Rationality Quotes June 2012

post by OpenThreadGuy · 2012-06-02T17:14:39.130Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 413 comments

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

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by David Althaus (wallowinmaya) · 2012-06-01T21:45:47.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The categories and classes we construct are simply the semantic sugar which makes the reality go down easier. They should never get confused for the reality that is, the reality which we perceive but darkly and with biased lenses. The hyper-relativists and subjectivists who are moderately fashionable in some humane studies today are correct to point out that science is a human construction and endeavor. Where they go wrong is that they are often ignorant of the fact that the orderliness of many facets of nature is such that even human ignorance and stupidity can be overcome with adherence to particular methods and institutional checks and balances. The predictive power of modern science, giving rise to modern engineering, is the proof of its validity. No talk or argumentation is needed. Boot up your computer. Drive your car.

Razib Khan

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-01T14:31:58.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Two very different attitudes toward the technical workings of mathematics are found in the literature. Already in 1761, Leonhard Euler complained about isolated results which "are not based on a systematic method" and therefore whose "inner grounds seem to be hidden." Yet in the 20'th Century, writers as diverse in viewpoint as Feller and de Finetti are agreed in considering computation of a result by direct application of the systematic rules of probability theory as dull and unimaginative, and revel in the finding of some isolated clever trick by which one can see the answer to a problem without any calculation.


Feller's perception was so keen that in virtually every problem he was able to see a clever trick; and then gave only the clever trick. So his readers get the impression that:

  • Probability theory has no systematic methods; it is a collection of isolated, unrelated clever tricks, each of which works on one problem but not on the next one.
  • Feller was possessed of superhuman cleverness.
  • Only a person with such cleverness can hope to find new useful results in probability theory.

Indeed, clever tricks do have an aesthetic quality that we all appreciate at once. But we doubt whether Feller, or anyone else, was able to see those tricks on first looking at the problem. We solve a problem for the first time by that (perhaps dull to some) direct calculation applying our systematic rules. After seeing the solution, we may contemplate it and see a clever trick that would have led us to the answer much more quickly. Then, of course, we have the opportunity for gamesmanship by showing others only the clever trick, scorning to mention the base means by which we first found.

E. T. Jaynes "Probability Theory, The Logic of Science"

Replies from: TheOtherDave, Oscar_Cunningham, pnrjulius, Vaniver, BlazeOrangeDeer
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-01T15:12:50.327Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I recall a math teacher in high school explaining that often, in the course of doing a proof, one simply gets stuck and doesn't know where to go next, and a good thing to do at that point is to switch to working backwards from the conclusion in the general direction of the premise; sometimes the two paths can be made to meet in the middle. Usually this results in a step the two paths join involving doing something completely mystifying, like dividing both sides of an equation by the square root of .78pi.

"Of course, someone is bound to ask why you did that," he continued. "So you look at them completely deadpan and reply 'Isn't it obvious?'"

I have forgotten everything I learned in that class. I remember that anecdote, though.

Replies from: pnrjulius, None
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:18:54.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The standard proof of the Product Rule in calculus has this form. You add and subtract the same quantity, and then this allows you to regroup some things. But who would have thought to do that?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-09T01:33:37.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage. Once you get your courage up and believe that you can do important problems, then you can. If you think you can't, almost surely you are not going to. Courage is one of the things that Shannon had supremely. You have only to think of his major theorem. He wants to create a method of coding, but he doesn't know what to do so he makes a random code. Then he is stuck. And then he asks the impossible question, ``What would the average random code do?'' He then proves that the average code is arbitrarily good, and that therefore there must be at least one good code. Who but a man of infinite courage could have dared to think those thoughts? That is the characteristic of great scientists; they have courage. They will go forward under incredible circumstances; they think and continue to think.

--Richard Hamming

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T18:10:39.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

IIRC there was an xkcd about that, but I don't remember enough of it to search for it.

EDIT: It was the alt test of 759.

Replies from: gjm, JoshuaZ
comment by gjm · 2012-06-02T22:39:04.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that xkcd 759 is about something subtly different: you work from both ends and then, when they don't meet in the middle, try to write the "solution" in such a way that whoever's marking it won't notice the jump.

I know someone who did that in an International Mathematical Olympiad. (He used an advanced variant of the technique, where you arrange for the jump to occur between two pages of your solution.) He got 6/7 for that solution, and the mark he lost was for something else. (Which was in fact correct, but you will appreciate that no one was inclined to complain about it.)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-06-02T19:18:47.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is 759 the one you are thinking of? The alt-text seems to be relevant.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T20:19:32.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-01T14:40:23.093Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then there is the famous fly puzzle. Two bicyclists start twenty miles apart and head toward each other, each going at a steady rate of 10 m.p.h. At the same time a fly that travels at a steady 15 m.p.h. starts from the front wheel of the southbound bicycle and flies to the front wheel of the northbound one, then turns around and flies to the front wheel of the southbound one again, and continues in this manner till he is crushed between the two front wheels. Question: what total distance did the fly cover ?

The slow way to find the answer is to calculate what distance the fly covers on the first, northbound, leg of the trip, then on the second, southbound, leg, then on the third, etc., etc., and, finally, to sum the infinite series so obtained. The quick way is to observe that the bicycles meet exactly one hour after their start, so that the fly had just an hour for his travels; the answer must therefore be 15 miles.

When the question was put to von Neumann, he solved it in an instant, and thereby disappointed the questioner: "Oh, you must have heard the trick before!"

"What trick?" asked von Neumann; "all I did was sum the infinite series."

An anecdote concerning von Neumann, here told by Halmos.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:17:46.331Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is also why I don't trust poets who claim that their works spring to them automatically from the Muse. Yes, it would be very impressive if that were so; but how do I know you didn't actually slave over revisions of that poem for weeks?

comment by Vaniver · 2012-06-01T14:57:55.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's "Jaynes."

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-01T15:19:10.146Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fixed. Thanks.

comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-06-03T03:33:30.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does anyone have a link to an ebook of this book?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-03T03:36:04.456Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

libgen.info has a variety of versions.

Replies from: BlazeOrangeDeer
comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-06-03T03:56:19.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! Looking forward to reading.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-03T20:10:09.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, I think PT:TLoS is probably best for those who already understand Bayesian statistics to a fair degree (and remember their calculus). I'm currently inching my way through Sivia's 2006 Data Analysis: A Bayesian Tutorial and hoping I'll do better with that than Jaynes.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham, Karmakaiser, khafra
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-06T09:51:56.360Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think PT:TLoS is probably best for those who understand frequentist statistics to a fair degree. He spends a whole load of the book arguing against them, so it helps to know what he's talking about (contrary to his recommendation that knowing no frequentist statistics will help). The Bayesian stuff he builds from the ground up, calculus is all that's needed to follow it.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2012-06-05T17:20:42.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jaynes begins it with a caution that this is an upper undergrad to graduate level text, not knowing a great deal of probability in the first place, I stopped reading and picked up a more elementary text. What do you think are the core pre-reqs to reading Jaynes?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-05T18:09:12.769Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no idea - I'll tell you when I manage to satisfy them!

comment by khafra · 2012-06-04T19:39:17.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd agree, with the exception that chapters one and five (and maybe other sections) are great for just about anybody to get a qualitative understanding of Jaynes-style bayesian epistemology.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-04T20:17:54.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, yeah - chapter 5 is pretty good. (I recently inserted a long quote from it into my Death Note essay.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T05:40:17.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, wedrifid, wedrifid, hankx7787
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-06-02T22:07:31.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for the "related".

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-03T13:14:46.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Video by Fallon, a scientist who found out that he was a sociopath-- he says it doesn't bother him that everyone he knew said he was bad at connecting emotionally, but he does seem motivated to work on changing.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-02T23:53:58.130Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I really wish we had brain scans of this guy at 19 and at 25. I want to see which areas were developed!

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-02T23:55:29.590Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel

Yes I can. Speak for yourself (Buck).

Replies from: Grognor, NancyLebovitz, Endovior
comment by Grognor · 2012-06-05T14:02:34.725Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read it more charitably, as being isomorphic to Schopenhauer's "A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills." The idea is that you are feeling something and not something else, and regardless of what you are feeling you can and should do right.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-03T19:17:03.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The distinction may be between setting up the preconditions for a feeling (which has some chance of working) and trying to make a feeling happen directly (which I think doesn't work).

Replies from: ChristianKl, None
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-07T15:59:42.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Making a feelings happen directly isn't easy. It's a skill. Given the demographic on this website there a good chance that a lot of the readers can't control their feelings. Most of the people here are skilled at rationality but not that skilled at emotional matters.

It's a bad idea to generalise your own inability to control your feelings to other people.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-07T16:22:54.486Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you describe the process of making feelings happen directly?

Replies from: ChristianKl, DavidAgain
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-08T00:46:21.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Directly is a tricky word. In some sense you aren't doing things directly when you follow a step by step process.

If you however want a step by step process I can give it to you (but please don't complain that it's not direct enough):

1) You decide which emotion you want to feel.

2) You search in your mind for an experience when you felt the emotion in the past.

3) You visualize the experience.

4) In case that you see yourself inside your mental image, see the image as if you are seeing it through your own eyes.

5) If the image is black and white, make it colored.

6) Make the image bigger.

7) Locate the emotion inside your body.

8) Increase the size of the emotion.

9) Get it moving.

10) Give it a color.

11) Increase movement and size as long as you want.

That's the way of doing it I learned at day two of an NLP seminar.

comment by DavidAgain · 2012-06-07T17:01:00.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not actually sure of what you mean by 'directly' here. Which of the following does 'setting up the preconditions' include:

a) changing breathing patterns etc b) focusing thought on particular events etc. c) rationalising consciously about your emotional state d) thinking something like 'calm down, DavidAgain calm down calm down'

I doubt many people can simply turn a powerful emotion on or off, although I wouldn't rule it out. I read (can't find link now...) about a game where the interface was based on stuff like level of 'arousal' (in the general sense of excitement), which you had to fine tune to get a ball to levitate to a certain level or whatever. I'd be surprised if someone played that a lot with high motivation and didn't start to be able to jump directly to the desired emotional state without intermediary positions. And being able to do so obviously has major advantages in some more common situations (e.g. being genuinely remorseful or angry when those responses will get the best response from someone else and they're good at reading faked emotion, or controlling panic when the panic-response will get you killed)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-07T17:47:05.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This game sounds awesome, I am going to try and search for it so I can test this.

Replies from: None, CuSithBell
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-07T19:09:43.897Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A while (i.e. about a decade) ago, I read about a variant of Tetris with a heart rate monitor in which the faster your heart rate was the faster the pieces would fall.

comment by CuSithBell · 2012-06-07T17:54:24.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looks like there are a few pc input devices on the market that read brain activity in some way. The example game above sounds like this Star Wars toy.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T19:22:48.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, what works for someone may not work for someone else. (Heck, what works for me at certain times doesn't work for me at other times.)

comment by Endovior · 2012-06-03T16:57:56.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Are you sure you're not just making yourself believe you feel something you do not?

Replies from: wedrifid, MarkusRamikin
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T22:42:04.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Yes. It's not an unusual ability to have. It can take a long time and concerted effort to develop desired control over one's own feelings but it is worth it.

to Are you sure you're not just making yourself believe you feel something you do not?


comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-03T17:13:18.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure. Certain feelings are easier to excite than others, but still. All it takes is imagination.

A fun exercise is try out paranoia. Go walk down a street and imagine everyone you meet is a spy/out to get you/something of that sort. It works.

(Disclaimer: I do not know if the above is safe to actually try for everyone out there.)

Replies from: WrongBot, None
comment by WrongBot · 2012-06-03T18:33:00.489Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anger is pretty easy, too. All I have to do is remember a time I was wronged and focus on the injustice of it. Not very fun, though.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T19:24:24.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure it would work for me, knowing that (e.g.) setting my watch five minutes early doesn't work to make me hurry up more even though it does work for many people I know.

On the other hand, I can trigger the impostor syndrome or similar paranoid thoughts in myself by muling over certain memories and letting the availability heuristic make them have much more weight than they should.

comment by hankx7787 · 2012-06-10T12:31:20.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What in the actual fuck? This is the exact opposite of what is rational: "Relinquish the emotion which rests upon a mistaken belief, and seek to feel fully that emotion which fits the facts. If the iron approaches your face, and you believe it is hot, and it is cool, the Way opposes your fear. If the iron approaches your face, and you believe it is cool, and it is hot, the Way opposes your calm. Evaluate your beliefs first and then arrive at your emotions. Let yourself say: “If the iron is hot, I desire to believe it is hot, and if it is cool, I desire to believe it is cool.” Beware lest you become attached to beliefs you may not want."

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-10T12:49:25.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Emotions are generally considered instinctive, not deliberated. You could argue that anything instinctive should be thrown out until you have a chance to verify that it serves a purpose, but brains are not usually that cooperative. Knowing you have an emotion which you do not want (I get angry when people prove that I am wrong about something which I have invested a lot of time thinking about), and being able to destroy it are two different things. If you are able to act in accordance to your best plan instead of following instincts at all times, and run error correction routines to control the damage of an unwanted emotion on your beliefs you are doing something rational.

Replies from: hankx7787
comment by hankx7787 · 2012-06-10T14:18:29.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The latter half of the quote is fine, but the first half is completely wrong and is the opposite message of what rationality says.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier, None
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-10T21:09:18.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be suffering from is-ought confusion. Yes, it would be nice to eliminate the irrational emotion, but this isn't always possible or requires too much effort to be worthwhile.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-10T20:25:00.281Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-10T20:47:35.945Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How's this instead?

It's easier to irrigate a field from a nearby river than it is to make water from scratch.

Technically false. Consider adding an extra word in there to indicate scope. Even "the" between "make water" would do. (Making an unspecified amount of water is far easier than irrigating a field from a nearby river.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-10T21:07:47.361Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Oligopsony · 2012-06-06T19:06:56.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, let's say some bros of mine and I have some hand-signals for, you know, bro stuff. And one of the signals means, "Oh, shit. Here comes that girl! You know. That girl. She's coming." That signal has a particular context. Eventually, one of my bros gets tired of sloppy use of the signal, and sets about laying out specifically what situations make a girl that girl. If I used the signal in a close-but-not-quite context, he'd handle it and then pull me aside and say, "I know she and I had that thing that one time, but we never... well, it wasn't quite THAT. You know? So that signal, it freaked me out, because I thought it had to be someone else. Make sure you're using it properly, okay?" And I'd be like, "Bro. Got it."

