Good luck, Mr. Rationalist

post by Stuart_Armstrong · 2013-04-29T18:44:06.652Z · score: 4 (29 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 76 comments

Is there any rationalist equivalent of "good luck"? I've tried a few variants, such as "work well", "knock them dead", "we're with you" and certain situation-specific phrasings, but haven't found anything that worked generally - though a hearty "may all the gods of Olympus be with you!" can serve. Not a vitally important point, but it would be nice to have something similarly supportive and yet accurate to say.

76 comments

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comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-04-30T05:40:14.965Z · score: 31 (33 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do we really want even more quirky shibboleths that can be worn as attire without having to actually learn anything difficult and useful?

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-04-30T19:42:54.758Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like some more of those, yes. Tribal bonding is instrumentally useful.

(Of course this is an "all else equal" thing and you want shibboleths that don't turn away outsiders or promote biased thinking or etc etc etc, insert your own caveats. Some of these suggestions seem low-cost and some don't. I'm not persuaded we should adopt any of these in particular, but in principle it seems like a good avenue to explore.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-03T12:32:29.931Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You mean we don't already have more than enough of those?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-05-14T19:26:18.520Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm far from convinced that this approach to rationality should be bound to a single tribal identification. True enough, tribal bonding is useful in the right situations, and identifying strongly with, say, your local meetup group seems like it could be instrumentally valuable for many of our contributors, but it seems far sketchier for LW as a whole: we're delving into difficult and controversial territory here, and going full-bore tribal in our organizational tactics seems like a good way to devalue outside views on our stuff that we really need to be considering.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-15T16:03:21.629Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you think of any examples of LW brushing off outside views in an unhelpful way? I would be surprised if you could. The most upvoted post on the site is an outsider critiquing one of our sacred cows.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2013-04-30T17:02:02.532Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, but I want to think about it and see what other people think about it.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-04-30T19:40:54.480Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like some more of those, yes. Tribal bonding is instrumentally useful. (Of course this is an "all else equal" thing and you want shibboleths that don't turn away outsiders or promote biased thinking or etc etc etc, insert your own caveats. Some of these suggestions seem low-cost and some don't.)

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-29T18:54:34.993Z · score: 29 (29 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not "good luck"?

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-04-29T19:54:44.863Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that it feels empty. If you have or have not got luck, then I doubt it will change by me saying so. It also implies that it's not down to you, but to some sort of chance.

Similar with 'I hope things get better'. I'm certainly not helping you.

Instead of 'good luck', I tend to say something like "I know you're a capable person, and I expect you to do well. Do not worry, because I have taken the outside view for you, and told you it looks good."

Instead of 'I hope things get better' I tend to say something along the lines of "I want you to know that I and others are here to help you if you need it, so try not to worry".

comment by Raemon · 2013-04-29T21:59:26.700Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's two very different reasons to say phrases, and your suggestions here are for something different than the circumstances you say "Good luck" in.

Sort of similar to the phrase "What's up?" or "How are you doing?" - the purpose is not to respond with a detailed (or even short but accurate) explanation of how you're doing. You're supposed to say "fine, you?"

You're not exchanging information, you are engaging in a short social bonding ritual in which you acknowledge each other's presence and familiarity before either moving on (either to a real conversation, small talk, getting down to some particular task, or parting ways). On special occasions, when it's the right time, you might actually inquire "Hey, how have you been doing lately? Haven't seen you a while?" and then one would respond with a serious, informative answer.

Similarly, "Good luck" is not (usually) a heartfelt thing you say to earnestly convey how you wish someone to do, it's a reflexive thing you say in the midst of a complex social situation. When you do want to earnestly convey a heartfelt wellwishing, you probably want to take the time to come up with something customized to the situation rather than a short, memorizable catchphrase.

The issue (as I understand it, anyway), is that one might want to build up a repertoire of short social-glue catchphrases that collectively build up certain ideas, or don't promote ideas you don't like. For example, "God Bless", even by earnest believers, is mostly an empty phrase you use as social-glue, not an earnest expression of the desire for God to bless someone, but it still over time builds up a normalcy of "God is important."

I think "Good luck" is reasonable (rationalists should believe in luck), but if we do want to promoting skill, specifically, then it may be good to find something easy to say, short, which emphasizes that.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-30T16:25:54.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most usual Italian phrase for wishing someone well (in situations where skills do play a sizeable role compared to random chance, otherwise we say ‘good luck’ as well) literally means ‘in the wolf's mouth’ (don't ask). So, guess how much I can care about the literal meaning of such phrases! :-)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-30T03:42:01.569Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also implies that it's not down to you, but to some sort of chance.

