Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger)

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-03-27T17:49:33.000Z · score: 172 (152 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 78 comments

In Orthodox Judaism there is a saying: “The previous generation is to the next one as angels are to men; the next generation is to the previous one as donkeys are to men.” This follows from the Orthodox Jewish belief that all Judaic law was given to Moses by God at Mount Sinai. After all, it’s not as if you could do an experiment to gain new halachic knowledge; the only way you can know is if someone tells you (who heard it from someone else, who heard it from God). Since there is no new source of information; it can only be degraded in transmission from generation to generation.

Thus, modern rabbis are not allowed to overrule ancient rabbis. Crawly things are ordinarily unkosher, but it is permissible to eat a worm found in an apple—the ancient rabbis believed the worm was spontaneously generated inside the apple, and therefore was part of the apple. A modern rabbi cannot say, “Yeah, well, the ancient rabbis knew diddly-squat about biology. Overruled!” A modern rabbi cannot possibly know a halachic principle the ancient rabbis did not, because how could the ancient rabbis have passed down the answer from Mount Sinai to him? Knowledge derives from authority, and therefore is only ever lost, not gained, as time passes.

When I was first exposed to the angels-and-donkeys proverb in (religious) elementary school, I was not old enough to be a full-blown atheist, but I still thought to myself: “Torah loses knowledge in every generation. Science gains knowledge with every generation. No matter where they started out, sooner or later science must surpass Torah.”

The most important thing is that there should be progress. So long as you keep moving forward you will reach your destination; but if you stop moving you will never reach it.

Tsuyoku naritai is Japanese. Tsuyoku is “strong”; naru is “becoming,” and the form naritai is “want to become.” Together it means, “I want to become stronger,” and it expresses a sentiment embodied more intensely in Japanese works than in any Western literature I’ve read. You might say it when expressing your determination to become a professional Go player—or after you lose an important match, but you haven’t given up—or after you win an important match, but you’re not a ninth-dan player yet—or after you’ve become the greatest Go player of all time, but you still think you can do better. That is tsuyoku naritai, the will to transcendence.

Each year on Yom Kippur, an Orthodox Jew recites a litany which begins Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi, and goes on through the entire Hebrew alphabet: We have acted shamefully, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have slandered . . .

As you pronounce each word, you strike yourself over the heart in penitence. There’s no exemption whereby, if you manage to go without stealing all year long, you can skip the word gazalnu and strike yourself one less time. That would violate the community spirit of Yom Kippur, which is about confessing sins—not avoiding sins so that you have less to confess.

By the same token, the Ashamnu does not end, “But that was this year, and next year I will do better.”

The Ashamnu bears a remarkable resemblance to the notion that the way of rationality is to beat your fist against your heart and say, “We are all biased, we are all irrational, we are not fully informed, we are overconfident, we are poorly calibrated . . .”

Fine. Now tell me how you plan to become less biased, less irrational, more informed, less overconfident, better calibrated.

There is an old Jewish joke: During Yom Kippur, the rabbi is seized by a sudden wave of guilt, and prostrates himself and cries, “God, I am nothing before you!” The cantor is likewise seized by guilt, and cries, “God, I am nothing before you!” Seeing this, the janitor at the back of the synagogue prostrates himself and cries, “God, I am nothing before you!” And the rabbi nudges the cantor and whispers, “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

Take no pride in your confession that you too are biased; do not glory in your self-awareness of your flaws. This is akin to the principle of not taking pride in confessing your ignorance; for if your ignorance is a source of pride to you, you may become loath to relinquish your ignorance when evidence comes knocking. Likewise with our flaws—we should not gloat over how self-aware we are for confessing them; the occasion for rejoicing is when we have a little less to confess.

Otherwise, when the one comes to us with a plan for correcting the bias, we will snarl, “Do you think to set yourself above us?” We will shake our heads sadly and say, “You must not be very self-aware.”

Never confess to me that you are just as flawed as I am unless you can tell me what you plan to do about it. Afterward you will still have plenty of flaws left, but that’s not the point; the important thing is to do better, to keep moving ahead, to take one more step forward. Tsuyoku naritai!


Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).

comment by Robin_Hanson2 · 2007-03-27T18:27:42.000Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Look who thinks he's nothing" - funny. :) Perhaps more general version of your point is beware of taking pride in subgoal measures of accomplishment, if subgoals without the goal are worth little.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-30T03:00:30.909Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually I think I tend to do the opposite. I undervalue subgoals and then become unmotivated when I can't reach the ultimate goal directly.

E.g. I'm trying to get published. Book written, check. Query letters written, check. Queries sent to agents, check. All these are valuable subgoals. But they don't feel like progress, because I can't check off the book that says "book published".

comment by Chris_Yi · 2007-03-27T18:34:57.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now there's a sentiment I can get behind. That'd make a nice hachimaki... http://www.jbox.com/SEARCH/zettai/1/

I sometimes wonder about that: As you move away from a point charge, the electric field falls off as 1/r^2. Infinitely long line charges fall off as 1/r, and infinite plates (with a uniform charge distribution) theoretically generate electric fields that are constant, with respect to distance from that plane. Though you are moving away from it, its influence on you doesn't lessen.

