Rationality Quotes December 2011

post by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-12-02T06:01:27.343Z · score: 4 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 586 comments

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

586 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2011-12-06T21:10:10.530Z · score: 53 (53 votes) · LW · GW

On the difficulties of correctly fine-tuning your signaling:

I once expressed mild surprise at the presence of a garden gnome in an upper-middle-class garden …. The owner of the garden explained that the gnome was “ironic”. I asked him, with apologies for my ignorance, how one could tell that his garden gnome was supposed to be an ironic statement, as opposed to, you know, just a gnome. He rather sniffily replied that I only had to look at the rest of the garden for it to be obvious that the gnome was a tounge-in-cheek joke.

But surely, I persisted, garden gnomes are always something of a joke, in any garden—I mean, no-one actually takes them seriously or regards them as works of art. His response was rather rambling and confused (not to mention somewhat huffy), but the gist seemed to be that while the lower classes saw gnomes as intrinsically amusing, his gnome was amusing only because of its incongruous appearance in a “smart” garden. In other words, council-house gnomes were a joke, but his gnome was a joke about council-house tastes, effectively a joke about class….

The man’s reaction to my questions clearly defined him as upper-middle, rather than upper class. In fact, his pointing out that the gnome I had noticed was “ironic” had already demoted him by half a class from my original assessment. A genuine member of the upper classes would either have admitted to a passion for garden gnomes … or said something like “Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.” and left me to draw my own conclusions.

Kate Fox, Watching the English (quoted here).

comment by Nominull · 2011-12-07T23:48:59.480Z · score: 27 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps he's ultra-high-class, and is only defending the object-level irony of his garden gnome ironically.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-06T21:44:42.321Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.

Oh I am so getting my own gnome, just so that I can use that phrase on people.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-12-12T14:23:21.696Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

And on the same theme, "Why Can't Anyone Tell I'm Wearing This Business Suit Ironically?" from The Onion.

comment by Teal_Thanatos · 2011-12-07T23:26:57.311Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I upvoted this half because I laughed and half because I now want a gnome.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-19T13:53:50.908Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_and_non-U_English

Amusing illustration through a 1950s sociolinguistic study.

(Damn, I swear there was a far longer discussion on signaling and countersignaling around here, can't find it.)

comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-05-19T14:57:46.858Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, many of those words and their role as class shibboleths are discussed in Fox's book as well. IIRC, according to her in some cases there are three levels; either three different words for one thing used in lower, middle and upper classes, or (matching the counter-signaling in the gnome story) the same word being used in the lowermost and the uppermost classes.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-12-20T00:44:16.707Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Out of interest, how does this read from a non-uk perspective?

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-20T01:35:55.378Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm American and I thought it was quite funny.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-12-20T02:22:43.718Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Funny in abstract or funny as in hauntingly familiar? ;)

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-20T02:37:29.932Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Familiar -- but a little bit of both. It's a commonplace that English/British society is classful in a way that American society is not. That may well be true (I'm not qualified to judge), but America definitely has its own class distinctions. I would have trouble, though, putting them on a "lower, middle, upper-middle, upper"-type scale.

On the other hand, I guess the story struck me mainly as an example of someone using irony as a personality statement, which can be done without reference to class. Just today when I was at the store I was idly playing with the idea of buying a Hello Kitty iPhone cover. (I am a 38-year-old male.)

Edit: I can't think of an American analog of the garden gnome (we have them over here, but if they're as fraught as they are over the pond it's gone over my head), but when I try to think of a home-and-garden decoration that I would only display for irony (or maybe if a dear friend gave it to me), I think of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-12-20T02:03:15.925Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The degree of class issues isn't as conscious in the US (although by many metrics there's actually less class mobility in the US) but it still comes across as both funny and insightful.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-12-20T02:28:35.409Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Someone, (whose identity I can't recall, some commentator or comedian) said that the British have class in the same way Americans have race.

Not sure how true that is, but a middle class Indian person probably has more in common with a middle class white person in the UK.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-20T03:22:52.164Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For a historical perspective, take a look at John C. Calhoun's statements on the need for racial hierarchy precisely to avoid the rise of class divisions among white Americans.

comment by Pfft · 2011-12-16T00:02:37.811Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe the story should be captioned "on the ease of fine-tuned signaling"? After all, the gnome-owner very effectively did communicate his class. On the other hand, deceiving people about your class is hard. But it's hard partly because there are so many way for people to send credible signals, so an absence of signaling becomes evidence on its own.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2011-12-16T16:16:42.401Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm, what I had in mind when I wrote the caption was something like this:

The man's social model had three classes: lower class (owns gnomes non-ironically), middle class (would never own a gnome), upper class (can own a gnome "ironically" as a joke on low-class tastes), and he aimed for signalling upper-class status. He failed at fine-tuned signalling because he did not realize that his "upper class" behavior is actually upper-middle; true upper classes are allowed to own gnomes and genuinely like them, and don't need to defensively plead irony because they have no lingering anxiety about being confused with lower classes.

comment by Pfft · 2011-12-21T05:30:10.481Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But how do we know that he aimed at signalling upper-class membership?

The alternative I'm proposing is that middle-class people will not try to deceive others about their social position (because that would never work in the long run), but they are adopting lots of signalling about their true position, in order to not get mistakenly perceived as being lower than their true position during short encounters.

I think this is consistent with common folk-wisdom about classes. I have often heard claimed that the primary concern of the lower-middle class is to distinguish themselves from working class. I have never heard it claimed that their primary concern is to pass as middle-middle class.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-01T03:17:24.558Z · score: 49 (53 votes) · LW · GW

Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said, "Are you listening?"
"Yes," said Tiffany.
"Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..."
"Yes?"
"...and believe in your dreams..."
"Yes?"
"...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on.
"Yes?"
"...you’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye."

-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

comment by Nominull · 2011-12-01T04:18:51.867Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW

And they'll be beaten in turn by people who were in the right place at the right time, or won the genetic lottery. A little luck can make up for a lot of laziness, and working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-02T22:42:02.753Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

working hard and learning things can just leave you digging ditches and able to quote every Simpsons episode verbatim.

http://www.engadget.com/2011/12/01/geeks-lose-minds-recreate-first-level-of-super-mario-land-with/

There's homage and there's homage. And then there's three guys spending over 500 hours to recreate the first two minutes and twenty seconds of Super Mario Land using more than 18 million Minecraft blocks. The movie, made by carpenter James Wright, Joe Ciappa and a gamer known as Tempusmori, had the guys running the classic monochrome platformer in an emulator and replicating it pixel-for-wool-block-pixel inside a giant Minecraft Game Boy. The team spent approximately four weeks, working six to seven hours a day with no days off...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-03T00:06:48.259Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

And the worst thing is they don't use a piston array! Making a scrolling wall of blocks is fairly easy within Minecraft and would've saved them the trouble of manually shifting all their blocks every single frame. That's easily an order of magnitude less work, and can be re-used for other stop-motion movies.

Their excuse? "We dont have the smarts"(sic). Sigh.

comment by kpreid · 2011-12-05T18:33:32.064Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pistons can only push rows of 12 blocks; the Game Boy screen is much wider than that. I can imagine building a system to push groups of 12 separately without any exposed mechanism when idle, but I think that is likely to be impossible.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-05T19:42:53.952Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You could divide the screen into rows 12 blocks wide, each powered by an array, with a 2 block gap. You put the arrays one level below the display level and push the blocks up (via sticky pistons) each turn. You'd still have to manually fill in the gaps, but that's only 22 out of 160 lines.

You can combine the arrays like a big stair and only have a 1 block gap, but that requires some manual working of the pistons each turn (because you can't hide the wiring). Not sure if it's worth it. I'm 30% confident it can be automated without exposed wiring.

I have been thinking about a gapless way on-and-off over the last 2 days. I don't have one yet, but I'm 70% confident I can figure one out without the help of the r/redstone hivemind in less than 50 hours of thinking. I've put building a working implementation on my Minecraft todo list. There's no way this is impossible.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-14T15:16:04.572Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

... and I've build a working prototype. Took about 3 hours to figure it out, 2 hours to get the wiring to work (first big redstone project), another 1-2 hours for the array and timing. It's trivial to scale and can be easily extended to push in both directions. The whole mechanism is hidden. I think there is a delay of ~8 seconds per 12 blocks, so scrolling the gameboy screen should take ~1.5 minutes. I'm sure you can get this below 1 minute if you try.

Here's the video. Here's the save. Here's a bunch of screenshots instead of a blueprint or explanation.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-12-16T23:36:15.395Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

...why we can get people to do this but not our open volunteer tasks...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-17T04:18:48.874Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Volunteer tasks? I wasn't aware you (I'm assuming that means Less Wrong or SIAI) had any; perhaps you have a visibility problem?

Or maybe they're just not as engaging as an open-ended engineering environment with no arbitrary entry requirements and no visible resource constraints. . .

comment by gwern · 2011-12-17T04:29:45.832Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

http://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities Less engaging and visible, yes. I was going to quote http://lesswrong.com/lw/h3/superstimuli_and_the_collapse_of_western/ back at Eliezer, but I don't think he's actually surprised, just lamenting the phenomenon.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-17T05:12:30.375Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I understand that SIAI wants more visibility, and that it needs volunteers, but "Perform Search Engine Optimization" (as per http://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities ) is not the way to get there. What next, Nigerian scams ?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-17T07:18:26.841Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, I understand that SIAI wants more visibility, and that it needs volunteers, but "Perform Search Engine Optimization" (as per http://www.singularityvolunteers.org/opportunities ) is not the way to get there. What next, Nigerian scams ?