Another friend of mine, he recognizes the sorts of situations we use the signal in have a common thread, so he begins using the hand signal for other situations, any situation that has the potential for both danger and excitement. So if someone invites us to this real sketchy bar, he'll give me the signal - "This could be bad. But what if it's not?" And I'd respond, "I see what you did there."

Maybe you see where this is going. We're hanging out one day, and some guy suggests we crash some party. Bro #2 signals, and bro #1 freaks out, looking around. And then he's like, "OH FUCK I HAVE TO CALL HER." And #2 says, "No, dude, there's no one coming. I just meant, this is like one of those situations, you know?" And they're pissed at each other because they're using the same signal to mean different things. I'm not mad, because I generally know what they each mean, but I have more context than they do.

The same thing probably happens with analytics and Continentals.

Philosophy Bro

Replies from: None, pnrjulius, shminux
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T19:56:40.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for introducing me to one of the funniest blogs I've ever seen. The ironic writing style is brilliant:

Aw yeah, the is-ought problem. Shit's classic, bro

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T00:51:19.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's something deep here. Meanings aren't just in your head... but whose head are they in anyway?

comment by shminux · 2012-06-06T22:49:29.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This whole notion of Analytic vs Continental tradition in philosophy boggles my mind and lowers my already low opinion of philosophy in general even further. If two prominent schools cannot even agree on the basic ideas, those ideas are not worth agreeing on.

Replies from: Larks, None, Oligopsony, Jack
comment by Larks · 2012-06-15T18:52:32.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"This whole notion of evolution vs creationism tradition in biology boggles my mind and lowers my already low opinion of biology in general even further. If two prominent schools cannot even agree on the basic ideas, those ideas are not worth agreeing on."

Replies from: TimS, shminux
comment by TimS · 2012-06-15T19:29:29.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't agree with the parent of your post, but I don't think your example responsive. He is using the struggle between A and B to argue that both are worthless. Your rephrasing relies on the fact that B is already known to be worthless. In short, the lack of parallelism means your criticism of the structure of his argument is misplaced.

Jack is probably right on the merits.

Replies from: Larks
comment by Larks · 2012-06-15T22:38:20.936Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if you don't know anything about A and B, the fact there is struggle doesn't clearly mean there isn't one that's clearly right. This debate has been hashed out a lot in the literature on moral realism, and I think most people ultimately find the naive argument from disagreement unconvincing.

I any case, I think continental philosophy is already known to be worthless.

comment by shminux · 2012-06-15T19:06:54.975Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

creationism tradition in biology


EDIT: I am not aware that biology has a creationism tradition.

Replies from: arundelo, None
comment by arundelo · 2012-06-16T19:09:22.550Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Larks can speak for themself, but I think their analogy was

analytic philosophy : continental philosophy :: (evolutionist) biology : creationism

so what seems to an outsider like a disagreement between schools is actually a disagreement between people doing "real" philosophy and goofy people doing something that they call philosophy.

(This seems overstated at best to me.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-16T21:12:20.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And you are not goofy the moment you start doing any kind of philosophy that is not 'reduction to cognitive algorithms' or 'consequentialist utilitarianism'? I see philosophy mostly as people trying to sound clever.

ETA: I have nothing personally against Philosophers, I just think philosophy as a well-respected field has taken a few too many wrong turns.

Replies from: arundelo
comment by arundelo · 2012-06-17T06:19:58.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Disclaimer: My knowledge of philosophy is at the 101) level.)

I do think a lot of what passes for philosophy is bogus. But the bogus philosophers still have "Department of Philosophy" on their university letterhead. Meanwhile: To a first approximation, all biologists believe in evolution.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-17T12:50:57.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To a first approximation, all biologists believe in evolution.

Hm. I'm not sure how many biologists there are, but my guess is this allows for uncertainty on the order of a million biologists. Is the situation really that bad? I would have guessed that at least to a third approximation all biologists believe in evolution.

Replies from: RobinZ, arundelo
comment by RobinZ · 2012-06-18T14:25:20.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you reading "to a first approximation" as "to one significant figure"? I thought it meant something like "using the lowest order function which is an accurate fit to the data". So, to a first approximation, pi is roughly 22/7, and to a first approximation, the distance to Earth's horizon in kilometers is 3.57 times the square root of the height above sea level in meters.

To say that "to a first approximation, all biologists believe in evolution" is, by this definition, to say that the fraction of biologists that don't is so small that it is not easily measured. I believe this to be the case because that fraction is so small that it is significantly affected by the choice of definition of "biologist".

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-18T14:30:07.406Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you reading "to a first approximation" as "to one significant figure"?

Yes. Perhaps incorrectly.

comment by arundelo · 2012-06-17T15:42:09.587Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but my "nth approximation" module only has settings for "zeroth" and "first".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-16T16:29:49.516Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why was this downvoted? It points how a way that Larks's example is not analogous to shminux's.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-16T17:14:04.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess is that I gained some notoriety here and my comments tend to get a few downvotes because of this, rather than because of their content. Which tells me that I have to phrase my replies much more carefully. Still working on it. (If whoever silently downvoted some of my recent comments think that this guess is out to lunch, I'd greatly appreciate their feedback, here or in PM.)

Replies from: None, Grognor, None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-17T07:54:56.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hi, shminux. I recently downvoted this comment of yours. I did recognize you, but that's from seeing you in the lesswrong IRC channel, where you make a significant portion of the interesting discussion, not from lesswrong.com, where I don't generally look at the authors of comments or posts unless I'm having trouble following a discussion or I feel that it would be prudent to associate the author with their comment or post (for instance, I learned the name of user Nisan after they posted Formulas of Arithmetic That Behave Like Decision Agents, which contained a splendidly unusual amount of math for lw). I was particularly surprised by the low quality of your arguments in that thread, given my past experience with you. Still, I disliked one of your comments first, and saw your name second.

I also responded to one of your comments in that thread, here. I didn't further downvote your comments, because I make a point of not downvoting people whom I've engaged in discussion, just as a point of argumentative hygiene. Absent that, I might have downvoted every comment of yours that I read, without reply. I don't have any problem downvoting silently. It might be a polite norm to give feedback to any post or comment of low quality, but it is not a good use of my time in general, certainly not for that thread, in which many people were responding to you with comments to the effect that your conclusions were sloppy or informal. If other people behave as I do, then I would guess it was not one person who downvoted you, but a few people who did, and that the downvotes were given on the basis of your comments, rather than on who you are.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-17T23:17:36.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for your feedback! Upvoted. Though I don't believe I ever commented on the thread you mention. Maybe you mean some other thread. I'd also appreciate if you elaborate on what in particular constitutes "low quality" for you.

comment by Grognor · 2012-06-17T03:37:46.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't one of the silent downvoters, but I went ahead and downvoted without being silent because your comment just misunderstands Larks's. He did not even implicitly claim that there is a creationism tradition in biology, but rather an ongoing, publicized debate between evolution and creationism, which is analogous to analytic vs. continental philosophy, if one is laughably wrong but still famous for whatever reason.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-17T06:36:11.125Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ongoing, publicized debate between evolution and creationism, which is analogous to analytic vs. continental philosophy

I guess I fail to see an analogy between a debate between two factions in what is supposedly a science and that of science vs religion. In the latter case, it is easy to tell who the loony is, while in the former the only conclusion I can make is that they both are.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-18T22:20:25.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess I fail to see an analogy between a debate between two factions in what is supposedly a science and that of science vs religion. In the latter case, it is easy to tell who the loony is, while in the former the only conclusion I can make is that they both are.

What's your algorithm for telling who the loony is? Look for the one not wearing a lab coat?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-18T22:43:56.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, if you need help figuring out who the loony is in the evolution/creation debate, this comment thread is not the place to set things straight.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-19T00:26:44.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't say anything about my method of telling the looney. My point was that your method of telling the looney seems to boil down to who has high status/is wearing a lab coat.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-17T01:14:38.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, there does seem to be some amount of karmassination going on here.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-17T03:17:03.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's OK, it's a risk you run if you stick your neck out.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-17T15:25:15.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the philosophy bro also overstates the disagreement. I'm in a philosophy department myself, and I know of no one at the graduate student level or above who thinks there's a serious division along analytic vs. continental lines. Part of that, though, is that much of what was called continental philosophy has now become literary criticism, etc. Part of it is that what got called 'analytic philosophy' 70 years ago isn't really around any more.

This is by no means a consensus view, but I think it's a mistake to think of philosophy as something which produces results from a common theoretical basis. Philosophy can seem like a science, especially as a result of academia's way of organizing things, but a lot of it doesn't really resemble one in practice. There are trends in discussion, but philosophy has no fixed subject matter. There are schools of thought on various issues, but no unifying theoretical framework or methodology.

Now, these facts might justifiably cause you to have a low opinion of philosophy. But it's worth considering that your standards for intellectual activity are being misapplied here: maybe philosophy isn't supposed to be like a science.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-17T23:59:25.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

maybe philosophy isn't supposed to be like a science.

I don't mind that approach, as long as philosophy is treated as art. Then one would simply appreciate the beauty of its best masterpieces, rather than argue which one is more right. Which also means that it has absolutely nothing to do with rationality.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-18T13:51:40.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't mind that approach, as long as philosophy is treated as art.

But we have an even poorer comparison there. Works of philosophy are presented, reviewed, and discussed as arguments, not as aesthetic artifacts. I know of no philosophers who think the aesthetics of an argument is anything but a secondary consideration, and no part of philosophical training looks like the training an author of novels or poet might get. Philosophers are expected to be clear and engaging, but not artists. I'd say it has about as much in common with art as does physics or mathematics.

With physics, we could be having a conversation about some theory or experiment, but we wouldn't be doing physics. But just having this conversation about philosophy is itself philosophy. We're doing philosophy, right now, in exactly the same sense professionals do. And one of the things we're doing is arguing about what the right thing to think is, and we're holding ourselves to standards of rationality. So there it looks a little bit like science. On the other hand, neither of us is deploying any fixed method, and we're not trying work out the implications of a specific theory of intellectual activity we both accept. So there it doesn't seem like a science. What is it that we're doing, and how are we doing it?

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-18T15:13:19.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, does this mean that you agree with my assessment of philosophy in the original comment (currently downvoted to -10)?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-18T16:29:27.386Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I don't have a low opinion of my chosen profession: I'm very happy with what I do. But I do have a low opinion of some philosophers and some philosophical work, along with a high opinion of some others.

My original reply was just intended to point out that a) the analytic/continental divide is no longer a significant part of the academic philosophical world, and b) that you don't have good reasons to compare philosophy to an academic science (or to a form of art).

As to how we should think of philosophy, I think we have an easy way to approach the question: how do you think about what you're doing right now? Do you take yourself to be producing a work of art? Do you take yourself to be engaging in scientific theorizing or experiment of some kind? What methods are you applying? What standards are you holding yourself to?

I'm asking these questions in seriousness, not as a rhetorical move. I want to know your answers. I don't think I'm presently engaged in either science or art. I consider myself held to standards of honesty and sincerity, and to producing good and convincing arguments. I think that if what I'm doing right now has no relation to the truth, then what I'm doing is in vain. I also don't think I have an answer to the question 'what is philosophy and how should it be treated?'

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-18T20:16:49.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

how do you think about what you're doing right now? Do you take yourself to be producing a work of art? Do you take yourself to be engaging in scientific theorizing or experiment of some kind? What methods are you applying? What standards are you holding yourself to?

Well, right now I'm writing some rather routine software I am paid to write, and I try to do a decent job, but it is by no means art or science, though I do learn a thing or two now and then. When I was doing actual research (calculations and simulations in General Relativity), it was no art, either, but it did produce some non-negligible results, though nothing earth-shuttering. Unfortunately, it was not quite at the level of an experimentally falsifiable model, which would be a fair standard for me.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-18T20:19:17.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, right now I'm writing some rather routine software I am paid to write, and I try to do a decent job, but it is by no means art or science, though I do learn a thing or two now and then.

Ah, I'm sorry, I was unclear. I mean 'right now' as in 'the activity of having a conversation with me' or at any rate 'the activity of having conversations roughly of this kind'.

comment by Oligopsony · 2012-06-06T23:15:56.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As noted in the link, this is much more of a spectrum and much less of a knife fight than it used to be.

(The broader methodological point extends well beyond philosophy, or was at least quoted with that intention.)

comment by Jack · 2012-06-06T23:03:31.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Analytic and Continental philosophers rarely have ideas on the same subjects. And it's more like one prominent school and English departments.

comment by Mark_Eichenlaub · 2012-06-02T23:52:31.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And clearly my children will never get any taller, because there is no statistically-significant difference in their height from one day to the next.

Andrew Vickers, What Is A P-Value, Anyway?

comment by Alicorn · 2012-06-11T19:09:59.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you ever get the feeling that God has a plan?

And you're the only one who can stop it?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-03T10:01:09.379Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The greatest weariness comes from work not done.

-Eric Hoffer

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-05T15:26:47.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I was 11, I was fascinated with a flame and I didn't know what it was. I went to a teacher and said, "What's a flame? What's going on in there?" And she said "It's oxidation." And that's all she said. And I never heard that word before, so that was like, calling it by another name.

--Alan Alda, in an interview at The Colbert Report, telling the story that gave rise to The Flame Challenge. It has been mentioned on LW before, but I thought it was worth posting it here as a perfect illustration of a Teacher's Password.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-03T10:11:44.051Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.

-Charles Babbage

Replies from: othercriteria, fortyeridania, cody-bryce
comment by othercriteria · 2012-06-05T15:19:07.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only if you're using a consistent estimator. (Yes, that's a frequentist concept, but the same sorts of problems show up in a Bayesian context once you try to learn nonparametric models...)

comment by fortyeridania · 2012-06-05T14:36:56.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand:

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.

Alexander Pope

Replies from: khafra
comment by khafra · 2012-06-05T16:24:43.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd heard that quote before, but this was the first time I recognized the referent for Mount Stupid.

comment by cody-bryce · 2013-05-20T16:28:01.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A more general but less witty form of

It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s easier to lie without them.

–Fred Mosteller

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-05-20T21:20:55.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are a little late to that party.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2013-05-20T21:38:56.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How's about this?

The #1 way to lie with statistics is . . . to just lie!

Andrew Gelman

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-02T17:25:23.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[About the challenge of skeptics to spread their ideas in society] In times of war we need warriors, but this isn't war. You might try to say it is, but it's not a war. We aren't trying to kill an enemy. We are trying to persuade other humans. And in times like that we don't need warriors. What we need are diplomats.

Phil Plait, Don't Be A Dick (around 23:30)

Replies from: wedrifid, NancyLebovitz, None
comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-05T22:15:05.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We aren't trying to kill an enemy. We are trying to persuade other humans.