Is irrational behavior the same way? One of the mechanisms that allows fortune-telling and astrology to "work" is the mind's ability to recast perception to fit just about any description: "Well, I guess maybe I waaas a bit selfish, I could have donated more to that charity. Gosh, my horoscope sure is accurate!" I wonder if there is some degree of that as well with regards to irrational behavior. Of course I'm not suggesting that it doesn't exist, or can't be identified, but I'm looking at the far off case: behavior that cannot be identified as irrational and biased through any kind of mental algebra at all. I wonder if such a thing exists, and what can be done to achieve it.

comment by HalFinney · 2007-03-27T18:41:55.000Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a great saying about the angels and donkeys. I've read that most ancient civilizations had the same kind of view of history. They did not have our notion of progress; rather, they saw mankind as having fallen from a primordial "golden age", and heading pretty much straight downhill ever since. No doubt this was aided by the near-universal agreement among old people that the young generation just doesn't measure up to how people were in the old days.

So if we go back to the "chronophone" thought experiment, Archimedes might have been spectacularly uninterested in information from the future (especially through such a garbled connection). Unlike today where we would assume that future civilizations would be sources of tremendous knowledge and wisdom, he would have imagined a future of near-bestial creatures who had long lost whatever vestiges of grace mankind had still retained in his age.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-30T03:01:32.439Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Though he might change his mind as we explained how to cure a whole bunch of diseases he thought were intractable.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-03-06T10:36:16.501Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Through a chronophone? Wouldn't that just repeat the nonsense ancient doctors believed, and cures to diseases he already knows how to deal with?

comment by milindsmart · 2014-10-15T12:44:43.010Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can corroborate that. Indian Hindus believe that there are eons (longer) and numerous eras (shorter) consisting of 4 "yuga"s, during each of which humans generally become worse off... all great traits are part of the first yuga, and goes downhill to the last one (in which we exist, obviously). After each era, a "pralaya" takes place destroying everything. Then start afresh.


comment by orthonormal · 2020-04-05T02:24:37.060Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Archimedes had direct evidence of adding to the progress of useful knowledge over generations. Even in that age, scientists were an exception to the rule.

comment by Barkley__Rosser · 2007-03-27T18:52:28.000Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OTOH, there was this accumulation of Talmud, with later commentaries continuing to be added, Mishnah, and on and on. So, one can argue that there was this degradation function as one moves further away from the original source, but this is presumably at least partly offset by the accumulation of the commentaries themselves. Do they accumulate more rapidly than the degradation occurs?

BTW, there is something similar in the debates over the various Islamic law codes, the various Shari'as. An issue is which of the reputed sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, collectively known as the Hadith, are to be accepted as genuine and therefore to serve as part of the foundation of a proper Shari's (along with the Qur'an and some other things). The validity of a given saying was based on a chain of witnesses: Abdul heard it from Abdullah who heard it from Abu-Bakr who heard the Prophet, and so forth. Part of the argument is that the longer this chain of reputed witnesses is, the less reliably a part of the Hadith the supposed saying is, and indeed, some sayings are accepted in some Shari'as, while the stricter ones rule them out for having overly long chains of witnesses. The strictest of the Sunni Shari'as is the one accepted in Saudi Arabia, the Hanbali, which accepts only the Qur'an and a very small Hadith as bases for the law.

comment by Chris_Yi · 2007-03-27T19:04:39.000Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hal: I'd like to see a cartoon of a timeline that goes from nothingness to probabilities to subatomic particles to ... to humans ... to AI controlled sentient galaxies ... to discorporated particles floating around in a post heat-death universe...

...all claiming to miss the good old days.

I don't think I would say that the "good old days" belief aided the "hell in a handbasket" belief; I think they are one and the same.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-03-27T20:03:26.000Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Barkley, the accumulation of Talmud was based on the theory that - I know this will sound strange, but bear with me - the younger rabbis were all simply writing down things that older rabbis had told them. In the Orthodox view the Talmud is the "Torah sheh b'al'Peh", the Oral Torah, which was also given to Moses at Mount Sinai, and then transmitted verbally down through the generations until it was finally written down. All law in the Talmud is supposed to have been transmitted from Mount Sinai - there's nowhere else that wisdom can come from. If there are disputes in the commentaries, then they're both right, and the task of future generations is to figure out how they can both be right, because you can never say an older rabbi is wrong, because they're closer to Mount Sinai than you. The fact that much of the law in the Mishna or Gemara is blatantly medieval or blatantly based on incorrect medieval beliefs is somehow just not thought about.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-04-28T21:24:08.988Z · score: 15 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If there are disputes in the commentaries, then they're both right" I know this is a derailment but I wish somebody had told me that this is how it was supposed to work! I was so confused when I was trying to learn. It didn't seem to make any sense. Now it makes even less sense.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-04-28T21:49:19.594Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some minor comments regarding Eliezer's remark. The emphasis on non-contradiction of opinions in the Talmud and elsewhere is fairly recent. Maimonides for example was more than willing to say that statements in the Talmud were wrong when it came to factual issues. Also note that much of the Talmud was written before the medieval period (the Mishna dates to around 200 and the Gemara was completed around 600 or so only very early in to the medieval period).