SEO is rudimentary marketing. The analogy is absurd.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-17T20:41:54.183Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Especially in our case - we do so little SEO that all the low-hanging fruit for us is white-hat SEO, SEO which genuinely helps people like adding references to Wikipedia and whatnot.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-17T06:30:42.400Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Eh. SEO has a bad reputation among the general population, but from a business perspective it's generally recognized as a necessity, if a somewhat distasteful one. SEO doesn't just include throwing together garbage pages to fool Google. (I haven't actually read the guides linked on that page, so can't comment on them specifically.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-17T10:48:20.723Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Given that they're searching for volunteers, it makes more sense to appeal to the general population than to business people, doesn't it? (As a non-business-person, certain practices in SEO sound to me much like Dark Arts, though they exploit misfeatures of search engines' (rather than human minds') algorithms.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-17T21:00:45.543Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say so. For one thing, there's a substantial overlap between "business people" and "the general population," especially the portion of the general population that's likely to take volunteering for SIAI seriously in the first place.

A lot of "white hat" SEO is just a matter of making the connection between search engine algorithms and what's actually being looked for. Appropriately tagging pages to associated them with relevant subjects, asking people who are genuinely fans of your site to link to it on their site, making yourself visible on the social web, etc. . .

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-17T21:54:50.155Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's a difference between a). telling all your friends about a website, and linking to it from your Facebook page, and b). methodically visiting random blogs and social media sites, and inserting a link to the target website into every comment thread. Given that SIAI is asking for volunteers, I assume they mean the latter. Even if it's an accepted business practice, doesn't mean that it's honest or fair. In fact, just recently I saw a bot doing the same thing on Less Wrong, and it's gone now, so I assume it got banned...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-17T22:38:23.394Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'll repeat myself: There is a middle ground between those two extremes. Posting links at random is not an acceptable practice anywhere credible!

What is acceptable is setting up linking networks between associates and cooperating organizations, among other things. If you think SIAI is worth paying attention to, you can get a lot more done by mentioning it on your blog than by just bringing it up in conversations with your close friends occasionally.

comment by JulianMorrison · 2011-12-20T11:44:19.610Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What effort have you applied to making your volunteer tasks this catchy and rewarding?

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-17T18:15:20.315Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You didn't get muflax to do this, he did it of his own accord.

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-05T18:41:15.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some exposed mechanism seems okay; it works for LCD displays (and some older ones had a pronounced screen-door effect). You could scale it up, but it is an unfortunate fact about Minecraft that mechanisms far away have no effect.

comment by spriteless · 2011-12-07T15:34:19.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So it is a fail in both effectiveness and efficiency. http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_smash_fear_learn_anything.html

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-12-03T20:17:31.384Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Its almost a new type of super-stimulus, where rather than being extraordinarily entertaining its extraordinarily difficult.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-02T23:10:38.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Wow. That's absolutely bonkers. And impressive. XKCD almost seems realistic now!

comment by kurokikaze · 2011-12-14T09:22:46.348Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And then there's three guys spending over 500 hours to recreate the first two minutes and twenty seconds of Super Mario Land using more than 18 million Minecraft blocks.

I suspect it can be done programmatically, by wiring MC server to emulator, in less than 50 hours.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-12-06T08:19:01.006Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What? They didn't implement the gameboy in minecraft? The bums!

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-06T10:58:27.447Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What? They didn't implement the gameboy in minecraft? The bums!

That would have been far more efficient after all. Do that and then copy out a game cartridge and you have a video of the entire game!

comment by Apteris · 2011-12-02T12:19:35.936Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Thankfully for Mr. Pratchett, you can't influence the genetic lottery or the luck fairy, so his is still valid advice. In fact, one could see "trust in yourself" et al. as invitations to "do or do not, there is no try", whereas "work hard, learn hard and don't be lazy" supports the virtue of scholarship as well as that of "know when to give up". Miss Tick is being eminently practical, and "do or do not", while also an important virtue, requires way more explanation before the student can understand it.

comment by Nisan · 2011-12-02T21:29:37.316Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah. "Do or do not" / "believe in yourself" should either be administered on a case-by-case basis by a discerning mentor, or packaged with the full instruction manual.

comment by Manfred · 2011-12-01T00:05:32.956Z · score: 45 (49 votes) · LW · GW

“Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.

Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005.

comment by matt · 2011-12-07T00:22:32.904Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the absence of observations of future events, observation of the past performance of your model is advisable (and rare). If your confidence in the current accuracy of your model is much higher than the past performance of your models... you may be optimizing for something other than accuracy.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-07T00:27:32.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

observation of the past performance of your model is advisable

Agreed, and in particular on data you did not consider in formulating it.

(and rare).

Citation needed.

comment by matt · 2011-12-07T03:45:18.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your criticism is accepted. For my curiosity: which groups have you observed embracing the practice of introducing data on past model performance when presenting a new model? I failed to provide a source, but is it your impression that this isn't an area in which most people perform poorly

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-07T06:21:57.162Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know that I've observed anyone making explicit practice of it out of a formal setting.

comment by Thomas · 2011-12-11T15:43:03.146Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

But they are observable later. For example, we can observe now the predictions from 2005, when this quote originates.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-12T23:47:20.910Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's like saying "should we trust our model or the actual results?" The point is that you can only rely on models when making predictions, if you have the results you don't need a model to come up with the results.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-13T06:34:57.675Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, what Thomas is saying is that we should compare the model's predictions with the actual results and use that to calibrate how much we should trust the model.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-13T15:25:17.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I expressed myself poorly, "should we trust our model or the actual results?" was a restating of “Should we trust models or observations?” to make it more clear what the original quote actually meant (did it?); that you will never have future observations only past observation, so when dealing with future events one can only depend on models. Of course when the future unfolds we will be able to do the observations, but then future observations has become past observation. One can only stear the course of the future, never the past. Thus trust in predictions.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-13T16:42:59.144Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think people are somewhat talking past each other, and the following basically summarizes everyone's position:

1) When dealing with the future, we have to make use of the best models available - we can't base decisions now on data we don't have yet.

2) New data should be used both to evaluate and improve models.

2a) It is important to test models against data that were not used in formulating the model, to avoid over-fitting. This can be new data as it becomes available, but should also be existing data reserved for the purpose.

comment by peter_hurford · 2011-11-30T21:06:07.255Z · score: 44 (44 votes) · LW · GW

Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don't know how to use their money to acquire it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't that much better stocked than their neighbors', and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's. Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't.

From "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right" by Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. (http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf)

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-01T19:59:35.242Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The title of the book is a good candidate for a December quote, in and of itself.

comment by XFrequentist · 2011-12-01T20:15:12.068Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(article)

comment by KenChen · 2011-12-06T16:03:07.259Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting article, thanks. Reposting the abstract here:

The relationship between money and happiness is surprisingly weak, which may stem in part from the way people spend it. Drawing on empirical research, we propose eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Specifically, we suggest that consumers should (1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; (2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves; (3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones; (4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; (5) delay consumption; (6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives; (7) beware of comparison shopping; and (8) pay close attention to the happiness of others.

comment by kpreid · 2011-12-04T23:09:32.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is the article useful to someone having money and seeking to spend it right?

comment by peter_hurford · 2011-12-05T01:18:52.219Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's more general, but I still think it has practical guidelines for spending. Read it and see for yourself: http://dunn.psych.ubc.ca/files/2011/04/Journal-of-consumer-psychology.pdf

comment by kpreid · 2011-12-05T02:06:25.297Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, reading.

I suggest including that link in the original comment. I had assumed the article was paywalled, as most academic publications are.

comment by peter_hurford · 2011-12-05T05:01:01.505Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Edited!

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-02T09:40:22.938Z · score: 36 (40 votes) · LW · GW

(Tuco is in a bubble bath. The One Armed Man enters the room)

One Armed Man: I've been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.

(Tuco kills him with the gun he has hidden in the foam)

Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

--The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-12-02T11:13:16.919Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I never thought I'd see a reference to my favorite movie on Less Wrong. Although...the decision theory involved in navigating a Mexican standoff could be interesting.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-06T04:33:14.735Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You might like this.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-06T15:18:40.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or if Samurai aren't your thing.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-12-26T12:26:32.244Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is my father's favorite quote from his favorite movie.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-02T05:32:21.202Z · score: 31 (33 votes) · LW · GW

Every time that a man who is not an absolute fool presents you with a question he considers very problematic after giving it careful thought, distrust those quick answers that come to the mind of someone who has considered it only briefly or not at all. These answers are usually simplistic views lacking in consistency, which explain nothing, or which do not bear examination.

-- Joseph de Maistre (St. Petersburg Dialogues, No. 7)

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-02T05:44:18.841Z · score: 11 (17 votes) · LW · GW

[citation needed]

It doesn't seem at all uncommon for someone from domain A to present a problem and for someone from domain B to immediately reply "Oh, we have just the perfect tool for that in my field!".

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-12-02T11:05:02.059Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of things don't seem too uncommon

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-02T11:07:01.938Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

What's missing is indication that the physicist is wrong. Cows are spheres, right?

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-12-02T05:46:56.497Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The quote suggests that most of the time when Person B says that, they're wrong.

comment by Zvi · 2011-12-03T20:56:25.876Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have on numerous occasions presented problems to others, after giving them careful thought, and had them reply instantly with the correct answer. Usually the next question is "why didn't I think of that?" which sometimes has an obvious answer and sometimes doesn't.

My favorite remains Eliezer asking me the question "why don't you just use log likelihood?" I still don't have a good answer to why I needed the question!

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-04T08:22:55.472Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that de Maistre's "quick answers" category is supposed to include answers based on sound expertise.