The former is the most powerful method I know of for the latter. As elspood mentioned, it obviously isn't the victims in particular that will be persuaded.

Replies from: phonypapercut
comment by phonypapercut · 2012-07-05T23:02:01.245Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wouldn't killing be better described in this context as coercion? Which feels distinct from persuasion, to me.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-06T01:18:48.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wouldn't killing be better described in this context as coercion? Which feels distinct from persuasion, to me.

On humans it does both. Humans are persuaded by power, not merely coerced. (Being persuaded like that is a handy 'hypocrisy' skill given bounded cognition.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-03T10:58:26.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voted up for the link to the video, which is a good explanation for why dumping hostility on people is not an effective method of convincing them.

Replies from: elspood
comment by elspood · 2012-07-05T21:44:57.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, those that are 'hostile' don't generally believe they're going to convince the people they're being hostile to. They're after the peanut gallery; the undecided.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-07-05T23:27:37.751Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The effect on the peanut gallery is hard to track.

It's at least as likely that dumping hostility on outsiders is a way of maintaining group cohesion among those who have already identified themselves with the issue.

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-07-05T23:42:41.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As you say, in-group signalling is a more likely explanation - hostility is widely unpersuasive to those who are actually undecided.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-05T23:20:32.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't you can properly isolate these two strategies, there is a reason peace so frequently evolves into war: intelligent rational people living in a peaceful time frequently can reach their goals most easily by creating a violent environment. Diplomacy is safer, easier, and generally something I prefer, but violence can influence many more people much faster.

comment by Pavitra · 2012-06-13T02:20:58.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.


comment by VKS · 2012-06-08T11:13:33.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am reminded of a commentary on logic puzzles of a certain kind; it was perhaps in a letter to Martin Gardner, reprinted in one of his books. The puzzles are those about getting about on an island where each native either always tells the truth or always lies. You reach a fork in the road, for example, and a native is standing there, and you want to learn from him, with one question, which way leads to the village. The “correct” question is “If I asked you if the left way led to the village, would you say yes?” But why should the native’s concept of lying conform to our own logical ideas? If the native is a liar, it means he wants to fool you, and your logical trickery will not work. The best you can do is say something like “Did you hear they are giving away free beer in the village today?” and see which way the native runs. You follow him, even if he says something like “Ugh, I hate beer!” since then he probably really is lying.

  • Alexandre Borovik, quoting an unidentified colleague, paraphrasing another unidentified source, possibly Martin Gardner quoting a letter he got.
Replies from: Fyrius
comment by Fyrius · 2012-06-18T11:23:20.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems to make the same point as the Parable of the Dagger.

(I.e.: logic games are fun and all, but don't expect things to work that way in the real world. Or: it's valuable to know the difference between intelligent thinking and smart-assery.)

comment by Emile · 2012-06-04T21:50:15.514Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.

-- Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP Keynote Address

Replies from: ChristianKl, cody-bryce
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-05T13:45:04.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that the idea that politicians don't change their position has much basis in reality. There are a lot of people who complain about politicians flip-flopping.

When a politician speaks publically, he usually doesn't speak about his personal decision but about a position that's a consensus of the group for which the politician speaks. He might personally disagree with the position and try to change the consensus internally. It's still his role to be responsible for the position of the group to which he belongs. In the end the voter cares about what the group of politicians do. What laws do they enact? Those laws are compromises and the politicians stand for the compromise even when they personally disagree with parts of it.

A scientist isn't supposed to be responsible for the way his experiments turn out.

And if you take something like the Second Vatican Council there's even change of positions in religion.

Replies from: fortyeridania
comment by fortyeridania · 2012-06-05T15:39:29.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, politicians flip-flop, and they take heat for it. And religious organizations do revise their doctrines from time to time.

But they don't like to admit it. This shows itself most clearly in schisms, where it's obvious at least one party has changed it stance, yet both present the other side as the schismatic one (splitters).

Thus even though they have changed, they do not "update"--or they do, but then they retcon it to make it look like they've always done things this way. (Call it "backdating," not updating.) This is what the superstates do in 1984.

Coming up with real examples is trivial. Just find a group that has ever had a schism. That's basically every group you've heard of. Ones that come to mind: Marxists, libertarians, Christians, the Chinese Communist Party. Triggering issues for the above groups include the nature of revolution, the relationship between rights and welfare, the Trinity, the role of the state in the economy...

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-05T22:57:56.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How many scientific papers contain the lines: "In the past the authors of this papers were wrong about X, but they changed their opinion because of Y"?

Replies from: pnrjulius, RolfAndreassen
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:09:30.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In short, not nearly enough.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-06-06T01:00:02.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

None, because journals are really careful about proof-reading.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-06T16:17:44.204Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you mean:

1) Because journals are really careful about proof-reading and there are no errors in journal articles?

2) Because journals are really careful about proof-reading, they delete every sentence where a scientist says that "I've been wrong in the past"?

3) Some other way in which careful proof-reading removes the possibility that "I've been wrong in the past" appears in a journal article?

Replies from: Ben_Welchner
comment by Ben_Welchner · 2012-06-06T16:21:08.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was grammar nitpicking. "The authors where wrong".

Replies from: None, Alicorn
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T19:47:14.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had guessed it must be something like that, but I failed to see the typo in the grandparent and changed my mind to the parent being some different joke I didn't get or something. (I've retracted the downvote to the parent.)

comment by Alicorn · 2012-06-09T01:33:34.609Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also "this papers".

comment by cody-bryce · 2013-07-30T00:42:20.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Inspiring, but not true.

Replies from: Desrtopa
comment by Desrtopa · 2013-07-30T01:11:10.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what respect is it not true? I've certainly observed it. I haven't observed it every day, but most scientists in the world are not under my observation.

Replies from: cody-bryce
comment by cody-bryce · 2013-07-30T01:46:54.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Sagan had actually looked for it happening in politics and religion, he'd have found plenty of examples. Especially in the latter.

Replies from: Desrtopa
comment by Desrtopa · 2013-07-31T01:39:34.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If it really does happen in politics and religion at a comparable rate, then the quote is certainly misleading, but I rather doubt that that is the case. Sagan did not say that it never happens in politics or religion, only that he could not recall an instance.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-06-01T16:34:51.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

“My other piece of advice, Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, “you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (HT Cafe Hayek.)

Replies from: RolfAndreassen
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-06-02T19:26:59.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A reasonable start, but quite insufficient for the long run. Sixpence savings on twenty pounds income is not going to insulate you from disaster, not even with nineteenth-century money.

Replies from: Tyrrell_McAllister, pnrjulius
comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2012-06-05T23:17:29.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sixpence savings on twenty pounds income is not going to insulate you from disaster, not even with nineteenth-century money.

A disaster is an abrupt fall in income or abrupt increase in expenditures, so it falls under the general claim.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:22:55.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In fact, it may not even outpace inflation, much less the opportunity cost of the interest-free rate.

Replies from: RolfAndreassen, gwern
comment by RolfAndreassen · 2012-06-09T02:21:07.270Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would have thought that, having decided to invest X amount of money per unit time, what matters for beating inflation is the interest you can get on it, not the size of X. Sixpence will fail as savings because it's 0.021% of your annual income, not because of inflation; even if you assumed the value of money was perfectly stable, it would take you a long time to build up any sort of reserve at that speed.

comment by gwern · 2012-06-09T01:32:44.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Inflation in England in this period was, as far as I know, remarkably low and <1%, even experiencing periods of apparent deflation. (Whether it beat Roman Egypt Sixpence compounding might go a decent way. See also Gregory Clark, Farewell to Alms:

However, in preindustrial England, and indeed in many preindustrial economies, inflation rates were low by modern standards. Figure 8.7 shows the English inflation rate from 1200 to 2000 over successive forty-year intervals. Before 1914 inflation rates rarely exceeded 2 percent per year, even in the period known as the Price Revolution, when the influx of silver from the New World helped drive up prices. In a country such as England, which had a highly regarded currency in the preindustrial era, the crown did not avail itself of the inflation tax, despite the close restrictions Parliament placed on its other tax revenues. Only in the twentieth century did significant inflation appear in England. By the late twentieth century annual inflation averaged 4–8 percent per year. Thus there has been a decline, not an improvement, in the quality of monetary management in England since the Industrial Revolution.

...Thus in Roman Egypt wheat prices roughly doubled between the beginning of the first century AD and the middle of the third.^12^ But that reflects an inflation rate of less than 0.3 percent per year.

comment by CaveJohnson · 2012-06-13T15:00:40.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In general, nothing is more difficult than not pretending to understand.

--Nicolás Gómez Dávila, source

Replies from: MinibearRex, None
comment by MinibearRex · 2012-06-15T05:34:54.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked the quote, once I figured out how all the negatives interacted with each other.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-13T16:01:34.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Too true.

comment by shminux · 2012-06-05T18:05:55.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you pay nothing for expert advise you will value it at epsilon more than nothing, if you pay five figures for it you will clear your schedule and implement recommendations within the day. In addition to this being one of consulting’s worst-kept secrets, it suggests persuasive reasons why you should probably extract a commitment out of software customers prior to giving them access for the software. Doing this will automatically make people value your software more

Patrick McKenzie, the guy who gets instrumental rationality on the gut level.

More from the same source:

I always thought I really hated getting email. It turns out that I was not a good reporter of my own actual behavior, which is something you’ll hear quite a bit if you follow psychological research. (For example, something like 75% of Americans will report they voted for President Obama, which disagrees quite a bit with the ballot box. They do this partially because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they like to been seen as the type of person who voted for the winner. 99% of geeks will report never having bought anything as a result of an email. They do this because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they believe that buying stuff from “spam” is something that people with AOL email addresses do, and hence admitting that they, too, can be marketed to will cause them to lose status. The AppSumo sumo would be a good deal skinnier if that were actually the case, but geeks were all people before they were geeks, and people are statistically speaking terrible at introspection.)

Replies from: gwern, None
comment by gwern · 2012-06-05T18:22:56.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you pay nothing for expert advise you will value it at epsilon more than nothing, if you pay five figures for it you will clear your schedule and implement recommendations within the day.

Obviously I need to figure out how to start charging for my website!

Replies from: shminux, Vaniver, khafra, alex_zag_al, private_messaging
comment by shminux · 2012-06-05T19:54:37.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had the impression that you've been selling yourself short for quite some time.

Maybe you can start by following Patrick's example and offering some of the choice data you collect and analyze to the people subscribing to your mailing list. You can also figure out who might be interested in the information you collect (a cool project in itself), and how much it would be worth to them.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-06-07T23:14:09.401Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if a donate button at the end of each article, tied with a question along the lines of "How valuable was the article you just read?", would be effective. (You could even set it up so that you can track the amount donated by article, and use that to guide future research- I'm not sure how effective that would be, since that depends on how many alternatives you have to pick from in considering new research topics.)

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-08T01:56:14.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I do have donation stuff setup; last week I moved the Paypal button from the very bottom, post footnotes (where the Bitcoin address remains), to the left sidebar, to see if that would help. (So far it hasn't.)

A rating widget is a good idea; I'm messing around with some but I'm not seeing any really good ones hosted by third-parties (static site, remember).

that depends on how many alternatives you have to pick from in considering new research topics.

I am completely undisciplined and I do this stuff as the whim takes me. A month ago I didn't expect to learn how to do meta-analyses and run a DNB meta-analysis and 2 weeks ago I wasn't expecting to do an iodine meta-analysis either; the day before Kiba hired me to write a Silk Road article, I wasn't expecting that either...

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:06:43.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also a competition effect here. With thousands of free blogs, people don't want to pay for yours or mine. They'll just navigate to someone else's, even if it isn't quite as brilliantly insightful.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-09T01:31:23.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, that's a problem. I like to think my content is pretty unique - no other site is as good a resource on dual n-back, no other site is as good a resource on modafinil, etc. - but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world.

Replies from: shminux
comment by shminux · 2012-06-09T03:48:15.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A way to make real money is to sell to businesses. Do you have any content or service a 100+ person company might want?

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-09T04:05:04.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not that I've thought of so far.

Replies from: Username
comment by Username · 2012-06-25T14:05:03.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, you have the ability to write articles of exceptionally high quality. They are concise, easy to read, very thoroughly researched, and always offer paths to learn more or elaborate on points of interest.

These sorts of reports are highly valuable to companies and I think you would be incredibly valuable as a knowledge consultant. Think Lisbeth Salander for technical subjects.

comment by khafra · 2012-06-06T18:09:17.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do value your research and writings. I was thinking about offering to buy you a laptop because it sounded like you had an old POS that was hampering said research and writings, but then I decided that would be too weird.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-06T18:14:42.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did have a POS, but in July 2010 I finally bit the bullet and bought a new Dell Studio 17 laptop that has since worked well for me. (The hard drive died a few months ago and I had to replace it, almost simultaneously with my external backup drive dying, which was very stressful, but Dell doesn't make the hard drives, so I write that off as an isolated incident.)

Replies from: khafra
comment by khafra · 2012-06-06T18:51:11.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, then I only need to buy you a 2-year backblaze subscription, that's far cheaper.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-06T19:03:53.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Backblaze sounds great, but they don't have a Linux client.

Replies from: khafra, shminux
comment by khafra · 2012-06-06T19:28:07.070Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

tarsnap it is, then.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-06T21:19:36.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tarsnap is cool - I like Colin's blog and stuff like scrypt. (The latter was relevant to one of my crypto essays.)

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-12T00:13:34.273Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the record: khafra actually did donate to me and wasn't just cheap signaling. Well done!

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-12T00:27:46.906Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow. Great stuff khafra. I hereby grant you some portion of the respect granted to gwern for his nootropics research!

Replies from: khafra
comment by khafra · 2012-06-12T14:22:44.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's a pretty good prestige-per-dollar return, then; thanks! (And thanks to gwern, and keep up the good work).

comment by shminux · 2012-06-06T19:30:25.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Crashplan does.

comment by alex_zag_al · 2012-06-08T16:57:22.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will sing the praises of git and vim, but I didn't pay any money for them. He says extract a commitment, not necessarily a monetary commitment; I read half a book before I started using git, and vim took a lot of practice. So you could use more specialized terminology or something like that. git and vim are both very well-spoken of, and I probably wouldn't have bothered to learn them if they weren't. But I also don't bother to spend money on things that don't have a good reputation, if I haven't had experience with them already. So, either way, requiring a commitment from the user turns away a lot of them.