The notion of the infallibility of the Talmud is fairly recent gaining real force with the writings of the Maharal in the late 1500s. In fact, many Orthodox Jews don't realize how recent that aspect of belief is. The belief in the infallible and non-contradictiory nature of the Talmud has also been growing stronger in some respects. Among the ultra-Orthodox, they are starting to apply similar beliefs to their living or recently deceased leaders and the chassidim have been doing something similar with their rebbes for about 200 years. Currently, there are major charedi leaders who have stated that mice can spontaneously generate because the classical sources say so. I have trouble thinking of a better example of how religion can result in serious misunderstandings about easily testable facts.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-04-29T10:24:11.643Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And speaking of bias, I find myself wanting to blame the belief in an infallible Talmud on fundamentalism-envy, but it just doesn't fit the timeline.

comment by Vladimir · 2016-06-14T03:05:55.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone claims these days that canonical "literalism" is a recent phenomenon. It's said about Islam especially and now this comment claims it about Judaism. I've also heard this about the Greek religions (there's a book called 'Did the Ancients believe in their myths'). Is this really true? Or is this some kind of post-modern thing where everyone is trying to prove how much "wiser" our ancestors were as if they weren't literal idiots.

I think the common sense intuition is that literalism&fundamentalism must have been more prevalent in the past, but I'm willing to update if anyone can demonstrate some kind of trend in any of these religions.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-15T16:48:11.204Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The case of Maimonides is well-discussed in Persecution and the Art of Writing by Leo Strauss. Maimonides considers it bad to teach the secrets of the Talmud to people who aren't worthy and thinks that the Talmud contains wrong statements to mislead naive readers.

Issues of secret knowledge and mechanisms to keep knowledge from getting picked up by people are found in many spiritual traditions.

There a key distinction between esoteric and exoteric works. Reading esoteric works literally usually means to treat them as being exoteric.

If you look at someone like Richard Bandler who founded NLP, Bandler often tries to teach esoterically whereby he's not explicit about what he wants to teach. If you understand how he teaches than you won't take a story about a personal experience that Bandler recounts as literal but as a vehicle for the transmission of esoteric knowledge.

When Maimonides wanted to teach esoterically he also argues that the esoteric knowledge is more important than the literal truth. Maimonides is likely making a lot of decisions that are different when he teaches that are different from those that Bandler makes, but both consider esoteric knowledge to be important.

People who value exoteric knowledge like Greek philosophers or modern scientists tend to be a lot more literal than people who value esoteric knowledge. Especially at the level of teachers. That doesn't necessarily mean that the average lay-person understands that certain claims about knowledge aren't to be taken literally.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2016-12-03T23:43:28.913Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know of any broader, larger trends. It is worth noting here that the Rabbis of the Talmud themselves thought that the prior texts (especially the Torah itself) were infallible, so it seems that part of what might be happening is that over time, more and more gets put into the very-holy-text category.

Also, it seems important to distinguish here between being unquestionably correct with being literal. In a variety of different religions this becomes an important distinction and often a sacrifice of literalism is in practice made to preserve correctness of a claim past a certain point. Also note that in many religious traditions, the traditions which are most literal try to argue that what they are doing is not literalism but something more sophisticated. For example, among conservative Protestants it isn't uncommon to claim that they are not reading texts literally but rather using the "historical-grammatical method."

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-12-04T01:18:32.761Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Talmud from what little I know may be a poor example of this. In fact, last I checked the Torah came from a combination of contradictory texts, and tradition comes close to admitting this with the story of Ezra.

I think most people in ancient times held all sorts of beliefs about the world which we would call "literalist" if someone held them today, but they rarely if ever believed in the total accuracy of one source. They believed gods made the world because that seemed like a good explanation at the time. They may have believed in the efficacy of sacrifice, because why wouldn't you want sacrifices made to you?

comment by Nornagest · 2016-12-04T03:03:48.212Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think conflating literalism and fundamentalism here is probably a bad idea. I am not an expert in the early history of the Abrahamic religions, but it seems likely that textual literalism's gone in and out of style over the several thousand years of Abrahamic history, just as many other aspects of interpretation have.