People are often confused about questions to which an expert in the relevant area will give a quick and reliably correct answer. However, an expert capable of answering a technical question competently is not someone who has "considered [the question] only briefly or not at all": he is in fact someone who has spent a great deal of time and effort (along with possessing the necessary talent) on understanding a broad class of questions that subsumes the one being asked.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-12-02T21:46:05.829Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

This gives, by implication, a detector for absolute folly: the condition of believing that something is a very problematic question, when in fact it has a quick, consistent, explanatory answer available to those who have considered it only briefly or not at all.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-03T06:55:37.213Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't necessarily follow that it's a highly accurate detector, though. If only a small minority of reasonable people are in this condition, while complete fools are commonly in this condition but their number is still much smaller than this minority of reasonable people, then the above quote would be true and yet your proposed test would be very weak.

A fascinating question would be how strong this test actually is, and how it varies with different subjects.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-02T14:52:42.650Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In my experience this is true given a definition of "complete fool" that encompasses a majority of the population, provided the person supplying quick answers isn't also a fool.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-02T17:56:40.198Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Some years ago I would have agreed with you, but nowadays I believe this attitude is mistaken. In most cases, quick answers will at least miss some important aspects of the problem. I think de Maistre is quite right to emphasize that it's safe to rely on quick answers only when the person raising the concern is otherwise known to be extremely foolish.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T17:21:53.785Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Related xkcd.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-12-02T17:32:32.729Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I actually expected to see this one.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T19:16:07.087Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They are all variations on the same theme, aren't they?

comment by billswift · 2011-11-30T17:30:07.512Z · score: 31 (33 votes) · LW · GW

There's 2 varieties of subjectivism:

  • Hayekian subjectivism of limited knowledge, and limited reason, and error, resulting in Bayesian probabilities in the .8 range and below, with required updating, and impact on making +EV decisions...

  • Hippie subjectivism of you believe what you want to believe, and I believe what I want to believe.

Aretae

comment by jdgalt · 2011-12-03T01:31:34.194Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There's also the subjectivism of taste, sometimes known as consumer sovereignty (the idea, from David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom, that a person's own good is defined as whatever he says it is). Not believing in that leads to outbreaks of senseless and counterproductive nannyism, whether carried out alone or with the help of authorities.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-03T01:58:27.485Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I assume that what you mean by "whatever he says it is" is whatever preferences his choices reveal, not literally what he says it is.

Believing that a person's good is literally what they say it is can just as easily lead to "nannyism", if we decided to prevent people from acting against their own good.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-14T04:21:43.625Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's a balance, what with akrasia and all - but yes, flat out accepting that people want precisely and only what they verbally and publicly indicate would be problematic.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-14T04:58:36.631Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Personally, I have yet to be convinced that "I really want to do X, but due to akrasia I don't behave in ways that reflect my actual desire to do X" is a more accurate description of the world than "I don't really want to do X, but due to signalling I express a desire to do X I don't really have."

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-12-14T13:09:56.176Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think either of those is accurate. How about "I have reasons to do X and reasons not to do X, and I have not resolved the conflict. In fact, I may not be aware of what all the reasons on both sides are."

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-14T15:20:14.167Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) That's fair.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-15T04:28:11.919Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You've just signaled that you wouldn't make a very reliable ally. I'll keep that in mind. ;)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-15T15:30:19.565Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What do you look for in an ally?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-15T05:52:35.015Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No he hasn't. He has signaled a lack of hypocrisy - a desirable trait in an ally.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-15T08:55:27.293Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He has signaled that he identifies with his "baser urges" (a.k.a., system 1), rather then his "higher faculties" (a.k.a., system 2, a.k.a., the part that makes promises to allies). As such when I really need him, he's more likely to give in to akrasia on the grounds that any promises he made were merely signaling.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-15T09:11:00.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

He has signaled that he is more likely to have baser urges that are in accord with higher faculties. So he is less likely to make promises that he can't keep, betray me because he doesn't really want to behave according to unrealistic ideals but then either express sincere remorse about his betrayal or outright self delusion and denial that he didn't live up to the verbal symbols expressed.

He has also signaled that regardless of whether or not he would make a good ally he is probably not your ally. That is, your philosophy tends to be particularly idealistic and so you have a fair indication that he is going to be opposed to your social political moves when it comes to meme expression and belief enforcement.

comment by tut · 2011-12-14T20:56:04.116Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Let's hope that you never have to find out otherwise.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-14T21:10:34.144Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I infer from your rather cryptic comment that you mean something like: if I ever actually experienced the thing we're labeling akrasia, I'd understand that it's not just signaling, but since I never have, I don't. Is that right?

comment by tut · 2011-12-15T17:52:53.700Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is that right?

Pretty much yes. Although I think that you have experienced it to some extent. But when it is not so bad you can work around it and maintain your image, so then your signaling explanation is a good model. Whereas other times it makes you fail at important things. Or just forces you to do so much apologizing and compensating that it is very bad from a status/signaling perspective and costs you more than it would to just do the thing that you supposedly don't really want to do.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-15T19:09:34.965Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

OK. Thanks for clarifying.

comment by ahartell · 2011-12-14T05:50:36.848Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also "I believe it's good to want to do X". Like belief in belief where believing it's good to believe something makes people think they believe it, I suspect that people confuse their really wanting to do something and their belief that it is good to really want to do said thing. You may have meant this too, but I think it's different from just signaling. Is there a term for internal signaling?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-14T15:22:05.930Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I did mean that too, but you're right that using the term without qualification the way I did is unnecessarily ambiguous. I don't know of any concise unambiguous term for it; perhaps we should coin one.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-14T05:32:13.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why it has to be one or the other.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-14T15:24:45.537Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't, and indeed there are better alternatives than both. But "akrasia" often functions as a narrative attractor around here, so it seemed useful to provide an alternative.

comment by magfrump · 2011-12-15T11:11:11.668Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought that "want" was dissected sufficiently to make that distinction testable a while back.

Of course, not everyone is consistent with their approval, or at least I'd think it's difficult to extract preferences without people signalling all over them, but I personally identify with my approval rather than with my wanting.

(edited to remove poor use of "dissolved")

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-15T12:34:13.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I thought that "want" was dissolved somewhat a while back.

That isn't dissolved. Reduced and described in detail perhaps but 'dissolved' ideas are the kind that aren't even used at all once you are done thinking them through.

comment by magfrump · 2011-12-15T20:48:45.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that I'm using dissolved a bit wrong; I wrote the comment fairly late. What I meant was that the concept of "wanting" has been specified to the extent that the difference between akrasia and signaling was a practical question with actual predictive differences.

I'll go back and edit the parent to specify better when I have the chance.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-15T20:52:12.161Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think I agree with your main point.

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-01T04:11:53.237Z · score: 30 (36 votes) · LW · GW

What is more important in determining an (individual) organism's phenotype, its genes or its environment? Any developmental biologist knows that this is a meaningless question. Every aspect of an organism's phenotype is the joint product of its genes and its environment. To ask which is more important is like asking, Which is more important in determining the area of a rectangle, the length or the width? Which is more important in causing a car to run, the engine or the gasoline? Genes allow the environment to influence the development of phenotypes.

-Tooby and Cosmides, emphasis theirs. It occurred to someone on the Less Wrong IRC channel how good this is an isomorphism of, "You have asked a wrong question."

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-01T16:29:25.060Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds like less of a wrong question and more of a "right question with surprising (low prior) answer". As far as the asker knew, the answer could have turned out to be, "Genes produce the same organism phenotype across virtually all environments, so genes are more important because changing them is much more likely to change the expressed phenotype than changing the environment." (and indeed, life would not be life if genes could not force some level of environment-invariance, thereby acting as a control system for a low-entropy island)

I don't see what's wrong with answering this question with "neither [i.e., they're equal], because they jointly determine phenotype, as independent changes in either have the same chance of affecting phenotype".

An example of a wrong question, by contrast, would be something like, "Which path did the electron really take?" because it posits an invalid ontology of the world as a pre-requisite. The question about phenotypes doesn't do that.

comment by shokwave · 2011-12-01T04:19:40.650Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

chelz: shminux: are you more your dna or are you more your personality?

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

shokwave: grognor: wow. mind if I borrow that?

shokwave: because that is just about the best 'you have asked a wrong question' statement i've ever seen

The conversation in question.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-12-01T04:49:01.811Z · score: 19 (35 votes) · LW · GW

Grognor: chelz: is the area of a rectangle more the length, or the width?

The width. Changing the width makes a bigger change in the area than changing the length does. (By convention, the width is defined as the smaller of the two dimensions of the rectangle.)

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-01T05:24:13.012Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

You have resolved the question to the nearest available sane question but that isn't the answer to the question itself and does not make the question valid.

Come to think of it I am somewhat dubious with answering "is the area of this 1km by 1m rectangle more the 1km or the 1m?" with "the 1m". That just doesn't seem right.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-12-01T06:02:07.377Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hmmm...

"is the area of this 1km by 1m rectangle more the 1km or the 1m?"

"No."

Is that better?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-01T07:43:00.151Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes! :)

comment by Benquo · 2011-12-02T14:48:14.388Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Only if you're augmenting/cutting by a fixed length.

If you're using a proportion (e.g. cut either the length or the width in half) then they're equivalent.

comment by Kytael · 2011-12-02T20:56:08.099Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I could also meaninglessly answer that the length is more important, as it will always be equal or bigger.

the key to finding a wrong question is finding that the answer doesn't help the person who asked it.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-02T23:23:18.616Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Since my sibling reply got voted up a lot, I want to follow up: it seems that not only is the question not wrong, the "dissolving" answer is itself wrong, or at least very misleading. (Naturally, I have to tread cautiously, since I'm not an Expert in this area.)

As I said in my other reply, the defining characteristic of life is its ability to maintain a low-entropy island against the entropizing forces of nature. So there must be some range of environments in which an organism (via genes) is able to produce the same phenotype regardless of where its environment falls within that range. In effect, the genes allow the phenotype to be "screened off" (d-separated, whatever) from its environment (again, within limits).

