audience as sophisticated as this one, that would be preaching to the choir. No, what I want to urge upon you - instead what I want to urge upon you is militant atheism.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-05T16:32:55.672Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. Great PR there, Dawkins.

comment by HalMorris · 2014-12-05T19:25:44.571Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Militant atheism is of course more than just not believing in god There is also believing that terrible things are almost sure to happen when people believe in god (largely true with the collection of esp Abrahamic gods we have running around these days) AND believing that getting people not to believe in god will make it so much better

The USSR helped prove that "godless religions" can have all the worst characteristics of the worst religions (of course they didn't truly wipe out religion, but the dominant ideology didn't involve a theistic god -- we could debate whether it made "history" a sort of god.

As with so many things, including "regime change", it is harder than it looks to eliminate something bad without getting something worse.

Of course LW is very conscious of the need to put something better in place of the old thinking.

comment by gjm · 2014-12-05T21:14:42.039Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear how successful the USSR really was in getting people not to believe in God.

[EDITED to add:] Actually, I don't know whether it's clear how successful the USSR was in getting people not to believe in God. What I know is that (1) I don't know and (2) I have a hazy recollection of having heard things that suggest it wasn't terribly successful (a big increase in overt religiousness after the fall of the USSR, stories of somewhat-underground Christianity while it was still in place, that sort of thing). So let me instead make it a question: How successful, actually, was the USSR in getting people not to believe in God?

comment by Robin · 2014-12-18T20:28:36.873Z · score: -4 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Anger is a form of recognition. It amounts to admitting that those people are important to you and they have the power to hurt you. Actually they haven't.

You get angry when your opponents begin to be dishonest. Your anger comes from two reasons; anger at yourself for having been fooled, for having accepted them as honest, and your fear of the evil represented by any human being acting irrationally -- which is the one essential evil.

Ayn Rand, in a letter to Nathaniel Branden

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2014-12-19T08:21:15.168Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would like to see some quotes from Rand that would be worthy of upvotes here. But after seeing your efforts lately, I am starting to wonder if my remembered fondness of Rand's writing persists only because I haven't actually re-read anything by her in a decade...

comment by Robin · 2014-12-19T13:29:23.974Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not entrenched enough in this community to know what's worthy of upvotes and what's not, so I'm selecting quotes that I personally like and seeing how they fare.

Do you remember what you liked about Ayn Rand? I've found that people like her for very different reasons.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2014-12-20T16:35:14.054Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I remember I liked the characters who understood that a technical understanding of an issue screens off vaguer impressions (like with whether Rearden Metal was safe or not), I liked the individualism, and the idea that you don't have to feel guilty about every obligation which others would like to saddle you with just by their expectations... there were other things, but hard to list right now.

As to the quote, well, I can't speak for the whole community, but here's why I didn't like it. Maybe Rand is referering to a specific situation where she knows Branden's thought processes and her statements are correct. In that case, I wouldn't know. But if it's meant generally enough to be a rationality quote - if it's meant to explain why we get angry at dishonest people - then it's just an unsupported claim. I don't see anything showing that Rand has a model-with-moving-parts understanding of the psychology of anger response, and didn't just make up an answer that fit her preferred moral categories.

And equating dishonesty with both evil AND irrationality rubs me wrong. Rand believed that she's basically solved morality, and rationality only allowed one kind of morality, namely hers. Not just metamorality, but specific values. I believe this is part of what locked her into an inescapable worldview, beyond correction and updating (like what Branden wrote about how, once she decided that Reason's verdict on hypnosis was that it was bunk and had no foundation in reality, nothing could reach her on the subject), because once she decided something was incorrect, it was not just incorrect, but Evil.

I think it more useful to consider rationality (correct reading of reality and decision making) separately from values held.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-20T18:12:34.969Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe Rand is referering to a specific situation where she knows Branden's thought processes and her statements are correct.

It was about arguing with collectivists (AKA people who were sympathetic to the USSR). Whether she was correct about communism being inferior to capitalism isn't easy to analyze objectively but in a sense history has validated her.

In that case, I wouldn't know. But if it's meant generally enough to be a rationality quote - if it's meant to explain why we get angry at dishonest people - then it's just an unsupported claim

It's supported by her personal experience. It is also largely supported by my own personal experience.

And equating dishonesty with both evil AND irrationality rubs me wrong. Rand believed that she's basically solved morality, and rationality only allowed one kind of morality, namely hers

Only partly true. Her morality acknowledges that man has the free will to think, but assumes that if he thinks honestly he'll come to many of the same conclusions that she does. The only real constraint in Objectivist morality is on the initiation of force.

I believe this is part of what locked her into an inescapable worldview, beyond correction and updating

This is an exaggeration.

(like what Branden wrote about how, once she decided that Reason's verdict on hypnosis was that it was bunk and had no foundation in reality, nothing could reach her on the subject)

This puts Rand within the general consensus of American psychologists. Branden also said that Rand updated on the effects of smoking marijuana.

I think it more useful to consider rationality (correct reading of reality and decision making) separately from values held.

Why? What if you notice patterns in values held and rationality? Should you ignore them?

comment by Vaniver · 2014-12-21T15:35:33.917Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This puts Rand within the general consensus of American psychologists.

At the time, or now? Because hypnosis is a demonstrably effective treatment for some conditions, and clearly something is going on- but people vary in susceptibility and most people are familiar with the variety of hypnosis that stage magicians do rather than the type that hypnotherapists do.

comment by Robin · 2014-12-22T19:43:33.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

At that time, though I think much of hypnosis can be explained by the placebo effect.

comment by alienist · 2014-12-23T01:17:20.799Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This isn't really an explanation.

comment by DanielLC · 2014-12-27T21:48:34.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't make it bunk.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2015-01-01T18:14:14.321Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More things I liked: Fred Kinnan.

"Centralization destroys the blight of monopoly," said Boyle.
"How's that again?" drawled Kinnan.

I'd really like to see his offscreen conversation with John Galt.

What do you think: does Fred Kinnan "want to live", in the sense that the book tells us Jim Taggart doesn't, or not?

comment by Lumifer · 2014-12-19T15:36:08.992Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not entrenched enough in this community to know what's worthy of upvotes and what's not

Methinks you should upvote what you find worthy, not what you think the community would find worthy.

comment by Azathoth123 · 2014-12-06T02:18:55.709Z · score: -4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Logic only works cryogenically. You can prove all kinds of shit with it at the temperatures people usually live at.

Nyan Sandwich

comment by Eniac · 2014-12-06T03:25:07.523Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.

  • Albert Einstein

(http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins100298.html)

comment by shminux · 2014-12-06T03:38:03.203Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I doubt Einstein actually said that, but I can't agree more.