Fundamentalism is a different story. There have been several movements purporting to return to the fundamentals of religion, but in current use the word generally refers only to the most recent crop of movements, which share certain characteristics because they share a common origin: they are reactions against modernity and against the emerging universal culture. It stands to reason that these characteristics would be new (at least in this form), because prior to them there was no modernity or universal culture to react against.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-12-04T05:47:17.542Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's more useful to speak of fundamentalism as an attitude, and if you speak about it this way, there is nothing new about it, but it always exists in opposition to something different -- e.g. the 1st century Sadducees were fundamentalists, and the Pharisees, who tended to interpret their religion in the light of Greek philosophy, were mostly opposite to this.

comment by HalFinney · 2007-03-27T22:05:04.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How would you compare this "tsuyoku naritai" viewpoint with the majoritarian perspective? The majoritarian view is skeptical about the possibility of overcoming bias on an individual basis, similar to the position you criticize of being "loathe to relinquish ignorance" on the basis of evidence and argumentation. But majoritarianism is not purely fatalistic, in that it offers an alternative strategy for acquiring truth, by seeing what other people think.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-30T03:04:20.846Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think majoritarianism is ultimately opposed to tsuyoku naritai, because it prevents us from ever advancing beyond what the majority believes. We rely upon others to do knowledge innovation for us, waiting for the whole society to, for example, believe in evolution, or understand calculus, before we will do so.

comment by mtraven · 2007-03-28T00:04:35.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting post. Judaism has managed to survive for thousands of years, and maybe part of that is a high copying fidelity for its memes. It seems there are two ways for cultures to ensure long-term survival -- extreme rigidity (as in this case) or in extreme adaptability (which is better at learning but may not be able to preserve group identity).

Not sure what that has to do with overcoming bias, except to suggest that it may be in a culture's interest to maintain their biases.

And what's weird is that when Judaism historically encountered the Enlightenment, it resulted in people who are notably smart and adaptable as individuals and as a group.

comment by Joseph_Hertzlinger · 2007-03-28T05:09:08.000Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the one hand, Judaism (and other traditional religions) accumulate experience that is post-dated to the origin of the religion. On the other hand, when parts of a traditional religion admit that experience can accumulate, the fact that change is actually possible frequently turns into a belief that change is possible at will and you eventually wind up with a "trendier-than-thou" religion.

You can compare this phenomenon to fiat currencies. Gold (or whatever the standard happens to be) might be an arbitrary sign of value, but it's a mistake to think that currency can be changed at will.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2007-03-28T05:51:13.000Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hertzlinger, I would summarize your comment as "Once you've got religion, you've got choice of two different ways to screw up." It's not as if there's anything good about a religion persisting for centuries. Imagine if a cult of 17th-century physicists were still running around.

Finney, I do indeed think there's a conflict between tsuyoku naritai and majoritarianism. Suppose everyone were a majoritarian - information would degrade from generation to generation, as the "average belief" changed a little in transmission. (Where did all that information come from in the first place? Not from majoritarian reasoning.) Further, if you're a majoritarian, once you achieve the level of the average, you hit a brick wall - you're not allowed to aspire to anything above that. Hopefully the reasons for my strong negative reaction to majoritarianism are now clearer.

comment by HalFinney · 2007-03-28T07:18:50.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't mean to hijack this thread but I'll offer a couple of ideas about majoritarianism. It is no doubt true that if everyone were a majoritarian, majoritarians would have to do things a little differently (perhaps asking people to publish their estimates of what they would believe if they weren't following the advice of the crowd). But at present I don't think this is a major problem, so majoritarianism still has promise as a strategy to improve one's accuracy, as demanded by the tsuyoku naritai philosophy.

As far as being unable to beat the average, again this is true but keep in mind that for many kinds of problems, the average is really very good. For example in "guess how many beans in the jar" type problems, it is customary for the mean guess to be far better than the median, often in the top few percentiles. Few strategies can offer such high degrees of accuracy. Although not all problems can be quantified in this way, the point is that the majoritarian "average" does not have to mean median.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2007-03-28T07:24:40.000Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Finney, I do indeed think there's a conflict between tsuyoku naritai and majoritarianism.

I don't think that's automatic. If you do truly believe that the mean opinion is more reliable in general than any you could construct on your own, then moving towards that mean is something that makes you better. And if you just take majoritism as a guide, rather than a dogma, there's even less problems.

The fact that if everyone did this, it would be a disaster may be an example of what I called moral freeloading - something that may be good for an individual to do, alone, but that would be very dangerous for everyone to imitate.

comment by HalFinney · 2007-03-28T07:35:54.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a citation for my 2nd claim above about the accuracy of the mean:


"We now turn to the second type of problem, estimating a state. Here, only one person knows the answer and none of the problem solvers do. A classic example of this problem is asking a group to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. We have been doing this experiment for over a decade at Columbia Business School, and the collective answer has proven remarkably accurate in most trials....