A thing that truly allows the environment equal influence in its final form as the thing itself (as suggested by the T&C answer) is not what we mean by "life". It's the hot water that eventually cools to a temperature somewhere between its current temperature and that of its initial environment. It's the compressed gas molecules in the corner of a chamber that eventually spread out evenly throughout the chamber. It is, in short, not the kind of self-replicating, low entropy island we associate with life, and so has no basic units thereof, be they genes or memes.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-03T05:30:38.717Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So there must be some range of environments in which an organism (via genes) is able to produce the same phenotype regardless of where its environment falls within that range.

The organism needs to successfully thrive and reproduce within that range. Sometimes this means tailoring its phenotype to the environment it finds itself in.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-12-03T19:36:36.828Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Of course.

But imagine a world in which environment truly was more determining than genes. Every animal born in a swamp would be a frog (no matter what its parents were) and every animal born in a tree would be a bird. Perhaps coloration or some other trait might be heritable — blue birds who move to swamps give rise to little blue tadpoles — but the majority of phenotypic features would be governed by the environment in which the organism is born and develops.

In our world, all we know about X is that it is a phenotypic feature, then we should expect it is more likely to be stable under different environments than to be stable under different genotypes. Features must owe more (on the aggregate) to genes than to environment. If it were otherwise, then we would not talk about species! We know we are not in the swamp-birds-have-tadpoles world.

When people talk about genes vs. environment, they usually aren't really talking about all features. They're usually talking about some particular, politically interesting set of features of humans ...

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-31T20:08:09.330Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree. Say that many members of the royal family have hemophilia. Is this due to genes, or environment? If it is genes, you can try to track down who has the gene, and not marry any of those people to your current monarch. If it is something in the royal water supply, you can track that down. If you say "It's both!", you are unlikely to solve the problem.

This applies to pretty much every case where people argue whether something is genes or environment. The claim that you can't call some things mainly genetic and some things mainly environmental is, we know with a very high degree of certainty, false. In most cases, the motivation for this claim is, I think, to avoid the unpleasant possibility that the answer is "genetic".

comment by Grognor · 2012-01-25T16:09:08.441Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I never actually considered this viewpoint. But you know, the Tooby and Cosmides quote attacks the false dichotomy of "Everything is genetics! It's all programmed from before you're born!" and "Blank slate! Absolutely nothing is determined by anything other than experience!" both of which are nonsense.

But it also doesn't support the false third option, "You found a genetic basis for autism? Racist!"

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-31T20:16:53.931Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For certain traits, you cannot break things down as a ratio of genetics:environment. For example, myopia appears to be a genetically-based trait, but it also appears to be expressed much more frequently when children learn to read (which is why such a disasterous trait for a hunter-gatherer wasn't eliminated in the tens of thousands of years before literacy). In other words, the phenotype (nearsighted) is both entirely genetic and entirely environmental.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2012-01-25T15:43:42.022Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some things are mostly genetic. Some things are mostly environmental. Some things are a mix of both. But currently, you are supposed to say that everything is both genetic and environmental (or be labelled a racist). And that is false.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-25T15:56:42.661Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Some things are mostly genetic. Some things are mostly environmental. Some things are a mix of both. But currently, you are supposed to say that everything is both genetic and environmental (or be labelled a racist). And that is false.

Everything is genetic and environmental. If you look low enough down.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-26T14:52:11.672Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The fact is, humans share lots of genes with each other.

Example: Suppose I tell you, “What about language acquisition? I'm sure that if I speak better Italian than Nick Bostrom and he speaks better Swedish than me, our genes have f* all to do with that.” You could answer that it's our genes which shaped our brain in such a way that we could have picked up a native language in the first place, and a chimpanzee (or a human with major neurological problems) wouldn't have learned Italian or Swedish even if raised in the very same environment. But when more than 99% (I guess) of the world human population would have been able to learn whichever natural (or sufficiently natural-like) language they had been raised in, such an objection wouldn't be very useful.

On the other hand, while genes require environments in a given range to be expressed (you couldn't raise a person to be the same as me on Mars, even if he were my identical twin brother), certain features are expressed pretty much the same way throughout the range of environments where one could survive. The probability that John's blood type is AB+ given that he's alive and that his identical twin brother's blood type is AB+ is pretty close to 1, wherever John was raised.

Hence, I'd just say that language is environmental and blood type is genetic. Anything else is useless nitpicking, akin to saying that I shouldn't say that the C and C# keys on a piano are white and black respectively because even the former does absorb some light and even the latter does scatter some.

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-26T16:15:07.378Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The notion of heritability clears up this issue a bit, as it screens off genetic similarities in the population.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-26T17:11:45.695Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed. (On the other hand, people often grow up in the same region as their parents...)

comment by thomblake · 2012-01-27T16:44:04.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So perhaps heritability should have a counterpart that screens off common environmental factors...

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-25T16:21:26.235Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And everything scatters some of the incident light and absorbs some. But this doesn't mean we should never call anything “black” or “white”.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T20:14:51.832Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Say that many members of the royal family have hemophilia. Is this due to genes, or environment? If it is genes, you can try to track down who has the gene, and not marry any of those people to your current monarch. If it is something in the royal water supply, you can track that down. If you say "It's both!", you are unlikely to solve the problem.

If it is both then you are more likely to solve the problem by saying "It's both" than by saying "it's one!"

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-12-04T08:23:34.467Z · score: 28 (30 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody panics when things go "according to plan"… even if the plan is horrifying.

  • The Joker
comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-04T18:19:54.995Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that makes sense. They've panicked earlier, when the plan was announced.

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-05T19:55:04.280Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. The human race wasn't around when "Everyone dies" was announced, so we never had the opportunity to panic properly.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-06T00:58:00.115Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Each individual was around when it was announced to them.

comment by shokwave · 2011-12-06T06:00:03.669Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

And each individual panics! Witness the common existential crisis: execute a head-first dive into mild depression and loudly proclaim your conversion to pure hedonism. But since nobody else is currently panicking, the individual comes to mimic the standard mental state. Which may not be the correct mental state...

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-20T14:21:38.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you really think that panic is in response to the (perceived) inevitability of death? The arguments (and sensibilities) for and against hedonism don't change if people stop dying. I think.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-02T20:16:46.389Z · score: 27 (29 votes) · LW · GW

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

---"Culture in Economics and the Culture of Economics: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler"

comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-12-03T08:17:32.618Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So what would it take to make some reliable economic predictions -- however simple or easy? How far away is the field from being able to do any useful predictive work at all?

comment by gwern · 2011-12-03T16:42:38.760Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I would point out that it is perfectly possible to be a worse predictor than a random or max-ent predictor; if all economics does is - per the quote - remove our (Marxist/Communist/socialist/Keynesian/mercantilist/Maoist/Catholic/...) delusions that we can improve on the normal workings of the economy, it will have done us a useful service indeed. Aside from the very simplest predictions relating to supply-and-demand, obviously.

comment by kilobug · 2011-12-03T17:00:11.379Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't get your jump there - we don't need to be able to forecast weather to be able to build a roof to shield ourself from rain. The same way, even if economists have no ability to forecast the market, we may still be able to devise social rules to soften the negative consequences of a market crash. Or we may not, but it's a different issue.

I also don't get what you call "normal workings" of the economy. Even most of the libertarian I know about still want to enforce and protect private property, using external force to do so. So they are already distorting the "normal working". If you want to use public force to ban stealing, then you're already thinking you can improve on the "normal workings" of the economy.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-03T18:27:44.166Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You certainly do need to be able to forecast weather to justify building a roof to shield yourself from rain! As opposed to blizzards, the monsoon season, sand storms, or any of the infinite varieties of weather which do or do not exist in your particular location.

I also don't get what you call "normal workings" of the economy.

The normal workings are set by long tradition and experience and local experiments (see the Austrians like Hayek), which is data-driven stuff completely opposed to the top-down economic interventions I contrasted with.

comment by khafra · 2011-12-06T16:41:52.706Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding of Austrian Economics is that it's founded on Praxeology, which must be read very generously not to conflict with the findings of neuroeconomics, prospect theory, and heuristics and biases in general. Google "austrian economics," and one of the first results is a long, detailed critique by Robin Hanson's lunch buddy Bryan Caplan (quoted above).

Given that, I'm not sure it's unambiguous to use the term "normal workings" to describe Austrian Economic theory, except in a non-normal sense.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-06T17:09:58.420Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bryan's critique.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-12-04T05:36:03.738Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

would point out that it is perfectly possible to be a worse predictor than a random or max-ent predictor;

Point taken, but my question stands: how far are we from improving on max-ent predictions?

delusions that we can improve on the normal workings of the economy

Would you taboo "normal," please? I'm curious as to exactly what you mean.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-04T08:31:35.295Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Point taken, but my question stands: how far are we from improving on max-ent predictions?

I have no idea. To a considerable extent, economics shouldn't be able to make many good predictions by the nature of the material; see efficient markets and "Markets are Anti-Inductive".

I'm curious as to exactly what you mean.

The set of idiosyncratic norms and traditions developed over centuries by small groups solving economic problems, which frequently maximize value even while appearing either impossible or arbitrary; this is an old vein of libertarian economic thought, although the most recent work I've read is Seeing like a State (pretty good).

comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-12-05T07:38:15.681Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. Thanks for the link; I'd somehow missed that post. It's a very clear analysis of what it means for a market to be 'efficient.'