Outcomes of our actions are influenced by our actions, and are also influenced by external forces - often ones we don't know about in advance. Believing that fact can plausibly have a negative impact on one's motivation and performance. But there is also a positive aspect to having your locus of control moved outward, other than the whole accurate beliefs thing: a poor outcome is less indicative of poor performance, and a very good outcome doesn't have to reflect an outlier performance one is doomed to regressed away from, but merely an outlier event, unrelated to your skill level - a skill level which surely isn't waning to the detriment of your performance in status-granting contests, no sir.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-04-29T19:24:46.619Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding this question. It's not at all clear to me that rationalists should shun the concept of luck.

comment by Pablo_Stafforini · 2013-04-29T20:45:56.779Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree. See Richard Wiseman's "The Luck Factor", Skeptical Inquirer (May/June, 2003). Wiseman is a public psychologist, paranormal investigator and author of 59 Seconds (free copy; Anki deck), arguably the best scientific self-help book out there.

EDIT: I just saw that Trevor_Blake had already posted a link to Wiseman's paper on luck.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-29T19:49:33.270Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Should you also stop saying "goodbye" since the origin of the word is 'God be with you?' Or stop called celestial bodies "planets" because they do not in fact 'wander?' Good to be rational, less good to enshrine rationality against contamination by humanity and language and culture and history.

Here is a rational take on luck (4 page PDF, recommended)...

http://richardwiseman.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/the_luck_factor.pdf

comment by amacfie · 2013-04-30T16:40:22.589Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's a question of live vs. dead metaphors

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-30T16:28:16.842Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And we should stop calling “Wednesday” like that, because it's named after Odin!

(FWIW, I didn't come up with this one myself; it's the standard retort when someone proposes to ban AD and BC from Wikipedia in favour of CE and BCE.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-30T13:30:46.661Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The original post strikes me as making a huge mountain out of a molehill as well.

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2013-04-30T01:46:42.047Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't have anything constructive to say to a person and want to signal wishing their success I think good luck works just fine.

Either way, if the receiver is another "rationalist", they will understand, and if not, don't try to freak out the normals.

comment by Stabilizer · 2013-04-29T22:37:31.179Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Deserve your luck by exploiting it."

Inspired from:

If we succeed in recalling a formerly solved problem which is closely related to our present problem, we are lucky. We should try to deserve such luck; we may deserve it by exploiting it.

-George Polya, How to Solve It.

I love the inversion. You can deserve your luck post hoc, not just a priori.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-01T07:38:06.997Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which goes back to the phrases "luck is 99% preparation/perspiration".

comment by Vaniver · 2013-04-29T20:54:09.444Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My favorite intellectually is "choose well," but I haven't successfully used it much because in the moment it sounds too ominous.

comment by Alex_Altair · 2013-04-29T21:50:33.427Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I prefer the variant, "May you choose wisely." Also "May your premises be sound."

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2013-04-30T04:38:03.890Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm using these.

comment by Yossarian · 2013-04-30T04:50:05.075Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Choose well is a nice salutation for instrumental rationality. But what about, "Know much and choose well" to cover epistemic and instrumental rationality?

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-04-30T05:21:31.627Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Freeze long and proper" for the cryonically inclined Trekkies.

comment by Plasmon · 2013-04-30T05:37:56.905Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fun fact : the Vulcan greeting originated in ancient Egypt.

comment by TimS · 2013-04-30T06:15:41.512Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think your wikipedia link points to what you intend. The salute is not the slogan (and the salute is of Jewish origin).

comment by James_Miller · 2013-04-29T20:05:32.509Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Victory!

CFAR workshop classes (I think) often ended with the class saying this.

comment by mwengler · 2013-04-30T14:33:35.399Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Live long and prosper."

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-04-29T18:55:35.082Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Godspeed"? :-)

I suggest not worrying about it and just using "Good luck". I doubt the gods of rationality will punish you for it.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-04-29T20:56:21.072Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Success." I picked it up after watching an English movie with Dutch subtitles. That's how they translated "Good luck."