"Our 2007 jelly bean results illustrate the point. The average guess of the class was 1,151 while the actual number of beans was 1,116, a 3.1 percent error. Of the 73 estimates, only two were better than the average... There’s nothing unique about 2007; the results are the same year after year."

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2007-03-28T07:45:21.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, Finney made the same point I was making, and cunningly posted it first... ^_^

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2007-03-28T07:48:33.000Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One small point: If we truly want to become stronger, then we should always test our abilities against reality - we should go out on a limb and make specific predictions and then see how they pan out, rather than retreating into the "it's complicated, so let's just conclude that we're not qualified to decide". That's an error I've often sliped into, in fact...

comment by ChrisA · 2007-03-28T08:58:44.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There seem to be lots of parallels between majoritarianism and the efficient market hypothesis in finance. In the efficient market hypothesis, it is entirely possible that a liquidly traded asset is mispriced, (similar to the possibility that the majority view is very wrong) however on average, according to the efficient market view, I maximise my chances of being right by accepting the current price of the asset as the correct price. Therefore the fact that a stock halved in price over a year is not a valid criticism of the efficient market theory, just as in majoritarianism the fact that the majority has been proven wrong is not a valid criticism of majoritarianism. The problem of free loading is inherent in the efficient market theory, if everyone accepts it then the market no longer is efficient. But there are enough people who have justified reasons not to invest on an efficient market basis to ensure that this does not happen as discussed below.

Some examples of justified reasons in differing from the majority view in the case of efficient markets are; 1) In the efficient market theorem, it is accepted that people with inside information can have successful trading strategies which deliver predictably above average returns. In the case of majoritarianism we would be justified holding a different view to the majority if we had inside information that the majority did not have (for instance we know the colour of someone eyes, when we know the majority do not). 2) A professional money manager of a non-index mutual fund is also justified in differing from the majority view since this is what he is paid to do. The parallel here for majoritarianism would be scientists or academics, who are paid to advance new theories, they receive compensation for differing from the majority, at least in their own area of speciality. 3) The final area where you might differ from the efficient market approach is when you gain some entertainment utility from investing (i.e. as a form of gambling, if I am honest, this is why I invest in single stocks). In the case of majoritarianism, the parallel is that you can chose to hold a view that is different from the majority if it brings you entertainment utility which outweighs the costs of holding a non-efficient view (religious views might be in this category).

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-30T03:07:13.774Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, realizing this parallel causes me to be even more dubious of the efficient market hypothesis.

As compelling as it may sound when you say it, this line or reasoning plainly doesn't work in scientific truth... so why should it work in finance?

Behavioral finance gives us plenty of reasons to think that whole markets can remain radically inefficient for long periods of time. What this means for the individual investor, I'm not sure. But what it means for the efficient market hypothesis? Death.

comment by William_Newman · 2007-03-28T15:06:22.000Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no particular reason that constant improvement needs to surpass a fixed point. In theory, see Achilles and the tortoise. In practice, maybe you can't slice things infinitely fine (or at least you can't detect progress when you do), but still you could go on for a very long time incrementally improving military practice in the Americas while, without breakthroughs to bronze and/or cavalry, remaining solidly stuck behind Eurasia. More science fictionally, people living beneath the clouds of Venus could go for a long time incrementally improving their knowledge of the universe before catching up with Babylonian astronomy, and if a prophet from Earth brought them a holy book of astronomy, it could remain a revelation for a very long time. Or if the Bible had included a prophesy referring to "after three cities are destroyed with weapons made of metals of weight 235 and 239," it would've remained utterly opaque through centuries of rapid incremental progress.

I think a related argument would be more convincing: collect incidents when people thought they knew something about the real world from a religious tradition, and it conflicted with what the scientists were coming to believe, and compute a batting average. If the batting average is not remarkably high for the religious side, some skepticism about its reliable truth is called for, or at least some diplomatic dodge like "how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

The batting average could suffer from selection bias if the summaries tend to be written by one side. But even if so, it's sorta interesting indirect evidence if all the summaries tend to be written by one side. And I dimly remember that there are pro-Islam writers who go on about the scientific things that their religious tradition got right, so I don't think there's any iron sociological law that keeps the religious side from writing up such summaries.