Even given that markets are anti-inductive, though, I disagree with you that economics shouldn't be able to make many good predictions. Perhaps finance shouldn't be able to make many good predictions. But, in principle, it should be possible to delve past people's financial expectations and reason about how changes in the supply of fundamental economic inputs -- land, labor, capital, technology, the rule of law, risk-tolerance, patience, etc. -- will affect fundamental economic outputs -- goods, services, credit, information, etc. For example, if the population grows by 10% over the next 2 years, and everything else stays constant, how much more or less will it cost me (in PPP-adjusted dollars) to hire a plumber to fix my toilet? The answer shouldn't depend on what everyone thinks it will cost; it should depend on how real changes in the real economy affect people's real behavior, i.e., whether they are willing to come over and muck about in my pipes in exchange for a given amount of resources.

You might think that making predictions of this sort is, as a practical matter, too challenging -- but it's not clear why it should be naturally or definitionally unlikely.

Finally, I object to your characterization of the belief that we can improve on the normal workings of the economy as "delusional." Certainly, there are some extreme examples of top-down social planning that have failed catastrophically, but reversed stupidity is not intelligence, and I have not seen any evidence that the economic solutions that have been evolved by small groups over long periods of time are always or even usually better than those that are developed by modern experts over short periods of time. I will understand if you don't want to debate this issue on Less Wrong; it seems political enough to be a mind-killer. However, "delusions" seems to me to be a strong word, which should not be used lightly.

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-06T12:55:58.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Responding to the idea of economic predictions:

Regardless of how challenging, we are required to engage constantly in making economic predictions. My boss asks me to do a what I view as a stupid task because (a) I do not perceive the utility or (b) I predict, based upon previous experience, that my boss will, in fact, make no use of my output; and performing this task will occupy time that I believe could be spent more productively. How I respond, whether and how conscientiously I perform this task, requires several economic decisions that are as important to me personally as whether the Federal Reserve decides to increase the fed fund rate. My action will be based upon predictions such as the downside if I don't do it or do a shoddy job; my future with the company; how others perceive my future in the company, how others perceive my boss, my prospects for employment with a different company, .... Many challenging assessments and predictions to make in a short period of time.

If I understand you correctly, Mass-Driver, I agree with you. I believe that competent, risk-based decision analysis is possible and when we employ such analysis, we make less disastrous economic decisions for ourselves and others.

comment by Oligopsony · 2011-12-06T17:42:36.660Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's not the sort of planning and prediction that gwern thinks is doomed, since it's "local."

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-07T02:22:08.392Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My example is local, or personal if you will, to avoid political controversy. As a general matter, I believe that everything one does or does not do will have a consequence that is, in its totality, both unpredictable and unknowable. Nevertheless, we have to make plans based upon the best predictions of which we are capable.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-05T17:02:42.474Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Finally, I object to your characterization of the belief that we can improve on the normal workings of the economy as "delusional." Certainly, there are some extreme examples of top-down social planning that have failed catastrophically, but reversed stupidity is not intelligence, and I have not seen any evidence that the economic solutions that have been evolved by small groups over long periods of time are always or even usually better than those that are developed by modern experts over short periods of time. I will understand if you don't want to debate this issue on Less Wrong; it seems political enough to be a mind-killer. However, "delusions" seems to me to be a strong word, which should not be used lightly.

The examples exist throughout human history under regimes of every sort and with every ideology along the spectrum from fascist to communist to theocracies, and has a trivial evopsych justification; I don't think the case is any less good for it being a delusion than any of the other cognitive biases or supernatural beliefs we dismiss.

comment by kilobug · 2011-12-05T17:20:54.349Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There are also countless examples of "top-down social planning" that leaded to huge success - from sending men to the moon to eradicating smallpox to building the TGV (French high-speed train) network to eradicating illiteracy in some countries. We can argue for long if those results could have been achieved otherwise, or if they had more drawbacks than they are worth, ... that would mean entering in a full-scale political discussion, which is not the purpose of Less Wrong. But calling it a "delusion" with a sleight of the hand like you do really looks like you're victim of mind-killing on that issue. Rational political debate shouldn't appear so blatantly one-sided.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-06T20:10:04.225Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There appears to be a definitional disconnect here. Although the Apollo program was top-down in many ways, it wasn't what I would call social planning.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-04T13:47:19.337Z · score: 25 (35 votes) · LW · GW

In the autumn of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the Germans had accused the British government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious. Some five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:

"Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., & if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends."

--Marjorie Perloff, Wittgenstein's Ladder; apparently of the many attempts, the one referred to did not actually have British backing, although some did eg. the Oster Conspiracy or Operation Foxley.

(This is the full and original quote; the emphasis is on the section which is usually paraphrased as, "What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic...if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?")

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T04:48:35.560Z · score: 7 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand what exactly is supposed to be so shockingly "primitive" or illogical about Malcolm's statements. The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character.

Now, one may argue that Malcolm had mistaken beliefs about some of the relevant facts here, but Wittgenstein's reaction looks in any case like a silly tantrum. He also seems to be using the Dark Arts tactic of throwing exalted and self-important rhetoric about general intellectual principles to draw attention away from his petty and unreasonable behavior.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-06T14:46:00.217Z · score: 9 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Malcolm was one of Wittgenstein's most promising students; yet even he fell - unquestioningly - into the vapid jingoistic idea that there are intrinsic 'national characters' (aggregates over millions of people of multiple regions!) which carry moral qualities despite the obvious conflict of interest (who is telling him the English are too noble to assassinate), that they exist and carry enough information to overrule public claims like that, and all his philosophical training which ought to have given him some modicum of critical thought, some immunity against nationalism, did nothing. And in point of fact, he was blatantly wrong, which is why I linked the British-connected plots and assassins.

The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character.

Uh huh. And if a Tea Partier tells you that Abu Ghraib was just youthful spirits and black sites don't exist, well, obviously that's a reasonable interpretation of the facts based on that non-chimerical 'national character' or a broad consensus of the American people... Whatever.

In retrospect maybe I should've rewritten the anecdote as a German saying it (about Churchill claiming a German attempt on his life) and an English rebuking him later, just to see whether there would be anyone trying to justify it. (It's not that famous a Wittgenstein quote, I don't think anyone would notice.)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T15:43:07.287Z · score: 10 (18 votes) · LW · GW

With all due respect, you are getting seriously mind-killed here.

Do you agree that the probability of a person accepting and following certain norms (and more generally, acting and thinking in certain ways) can be higher or lower conditional on them belonging to a specific nationality? Similarly, would you agree that the probability of a government acting in a certain way may strongly depend on the government in question? Or are these "vapid jingoistic idea[s]"?

For example, suppose I'm an American and someone warns me that the U.S. government would have me tortured to death in the public square if I called the U.S. president a rascal. I reply that while such fears would be justified in many other places and times, they are unfounded in this case, since Americans are too civilized and decent to tolerate such things, and it is in their national character to consider criticizing (and even insulting) the president as a fundamental right. What exactly would be fallacious about this reply?

Note that I accept it as perfectly reasonable if one argues that Malcolm was factually mistaken about the character of the British government. What I object to is grandstanding rhetoric and moral posturing that tries to justify what is in fact nothing more than a display of the usual human frailty in a petty politicking quarrel.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-06T17:21:50.589Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Do you agree that the probability of a person accepting and following certain norms (and more generally, acting and thinking in certain ways) can be higher or lower conditional on them belonging to a specific nationality? Similarly, would you agree that the probability of a government acting in a certain way may strongly depend on the government in question?

I agree, but I don't think that you're describing Malcolm's position - Wittgenstein was the one expressing uncertainty on the issue ("When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible"), so for Malcolm to disagree with him he must be quite confident, not merely think that the British are less likely to assassinate than others.

And when someone has undue confidence in how good his group is, beyond what evidence mandates - than yes, it seems correct to say that he was mind-killed by his "primitive" jingoism, and Wittgenstein is correct to rebuke him.

If I read about an assassination attempt on Hitler and about how some said it was mandated by the British, then my position would be Wittgenstein's - that it wouldn't surprise me if that was true (even before reading Gwern's post). It may be that hindsight is 20/20, but I think Malcolm, who had much more information about the times than I do, should have been able to see more clearly.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T20:41:07.981Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're underestimating just how horrible the idea of assassinating foreign leaders sounded back then, especially leaders of other nations recognized as major powers. Such a thing was definitely much higher on the relative scale of outrages back then than nowadays. (Though of course things had already changed a lot in practice by 1939, by which political gangsterism had already been running rampant through the Western world for over two decades.)

Indeed, I find it quite plausible that Malcolm was motivated not so much by nationalistic bias, as by a naive and antiquated view of politics, despite his youth. Reading about his reaction, many people nowadays will likely overestimate how unrealistically favorable his opinion of Britain must have been for him to consider this accusation absurd.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T16:22:15.050Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Note that I accept it as perfectly reasonable if one argues that Malcolm was factually mistaken about the character of the British government.

Malcolm spoke about the British national character (not the character of the British government) and from this he arbitrarily leaped to thinking that it binds the actions of the British government; as if the British government is somehow a random or representative sample of the British population.

The assumptions and leaps of logic necessary for this flawed logic are obvious to those who've managed to avoid thinking of whole nations as if they're homogeneous groups. Wittgenstein was correct to call it primitive. Malcolm was not saying anything more intelligent or subtle or deep than "Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!" If the representation of the conversation is a fair one, Malcolm wasn't wise enough to be able to even distinguish between government and governed, and consider the differences that might accumulated to each.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T17:24:35.729Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Malcolm spoke about the British national character (not the character of the British government) and from this he arbitrarily leaped to thinking that it binds the actions of the British government; as if the British government is somehow a random or representative sample of the British population.