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-04-29T19:02:02.160Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, if the goal is to imply the possibility of failure and the desire that they succeed, in some circles "Strike the earth!" would suffice.

comment by Baughn · 2013-04-29T21:53:34.910Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very, very selective circles. But I approve.

comment by cody-bryce · 2013-04-30T17:00:37.896Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Good luck" isn't particularly irrational. There is indeed such a thing as luck -- external things working to your favor or not. (Rationalists, like everyone else, hopes that these things work in our favor.)

The phrase can be sort of unempowering though, so "kick some ass", "knock 'em dead", etc. can prove better encouragement at times, as well as longer, more sincere encouragement.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-05-15T21:21:21.798Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is indeed such a thing as luck -- external things working to your favor or not. (Rationalists, like everyone else, hope that these things work in our favor.)

I think "hope" is a mostly meaningless and sometimes harmful concept that should be suppressed (similarly to the urge to rationalize, or to care about sunk costs). These things have their value as heuristics, but it's easy enough to evaluate their queries explicitly instead of unreflectively following the emotion. (For example, hope makes salient the expected value of highly valuable unlikely things; rationalization protects you from blame; sunk costs motivate continued planning of ongoing projects).

comment by DataPacRat · 2013-04-29T22:34:55.611Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depending on the venue, "Qapla'!" ("Success!") could be a suitable replacement.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-04-30T06:27:50.625Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It'd have to be a very specific venue for me to feel comfortable speaking Klingon at people.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-04-30T12:20:13.397Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But if it is, you could try "SoH retlhDaq Suvjaj qeylIS!" ("May Kahless fight beside you!")

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-04-30T17:19:29.144Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This signals a lot of things, but rationality isn't one of them.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-04-29T20:26:06.219Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In sufficiently selective venues, I've been known to say "Good skill!" and "May the random variables be in your favor!"

comment by Wei_Dai · 2013-04-29T23:09:20.375Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"May the random variables be in your favor!"

I think "may the logical uncertainties resolve in your favor" makes a bit more sense, at least if you assume a multiverse/UDT setup where only logical facts determine the value of one's utility function, and "random variables" being favorable/unfavorable is just an illusion where copies of you at different locations in the multiverse experience different inputs.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-04-30T00:20:50.800Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, right. I think a nonrandom variable situation actually came up and I said "May the unknown variables be in your favor" or "May the hidden variables be in your favor".

comment by Armok_GoB · 2013-04-30T17:24:13.022Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why use this instead of the simpler "May the outcome be in your favour" which is also more accurate for what you really mean?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-29T20:49:00.825Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

These days, the latter will likely be interpreted as a misquoted Hunger Games reference in some venues that might otherwise seem sufficiently selective.

comment by Baughn · 2013-04-29T21:52:13.766Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't watched Hunger Games. Or read it. I do like that phrasing, though.

Will using it give the wrong impression?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-04-29T22:48:17.720Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Will using it give the wrong impression?

Well, it will give the impression (if interpreted that way) of being a pop culture reference when it's not, but I assume that's not what you mean.

It's not as obviously problematic as if, say, the HG characters were simply rolling dice to see who survived, or devoting significant resources to invoking the favor of their gods, or some such antirationalist meme; the movie is at least nodding in the direction of game theoretical concerns, if not necessarily showing much insight into them. So it could be worse.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-29T20:59:02.773Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that not the intended interpretation?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2013-04-29T21:42:53.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nope, was using that before I read (some of) Hunger Games.

comment by AnthonyC · 2013-05-03T13:31:04.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Good Skill" was standard in my high school's marching band. Not a particularly rational venue, but it was specifically intended to discourage blaming anything on luck - the idea being that whatever happened, you could have practiced harder and gotten a different outcome.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-04-29T19:40:13.655Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Do your best!"

(I'll only actually say "Ganbatte, ne!" if the other person is geeky enough to appreciate it.)

comment by Tuxedage · 2013-05-04T04:22:38.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why does being able to speak in Japanese imply geekdom?

comment by Nornagest · 2013-05-04T05:21:03.253Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll assume here that the speaker is neither culturally Japanese nor in Japan. Even under that assumption, being able to speak Japanese probably doesn't imply geekdom too strongly -- strictly speaking it's evidence for it, but most anime fans never learn the language past a few catchphrases, and it's not that uncommon a language in the West as non-Western European languages go.