comment by ZH · 2007-03-29T20:39:15.000Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer makes a mistake (a major one in fact) with regard to his understanding of Jewish law being passed down over the generations. The mistake he makes is quite a common one among those people who have not studied the history of Orthodox Jewish philosophy in depth. Indeed, I have met many Rabbis with 40 or 50 years of experience with little or no knowledge of this topic, so this is not an attack on Eliezer. While I am only an Orthodox Rabbinical and Talmudic law student (I hope to be ordained within a couple of years), besides for being a college undergrad, my personal interests are in the history of Orthodox Jewish philosophy and reconciling Jewish law and philosophy and modern science and philosophy. The correct understanding (in a simple form) as Orthodox Jews like myself believe, of the concept, is that the Pentateuch was given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai. As many of the laws in the Pentateuch are vague, God gave Moses the "Torah SheBa'al Peh," the "oral law" of these explanations of what was to be included in these laws. The Rabbis in later generations lost the reasons for many of these oral laws, besides for that according to Jewish legend, many of these laws were never given reasons in the first place. As such, these later Rabbis (of roughly 1500-2200 years ago) often tried to re-formulate the reasons based on their knowledge. This does not mean that the laws are based on incorrect assumptions, but merely that which we think is the reason for a law, is not actually the reason. Eliezer mixes this up with the concept that later Rabbis do not argue in law on earlier Rabbis. That concept is based on a completely different line of reasoning. This new line of reasoning is based on a Jewish belief that to properly understand Jewish law and apply it requires not just intelligence and the ability to think logically, but also on piety and trust in God. In other words, trust in God and piety also play a role in legal decisions. This combined with another Jewish belief that as the generations go on, there is a general decrease in piety and trust in God across the board, means that those making legal decisions now have less of a key component of the decision making, while we have no way of knowing who has the greater intelligence and reasoning skills. As such, later Rabbis do not argue on earlier Rabbis. Additionally, this concept that later rabbis do not argue on earlier Rabbbis is not set in stone and there are a number of exceptions to this rule. Of course one can merely argue that my background makes me biased toward an irrational belief, and perhaps that is true.

comment by Jed_Harris · 2007-04-14T19:21:24.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great discussion! Regarding majoritarianism and markets, they are both specific judgment aggregation mechanisms with specific domains of application. We need a general theory of judgment aggregation but I don't know if there are any under development.

In a purely speculative market (i.e. no consumption, just looking to maximize return) prices reflect majoritarian averages, weighted by endowment. Of course endowments change over time based on how good or lucky an investor is, so there is some intrinsic reputation effect. Also, investors can go bankrupt, which is an extreme reputation effect. If investors reproduce you can get a pretty "smart" system, but I'm sure it has systematic limitations -- the need to understand those limitations is a good example of why we need a general theory of judgment aggregation.

I'd like to see an iterated jelly bean guessing game, with the individual guesses weighted by previous accuracy of each individual. I bet the results would quickly get better than just a flat average. Note that (unlike economies) there's no fixed quantity of "weight" here. Conserved exchanges are not a necessary part of this kind of aggregation.

On the other hand if you let individuals see each other's guesses, I bet accuracy would get worse. (This is more similar to markets.) The problem is that there's be herding effects, which are individually rational (for guessers trying to maximize their score) but which on average reduce the overall quality of judgment. This is an intrinsic problem with markets. Maybe we should see this as an example of Eliezer's point in another post about marginal zero-sum competition.

comment by Jed_Harris · 2007-04-14T19:29:47.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The discussion about the "dissipation" of knowledge from generation to generation (or of piety and trust in God, as ZH says) reminds me of Elizabeth Eisenstein's history of the transition to printing. Manual copying (on average) reduces the accuracy of manuscripts. Printing (on average) increases the accuracy, because printers can keep the type made up into pages, and can fix errors as they are found. Thus a type-set manuscript becomes a (more or less reliable) nexus for the accumulation of increasingly reliable judgments.

Eisenstein's account has been questioned, but as far as I've seen, the issues that have been raised really don't undercut her basic point.

Of course digital reproduction pushes this a lot further. (Cue the usual story about self-correcting web processes.) But I don't know of any really thorough analysis of the dynamics of error in different communication media.

comment by Jack_Henry · 2008-05-22T16:53:42.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Judeo-Christian world is full of so many contrasting views that it really amazes me sometimes.

Take Mormonism, for example. It's authoritarian structure is perhaps even more strict (and certainly more hierarchical) than what you've described in Orthodox Judaism, yet it has this one core doctrine that is viewed as heretical in most of the rest of the Christian world: the idea that man is destined to become like God, literally. In fact, the idea that God himself was once a lowly man, but exerted enough "Tsuyoku Naritai!" to overcome his own sins and rise. As such, Mormons believe that the saying by Jesus to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect," is a literal commandment.

Not saying that religion should inform our views here, simply that the Mormon perspective seems to align with the overall direction of this post, and that it is somewhat striking that such a view can arise from the same common religious ancestry.

comment by Leonardo_Boiko · 2008-06-13T00:58:47.000Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The correct understanding (in a simple form) as Orthodox Jews like myself believe, of the concept, is that the Pentateuch was given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai. As many of the laws in the Pentateuch are vague, God gave Moses the "Torah SheBa'al Peh," the "oral law" of these explanations of what was to be included in these laws.

That’s a truly bizarre belief. If god is perfect and benevolent, why didn’t he give clear laws in the first place, instead of forcing humans to run in circles trying to interpret them?

comment by Martin · 2008-09-07T12:53:45.000Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Torah loses knowledge in every generation. Science gains knowledge with every generation. No matter where they started out, sooner or later science must surpass Torah."