Such an absurd assumption is not necessary. It is sufficient that the way government officials are selected from the British population doesn't specifically select for traits contrary to the "national character," or that their behavior is constrained by what the general public would be outraged at, even when they act in secret. (Note also that this isn't necessarily due to rational fear of being caught -- people are normally afraid and reluctant to do outrageous things even when rational calculations tell them the probability of getting caught is negligible. With the exception of certain things where hypocrisy is the unspoken de facto norm, of course, but that's not the case here.)

Malcolm was not saying anything more intelligent or subtle or deep than "Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!"

Malcolm may well have been guilty of such thinking, but at the same time, Wittgenstein clearly had a fit of irrational anger at the suggestion that probabilities of monkey behaviors are not independent of their tribe. (I won't speculate on what part his own residues of tribal feelings might have played here.)

And nobody here is claiming that Malcolm was correct -- merely that Wittgenstein's reaction was hardly the paragon of rationality it's presented to be.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-01-04T14:11:02.139Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is sufficient that the way government officials are selected from the British population doesn't specifically select for traits contrary to the "national character," or that their behavior is constrained by what the general public would be outraged at, even when they act in secret.

I don't think the phrase "national character" does refer to the belief of the general public in this context. It refers more to the character of the British elite.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T10:14:34.415Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Our monkey tribe good! Therefore nobody from our monkey tribe ever do bad thing!"

Don't forget Wittgenstein may have reacted as he did out his own emotional attachment as well.

"Who you to say your monkey tribe so much better than mine!"

Which is not to imply that he was identifying with Nazis, which he obviously wasn't, but you would be surprised how many historic accounts of those of say Jewish descent that fled the National Socialist regime still overall held German and Austrian culture and "national character" in higher esteem than that of say the British, Russians or Americans, we have.

"If my monkey tribe can do horrible things, well yours isn't that different!"

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-07T10:43:02.051Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't forget Wittgenstein may have reacted as he did out his own emotional attachment as well.

"Who you to say your monkey tribe so much better than mine!"

Agreed. Or from e.g. feeling betrayed that Malcolm didn't consider him and Wittgenstein to belong in the same monkey tribe for all intends and purposes. I've not read any of Wittgenstein, but if he was of internationalist ideology, he might have been disappointed to see nationalist sentiment in Malcolm (which would put Malcolm and Wittgenstein in different tribes) rather than whatever ideological/political/racial/religious/class distinctions would have put them in the same tribe.

I don't make the same tribal distinctions that a Greek nationalist would make, or a white nationalist would make. For someone to put much weight on such distinctions would mark him as a different tribe according to my distinctions, even though I'm Greek and white too.

comment by Oligopsony · 2011-12-07T13:37:36.946Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

This makes me think of one of those intellectual hipster Hegelian dialectic thingies.

Idiot: My monkeys are better than your monkeys. (Blood for the blood god, etc; Malcolm.)

Contrarian: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys." (Secular Western cosmopolitanism, faith in progress, etc; Wittgenstein.)

Hipster: My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like "My monkeys are better than your monkeys, because they don't say things like 'My monkeys are better than your monkeys.'" (Postmodernism, cultural relativism, etc; Vladimir.)

It amuses me that I can think of a few trendy Continentals right now who base their appeal on working at level four.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T11:37:29.042Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

People can get very upset when those they like, "suddenly" turn out not to be "part" of the same tribe.

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-06T16:02:12.056Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I reply that while such fears would be justified in many other places and times, they are unfounded in this case, since Americans are too civilized and decent to tolerate such things, and it is in their national character to consider criticizing (and even insulting) the president as a fundamental right. What exactly would be fallacious about this reply?

You are correct that such fears are unfounded in this case, but not owing to the "national character" of Americans. Rather, they are unfounded owing to the very public nature of the action your fears concern; carrying out such an action publicly would predictably raise an outcry, with hard-to-predict consequences on things like behaviour of the electorate and of the media; from an utilitarian standpoint the US government is better off finding subtler ways of coercing you, and has very little to gain from silencing this particular type of dissent.

But covert action, and covert action taken against leaders of foreign countries, might be a different calculation entirely. So the fallacious nature of the reply would arise from not comparing like with like.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T16:34:41.087Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In this case, the "national character" would manifest itself in the public outcry (it's certainly easy to imagine a population that would insted cheer while the seditious traitor is being executed). However, even regardless of that, would you agree that the U.S. government officials themselves are more likely to feel honest revulsion towards this idea compared to their equivalents from various other historical governments, and that they would be less likely to retaliate this way even if they could somehow get away with it?

It is clearly true that "national character," for obvious reasons, provides much more solid evidence when considering public opinion and mass behaviors. However, the amount of evidence it provides about the possible behaviors of small groups of government officials behind closed doors is also not negligible. This especially since secrets are hard to keep.

In Malcolm's case, the argument would be that British government officials are unlikely to conspire to assassinate the German head of state because, being British, they are likely to share intense revulsion towards such an idea, and also to fear the exceptional outrage among the British public should they be caught doing it. Once again, I have no problem if someone thinks that this argument rests on completely wrong factual beliefs and probability estimates. My problem is with attempts to delegitimize it based on lofty rhetoric that in fact tries to mask irrational anger at the fact that nationality indeed gives some non-zero evidence on people's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors.

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-06T20:52:04.664Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

would you agree that the U.S. government officials themselves are more likely to feel honest revulsion towards this idea compared to their equivalents from various other historical governments

Not necessarily. I don't know to what extent government officials of all countries are more like the typical citizen of their own country than they are like other government officials of any other country. It's not clear to me which reference class would dominate in assigning priors.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T02:40:24.998Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Just to avoid misunderstanding, the question is whether the views of a typical U.S. government official about what criticisms of government are permissible are more similar to the average U.S. citizen, or to the views of government officials averaged across the whole world, or even across all governments that ever existed. Am I understanding correctly that you see this as a highly uncertain question?

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-07T09:00:19.311Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. The dynamic I have in mind is this: to become a government official, one must first pass a certain set of filters, which are likely to select for the kind of person who'll view anyone criticizing their government as scum who deserve no better than a public beating.

This is definitely not the only dynamic in play; but if you want to deny that this dynamic exists, you will have to bring evidence to bear to overcome its strong plausibility.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T16:40:23.752Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In Malcolm's case, the argument would be that British government officials are be unlikely to conspire to assassinate the German head of state because, being British, they are likely to share intense revulsion towards such an idea, and also to fear the exceptional outrage among the British public should they be caught doing it

Malcolm doesn't make that claim if the description of the argument is a fair one. It's not the word "unlikely" but the word "impossible" that is used; and the fear of an outrage by the public isn't discussed.

It may be a good thing to correct an opponent's argument before you defeat it, but we're not obliged to actually call it a good argument.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T20:12:10.301Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In this situation, Malcolm's statements were only briefly paraphrased by his opponent, and the criticism of Malcolm is being presented as a great and commendable example of rational thinking. In such a context, I believe it's only fair and reasonable to give Malcolm's reported statements maximally charitable reading.

In particular, I think it's reasonable to interpret "impossible" in its casual meaning (i.e. merely vastly improbable, not literally disallowed by the laws of logic and physics). Moreover, I also think it's reasonable to interpret "national character" in a way that makes his statements more sensible, i.e. as including all factors that determine what behaviors are a priori more or less likely from a given government and its officials and subjects.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-06T20:51:36.221Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

suppose I'm an American and someone warns me that the U.S. government would have me tortured to death in the public square if I called the U.S. president a rascal. I reply that while such fears would be justified in many other places and times, they are unfounded in this case, since Americans are too civilized and decent to tolerate such things, and it is in their national character to consider criticizing (and even insulting) the president as a fundamental right. What exactly would be fallacious about this reply?

The fake explanation. What does the claim of 'civilization' and 'decency' add to the assertion? (Recall that Wittgenstein specifically objects to "dangerous phrases".) Does it help you predict that, eg, child-molesters could die painfully in prison, out of the public eye but not out of mind? What does it tell you about the public use of pain in other cases? Seems to me the meaningful part of your hypothetical reply ends with "in this case," since you've already drawn a line around the USA by saying that it differs from "many other places and times".

It also seems like (when you speak of "probability") you're defending a statement that Perloff does not record Malcolm making, while criticizing Wittgenstein for traits this particular passage does not clearly show.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T21:18:36.967Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The fake explanation. What does the claim of 'civilization' and 'decency' add to the assertion?

I added these word specifically to parallel the paraphrase of Malcolm's claim. The rationale for their use is that there exists a specific (if somewhat vague and, on some dimensions, disputed) cluster in the space of all possible systems of social norms that is commonly associated with these words in modern English. Among other things, this includes a negative attitude towards public judicial torture and open repression of (some kinds of) anti-government speech (relevant for my example), as well as towards assassination plots against foreign leaders (relevant for Malcolm's example -- and possibly a matter of greater outrage back in his day).

So it's not a fake explanation, because it points to a real existing cluster of norms that have been dominant in the Western world in recent history. This can in turn be used, for example, to point to other norms in this cluster and predict that they are correlated with the listed examples across societies.

Note that here I'm merely using these words with their customary meaning, not to express unreserved approval of this entire cluster of norms.

It also seems like (when you speak of "probability") you're defending a statement that Perloff does not record Malcolm making, while criticizing Wittgenstein for traits this particular passage does not clearly show.

As I already pointed out, we are not judging Malcolm and Wittgenstein as two equal participants in a debate. Rather, we are discussing whether the latter's criticism really is up to such high standards that it deserves being extolled as a sterling example of rational thinking. Hence my sticter scrutiny of him, and my tendency to give maximally charitable interpretation to Malcolm.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-07T15:15:27.237Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And in point of fact, he was blatantly wrong, which is why I linked the British-connected plots and assassins.