(I've never read your website)

comment by private_messaging · 2012-06-09T08:56:49.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably won't work very well. If you can program, you can make some money writing some useful software. You can write an app to make it easier for people to perform double blind experiments on their medications for example. People in general only pay for something they directly use.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-05T22:45:00.212Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They do this partially because they misremember their own behavior

FFS, how can people misremember who they voted for in an election with only two plausible candidates?

Replies from: MinibearRex, kdorian, Strange7
comment by MinibearRex · 2012-06-08T06:16:36.162Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A large number of them may have not voted at all, but remember themselves doing so.

comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T14:58:00.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect, with no data to back me up, that is those who were ambivalent when they stepped into the polling booth that genuinely misremember. Others know they voted for the other guy, but want to be seen as one of the 'winners'.

Replies from: TheOtherDave, alex_zag_al, None
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-06T16:35:41.342Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are many U.S. elections I have voted in where there were two candidates for an office and I couldn't tell you which one I voted for. Admittedly, no cases involving Presidential candidates; I'm usually pretty sure who I'm voting for in those cases.

comment by alex_zag_al · 2012-06-08T17:01:30.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or the survey he's referring to is biased. Seems hard for it not to be... did they knock on doors all across the country? If it's based on mail or telephone responses, are people who voted for Obama more likely to respond to those?

Or, he's misquoting the survey. If you were testing the hypothesis that people misremember voting for the winner, wouldn't you sample a smaller area than the whole country, and then compare your results with the vote count from that area? Why would an experiment like that ever get a number meant to be compared with the whole country's votes?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T19:49:42.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect, with no data to back me up, that the latter class contains many more people than the former. (If I were that ambivalent, I wouldn't vote for either major candidate at random; I would either vote for a minor candidate, or not vote at all. But I guess not everybody is like me.)

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-09T01:46:10.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wrong question. I'd say people who voted for the other guy remember, but aren't so eager to respond to surveys.

comment by AlexMennen · 2012-06-06T16:31:12.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The present impossibility of giving a scientific explanation is no proof that there is no scientific explanation. The unexplained is not to be identified with the unexplainable, and the strange and extraordinary nature of a fact is not a justification for attributing it to powers above nature.

-The Catholic Encyclopedia

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T00:51:50.602Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes that one most interesting is its source.

Replies from: Alejandro1, Eugine_Nier
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-13T17:49:11.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect that if the source was a less unexpected one, say Albert Einstein or Carl Sagan, the quote would seem obvious and uninteresting to LWers and its karma score would be less than half what it is.

Replies from: pnrjulius, None
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-30T03:42:33.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This makes perfect sense in terms of Bayesian reasoning. Unexpected evidence is much more powerful evidence that your model is defective.

If your model of the world predicted that the Catholic Church would never say this, well... your model is wrong in at leas that respect.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-13T18:32:18.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I would have upvoted such a quote no matter who it was by.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-14T01:38:21.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, an interesting question is how may readers will update their opinion of the Catholic church based on this.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-06-14T09:01:01.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was not surprised by this, because I know many Catholics honestly try to be rational... of course only within the limits given by the Church.

They would have absolutely no problem with Bayesian updating; the only problem would be the Solomonoff prior. If you replace it by "the Catholic Church is always right" prior, you are free to update rationally on everything else and remain a good Catholic.

This is why Catholics don't have a problem to accept e.g. evolution, as long as someone can provide an explanation how evolution can be compatible with "the Catholic Church is always right". (A possible explanation could be e.g. that God created the first life forms; that evolution is a consequence of physical laws created by God, therefore any result of evolution is still indirectly created by God; and that humans are somehow an exception to this process, because even if their bodies are a result of evolution, they also have an immaterial soul created directly by God.)

Replies from: private_messaging
comment by private_messaging · 2012-06-24T03:51:30.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe theists would have any problem with Solomonoff prior. Some ten-state two-symbol machine with a blank tape can be a God for all we could ever know, and then it could create us within it's machine and do what ever it wants (and the souls could be just the indices it keeps on us).

You know who actually has problem with Solomonoff prior? People who understand it.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-24T04:06:34.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't this the wrong question? We'd want to know what proportion of ten-state two-symbol machines with blank tapes turned out to be gods.

In so far as that's what we want, Catholicism still falls to being a huge conjunction of propositions.

Replies from: faul_sname, private_messaging
comment by faul_sname · 2012-09-22T05:29:04.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We'd want to know what proportion of ten-state two-symbol machines with blank tapes turned out to be gods.

Do we? I would think we would want to know what proportion of universes are created by ten-state two-symbol machines that are gods as opposed to ten-state two-symbol machines that are not gods.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-22T15:03:13.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was implied by "proportion".

comment by private_messaging · 2012-06-24T04:29:06.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't this the wrong question? We'd want to know what proportion of ten-state two-symbol machines with blank tapes turned out to be gods.

One short god will suffice if laws of physics require substantially larger program. And for all we know they do.

edit: Also, there's only what, 20^10 = about 10 trillion possible ten state two symbol machines? Maybe 9 old British billions after you eliminate non-universal machines. That's less than the data in physical constants we haven't derived.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T05:26:51.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: Kyre
comment by Kyre · 2012-06-04T07:16:46.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The other day a client sent me a new sighting of a bug I'd been stalking for a while. The new info allowed me to trap it between two repository revisions, flush it out of the diffs and stomp on the sucker. It did briefly feel kind of primal.

comment by pkkm · 2012-06-02T07:04:03.883Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that's compellingly mysterious.

Paul Graham, What You'll Wish You'd Known

Replies from: None, gwern, Daermonn
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T20:40:08.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bit of a tangent, but something from that essay always bothered me.

I recently saw an ad for waiters saying they wanted people with a "passion for service." The real thing is not something one could have for waiting on tables.

Paul Graham

So I began to linger in my duties around Vincent's tables to observe his technique. I quickly learned that his style was to have no single style. He had a repertoire of approaches, each ready to be used under the appropriate circumstances. When the customers were a family, he was effervescent—even slightly clownish— directing his remarks as often to the children as the adults. With a young couple on a date, he became formal and a bit imperious in an attempt to intimidate the young man (to whom he spoke exclusively) into ordering and tipping lavishly. With an older, married couple, he retained the formality but dropped the superior air in favor of a respectful orientation to both members of the couple. Should the patron be dining alone, Vincent selected a friendly demeanor—cordial, conversational, and warm. Vincent reserved the trick of seeming to argue against his own interests for large parties of 8 to 12 people. His technique was veined with genius. When it was time for the first person, normally a woman, to order, he went into his act. No matter what she elected, Vincent reacted identically: His brow furrowed, his hand hovered above his order pad, and after looking quickly over his shoulder for the manager, he leaned conspiratorially toward the table to report for all to hear "I'm afraid that is not as good tonight as it normally is. Might I recommend instead the [blank] or the [blank]?" (At this point, Vincent suggested a pair of menu items that were slightly less expensive than the dish the patron had selected initially.) "They are both excellent tonight." With this single maneuver, Vincent engaged several important principles of influence. First, even those who did not take his suggestions felt that Vincent had done them a favor by offering valuable information to help them order. Everyone felt grateful, and consequently, the rule for reciprocity would work in his favor when it came time for them to decide on his gratuity. Besides hiking the percentage of his tip, Vincent's maneuver also placed him in a favorable position to increase the size of the party's order. It established him as an authority on the current stores of the house: he clearly knew what was and wasn't good that night. Moreover—and here is where seeming to argue against his own interests comes in—it proved him to be a trustworthy informant because he recommended dishes that were slightly less expensive than the one originally ordered. Rather than trying to line his own pockets, he seemed to have the customers' best interests at heart. To all appearances, he was at once knowledgeable and honest, a combination that gave him great credibility. Vincent was quick to exploit the advantage of this credible image. When the party had finished giving their food orders, he would say, "Very well, and would you like me to suggest or select wine to go with your meals?" As I watched the scene repeated almost nightly, there was a notable consistency to the customer's reaction—smiles, nods, and, for the most part, general assent.

Robert Cialdini, Influence

Replies from: gjm, Oscar_Cunningham
comment by gjm · 2012-06-02T22:20:41.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't seem to me that Vincent-as-described-by-Cialdini is someone with a passion for waiting at tables; especially not the sort that could also be described as a "passion for service". If anything, he has a passion for exploiting customers, or something of the kind. I would expect someone with a genuine passion for table-waiting -- should such a person exist -- to be as reluctant to mislead customers as, say, someone with a passion for science would be to spend their life working for a partisan think tank putting out deliberately misleading white papers on controversial topics.

(To forestall political arguments: I am not implying that all think tanks are partisan, nor that all white papers put out by partisan think tanks are deliberately misleading.)

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-02T21:42:27.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...and "Influence" goes onto my "to read" list.

Replies from: athingtoconsider
comment by athingtoconsider · 2012-06-13T12:25:02.527Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


  • Robert Cialdini, author of "Influence"
comment by gwern · 2012-06-02T16:00:25.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also true of, say, OCD.

comment by Daermonn · 2012-06-04T06:16:55.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This speech was really something special. Thanks for posting it. My favorite sections:

"If it takes years to articulate great questions, what do you do now, at sixteen? Work toward finding one. Great questions don't appear suddenly. They gradually congeal in your head. And what makes them congeal is experience. So the way to find great questions is not to search for them-- not to wander about thinking, what great discovery shall I make? You can't answer that; if you could, you'd have made it.

The way to get a big idea to appear in your head is not to hunt for big ideas, but to put in a lot of time on work that interests you, and in the process keep your mind open enough that a big idea can take roost. Einstein, Ford, and Beckenbauer all used this recipe. They all knew their work like a piano player knows the keys. So when something seemed amiss to them, they had the confidence to notice it."


"Rebellion is almost as stupid as obedience. In either case you let yourself be defined by what they tell you to do. The best plan, I think, is to step onto an orthogonal vector. Don't just do what they tell you, and don't just refuse to. Instead treat school as a day job. As day jobs go, it's pretty sweet. You're done at 3 o'clock, and you can even work on your own stuff while you're there."

Great stuff.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-06-23T13:21:11.681Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The biggest threat to an artist is neither piracy nor obscurity. It's dicking around on the internet.

-- James L. Sutter

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T00:40:51.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humility bids us to take ourselves as we are; we do not have to be cosmically significant to be genuinely significant.

  • Patricia Churchland
comment by gwern · 2012-06-09T16:31:48.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I favor any skepsis to which I may reply: 'Let us try it!' But I no longer wish to hear anything of all those things and questions that do not permit any experiment.

--Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science #51

comment by Vaniver · 2012-06-07T22:55:44.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One reason why research is so important is precisely that it can surprise you and tell you that your subjective convictions are wrong. If research always found what we expected, there wouldn't be much point in doing research.

--Eugene Gendlin

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T00:42:35.204Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[...] if you make yourself really small you can externalize virtually everything. The imaginative pressure to think of yourself as very small is easy enough to find. When I raise my arm, well what is it? There must be some part of my brain that is sort of sending out the signal and then my arm is obeying me, and then when I think about the reasons why, it’s very natural to suppose that my reason store is over there somewhere, and I asked my reason store to send me some good reasons. So the imagery keeps shrinking back to a singularity; a point, a sort of Cartesian point at the intersection of two lines and that’s where I am. That’s the deadly error, to retreat into the punctate self. You’ve got to make yourself big; really big."

  • Daniel Dennett
Replies from: wedrifid, MarkusRamikin, bbleeker
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-04T11:18:30.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You’ve got to make yourself big; really big."

When I read the opening line I guessed he was going to go in the opposite direction - as Paul Graham probably would have.

I can see uses to both ways of simplifying one's relationship with the rest of the universe.

Replies from: Alejandro1, TheOtherDave, None
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-04T16:51:58.089Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't Graham and Dennett talking about different things entirely? Dennett is trying to help us understand better how materialism is compatible with having free will and a conscious self; his prescription here is to avoid a common pitfall, that of dismissing all "upwards" processing of perception and all "downwards" action-starting signals as "mechanical computing, not part of the self" and locating the Cartesian self at the zero-extension intersection of these two processes. It is better to think of the self as extended in both directions. When Graham says "keep your identity small", he is talking about a different sense of "identity" and "small", roughly "do not describe yourself with labels because you might become overly invested in them and lose objectivity and perspective".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-04T14:56:58.955Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I now want to make up bumper stickers that read "What Would Paul Graham Do?"

Granted, I want to do other things that preclude doing so even more.

Replies from: shokwave, None, gwern
comment by shokwave · 2012-06-07T19:53:57.711Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I now want to make up bumper stickers that read "What Would Paul Graham Do?"

Wanting to associate your identity with a person, in part because they have a very good argument for why you shouldn't associate your identity with things, and then doing something more important instead... there's something almost poetic or ironic about it.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-12T00:12:32.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

there's something almost poetic or ironic about it.

Poetic? Nice call.

On the plus side at least it indicates that they aren't so caught up in affiliation that we aren't able to ignore his dogmas when it isn't useful to us.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T15:45:11.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is only tangentially related, but:

It's probably really important to notice when you feel a desire to signal affiliation with someone or something by purchasing paraphernalia or, e.g., getting a bumper sticker. Wanting to signal that you like something generally means that your identity has expanded to include that thing. This, of course, can be both a symptom and a cause of bias (although it isn't necessarily so). See also all this stuff. Or, more concisely: "I want to buy a bumper sticker/t-shirt/pinup calendar/whatever" should sound an alarm and prompt some introspection.

(I'm not trying to imply that you have a bias towards Paul Graham, just making a general statement.)

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-04T15:50:26.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I agree with (at least the core of) this.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-05T03:44:03.952Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, that's why you what to identify with Paul Graham.

comment by gwern · 2012-06-04T15:23:57.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looking briefly at a few sites specializing in custom bumper stickers, I estimate you could probably make and pay for some in half an hour to an hour. Do you want to do those other things that badly?

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-04T15:49:11.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know, it's actually a really good question.

I think what's true here, now that I'm considering it for more than five seconds, is that I don't actually want to do this at all, I just think it's a funny idea and wanted to share it, and I chose "I want to X" as a conventional way of framing the idea... a habit I should perhaps replace with "It would be funny to X" in the spirit of not misrepresenting my state to no purpose.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-04T15:52:12.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I figured as much. :)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T12:31:03.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How would Paul Graham approach it?

Replies from: None
comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-04T10:01:52.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You’ve got to make yourself big; really big


Replies from: None, Strange7
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T10:53:27.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because if you don't you'll fail to see what is doing all the thinking, you can't strip a car of all it's parts and still expect it to run, if you do, you're left with saying "nothing is making the wheels turn".