That's not strictly true, of course. If the difference in knowledge shrinks more slowly for each generation, then the Torah could conceivably still be the #1 source of knowledge for eternity.

comment by Larks · 2010-01-18T17:33:18.537Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a good job young Eliezer hadn't done any courses in Analysis.

comment by sidhe3141 · 2010-11-03T02:18:25.032Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think tsuyoku naritai actually works as an effective motto for transhumanism as well:

"I am flawed, but I will overcome my flaws. To each of my failings, I say tsuyoku naritai. To each flaw I have and to each flaw I will ever develop, I say tsuyoku naritai. To the flaws that are part of being human, I say tsuyoku naritai. If that means I must abandon what it means to be merely human, I say tsuyoku naritai. As long as I am imperfect, I will continue to say tsuyoku naritai!"

comment by robertskmiles · 2011-01-10T16:29:22.032Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no exemption whereby, if you manage to go without stealing all year long, you can skip the word gazalnu and strike yourself one less time. That would violate the community spirit of Yom Kippur, which is about confessing sins - not avoiding sins so that you have less to confess.

That's true, but perhaps a little unfair. I always understood the fact that everyone confesses to everything as a simple necessity to anonymise the guilty. Under a system where people only admit to things they have actually done, if there's been one murder in the community this year, unsolved, then when the 'We have murdered' line comes, everyone is bound to be listening very carefully.

comment by Tynam · 2012-04-04T08:44:08.393Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I was taught, that's also a little unfair, or at least oversimplified. That everyone confesses to everything is not just primitive anonymisation, it's a declaration of communal responsibility. It's supposed to be deliberate encouragement to take responsibility for the actions of your community as a whole, not just your own.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2012-04-04T08:59:27.889Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always wondered what "communal responsibility" really means. It's one thing to ask people to encourage their friends to act morally, or to go on the record now and then as opposing a perceived injustice. But your community could be flawed despite your best efforts to fix it -- it doesn't really seem fair to expect someone with finite resources to answer for a hundred other people's behavior.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-04-04T16:20:38.229Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always wondered what "communal responsibility" really means.

One possibility:

If you're a member of a group, and the way non-members will treat you individually is largely informed by their perception (stereotype) of that group, then you want that group to have a good reputation rather than a bad one. If anything that a group member does reflects on the group, then each person should (in their own best interests) do things that improve rather than worsen that reputation.

A moral symmetry (like the Prisoner's Dilemma or Stag Hunt games) exists, because everyone else in your group is in the same situation wrt you, that you are wrt them. If you do something that benefits you personally but harms the group's reputation, everyone else in the group suffers; the same is true if another group member does so.

This sort of reasoning is often applied to (and by) minority groups who suffer from others' stereotyping.

It is also a favorite of concern trolls.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-04-04T16:28:25.709Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure how fairness enters into it.

If there are N of us in a leaky rowboat, we have a communal responsibility to bail the water out. If there are N of us in an airtight container that only holds enough air to sustain (N-1) lives before the container opens, we have a communal responsibility to decide how many and which of us dies. If there are N of us and we have 2N yummy pies, we have a communal responsibility to distribute the pies in some fashion.

A communal responsibility is just like an individual responsibility, except it applies to a group.

Is that fair? Beats me. Mostly I don't think the question is well-formed.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2011-04-18T23:56:54.104Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know exactly what you are talking about man.

I'm on a quest to claim absolute victory on every front too.

comment by Goobahman · 2011-04-27T02:25:37.132Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

tsuyoku naritai!

how do you pronounce this?

su-yo-coo nar-ee-tie?

I'm going to make it my warcry whenever I need to energize myself.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-04-27T02:26:36.120Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is close.

comment by Jolly · 2011-05-07T02:21:33.322Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I now have a custom bracelet that says "Tsuyoku Naritai" on one side, and "Kaizen" on the other. I'm using it in place of a Sikh Kara, or a WWJD bracelet.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-05-07T02:33:39.470Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does 'Kaizen' mean?


comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-07T02:38:32.130Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


  1. improvement

Google translate works for this romanized term too (it gives you the word in its correct orthography automatically).

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-07T02:51:17.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


  1. improvement

Google translate works for the romanized word too (it will give you the kanji automatically), but only when "translating from Japanese"; it won't detect romanized Japanese by default.

comment by bcoburn · 2011-12-27T01:47:08.495Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Improvement" is probably the literal translation, but it's used to mean the "Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement", the idea of getting better by continuously making many small steps.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-09T00:18:42.253Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In Roman characters or in Kanji? I'd be interested in an aesthetically pleasing way to write it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-09T01:06:55.233Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

強くなりたい is how it is written in Japanese.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-09T01:44:23.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a way that uses fewer characters? (Presumably more complex ones). Apologies for my lack of knowledge.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-09T01:52:20.944Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. These are verb endings and can't be written as Kanji. (Well, you could use 強く成りたい, but that's weird and doesn't buy you anything.)