Did you also have other examples you were thinking of?

comment by gwern · 2011-12-07T15:41:58.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Particular examples? No, not really; but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_assassination is good reading, if a bit short and lacking in less substantiated details.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T05:27:18.785Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I see, neither of the examples you linked provides any evidence that in 1939 it was incorrect to consider a British government assassination plot against Hitler as wildly implausible. The Oster conspiracy was an internal German plot, and the Foxley plan was just a proposal that was never approved nor carried out (and even as such, it occurred only after five years of a total war in which nearly all other centuries-old conventions of civilized warfare had been discarded -- a world very different from the one five years earlier).

Also, your Wikipedia link above fails to mention even a single assassination that would have been within living memory in 1939, and which would have matched the pattern of a government conspiring to assassinate a foreign leader. So if anything, it goes against your claims.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-08T21:33:05.603Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Also, your Wikipedia link above fails to mention even a single assassination that would have been within living memory in 1939, and which would have matched the pattern of a government conspiring to assassinate a foreign leader. So if anything, it goes against your claims.

'a government'? Yeah, it doesn't because it's not a comprehensive list. If you want lists, look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinations_and_assassination_attempts or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinated_people#Assassinations_in_Europe or heck, for anything to do with Hitler like the Nazi assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss, look in Google Books pre-1940.

If you're going to be mind-killed yourself, Vlad, posting endless nitpicking comments here trying to rebut anything anyone says, you should at least be more precise in your demands, because it is trivial to find attempts, even despite all secrecy and faded memories.

(And I believe the mutual wars of assassination between the British and the Irish, eg. Tomás Mac Curtain, have already been pointed out to you, which would have been well-known to any educated person living through the troubles; feel free to dig through Google Books looking for even more assassinations.)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-09T04:51:51.231Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you're going to be mind-killed yourself, Vlad, posting endless nitpicking comments here trying to rebut anything anyone says, you should at least be more precise in your demands, because it is trivial to find attempts, even despite all secrecy and faded memories.

I am disputing your very central claim, so even if I am wrong, I don't see how this can possibly constitute "nitpicking." If it was in fact reasonable in 1939 to consider the possibility of a British plot to assassinate Hitler as wildly implausible, your original points don't stand at all.

And indeed, I do believe that government-orchestrated assassination plots against a head of a foreign state were indeed considered a wholly separate category of wrongdoing back then, and one that was a particular taboo. You just can't put other sorts of assassinations in the same reference class.

If you insist that things like the assassinations during the sectarian struggles in Ireland fall into the same reference class, then the inferential distances may really be too large for us to have a productive discussion here. But still note that you won't find any examples of the particular sort I asked for. (Except arguably for the killing of Dollfuss, something that it actually took the Nazis to do.)

comment by gwern · 2011-12-09T20:03:23.359Z · score: -4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

And indeed, I do believe that government-orchestrated assassination plots against a head of a foreign state were indeed considered a wholly separate category of wrongdoing back then, and one that was a particular taboo. You just can't put other sorts of assassinations in the same reference class.

Ah lovely, so now we're down to playing reference-class tennis.

'Well, assassinations against heads of state are special, it's perfectly reasonable to think they were just utterly beyond the pale, even if the Brits were happy to assassinate inconvenient political types like some Irish.'

If you insist that things like the assassinations during the sectarian struggles in Ireland fall into the same reference class, then the inferential distances may really be too large for us to have a productive discussion here.

Indeed. Go discuss your complicated justifications of what is transparently unthinking nationalism with someone else.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-09T21:26:40.643Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

transparently unthinking nationalism

Assume there wasn't anything Vladimir_M said that a believer in unthinking nationalism wouldn't have said. Such a person would rationalize the belief that according to some objective moral metric, one's own English nation is superior, other nations are different from England and each other but overall even the best of them are not as good, and vassal races such as the Irish are most inferior of all.

If enough Englishmen believe that, it becomes true that one can deduce from the English assassinating foreign politicians that they would assassinate Irish ones, but not from their assassination of Irish politicians that they would assassinate foreign ones.

The belief Vladimir_M advocated greatly resembles the raw nationalist one, but could instead be interpreted as a second order belief about what military types of a country, people generally holding such right-wing beliefs, would be more and less likely to do. That's how I interpreted it.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-09T08:24:31.806Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And in point of fact, he was blatantly wrong, which is why I linked the British-connected plots and assassins.

If you're going to be mind-killed yourself, Vlad, posting endless nitpicking comments here trying to rebut anything anyone says, you should at least be more precise in your demands, because it is trivial to find attempts, even despite all secrecy and faded memories.

I think that the examples you cited didn't support your claim for the same reasons Vladmir_M gave.

I specifically asked if you had other examples in mind, rather than if they existed, to avoid making a claim that could be refuted by some one of the endless historical facts unknown to me. Your claim was far too strong if you didn't have specific examples in mind, regardless of their existence.

The cases of assassination all seem distinguishable, for example, the premise of the Anglo-Irish war was that Britain did not consider Ireland an independent nation, the assassination of Dollfuss weakens Vladimir_M's claim about the inconceivability of assassination without damaging it overmuch, as it was Nazis who did it, etc.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-08T22:05:38.823Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also, your Wikipedia link above fails to mention even a single assassination that would have been within living memory in 1939, and which would have matched the pattern of a government conspiring to assassinate a foreign leader.

Successful assassination? Does that seem like the most relevant standard when it comes to the original question?

(On a side-note, the CIA seems to endorse the claim that Britain's SIS killed Rasputin. Surely we can trust the CIA...)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-06T22:17:38.818Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice"

What does "what is known" have to do with what is in fact? The suppressed premise is that citizens know what their governments do, even those parts of the government termed its "secret service." That governments don't operate by ordinary standards of "decency" has been known at least since Machiavelli.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T01:17:22.656Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Even if the deeds of the secret services are fully secret (a big if), your argument is still incorrect. Assassinations of heads of state are rare and unusual events, and are normally investigated thoroughly. It may be that in every such assassination prior to 1939, the evidence points towards culprits other than the British secret services.

(Whether or not this is actually the case is another question; I am merely demonstrating that your argument doesn't work even if its assumptions are fully granted.)

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-07T01:58:03.238Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What does "what is known" have to do with what is in fact?

By common usage (and probably definition) "is known" means that the subject is factual and people are aware of it. If people want to make a claim where the subject may not be factual but is still believed then they say 'is widely believed'.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2011-12-08T16:06:45.334Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"The remarks about the national character of the British and their level of civilization and decency can be interpreted as a reasonable belief that conspiring to assassinate a foreign head of state would be a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character"

And when people say "I have free will" it is compatible with their being compatibilists rather than magic black-boxers. But usually they mean the black box sort.

The fact that Wittgenstein, knowing this Malcolm personally, interpreted the remark as he did is evidence in favour of that interpretation.

I was going to say your interpretation is compatible at best. But now that I've checked the quote rather than going from memory I don't think it's compatible at all:

"When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'."

the retort was in response to Wittgenstein saying "it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true"

"such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character." This is the kind of thing Wittgenstein doesn't want you to say. National character isn't just a bunch of syllables. It encodes the idea of character inherently tied to nationality, even if that is not the specific definition used. If the consensus were 100% you'd still be confusing things by calling it the national character.

When you call something disgusting, when asked to define it you can append "causes squicky feelings" or similiar, and you can define national character as "strong enough consensus to pressure government" but people won't use those words that way and that isn't how the second was used here.

"He also seems to be using the Dark Arts tactic of throwing exalted and self-important rhetoric about general intellectual principles to draw attention away from his petty and unreasonable behavior."

His behaviour being capitalisation of dangerous in a letter to the guy five years later? Maybe the guy is too upset by some normative standard, but we have no reason to believe he's faking being upset. The deception you've implied just isn't there.Especially five years later.

In any case the "to draw attention away from his petty and unreasonable behavior" stipulation is patently false. The rhetoric is what you're calling petty and unreasonable behaviour.

You've given the first guy the most generous interpretation possible and the second the worst interpretation possible.

I get the impression you're just politicking against getting annoyed by specific word choice and against people getting upset about it (and possibly in favour of interpreting things more generously than was meant, though that could just be incidental.)

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-06T15:13:53.484Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

the British government is known to follow consistently in practice

Emphasis mine. That's the part that's the result of bias (i.e. primitive and illogical).

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T16:00:32.741Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

However, Wittgenstein is not criticizing Malcolm just for supposedly having wrong factual beliefs, but for mere willingness to use probabilities about beliefs and behavior of people that are conditional on their natonality. He is objecting to the very idea that the probability of the British government commiting a certain act may be different from the probability of some other government committing it, or that certain broader norms that also prohibit such behavior might be a matter of exceptionally strong consensus among the British, which would by itself provide strong evidence that their government is unlikely to exhibit it.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-06T17:07:56.342Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think we are interpreting Malcolm's position very differently. Malcolm isn't saying "I would be surprised; I put a low probability that the British government would do that." Malcolm appears offended- it is impossible because the British are too decent. You are right that one could, say, be less surprised by an American assassination attempt than a Canadian assassination attempt based on past actions of the governments, but that's not what Malcolm is doing here. He's exhibiting a nationalistic, self-serving bias, which Wittgenstein is right to object to.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T18:27:54.174Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I am not concerned with whether Malcolm was correct, and I'm not saying that Wittgenstein had nothing to object to. This is not a situation where we're judging them as symmetrical parties in a debate, but a situation where we discuss whether Wittgenstein's position deserves to be pointed out as an outstanding example of rationality. And it seems tome that even if one takes a much less favorable view of Malcolm, Wittgenstein is still displaying a fair amount of mind-killing biases.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-06T20:23:13.399Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you mind naming those biases for me? I'm having a hard time seeing what you're talking about, and suspect that our disagreement may depend mostly on differing interpretations of limited information.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T01:39:04.811Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, I think Wittgenstein was too quick to pattern-match every mention of such things as "national character" with propagandistic nationalist ramblings. I suspect this is just an instance of a bias that's been widespread in the Western world for quite a while now, namely the tendency to write off the use of certain kinds of conditional probabilities about people, including most of those conditioned on national origin, as inherently incorrect or immoral. (With a lot of equivocation about which one of these two is actually meant, and how come that the former category just happens to subsume the latter so conveniently.)