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-09T09:04:14.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comment and the quote make absolutely no sense to me. Splitting a mysterious things like a "me" concept into less mysterious things like a smaller "me" and a "queryable reason store" is the heart of reductionism and explanation. Doing that doesn't remove the wheels from the car, it just relabels the car into "wheels" and "smaller car which is also up for decomposition." When you break the "car" concept down, you're not left with nothing, or with wheels that turn on missing axles; you're left with a bunch of parts that all work together, which were all parts of the original car but which all now have different names. Names like engine, exhaust manifold, spark plug, carburetor, wind shield fluid, map of Florida, fiberglass, electron. We can talk about all of these things and never reference "car". "Car" vanishes, but the actual car does not.

And at any point in that reduction, it's possible (in principle, if not cognitively realistic) to draw a boundary around the parts to reintroduce the car concept. Whether I say "I am beliefs, desires, plans, intentions, wayfinding algorithms, multisensory categories, image schemas, a hippocampus, the concept of digital publishing, a lateral geniculate nucleus, some belief propagation and reinforcement learning, post-synaptic potentials, and everything else science knows about minds" or just "internal dialogue", there's nothing erroneous about a small self concept. And even if I don't stop the reduction to draw a boundary, the imagery doesn't "shrink back to a singularity", it just bottoms out at physics.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-09T10:13:32.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you have misunderstood my point. The quote - or my comment is not disputing reductionism, but rather that the act of deconstructing the mind removes the person - one has to recognize that person or car for that mater consists of parts.

We can talk about all of these things and never reference "car". "Car" vanishes, but the actual car does not.

Agreed, I expressed myself poorly but by "strip" I meant "not include into concept car", so more over if you assign driving as a function of a car, and then reduce the car into parts, finding that the engine, wheels and so on, are in fact the the things that do the work, it is a fallacy to conclude "AHA the car is not doing the driving it's the engine, wheels. . . ." since car = it's parts. That is how many people with dualistic intuitions approach the mind.

there's nothing erroneous about a small self concept. And even if I don't stop the reduction to draw a boundary, the imagery doesn't "shrink back to a singularity", it just bottoms out at physics.

That depends on what you include in your concept of self - we don't want this to turn this into a discussion about trees falling in the forest. But I was assuming that a lot of people have the same sens of self as I have, we are all human after all. I think "shrink back to singularity" is a metaphor, not a physical singular point.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-04T10:22:04.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Defining yourself down to nothing reduces your willingness to engage with the larger world. Mote-person doesn't care so much about the loss of a handful of pocket change, a court case, a car, a limb, but that sort of stuff adds up.

Replies from: MarkusRamikin
comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-04T10:36:45.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Appeal to consequences?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T14:40:21.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: MarkusRamikin
comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-04T17:00:15.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Last I checked that was a fallacy...

I mean what about truth of the matter? Accuracy? Is there no difference between possible definitions in how well they carve reality, or how deep an understanding they reflect?

Or is it that anything goes, and we can define it however we please and might as well choose whatever is most beneficial.

Replies from: Grognor, None, Ben_Welchner
comment by Grognor · 2012-06-05T14:09:44.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Spot the fallacy in:

We should not hit ourselves on the head with hammers, because that would lead to us being in pain.

It's appeal to consequences, after all. Ooh, or better yet, spot the fallacy in:

Argument from consequences leads to being wrong, and therefore you should not do it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T19:17:11.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not a fallacy when designing.

Identity is not a feature of the world to be understood. It is a feature of a cognitive system to be designed.

I suppose you could ask empirical questions about what form identity actually takes in the human mind, but Strange's comment is referring to instrumental usefulness of a design.

comment by Ben_Welchner · 2012-06-05T14:25:02.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you expect some factual, objective truth to arise about how one should define oneself, it seems fair game for defining in the most beneficial way. It's physics all the way down, so I don't see a factual reason not to define yourself down to nothing, nor do I see a factual reason to do so.

Replies from: MarkusRamikin
comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-05T15:53:32.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why yes, when I ask who I am, I am indeed interested in objective truth, or whatever objective truth of the matter may or may not exist. What the relation actually is, between our sense of self, and the-stuff-out-there-in-reality. I don't understand why this seems so outlandish.

If identity really were up for grabs like that, then that just seems to me to mean that there really ain't no such critter in the first place, no natural joint of reality at which it would make most sense to carve. In that case that would be what I'd want to believe, rather than invent some illusion that's pleasing or supposedly beneficial.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T01:00:49.839Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why yes, when I ask who I am, I am indeed interested in objective truth, or whatever objective truth of the matter may or may not exist. What the relation actually is, between our sense of self, and the-stuff-out-there-in-reality. I don't understand why this seems so outlandish.

It might be more fruitful to ask instead "How is my sens of self generated? - Whatever that may be" and "What work do the self preform - might there an evolutionary advantage for an organism to have a self?"

comment by bbleeker · 2012-06-04T09:30:54.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where is that from? I think I'd like to read it.

Replies from: Alejandro1, None
comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-04T16:56:33.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In addition to what Wix said, if you'd like a deeper elaboration of his point the book to read is "Freedom Evolves". (There are very similar passages there--I thought that was the source before seeing Wix's response). This is the book that really sold compatibilism to me, changing my view of it from "hmm, interesting argument, but isn't it a bit of a cop-out?" to "wow, free will makes much more sense viewed this way".

Replies from: Grognor, MarkusRamikin, bbleeker
comment by Grognor · 2012-06-05T14:08:13.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting reaction. I shall admit that even though Eliezer's free will sequence was intellectually convincing to me, it did not change my alief that free will just isn't there and isn't even a useful allusion. So this is going on my reading list.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-05T18:27:46.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it did not change my alief that free will just isn't there

What? You are clearly anticipating as if you have control over your actions, or you would not have attempted to type that comment.

(assuming you are acting approximately like a decision maker. Only agents need to anticipate as if they have free will)

Replies from: Grognor
comment by Grognor · 2012-06-05T20:57:23.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it just happened. You're underestimating the degree to which people can have different aliefs.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2012-06-05T09:25:43.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"hmm, interesting argument, but isn't it a bit of a cop-out?"

Precisely what I currently think, except with a little more emphasis and more colorful words.

Guess I'll have to look at that book.

comment by bbleeker · 2012-06-05T09:04:07.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! It's being delivered to my Kindle right now.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T09:57:27.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That particular quote is from Susan Blackmore's book Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human, the book is divided into specific interviews with philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists. Great read.

Though I think that the point of quote is something that imbue most of his work.

Replies from: bbleeker
comment by bbleeker · 2012-06-04T10:44:14.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-06-02T00:35:00.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The veil before my eyes dropped. I saw he was insincere ... a liar. I saw marriage with him would have been marriage to a worthless adventurer. I saw all this within five minutes of that meeting.” As if she heard a self-recriminatory bitterness creep into her voice again, she stopped; then continued in a lower tone. “You may wonder how I had not seen it before. I believe I had. But to see something is not the same as to acknowledge it."

-- John Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-06-25T10:29:56.162Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is better to build a seismograph than to worship the volcano.

-- Terry Pratchett (on Nation)

comment by GLaDOS · 2012-06-23T13:34:50.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the past I have made an analogy between science and the Roman Catholic Church, despite the discomfort of some readers. I go back to that now. The Catholic Church of the years during which Erasmus flourished was quite corrupt. It is upon this fertile ground that the printing press added some combustible fuel. But despite his influence upon them Erasmus could never be convinced by the Reformers to leave the Church. Why? Erasmus was a critic of the Church, but he also perceived in it a superior product to what Protestantism had on offer. At any given moment science is rather like the Catholic Church, riddled with falsehood. But it is the best we have, and we should attempt to work within its institutional framework, rather tearing it apart limb from limb. That was Erasmus’ position. He may have been a critic, but ultimately he thought the institution could be genuinely reformed. The struggle never ends, but we can’t see any returns if we give up immediately.

--Razib Khan, The Erasmus Path in Science

comment by cmessinger · 2012-06-05T17:21:47.743Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek what they sought. -Matsuo Basho, poet (1644-1694)

Seems like a good way to think of the "seek to succeed, not to be rational" idea.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-03T10:13:25.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the mathematics I can report no deficience, except that it be that men do not sufficiently understand the excellent use of the pure mathematics, in that they do remedy and cure many defects in the wit and faculties intellectual. For if the wit be too dull, they sharpen it; if too wandering, they fix it; if too inherent in the sense, they abstract it. So that as tennis is a game of no use in itself, but of great use in respect it maketh a quick eye and a body ready to put itself into all postures; so in the mathematics, that use which is collateral and intervenient is no less worthy than that which is principal and intended.

-Roger Bacon

comment by Alicorn · 2012-06-19T18:46:23.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"But say an assembled force of divine beings had teamed up and got everybody to evacuate the coasts.”

“Yeah, say they did,” I said. “Where’s the downside?”

“Maybe there isn’t one,” Steff said. “But if they’re doing that, what about all the people who died from fires or plagues or war or basic stupidity at the same time?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe the gods should just a more pro-active stance on that stuff anyway.”

“Okay, but… where does it stop?”

“Maybe it stops when everybody’s safe!” I said...

(I read it for the worldbuilding...)

Replies from: taelor
comment by taelor · 2012-06-21T23:41:11.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I read it for the worldbuilding...)

That is the exact same justification, to the word, that I give for reading it.

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2012-06-22T00:53:58.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a good reason!

comment by Thomas · 2012-06-04T21:21:43.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No experiment should be believed until it has been confirmed by theory!

  • Arthur S. Eddington
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-16T21:57:19.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed the authority of those who profess to teach is often a positive hindrance to those who desire to learn; they cease to employ their own judgement, and take what they perceive to be the verdict of their chosen master as settling the question. In fact I am not disposed to approve the practice traditionally ascribed to the Pythagoreans, who, when questioned as to the grounds of any assertion that they advanced in debate, are said to have been accustomed to reply 'He himself said so', 'he himself' being Pythagoras. So potent was an opinion already decided, making authority prevail unsupported by reason.

Cicero, De Natura Deorum

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-06-03T00:35:55.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

-- Albert Einstein

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-03T05:02:56.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any fool can also make a simple theory to describe anything, provided he is willing to hide dis-confirming evidence under the rug.

comment by witzvo · 2012-06-12T18:06:46.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There was a time in my life when I couldn't get anything done. ...

Perfectionism, which was always a friend, turned into my worst enemy. ...

I've heard that "perfect is the enemy of good enough" many times, but the repressed artist in me refused to accept this as truth. ...

Eventually I lucked out. By accident (or was it an accident?) I stumbled on the fascinating Book of Tea which led me to the concept of Wabi-sabi - the Japanese art of imperfect beauty. ...

Looking at Wabi-sabi objects was a breath of fresh air. Inability to achieve any lasting perfection is not fought, but embraced via lack of symmetry, respect for blemishes, and unsanitized simplicity. Imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness is incorporated directly into the design - a simple idea that cuts the disease of perfectionism at its core. ...

Real artists ship.

Slava Akhmechet see also Enso and the rest

comment by cmessinger · 2012-06-05T17:22:24.798Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Margaret Fuller, intoxicated by Transcendentalism, said, "I accept the universe," and Thomas Carlyle, told of the remark, supposedly said, "Gad, she’d better."

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-06T05:04:45.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This depends on what is meant by "accept the universe". Does this mean that you're ready to deal with reality, or that you accept the way the universe currently is and aren't going to try to make it better?

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-06T17:02:38.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given Carlyle's general attitude towards Fuller, I suspect what he meant was that it's a good thing for the universe that Fuller accepts it, for otherwise the results might be bad for the universe.

comment by arundelo · 2012-06-22T15:38:27.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we find out tomorrow that the universe is made of jello, all we will have learned about morality is that it, like everything else, is ultimately jello-dependent.

-- Will Wilkinson

comment by roland · 2012-06-11T01:13:55.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Common sense is not so common. -- Voltaire

Replies from: Pavitra
comment by Pavitra · 2012-06-12T02:01:25.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shhh. My common sense is tingling.


comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T14:53:10.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is a condition worse than blindness, and that is seeing something that isn't there.

Thomas Hardy

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-06-07T14:35:51.535Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty sure most people would pick hallucinations over blindness. Easier to correct for.

Replies from: TheOtherDave, katydee, None
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-07T16:54:02.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hallucinations are easier to correct for?
So, I start out with an input channel whose average throughput rate is T1, and whose reliability is R1.
Case 1, I reduce that throughput to T2.
Case 2, I reduce the reliability to R2.

A lot seems to depend on T2/T1 and R2/R1.
From what I've gathered from talking to blind people, I'd estimate that T2/T1 in this case is ~.1. That is, sighted people have approximately an order of magnitude more input available to them than blind people. (This varies based on context, of course, but people have some control over their context in practice.)
Hallucinations vary. If I take as my example the week I was in the ICU after my stroke, I'd estimate that R2/R1 is ~.1. That is, any given input was about ten times more likely to not actually correlate to what another observer would see than it usually is.

Both of these estimates are, of course, pulled out of my ass. I mention them only to get some precision around the hypothetical, not as an assertion about what blindness and hallucination are like in the real world. If you prefer other estimates, that's fine.

Given those estimates... hm.
Both of them suck.
I think I would probably choose hallucination, in practice.
I think I would probably be better off choosing blindness.

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T00:55:19.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

False information is definitely more damaging than non-information, because in the best case scenario you ignore the false information. In less-than-best-case scenarios, you fail to ignore the false information and are actively misled.

Suppose there are 10 boxes, one of which contains cash.

If you could open the boxes and see which one had cash, you'd be in great shape. But if you can't, you obviously should prefer leaving all the boxes closed (blindness), rather than somehow seeing cash in box #7 even when it isn't there.

I think the only reason people would be tempted to choose hallucination is that hallucinations in real life are usually relatively mild and often correctible, whereas blindness can be total and intractable with present technology. So given the choice between schizophrenia and blindness, I probably would choose schizophrenia, because schizophrenia is treatable.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-09T01:21:48.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One reason I would be tempted to choose hallucination over blindness is that hallucinations feel like knowledge, and blindness feels like lack of knowledge, and I'm more comfortable with the feeling of knowledge than I am with the feeling of the lack of knowledge.

comment by katydee · 2012-06-07T16:17:26.243Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wrong input > no input? I'm not so sure.

Replies from: Ben_Welchner, None
comment by Ben_Welchner · 2012-06-07T16:39:46.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends on if you're hallucinating everything or your vision has at least some bearing in the real world. I mean, I'd rather see spiders crawling on everything than be blind, since I could still see what they were crawling on.