However, using a Japanese phrase in a casual context implies quite a different set of things. You might be using it as tribal attire, which probably means you're an anime fan. You might expect it to carry meaning, which outside of a Japanese-run business, a language classroom, or a dojo probably implies that you're hanging out with anime fans. Or you might just be used to using it, which usually implies plenty of experience with one of the above.

comment by Leonhart · 2013-05-04T15:02:00.319Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't, in fact, speak Japanese as a functional language, or pretend to any deep cultural knowledge of Japan. So sort of your second option; I'd be emitting that noise expecting to trigger the same concept that would be triggered by the common translation "do your best" in an English speaker (with the extra warm glow of anime-fan group affiliation).
And I probably wouldn't do so to an actual native speaker, because of paranoia that I'm not properly modeling their experience, which may not make sense.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-30T16:31:46.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Break a leg!

comment by knb · 2013-04-30T12:49:55.723Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think there is anything wrong with "good luck." It doesn't imply any sort of belief in superstition, really. It just acknowledges that there are a number of effectively random things that influence success/failure.

comment by maia · 2013-04-29T22:05:11.302Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"May your plans come to fruition."

Spawned at a New York Megameetup, I think.

comment by Raemon · 2013-04-29T21:58:34.826Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Make good choices."

Edit: Just realized this is pretty similar to the "Choose well" listed below, although it DOES sound a lot less ominous. And I think it functions as a universally applicable catchphrase that it's okay to use reflexively.

comment by cody-bryce · 2013-04-30T16:54:59.772Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A literary allusion to the classic Freaky Friday.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-01T07:38:57.089Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Carpe diem!

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-04-30T17:21:33.866Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Stay sharp"?

It doesn't mean the same thing, but it seems to fill the same conversational role.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2013-04-30T17:13:37.299Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Figure out what you actually mean then just say that. My suggestions are "may you succeed" or "I hope you prosper".

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2013-04-30T17:29:58.013Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"I know that nothing I can do can affect the likely factors you are likely to face, nor your attitude and aptitude when facing them, but I wanted you to realise that I am sympathetic and supportive, in the common knowledge that this will make you feel better, no matter how objectively irrational that seems, therefore I will take the time to make you feel better, because I like it when you feel better".

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-04-30T19:36:17.805Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How about "I am sympathetic and supportive," then?

comment by DysgraphicProgrammer · 2013-04-30T15:28:47.913Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Young Wizards series has "Dai stihó", a greeting in The Speech between wizards. It's simplest translation into english is "go well" but it also contains senses of "good luck", "do your best", "behave morally" and "be what you are".

comment by Morendil · 2013-04-29T19:52:50.108Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"See far!"

comment by MrMind · 2013-05-02T08:10:55.174Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about "Newcomb!" as a shortening of "May Omega Newcomb you!" :-p

comment by TerminalAwareness · 2013-05-01T12:55:30.031Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Think clearly" seems a reasonable goodbye.

comment by atucker · 2013-04-30T07:36:12.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"May your plans come to fruition"

I used to say that more when leaving megameetups or going on a trip or something. It has the disadvantage that you can't say it very fast.

I also want a word/phrase that expresses sympathy but isn't "sorry".

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-02T04:09:55.833Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I often say "My sympathies" when I want to express my sympathy but don't want any possibility of being understood as apologizing.

comment by Alicorn · 2013-05-02T03:22:43.332Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also want a word/phrase that expresses sympathy but isn't "sorry".

"Condolences"?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-04T13:56:12.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also want a word/phrase that expresses sympathy but isn't "sorry".

In writing, I just use “:-(”.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-04-29T20:47:30.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The phrase seems to express preference for the positive outcome, which in turn can be taken to mean that you'd be seeking a way of bringing it about. This seems to require some actual help with the problem or giving incentive for it to get solved. For a sufficiently hard problem, that might take the form of donating money to the problem-solving effort or setting up a prize for success.

comment by Raemon · 2013-04-29T19:23:40.993Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually say "good luck" pretty generally (you can never have too much luck). If you're referring to specific action they're about to undertake and you want to emphasize hard work, "Make it so" is another situationally useful phrase.

Slightly more generally useful might be "Make the future happen."

Is your goal to increase the emphasis on hard-work and rationality, or just have something that sounds nice that you don't disagree with? (In that case I'd just go with "good luck").

comment by TrE · 2013-04-29T18:52:00.390Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This paragraph might come in handy. Why not attempt to raise motivation by inducing mental contrasting? "From where you are standing, work hard and you will get where you want to be" is a bit long, but seems like a good idea to me.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-04-29T19:01:55.043Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"From where you are standing, work hard and you will get where you want to be"

For a rationalist? It's an empirical claim that might be false. That's bad luck.