Edit: Maybe use a different expression? 一生懸命 (i'shou kenmei) is closely related and denser.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-01-09T02:43:53.221Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. :)

For context, I had the idea of making an artistic representation of the phrase as a symbolic reminder (partly inspired by Jeffreyssai's symbols ). So ideally I'd use as dense a representation as possible.

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-25T15:34:45.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could always just go with 強 - it just represents "strength" (in Chinese / Japanese) but if you're looking for a symbolic reminder it should be sufficient, and a single Kanji is often used for symbolic purposes.

comment by Jolly · 2012-01-25T15:12:04.608Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have it in roman characters. Kanji would be more pleasing, but harder to have created.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-08-28T23:01:16.414Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A practicing Jewish friend of mine challenged me on the anecdote about worms in apples, and I couldn't Google an independent reference. Can anyone help me verify it?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-08-28T23:14:58.083Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's easy to find thousands of discussions online for the somewhat different case of "worms" in fish. This is a good one, like many good ones, it's not exactly in English; I am not sure how clear the terms are from context, but your friend should know them.

comment by volya · 2013-10-15T11:28:33.937Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chabad has a total (a late one) ban on eating figs http://www.shturem.net/index.php?section=news&id=12572 due to the fact that its fruit is frequented by small worms which can not be distinguished from the fuit internals . The fact became known from biology and agriculture studies.

comment by TuviaDulin · 2011-09-20T06:12:43.100Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I understand the point you're trying to make - and agree with it - I think your Yom Kippur analogy is flawed. The idea behind the litany is that we're praying for forgiveness for the sins of all of mankind. Even if you, personally, have not stolen, there's someone in the world who has, and you're praying for him too. That's why its worded in the plural ("we have stolen," as opposed to "I have stolen").

Just sayin'.

comment by volya · 2013-10-15T08:27:05.636Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I learned, it is community-wide and not humanity-wide. Judaism is rather a tribal religion in this matter.

comment by TuviaDulin · 2013-12-25T16:20:09.023Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regardless, there is a good reason for the plural pronoun.

comment by Eliut · 2013-03-05T15:51:33.988Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Torah loses knowledge in every generation. Science gains knowledge with every generation. No matter where they started out, sooner or later science must surpass Torah."

Mazel Tov!

comment by notsonewuser · 2013-10-10T04:04:10.952Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Encountering this post has made me a better person in so many ways. Thank you, Eliezer.

comment by Soothsilver · 2016-07-30T06:05:54.985Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I made a video compilation of Japanese songs that include the words "Tsuyoku naritai".


I wasn't really convinced that this concept was really present in Japanese culture before but I suppose I am, now.

comment by Jiro · 2016-08-15T03:20:10.588Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That demonstrates that Japanese culture has the phrase. Not that Japanese culture has the phrase with the same meaning as Eliezer uses.

And even if Japanese culture has it, there's a difference between having it as a fictional thing and having it as a concept commonly applied to actual people.

Also, in this context, remember that fictional scenarios are often set up to have individuals drastically influence the result where real life scenarios do not. People like reading about Voldemort defeated by Harry Potter, not by 200 wizards doing routine policing misions that are thorough enough that they happen to find all the horcruxes, followed by massive military backup for the squad of identically trained men raiding his compound. That's why fictional characters often have something like tsuyoku naritai; it doesn't carry over to the real world.

By the way:

"Torah loses knowledge in every generation. Science gains knowledge with every generation. No matter where they started out, sooner or later science must surpass Torah."

Obviously Eliezer was not familiar with the concept "asymptote".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-15T10:40:21.068Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obviously Eliezer was not familiar with the concept "asymptote".

When he was a kid at a religious elementary school.

comment by Jiro · 2016-08-16T02:19:58.464Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When he was an adult who posted that, and clearly did not mean "this is some stupid thing I thought as a kid because I didn't know better".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-08-18T19:37:49.546Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually he says that he wasn't a proper atheist at the time which basically means that he didn't really think clearly about the issue.

I don't think the thought itself is stupid. It just doesn't fit the complexity of the situation.

comment by Soothsilver · 2016-08-16T05:40:32.949Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For what it's worth, I would enjoy reading about a squad of trained wizards raiding Voldemort's compound ^^.

comment by cjkatfish · 2019-05-15T23:35:29.800Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m very biased toward your ideas. My practical approach to unbias is to change the environment I’m exposed to. I think I know what to do about it but it isn’t easy.

comment by Yoav Ravid · 2020-04-02T19:33:48.400Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't find any reference for the saying at the beginning. Can someone help?

comment by Johan Kwok (johan-kwok) · 2020-06-16T00:51:31.236Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe this?


I just googled "judaism saying generation".