Replies from: Kindly
comment by Kindly · 2012-06-07T17:44:07.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some things (for instance, eating) would definitely be more enjoyable while blind rather than while hallucinating spiders.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-07T18:57:33.259Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not 100% sure they would be for me: I'm not arachnophobic at all. (I would be willing to eat a spider for five dollars, if I was sure this couldn't cause be to get sick.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-07T19:02:53.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the wrongness is so blatant that it's easy to tell which parts of the input are likely wrong and disregard them...

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T00:58:48.327Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A fair point. But then you're no better off than with not having that part of the input at all.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-07T18:59:05.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I would, but “pretty sure most people” sounds like blatant generalizing from one example to me.

comment by GESBoulder · 2012-06-14T18:33:21.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act. - George Orwell

comment by Emile · 2012-06-01T20:14:26.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want something to exist, make it!

-Vincent Baker

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-01T21:43:44.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. If I want something to exist I'll offer a reward or plain and simple pay someone to build it.

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo, NancyLebovitz, Fyrius, billswift, pnrjulius
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-02T09:19:28.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. If I want something to exist I'll offer a reward or plain and simple pay someone to build it.

Perhaps by "it", he meant money.

Replies from: Karmakaiser
comment by Karmakaiser · 2012-06-04T15:41:30.576Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doubtful. Money already exists, but it doesn't exist my pocket.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-03T10:01:22.448Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If what you want is difficult to explain, it might be as easy to do it yourself.

comment by Fyrius · 2012-06-19T14:03:30.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read the quote as "make it (exist)!", instead of "create it". But whether that's what was meant or not, I think that to the basic idea, it doesn't matter all that much whether you cause it to exist directly or via someone else.

As an addition: when I come up with something cool that I wish existed, my first step is to google around if someone else has ever invented it and sells it. : ) Twice so far the answer has been yes.

Replies from: thomblake
comment by thomblake · 2012-06-19T14:20:15.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

when I come up with something cool that I wish existed, my first step is to google around if someone else has ever invented it and sells it.

Nowadays I actually get annoyed when I think up something that's an obvious combination of existing components and I can't immediately find it online. It doesn't happen very often.

comment by billswift · 2012-06-03T00:52:11.952Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any muttonhead with money can have a nice house or car or airplane, but how many can build one?

Dean Ing, The Ransom of Black Stealth One

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T01:12:15.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any muttonhead with money can have a nice house or car or airplane, but how many can build one?

Dean Ing, The Ransom of Black Stealth One

Exactly. Buying things is far more practical, harnessing the power of specialization and comparative advantage. Building the thing yourself is almost always the incorrect decision. Build it yourself if you are good at building that kind of thing and, more importantly, suck at doing other things that provide more (fungible) value.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T12:50:02.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Build it yourself if you are good at building that kind of thing and, more importantly, suck at doing other things that provide more (fungible) value.

Or if you enjoy the process of building it. Or if the process of building it will help you relax or something so that you'll be able to do more things-that-provide-more-value later. Or if you're trying to impress someone. Or any other of the reason people have hobbies. (Also, “suck” suggests a much lower threshold than there actually is, especially in times of unemployment and recession. Telling people who have to cook because they can't afford eating at restaurants twice a day that they “suck” at making money sounds bad to me.)

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T13:00:57.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or if you enjoy the process of building it. Or if the process of building it will help you relax or something so that you'll be able to do more things-that-provide-more-value later. Or if you're trying to impress someone. Or any other of the reason people have hobbies.

Those are all reasons to build things. But not the subject of the context.

If you want something to exist, make it!

Closely related principle: Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:38:49.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't afford to pay someone to do cognitive science, so I'd better try to do it myself.

comment by Grognor · 2012-06-06T14:17:21.130Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The presupposition is that passing judgment on somebody’s “lifestyle” (for those who do not speak psychobabble, this means the English word behaviors) is an activity which is forbidden. It follows immediately that when the person says to you “Don’t be all judgmental” they are in fact passing judgment on your behavior. In other words, they are “being all judgmental.” It is, therefore, impossible not to pass judgment. I do not mean “impossible” in the colloquial sense of “unlikely”, but in the logical sense of “certainly cannot be no matter what.”

-William M. Briggs

Replies from: steven0461, TheOtherDave, DanielLC, ChristianKl, John_Maxwell_IV
comment by steven0461 · 2012-06-08T00:22:32.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am a Norman. It is the immemorial custom of my people to conquer our neighbours, seize their land, suppress their culture, and impose our rule as aristocrats. By the principle of cultural relativity this way of life is no worse than any other.

Brett Evill

Replies from: roystgnr
comment by roystgnr · 2012-06-08T22:20:53.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The best similar cultural-relativity-based deduction I've read, as introduced by Wikipedia:

A story for which [Charles James] Napier is often noted involved Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati by British authorities. This was the custom of burning a widow alive on the funeral pyre of her husband. As first recounted by his brother William, he replied:

"Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs."

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-09T08:02:35.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let us all act according to national customs.

Why the national customs of Britain should apply in India? :-)

Replies from: taelor
comment by taelor · 2012-06-09T10:55:00.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because Britain has a national custom saying that they do.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-06T16:44:04.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't follow, from the fact that passing judgment on someone else's act of passing judgment on people is itself an act of passing judgment on people, that it is impossible not to pass judgment on people.

I'm also not quite clear on whether "passing judgment on" is denotatively the same or different from "judging." (I understand the connotative differences.)

All that said, for my own part, I want to be judged. I want to be judged in certain ways and not in others, certainly, and the possibility of being judged in ways I reject can cause me unhappiness, and I might even say "don't judge me!" as shorthand for "don't apply the particular decision procedure you're applying to judgments of me!" or as a non-truth-preserving way of expressing "your judgment of me upsets me!", but if everyone I knew were to give up having judgments of me at all, or to give up expressing them, that would be a net loss for me.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T17:48:02.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The statement in the quote does not seem to follow, assuming that you have the choice of simply not saying anything. Passing judgement suggests that you actuallly have to let someone else know what you think. On the subject of the value of judgement, it is hard to understand why people are so averse to being judged. Whether someone is being kind or malicious by telling you what they honestly think of your actions it still gives you better information to make future choices.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-06T18:00:47.204Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it any harder to understand than why some people experience as a negative stimulus being told they have a fatal illness, or stepping on a scale and discovering they weigh more than they'd like, or being told that there are termites in their walls?

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:00:29.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No harder, because it's the same phenomenon.

But it's a phenomenon that we as rationalists should resist. If I am dying, or fat, or living with termites, I want to know---after all, there may be something I can do about it.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-09T01:19:35.274Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely agreed.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-06-07T00:13:17.426Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can refrain from passing judgment yourself, but allow others to pass judgement.

For example, rocks are not judgmental.

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:04:56.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The ideal libertarian is a rock.

(This is why I am not a libertarian.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-06T23:23:05.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, the only things that follows logically is that not being judgemental is something that you can't teach someone else directly without judging yourself.

The zen monk that sits in his monastery can be happy and accepting of everyone who visits him.

Explaining what it means to not passing judgment to someone who never experienced it is like telling a blind person about the colors of the rainbow. If you talk about something being blue they don't mean what you are talking about.

If you ask the zen monk to teach you how to be nonjudgmental he might tell you that he's got nothing to teach. He tell you that you can sit down when you want. Relax a bit.

After an hour you ask him impatiently: "Why can't you help me?" He answers: "I have nothing to teach to you."

Then you wait another two hours. He asks you: "Have you learnt something?" You say: "Yes". You go home a bit less judgmental than when you were at the beginning.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-06-07T23:58:43.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's possible that the strategy of only judging those who break the anti-judgment norm is the optimal one. Kind of like how most people only condone violence against those who break the anti-violence norm.

Replies from: steven0461
comment by steven0461 · 2012-06-08T00:36:38.154Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

most people only condone violence against those who break the anti-violence norm

Most people condone violence for a lot more reasons than that.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-06-08T07:32:32.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A good example would be using violence to prevent or punish theft.

Some people solve this by stretching the meaning of "violence" to include theft... but if one follows this path, the word becomes increasingly unrelated to its original meaning.

Generally, it seems like a good heuristics to define a set of "forbidden behavior", with the exception that some kinds of "forbidden behavior" are allowed as a response to someone else's "forbidden behavior". This can help reduce the amount of "forbidden behavior" in society.

The only problem is that the definition of the "forbidden behavior" is arbitrary. It reflects the values of some part of the society, but some people will disagree and suggest changes to the definition. The proponents of given definition will then come with rationalizations why their definition is correct and the other one is not.

I guess it's the same with "judgement". The proponents of non-judgement usually have a set of exceptions: behaviors so bad that it is allowed to judge them. (Being judgemental, that is judging things not belonging to this set of exceptions, is usually one of them.) They just don't want to admit that this set is arbitrary, based on their values.

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:04:07.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was with you until you said the choice of forbidden behaviors was arbitrary.

No, it's not arbitrary; indeed, it's remarkably consistent across societies. Societies differ on their approaches to law, but in almost every society, randomly assaulting strangers is not allowed. Societies differ on their ideas on sex, but in almost every society, parents are forbidden from having sex with their children. Societies differ on their systems of property, in almost every society, it's forbidden to grab food out of other people's hands.

There are obviously a lot of biological and cultural reasons for the rules people choose, and rule systems do differ, so we have to decide which to use (is gay sex allowed? is abortion legal? etc.). But they're clearly not arbitrary; even the most radically different societies agree on a lot of things.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-06-09T15:44:34.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have enough data about behaviors in different cultures, but I suspect they are rather different. (I wish I had better data, such as a big table with cultures in columns, behaviors in rows, and specific norms in the cells.)

Of course it depends on how many details do we specify about the behavior. The more generally we speak, the more similar results will we get. For example if I ask "is it OK to have sex with anyone anytime, or is it regulated by some rules?", then yes, probably everywhere it is regulated. The more specific questions will show more disagreement, such as "is it OK for a woman to marry a man from a lower social class?" or "is it OK if a king marries his own sister?" or "if someone is dissatisfied with their sexual partner, is it OK to find another one?" (this question may have different answers for men and women).

Also it will depend on the behavior; some behaviors would have obvious disadvantages, such as anyone randomly attacking anyone... though it may be considered OK if a person from a higher class randomly attacks a person from a lower class, or if the attacked person is a member of a different tribe.

I guess there is a lot of mindkilling and disinformation involved in this topic, because if someone is a proponent of a given social norm, it benefits them to claim (truly or falsely) that all societies have the same norm; and if someone is an opponent, it benefits them to claim (truly or falsely) that some other societies have it differently. Even this strategy may be different in different cultures: some cultures may prefer to signal that they have universal values, other cultures may prefer to signal that they are different (read: better) than their neighbors.

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-11T01:30:26.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure that's right.

And my point wasn't to claim that there is no variation in moral values between societies; that's obviously untrue.

My main objection was to the word arbitrary; no, they're not arbitrary, they have causes in our culture and evolutionary history and some of these causes even rise to the level of justifications.

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-06-11T01:56:52.711Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who says that a society's moral values don't have causes? The issue is whether those causes are historically contingent (colloquailly, whether history could have happened in a way that different moral positions were adopted in a particular time and place).

Alternatively, can I suggest you taboo the word justification? The way I understand the term, saying moral positions are justified is contradicted by the proliferation of contradictory moral positions throughout time. (But I'm out of the mainstream in this community because I'm a moral anti-realist)

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-11T02:28:05.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The way I understand the term, saying moral positions are justified is contradicted by the proliferation of contradictory moral positions throughout time.

Would you apply the same logic to physical propositions? Would you claim that, for example, saying that astronomical positions are justified is contradicted by the proliferation of contradictory astronomical positions throughout time?

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-06-11T02:34:56.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-14T13:52:02.049Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

--Marie Curie

Replies from: Bakkot
comment by Bakkot · 2012-06-24T00:11:51.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)Replies from: Desrtopa, gwern
comment by Desrtopa · 2012-06-24T03:23:34.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, now people who are in the know can avoid fear by knowing to avoid doing the stuff that she did. It's mostly the people who believe that radiation is dangerously little understood to whom it seems scary.

Of course, I'd have to say the quote is still incorrect. If I understand that I'm a prisoner of war who's going to be tortured to make my superiors want to ransom me more, I'm damn well going to be afraid.

But I still find "Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less" awfully uplifting.

comment by gwern · 2012-06-24T03:10:51.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So the science gets done, and you make a neat quote, for the people who are still alive.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-05T12:20:04.589Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Understand that your system will resist change: Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience -- Admiral Rickover

found here

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-05T07:19:37.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Western World has been brainwashed by Aristotle for the last 2,500 years. The unconscious, not quite articulate, belief of most Occidentals is that there is one map which adequately represents reality. By sheer good luck, every Occidental thinks he or she has the map that fits. Guerrilla ontology, to me, involves shaking up that certainty.

I use what in modern physics is called the "multi-model" approach, which is the idea that there is more than one model to cover a given set of facts. As I've said, novel writing involves learning to think like other people. My novels are written so as to force the reader to see things through different reality grids rather than through a single grid. It's important to abolish the unconscious dogmatism that makes people think their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world. My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything. If one can only see things according to one's own belief system, one is destined to become virtually deaf, dumb, and blind. It's only possible to see people when one is able to see the world as others see it.

That's what guerrilla ontology is — breaking down this one-model view and giving people a multi-model perspective.

Robert Anton Wilson, from an interview

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham, rocurley, Snowyowl, bramflakes
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-06T18:59:10.390Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It depends what kind of maps. Multiple consistent maps are clearly a good thing (like switching from geometry to coordinates and back). Multiple inconsistent ad-hoc maps can be good if you have a way to choose which one to use when.

Wilson doesn't say which he means, I think he's guilty of imprecision.

Replies from: hairyfigment, John_Maxwell_IV
comment by hairyfigment · 2012-06-08T01:19:36.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think he means that people choose not to think about any map but their favorite one ("their way of looking at reality is the only sane way of viewing the world"), to the point where they can't estimate the conditional probability P(E|a) of the evidence given not-A.

The link with Aristotle seems weak. But the problem obviously makes it harder to use "the logic of probability," as Korzybski called it, and Wilson well knew that Korzybski contrasted probability with classical "Aristotelian" logic. (Note that K wrote before the Bayesian school of thought really took off, so we should expect some imprecision and even wrong turns from him.)

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-06-07T23:54:40.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or you could always just average your inconsistent maps together, or choose the median value. Should work better than choosing a map at random.

Replies from: Snowyowl
comment by Snowyowl · 2012-06-24T19:47:24.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or accept that each map is relevant to a different area, and don't try to apply a map to a part of the territory that it wasn't designed for.

And if you frequently need to use areas of the territory which are covered by no maps or where several maps give contradictory results, get better maps.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-25T06:12:16.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, keep around a meta-map that keeps track of which maps are good models of which parts of the territory.

Replies from: Snowyowl
comment by Snowyowl · 2012-06-26T19:32:50.498Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, that should work.

comment by rocurley · 2012-06-13T01:43:22.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By sheer good luck, every Occidental thinks he or she has the map that fits.

This seems unfair. I have a map; it reperesents what I think the universe is like. Certainty it is not perfect, but if I thought a different one was better I would adopt it. There is a distinction between "this is correct" and "I don't know how to pick something more correct".

comment by Snowyowl · 2012-06-24T19:59:48.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with Wilson's conclusions, though the quote is too short to tell if I reached this conclusion in the same way as he did.

Using several maps at once teaches you that your map can be wrong, and how to compare maps and find the best one. The more you use a map, the more you become attached to it, and the less inclined you are to experiment with other maps, or even to question whether your map is correct. This is all fine if your map is perfectly accurate, but in our flawed reality there is no such thing. And while there are no maps which state "This map is incorrect in all circumstances", there are many which state "This map is correct in all circumstances"; you risk the Happy Death Spiral if you use one of the latter. (I should hope most of your maps state "This map is probably correct in these specific areas, and it may make predictions in other areas but those are less likely to be correct".) Having several contradictory maps can be useful; it teaches you that no map is perfect.

comment by bramflakes · 2012-06-05T23:49:04.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Most people have a wrong map, therefore we should use multiple maps" doesn't follow. Reversed stupidity isn't intelligence, and in this case Aristotle appears to have been right all along.

If I'm out charting the oceans, I'd probably need to use multiple maps because the curvature of the Earth makes it difficult to accurately project it onto a single 2D surface, but I do that purely for the convenience of not having to navigate with a spherical map. I don't mistake my hodge-podge of inaccurate 2D maps for the reality of the 3D globe.

Replies from: kdorian, Emile, None, khafra
comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T15:03:15.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, but your "hodge-podge of inaccurate 2D maps", while still imperfect, is more accurate than relying on a single 2-D map - which is the point I took from the original quote.

comment by Emile · 2012-06-06T16:08:06.925Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that Google Maps can be described as "a hodge-podge of different maps"; a satellite map and a street map (and sometimes a 3D map if you use Google Earth), and using that hodge-podge is indeed more convenient than using one representation that tries to combine them all.

I know that you didn't mean hodge-podge in the same sense (you were talking of 3D-> 2D), but I think that Google Maps is a good illustration of how having different views of the same reality is useful.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-06T19:54:43.353Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't “convenience” also the reason not to use the territory itself as a map in the first place? You know, knowing quantum field theory and general relativity isn't going to give you many insights about (say) English grammar or evolutionary psychology.

comment by khafra · 2012-06-06T18:13:43.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're favoring hedgehogs over foxes, you're disagreeing with luminaries like Robin Hanson and billionaire investors like Charlie Munger. There is, in fact, far more than one globe--the one my parents had marked out the USSR, whereas ones sold today do not; and on the territory itself you won't see those lines and colorings at all.

Some recent quotes post here had something along the lines of "the only perfect map is a 1 to 1 correspondence with everything in the territory, and it's perfectly useless."

comment by shminux · 2012-06-04T07:14:13.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Rich people plan for three generations. Poor people plan for Saturday night." -- Gloria Steinem

The rest of her quotes are pretty good, too.

Replies from: pnrjulius, None
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T01:10:17.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's what I don't like about that quote: It doesn't tell me which way the causation goes (or if it's feedback, or a lurking variable, or a coincidence). Does being rich make you plan better? Or does planning better make you rich?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-04T07:36:46.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More like the reverse (but this is more because poor people cannot plan for Saturday night if they don't want to starve on Sunday).

Replies from: Swimmer963, handoflixue
comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-06-04T20:29:14.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Based on a book I just read called Poor Economics by Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee and Esther Duflo, it is true that extremely poor people are much, much less able to make and follow long-term plans than rich people. They suggest it has to do with various facets of a very poor person's life (for example, the difficulty of getting loans or even opening a savings account) and also with the "willpower depletion" aspect, because the everyday lives of the poor include so many small decisions that are made automatically by the societies that rich people live. Also, their research established that poor people, even those poor enough that they can't afford enough food to eat, still spend money on short-term luxuries, like sugary tea.

Good book to read. I would recommend it.

Replies from: enoonsti
comment by enoonsti · 2012-08-24T04:19:00.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I absolutely love Poor Economics.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-06-04T19:59:23.082Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding that and upvoting since I can't see why this should be negative.

Replies from: David_Gerard
comment by David_Gerard · 2012-06-11T15:06:44.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because politics is the mindkiller, unless it's libertarian politics in which case it's just normal.

Replies from: handoflixue
comment by handoflixue · 2012-06-11T17:38:35.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahh, hypocrisy and double standards then :(

Replies from: Ben_Welchner
comment by Ben_Welchner · 2012-06-11T17:59:12.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I figured it was because it was a surprising and more-or-less unsupported statement of fact (that turned out to be, according to the only authority anyone cited, false). When I read 'poor people are better long-term planners than rich people due to necessity' I kind of expect the writer to back it up. I would have considered downvoting if it wasn't already downvoted, and my preferences are much closer to socialist than libertarian.

I don't have an explanation for the parent getting upvoted beyond a 'planning is important' moral and some ideological wiggle room for being a quote, so I guess it could still be hypocrisy. Of course, as of the 2011 survey LW is 32% libertarian (compared to 26% socialist and 34% liberal), so if there is ideological bias it's of the 'vocal minority' kind.

comment by Grognor · 2012-06-01T13:46:09.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To change your mind it does not suffice to change your opinion.

-Aaron Haspel

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-06-01T14:05:13.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no context in the source, so: WTF?

Replies from: Grognor
comment by Grognor · 2012-06-01T14:28:10.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He is using "mind" in a broader sense than people usually do with the phrase "change your mind".

Replies from: MixedNuts
comment by MixedNuts · 2012-06-01T15:19:30.282Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A reasonable interpretation could be "changing one of your beliefs doesn't automatically change your other related beliefs, your aliefs, your habits and your behavioral triggers". But "changing your mind" could also mean "changing anything about your mind, such as a personality trait or even a mood".

Replies from: fubarobfusco, Grognor
comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-06-01T19:07:10.419Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For instance, becoming intellectually convinced that sexual jealousy is a bad idea does not purge you of experiencing any.

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2012-06-03T21:14:26.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah. So not only is he using "mind" unusually, he's also using "opinion" unusually. And "change" idiomatically.

Well then, it's trivial!

comment by Grognor · 2012-06-02T21:29:36.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another example: Learning that an opinion of yours was wrong does not destroy all the broken cognitive processes that generated the wrong opinion in the first place.

I think people are seriously underestimating the value of this quote, but then again of course I do; I'm the one who posted it.

comment by witzvo · 2012-06-08T06:19:10.456Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here, we report that colonization by gut microbiota impacts mammalian brain development and subsequent adult behavior. Using measures of motor activity and anxiety-like behavior, we demonstrate that germ free (GF) mice display increased motor activity and reduced anxiety, compared with specific pathogen free (SPF) mice with a normal gut micro- biota. ... Hence, our results suggest that the microbial colonization process initiates signaling mechanisms that affect neuronal circuits involved in motor control and anxiety behavior.

--Hejitz et.al.

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2012-06-08T07:58:58.836Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the significance of this?

Replies from: witzvo
comment by witzvo · 2012-06-08T08:06:31.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Intestinal bacteria have an effect on the nervous system: they affect how we think and how we feel and how our mind develops. This is pretty recent science written by scientists about the function of our mind (or murine minds, at least). That makes it an interesting rationality quote, in my opinion.

Replies from: Nornagest, Swimmer963
comment by Nornagest · 2012-06-08T09:04:25.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's interesting, all right, but I think it would likely be better received as a standalone Discussion post (ideally with some more context and expansion). The rationality quotes threads tend to be more for quotes directly about rationality or bias than quotes indirectly contributing to our potential understanding of the same.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2012-06-08T13:05:57.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it could make a pretty interesting Discussion post, and would pair well with some discussion of how becoming a cyborg supposedly makes you less empathic.

Replies from: witzvo
comment by witzvo · 2012-06-09T02:47:35.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Serious question: is the cyborg part a joke? I can't tell around here.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2012-06-09T03:55:38.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair question! I phrased it a little flippantly, but it was a sincere sentiment - I've heard somewhere or other that receiving a prosthetic limb results in a decrease in empathy, something to do with becoming detached from the physical world, and this ties in intriguingly with the scifi trope about cyborging being dehumanizing.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2012-06-08T13:46:15.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? If true, then that is fascinating... Can you link to any of the recent research, though?

Replies from: witzvo
comment by witzvo · 2012-06-09T02:45:47.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT: by popular demand. I'll be moving this to a discussion instead.

EDIT: the discussion thread is here

As in the attribution, I'm quoting from: Hejitz et.al.: Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior, 2011.

Here is a review paper.

See also the current special section of science magazine, or google scholar.

Here's the abstract from The Relationship Between Intestinal Microbiota and the Central Nervous System in Normal Gastrointestinal Function and Disease00346-1/abstract):

Although many people are aware of the communication that occurs between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system, fewer know about the ability of the central nervous system to influence the microbiota or of the microbiota's influence on the brain and behavior. Within the GI tract, the microbiota have a mutually beneficial relationship with their host that maintains normal mucosal immune function, epithelial barrier integrity, motility, and nutrient absorption. Disruption of this relationship alters GI function and disease susceptibility. Animal studies suggest that perturbations of behavior, such as stress, can change the composition of the microbiota; these changes are associated with increased vulnerability to inflammatory stimuli in the GI tract. The mechanisms that underlie these alterations are likely to involve stress-induced changes in GI physiology that alter the habitat of enteric bacteria. Furthermore, experimental perturbation of the microbiota can alter behavior, and the behavior of germ-free mice differs from that of colonized mice. Gaining a better understanding of the relationship between behavior and the microbiota could provide insight into the pathogenesis of functional and inflammatory bowel disorders.

Here are results from an RCT on humans with chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is complex illness of unknown etiology. Among the broad range of symptoms, many patients report disturbances in the emotional realm, the most frequent of which is anxiety. Research shows that patients with CFS and other so-called functional somatic disorders have alterations in the intestinal microbial flora. Emerging studies have suggested that pathogenic and non-pathogenic gut bacteria might influence mood-related symptoms and even behavior in animals and humans. In this pilot study, 39 CFS patients were randomized to receive either 24 billion colony forming units of Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (LcS) or a placebo daily for two months. Patients provided stool samples and completed the Beck Depression and Beck Anxiety Inventories before and after the intervention. We found a significant rise in both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria in those taking the LcS, and there was also a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms among those taking the probiotic vs controls (p = 0.01). These results lend further support to the presence of a gut-brain interface, one that may be mediated by microbes that reside or pass through the intestinal tract.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-02T05:39:30.805Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: VKS
comment by VKS · 2012-06-02T22:43:30.932Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Duplicate of this. (Well, close enough that the monicker should apply.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T03:32:02.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-26T21:10:46.034Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On lost purposes:

The therapy changed my life. It feels as if I added a new sense to my palate of senses. I feel as if I was color blind for many years and at last I can see every color. Now that I’ve learned to recognize my pain, I can do something about it. I am so much happier today than I ever was before. While my friends may not have consciously recognized the big change in me, they have stopped calling me clueless and now often come to me for advice.

Did this solve my problem of tiredness? When Ella Friedman told me that I was no longer depressed, I still felt tired. I started investigating it further. It turns out that the depression was a result of the tiredness, not the other way around. It seems that I have a sleeping disorder and an iron problem.

-- Tanya Khovanova

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-06T07:55:28.989Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.

George Carlin

comment by Stabilizer · 2012-06-03T00:15:48.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was impossible for sure. OK. So, let’s start working.

-Philippe Petit. On the idea of walking rope in between the World Trade Center towers.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T00:25:41.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was impossible for sure. OK. So, let’s start working.

-Philippe Petit. On the idea of walking rope in between the World Trade Center towers.

It's not impossible for sure now. If he thought it was impossible when they were actually in existence then he doesn't remotely understand the word. That is beyond even a "Shut up and do the impossible!" misuse.

Replies from: Stabilizer
comment by Stabilizer · 2012-06-03T02:03:13.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand. Are you saying it wasn't impossible enough?

He actually did it in 1974. It took nearly six years of planning. In order to practice for the walk between the World Trade Center towers he first did tightrope walks between the towers of the Notre Dame and then the Sydney Harbor Bridge. All of these were of course illegal. In WTC case, he had to sneak in, tie the ropes between the towers without anyone knowing and walked between the towers without any harness for nearly 45 mins at that height with the wind and everything. For the complete details, watch the documentary 'Man on Wire'. I think it was as impossible as it got in his line of work.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T09:02:32.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand.

How on earth could you not understand? If this is sincere incomprehension then all I can do is point to google: define.

Are you saying it wasn't impossible enough?

Yes. This quote is an example of nothing more than how to be confused about words and speak hyperbole for the sake of bravado.

If you have to ask whether something is "impossible enough" you have already answered your question.

Replies from: None, Stabilizer
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-03T21:45:47.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How on earth could you not understand? If this is sincere incomprehension then all I can do is point to google: define.

Have you seen Google's definitions yourself? Because 2. does seem to match what Stabilizer means.

comment by Stabilizer · 2012-06-03T21:45:43.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How on earth could you not understand?

Your sentence wasn't clear enough.

About your gripe with use of the word impossible: it's a quote. Most of the quotes are like applause-lights. Everybody who read that quote understood the intent and meaning. Philippe Petit didn't employ the literal meaning of impossible. But the literal meaning of 'impossible' is rarely used in colloquial contexts. Even in 'Shut up and do the impossible', the absolute literal meaning is not employed. Because if the literal meaning is used, then by definition you can't do it, ever. So the only thing left is the degree of impossibility. You say that the task was too doable to be considered 'impossible' under your standards. Fine. Just mentally replace 'impossible' in that sentence with 'really goddamn hard that no one's done before and everyone would call me crazy if I told them I'm going to do it' and you'd read it the way most people would read it. The spirit of the quote would still survive.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-03T22:08:29.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About your gripe with use of the word impossible: it's a quote. Most of the quotes are like applause-lights.

Yes, it's an applause light. It isn't one that made me applaud. It isn't a rationalist quote. It doesn't belong here.

Just mentally replace 'impossible' in that sentence

No. I instead choose to mentally replace the quote entirely with a better one and oppose this one. Even Nike's "Just Do It" is strictly superior as rationalist quote, despite being somewhat lacking in actionable detail.

Replies from: kdorian
comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T15:13:54.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It isn't a rationalist quote. It doesn't belong here.

I am forced to disagree; a quote about conquering the (colloquially) impossible with sufficient thought and planning is very appropriate for this site.

comment by wmorgan · 2012-06-01T14:27:20.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have to know exactly what you want, and you have to know exactly how to get it.

Eben Moglen, on how to change the world

Replies from: gwern, ChristianKl
comment by gwern · 2012-06-02T19:31:00.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think Moglen always knew exactly what he was doing.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-06-02T19:52:56.406Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I've never heard of him, so perhaps he didn't change the world either.

Replies from: JoshuaZ, gjm, tgb, NancyLebovitz, wedrifid
comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-06-02T23:12:05.289Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A lot more people have heard of Michael Jordan than have heard of Norman Borlaug. Yet Borlaug is one of the few humans on the planet who can be personally credited with saving millions of lives. Who one has heard of is not likely to be highly correlated with what impact people have had.

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, pnrjulius
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-06-03T00:04:23.017Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I did perform a quick Google check after writing the comment and before posting it, just to make sure.)

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2012-06-03T00:50:52.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Somewhat ironically, I actually have heard of Moglen for what he's really famous for, but I thought the quote was from Elon Musk (for whom, it should be said, the quote would be much truer - so far). I was surprised you hadn't heard of him, so I checked Wikipedia and then realized my mistake.

comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T02:10:12.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And sadly, more people know who Snooki is than know who Jonas Salk was.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2012-06-09T09:20:57.075Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't be surprised if more people had heard of Jonas Salk, especially outside the US (although I reckon JoshuaZ's right about Michael Jordan & Norman Borlaug).

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-09T10:16:07.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had never heard of either, but after googling both I suspect that there are more people in the US who have heard of Snooki than people who have heard of Jonas Salk worldwide.

Replies from: satt
comment by satt · 2012-06-09T22:51:20.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Snooki's pretty well-known in the US, but Jonas Salk's got staying power. Salk was a big American celebrity in his own right and is probably better known than Snooki among the middle-aged and certainly the old in the US & UK. As most people in the US & UK are at least 35-40 that might be enough to make Salk better known overall in those two countries.

Snooki does gets more hits & searches on Google but Salk's been a name for far longer and even holds his own against some rock stars in mentions in books.

Salk & Snooki are presumably less famous in non-Anglophone countries, and Salk must be worse off in that respect (reality TV antics better overcome language barriers), but he still has his half-century headstart, and the global effort to beat polio must've raised Salk's profile in quite a few countries.

comment by gjm · 2012-06-02T22:49:31.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the defence team of Phil Zimmermann in the PGP case. General counsel of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center. Mostly responsible for the changes between version 2 and version 3 of the GNU General Public License.

I'm not sure any of that counts as changing the world, but it does seem like he's had some impact.

comment by tgb · 2012-06-03T15:31:08.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the context of the youtube link where the quote is from, he is saying what he learned from working under Thurgood Marshall - a man who probably did change the world.

Furthermore, what he is saying seems trivially true; the thing you need to know to change the world is how to get the change that you want. Knowing which things you need to know doesn't imply that you know those things!

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-03T03:41:26.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Moglen on what the world needs -- in particular, for young people to have full access to computer hardware and software so that they can innovate, and privacy so that people can reboot their lives. I'm not sure whether this is giddy idealism or reasonable and important.

Replies from: pnrjulius
comment by pnrjulius · 2012-06-09T02:04:05.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does it mean, "reboot their lives"?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-06-09T04:39:18.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Start over with a new identity.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-02T23:02:22.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And I've never heard of him, so perhaps he didn't change the world either.

I assume this message is intended as some sort of irony? (Just because the message as a straight statement seems wrong and not in fitting to what your world saving attitudes seem to be.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-06-03T17:44:30.870Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When it comes to big things I don't think that you often know beforehand exactly how to get it. As you progress you learn more and it makes often sense to change course. A lot of startups have to pivot to find their way to change the world.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-06-20T02:36:24.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love truth. It's such a wonderful thing. It makes you sane, helps you make better, more effective decisions and it irks all the right people. -Aaron Clarey aka "Captain Capitalism"

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-17T06:34:31.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Buy pizza, pay with snakes.

  • Advice Dog
Replies from: Desrtopa
comment by Desrtopa · 2012-06-23T14:36:52.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious as to the algorithm that flagged this as a rationality quote.

Replies from: Multiheaded
comment by Multiheaded · 2012-06-23T14:47:04.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, mostly it was just me having... uhm... an episode, but the idea of getting something you want by giving away something you'd like to get rid of - and being on the lookout for an opportunity to do so - is indeed quite rational. It's just that there are few such excellent opportunities in daily life, and the "getting rid" part often has delayed costs that come back to you later. Like the delivery guy calling the police.

comment by thespymachine · 2012-06-15T20:27:57.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I must die. But must I die bawling?"

  • Epictetus
comment by Nornagest · 2012-06-13T03:36:21.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no evidence to show that man is created and accoutered to serve as God's vice-regent upon the earth. There is no reason to believe that he is naturally good and kind and brave and wise, or ever was. On the contrary, there is much to show that he is a beast, that has taken a strange turning in the jungle and blundered rather aimlessly into a mental world in which he is certainly not at home. [...]

That is his beauty and his significance: that out of the primordial forces of sex and survival he has forged reason and science, and spun the gossamer splendor of art and love. [...]

If we wish identity with a greater power, let us seek a union with ourself -- our total self raised to its highest potential of wisdom, knowledge, and experience. If we wish to unite with the universe, let us court the whole of nature, all experience, all truth, the wonder and the terror, the splendor and the pity and the pain of the awesome cosmos itself.

Jack Parsons

Replies from: stcredzero
comment by stcredzero · 2012-06-15T18:24:29.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this quote is like a paraphrase of, "a sense that something more is possible." Imagine if someone invented a drug that gave chimpanzees the highest human levels of rationality at random intervals, for a total of about a half hour per day. They'd be pretty much like humans, only physically stronger.

EDIT: Downvoted? My comment is negative about humans, but it's hopeful. Human nature is pretty squalid, but there is plenty of opportunity for improvement. (Imagine if we could get the median human to the point where they're operating with clarity twice as much as they are now. Or for that matter, imagine myself.)

comment by TimS · 2012-06-08T19:40:40.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.

Judge Learned Hand

Replies from: Mass_Driver, Gust
comment by Mass_Driver · 2012-06-15T03:10:51.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like Judge Learned Hand, but I think this particular quote is just Deep Wisdom. Living in a pleasant society requires both good laws and good people. There is very little substantive content in LH's oratory. He could just as easily have made the opposite point:

What does it mean to strive for fairness or impartiality? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon virtue, upon self-discipline, and upon honor. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Justice is simply a matter of fair play; when the rules are made to be broken, no amount of personal virtue can keep a man from temptation, and when the rules are honestly followed by one's peers, no special virtue is needed to join them.

comment by Gust · 2012-06-11T04:44:42.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the quote, but I don't see how it relates to rationality.

Replies from: TimS
comment by TimS · 2012-06-11T11:18:52.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are people in the real world who think that having a good enough decision-making process for making moral decisions (like deciding the right result in litigation) ensures a morally upright decision.

Up to this point, decision-making procedures have always been implemented by humans, so the quality of the decision-making process is not enough to ensure that a morally upright decision will be made. The better guarantee of morally upright decision-making is morally upright decision-makers.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-06-01T16:27:55.578Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humor is the brain rewarding us for finding errors and inconsistencies in our thinking.

Eric Barker

Replies from: fubarobfusco
comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-06-01T18:34:49.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How does this account for the use of humor in mocking outgroup members?

Replies from: James_Miller
comment by James_Miller · 2012-06-01T19:04:37.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It doesn't.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-06-12T02:29:40.712Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you choose technology, you have to ignore what other people are doing, and consider only what will work the best. -Paul Graham

Replies from: robertskmiles, wedrifid, soreff
comment by robertskmiles · 2012-06-15T15:22:25.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless your technology will be required to interact with the technology other people are using, which is most of the time. "What will work best" often depends heavily on "what other people are doing".

Replies from: shokwave
comment by shokwave · 2012-06-15T15:33:02.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, at that point you still only consider what will work the best. It's a nitpick, but "what will work the best when others do this" is a different question to "what are the other people doing".

Replies from: robertskmiles
comment by robertskmiles · 2012-06-15T16:11:11.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely. What I mean is that they are incompatible. In the common case, it's impossible to simultaneously "consider what will work best" and "ignore what other people are doing". Figuring out what will work best requires paying attention to what other people are doing.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-06-12T02:58:19.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you choose technology, you have to ignore what other people are doing, and consider only what will work the best. -Paul Graham

I find myself doing the latter via reference to the former.

comment by soreff · 2012-06-14T18:54:45.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the things that other people do is to build standard parts. If one has an unlimited budget, one can ignore them, and build everything in a project from optimized custom parts. This is rare.

comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T14:48:55.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very few people see their own actions as truly evil.... It is left to their victims to decide what is evil and what is not.

Laurell K. Hamilton

A quote I find useful when considering both rationalizing, and the differences of relative perspective.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-06-06T16:37:33.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. Their victims decide, rather than everyone they affect deciding?
I don't think I agree.

Replies from: kdorian
comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T23:53:53.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't see how but that both the victims, and everyone else they affect, deciding. That doesn't mean they'll all come to the same conclusion, of course.

I'm pretty sure that's where politics comes from, personally...

Edited to add: I do not mean to imply that if one group decides X, another Y, and a third Z, that it necessarily means that any of them are wrong.

comment by Gastogh · 2012-06-09T16:15:59.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whatever doubt or doctrinal Atheism you and your friends may have, don't fall into moral atheism.

-Charles Kingsley

Replies from: Ben_Welchner
comment by Ben_Welchner · 2012-06-09T16:33:29.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: Gastogh
comment by Gastogh · 2012-06-10T19:18:02.299Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It paraphrases the bottom line of the metaethics sequence - or what I took to be the bottom line of those posts, anyway. Namely, that one can have values and a naturalistic worldview at the same time.

Replies from: VKS
comment by VKS · 2012-06-10T19:34:49.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, having values is moral theism? The choice of words seems suspect.

Replies from: Gastogh
comment by Gastogh · 2012-06-10T21:29:08.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say "moral atheism" is being used as an idiomatic expression; a set of more than one word with a meaning that's gestalt to its individual components. One of the synonyms for "atheism" is "godlessness", so by analogy "moral atheism" would just mean "morality-lessness".

Replies from: VKS
comment by VKS · 2012-06-10T23:17:33.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have a word for "morality-lessness", and it is amorality, which coincidentally works more naturally in your analogy: If morality is analogous to theism, then a-morality is analogous to a-theism.

I hope you understand my trouble with the use of an idiom that implicitly equates morality with theism. (Well, amorality with atheism, which is more the problem.)

(sorry about all the edits, this was written horribly.)

comment by kdorian · 2012-06-06T14:42:53.352Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your knowledge of what is going on can only be superficial and relative.

William S. Burroughs

Replies from: shokwave
comment by shokwave · 2012-06-07T19:48:22.510Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My immediate reaction was "No, my knowledge of what is going on starts out superficial and relative, but it sure doesn't stay that way". (I object to the "only").

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-03T09:59:31.642Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.

-Eric Hoffer

Replies from: DanArmak
comment by DanArmak · 2012-06-04T07:20:51.951Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That may be Deep Wisdom but it's surface nonsense. Propaganda contains many untruths that people end up honestly believing in. The quote effectively says "propaganda is useless if only one is brave enough to believe what they know (how?) is really true". This is simply wrong.

Replies from: Jayson_Virissimo, Strange7
comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-06-04T09:18:25.645Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That may be Deep Wisdom but it's surface nonsense.

It definitely isn't nonsense, because I know it is literally false.

Propaganda contains many untruths that people end up honestly believing in. The quote effectively says "propaganda is useless if only one is brave enough to believe what they know (how?) is really true". This is simply wrong.


comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-04T08:52:02.661Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the idea is that propaganda provides an easy answer, but doesn't really prevent anyone from doing research to find the harder answer. A more detailed example here.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier, bbleeker
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-05T03:35:04.578Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except people don't have the time to research every statement they hear.

Replies from: Viliam_Bur, Strange7
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-06-05T21:12:34.782Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except people don't have the time to research every statement they hear.

But they also often accept statements they should doubt based on the information they already have. Motivated thinking is there, it just needs an official voice that reassures them that they will be in majority even if they are actually wrong.

Replies from: Eugine_Nier
comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-06-06T05:18:02.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As mentioned in this post, I think you're underestimating how many of our ideas come from the group.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-06-05T04:11:24.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course not every statement!

Assuming widespread literacy and other educational prerequisites for industrialization, two or three hours per citizen per month poking at the justifications behind the reigning political party's most central claims, including (but certainly not limited to) seeking out and asking reasonable questions of those who already disagree with such claims, would be enough to utterly shred most historical propaganda efforts by sheer weight of numbers. If even half the people who attended one of Hitler's rallies thought afterwards "Those were some pretty strong claims; I should go find some Jewish spokesperson to hear the other side of the story" and then made a reasonable effort to do so, do you think things would have gone the same way?

comment by bbleeker · 2012-06-04T09:28:42.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for the link to that story.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2012-06-07T23:31:45.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All generalizations are inaccurate, including this one.

Dwight Eisenhower

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2012-06-09T03:15:32.346Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Be careful of quotes on the internet.

Abraham Lincoln

(Okay, seriously, this has also variously been attributed to Mark Twain and Cicero, so if you're going to credit Eisenhower, maybe do so with a specific source)

comment by James_Miller · 2012-06-01T16:41:13.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Should acronyms count as quotes? If so then:

KISS -- Keep it simple, stupid!

Replies from: billswift
comment by billswift · 2012-06-03T00:57:16.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Versions I prefer, especially for writing:

Keep It Simple and Succinct, or Keep It Simple and Salient,

the latter one doesn't work as well, since you almost always have to explain that in the context "salient" means "to the point".

Replies from: Snowyowl
comment by Snowyowl · 2012-06-24T20:04:43.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The latter one doesn't work at all, since it sounds rather like you're ignoring the very advice you're trying to give.