Moreover, from the "wouldn't surprise him at all" comment, it does appear that Wittgenstein had, for whatever reason, a biased unfavorable view of the British government. To the best of my knowledge about the state of the world in 1939, this would have definitely been, by all standards, an event far too surprising and shocking to characterize that way, under any reasonable interpretation of that phrase.

Finally, Wittgenstein's reaction is reported as "furious," and he describes himself as "shocked." It seems clear that the very fact that someone got into a shocked and furious state of mind during a conversation about controversial and mind-killing topics makes it very highly probable that at least some sort of bias has kicked in, even if my above guess doesn't identify it correctly.

(Come to think of it, I don't find it implausible that Wittgenstein could have been intentionally baiting Malcolm, hoping for an opportunity to show off some sanctimonious indignation. But lacking any detailed knowledge of his character, this is nothing more than idle speculation.)

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-07T04:10:28.487Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, I think Wittgenstein was too quick to pattern-match every mention of such things as "national character" with propagandistic nationalist ramblings.

You suspect he's too quick to pattern-match every mention from a single example?

I suspect this is just an instance of a bias that's been widespread in the Western world for quite a while now, namely the tendency to write off the use of certain kinds of conditional probabilities about people, including most of those conditioned on national origin, as inherently incorrect or immoral.

I'm aware this is a common bias now, but I don't think it was that widespread in 1939.

Moreover, from the "wouldn't surprise him at all" comment, it does appear that Wittgenstein had, for whatever reason, a biased unfavorable view of the British government.

Perhaps this is because I have an unfavorable view of governments in general, but it seems that for an even slightly cynical student of history assassination attempts on rival heads of state by a government should not come as a surprise, especially as monarchies were replaced by democracies. It's not clear he was singling out the British, and even if he were singling out the British, it's not clear if that was the result of bias or cool calculation. (The British did have the best spy network in Europe, although whether or not Wittgenstein would have known that is not something I am able to guess.)

I agree that being biased can lead to fury, but I think for someone as passionately logical as Wittgenstein seeing bias, especially in a friend, could also lead to fury. It's not clear to me that his immediate reaction is evidence between those hypotheses, and his persisting fury strikes me as slightly better evidence for the latter. (Background: Almost twenty years earlier, Wittgenstein was rebuked as a teacher because he would also beat the girls if they made mathematical mistakes.)

That is, it is possible that Wittgenstein was biased in pronouncing Malcolm's bias, but it seems to me unlikely. The evidence seems to point the other way, especially the conclusion he draws- that philosophy should help one with the important questions of everyday life.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T05:08:40.357Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You suspect he's too quick to pattern-match every mention from a single example?

Admittedly, this is speculative, but from his tone I did get the impression that he was prone to such matching.

Perhaps this is because I have an unfavorable view of governments in general, but it seems that for an even slightly cynical student of history assassination attempts on rival heads of state by a government should not come as a surprise, especially as monarchies were replaced by democracies.

Actually, a very strong taboo against such assassinations follows from a very cynical theory. Namely, it provides for a convenient Schelling point for national leaders, where they can otherwise escalate war as much as they like without fear for their personal safety. (As long as they don't let themselves get totally conquered, of course.)

But more importantly, who are all these heads of state supposedly assassinated under orders from rival governments prior to 1939? Can you name any attempts of such assassinations in the period of, say, one hundred years preceding 1939? Or even just cases where the culprit is unknown, but a plot directed by a rival government seems plausible?

(The closest example I can think of is the killing of Engelbert Dollfuss that kicked off the coup attempt in 1934 by the Austrian Nazis, who were clearly acting in concert with Berlin. But even that was an all-out coup attempt accompanied by an armed Nazi uprising across the country, so not really an assassination plot, and also symptomatic of the new and unprecedented wave of political gangsterism of which the British government was not a part.)

Given this history (or rather a lack thereof), do you think that it was possible for a non-biased observer in 1939 to view the accusation against British government plot to assassinate the German head of state as unsurprising if true?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-07T15:49:21.612Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Namely, it provides for a convenient Schelling point for national leaders

The Schelling Point is stronger for monarchs than for ministers, and so as monarchies disappear or become less relevant one could expect assassinations to increase.

But more importantly, who are all these heads of state supposedly assassinated under orders from rival governments prior to 1939?

Does the first such assassination have to be a surprise? I think unprecedented events can be unsurprising if they were anticipated. We may be interpreting Wittgenstein's comment very differently: for me, "X would not surprise me" means something like P(X)>.01, not something like P(X)>.5.

But, since you asked, consider the case of Tomas Mac Curtain, assassinated by British forces in 1920. I don't think he qualifies as a head of state, but he was a fairly prominent government official. In 1939, it would have been plausible that Napoleon had been poisoned by the British (though that's a bit outside your hundred year window).

do you think that it was possible for a non-biased observer in 1939 to view the accusation against British government plot to assassinate the German head of state as unsurprising?

I don't think this is the question you meant to ask, but I think that the accusation should have been entirely unsurprising, regardless of its veracity. I think that most observers would assign a higher probability to the accusation being false than true, but I don't think an unbiased, moderately informed observer could put the chance that the accusation was false at less than ~5% on the day the accusation was reported.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T05:08:52.583Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The Schelling Point is stronger for monarchs than for ministers, and so as monarchies disappear or become less relevant one could expect assassinations to increase.

Why? Even an elected ruler who breaks the convention against assassination makes himself fair game for immediate retaliation of the same kind. I don't see why the transitory nature of his office would make the incentives significantly different.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-08T06:53:48.578Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First, it seems to me that monarchs have more invested in the legitimacy of monarchy than ministers have in the legitimacy of democracy. Second, an elected official may be expected to sacrifice themselves for the good of the population, whereas the roles may be reversed for a monarch. Third, succession works differently in democracies than monarchies, which may make assassination more attractive against elected officials.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T16:29:13.844Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

However, Wittgenstein is not criticizing Malcolm just for supposedly having wrong factual beliefs, but for mere willingness to use probabilities about beliefs and behavior of people that are conditional on their nationality.

This is not evident in the quote you talk about. Malcolm didn't use probablities, he called it "impossible". He didn't merely condition his guess partly on the nationality, he seems to have based it entirely on said nationality and on nothing else.

Do you know of any act, no matter of how great charity or barbarism that is so incompatible with "national character" that you can find not one person of that nation willing to commit it?

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T16:56:01.267Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know of any act, no matter of how great charity or barbarism that is so incompatible with "national character" that you can find not one person of that nation willing to commit it?

That is not the relevant question here. The relevant question is whether we can think of acts that are so incompatible with the "national character" that it would be inconceivable (i.e. p~0 can be assumed for all practical purposes) that any institutions of a given country's government would commit them, although such acts have been committed by governments in other places and times. The answer is obviously yes.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T17:19:22.885Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That is not the relevant question here. The relevant question is whether we can think of acts that are so incompatible with the "national character" that it would be inconceivable (i.e. p~0 can be assumed for all practical purposes) that any institutions of a given country's government would commit them, although such acts have been committed by governments in other places and times. The answer is obviously yes.

I can think of only such acts as wouldn't benefit such governments in question. E.g. it wouldn't benefit the US government to cook alive suspected terrorists and use their flesh to feed its troops. Cannibalism isn't part of the American national character -- and it doesn't benefit the US government either, so it doesn't do it.

But I can't think of any acts that would be effectively impossible to be committed by an institution of any government though it would benefit it, merely because it's "not in the national character" to do so. If something is not in the national character, then said institution merely does it in secret.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T17:35:31.762Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But I can't think of any acts that would be effectively impossible to be committed by an institution of any government though it would benefit it, merely because it's "not in the national character" to do so. If something is not in the national character, then said institution merely does it in secret.

For example, given the American national character, it would be inconceivable for the U.S. government to kidnap its subjects' daughters to serve as concubines in the president's harem. (Something that many historical governments in fact did openly.) Do you therefore conclude that this is in fact being done in secret? Or maybe that the only reason why it's not being done is the difficulty of keeping it secret?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T17:59:32.151Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Do you therefore conclude that this is in fact being done in secret? Or maybe that the only reason why it's not being done is the difficulty of keeping it secret?

Primarily the latter. Consider this:
North Korea abducts women for the president's harem.
South Korea does not (neither openly nor secretly, with p~0).

And yet it's people of the same nationality on both sides of the border. Therefore such things don't seem to me to be primarily dependent on "national character". They seem to be primarily about what each leader can get away with doing. South Korea and America are semi-democratic capitalist states. North Korea is a totalitarian regime.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-06T18:51:15.538Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To get back to my comment where I explained what I consider to be a reasonable interpretation of "national character," I defined it thus:

[N]orms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character.

In this discussion, I am not at all interested in the exact connection that these norms have with ethnicity or any other factors. I merely claim that for whatever reason, there is variation in such norms across governments, which sometimes gives very strong information on what they may be capable of doing.

(And anyway, several decades of life under radically different regimes imposed by foreign conquerors, one of which practices extreme isolation, will cause cultural divergences that run deeper than the immediate structure of clear incentives. Moreover, this one example is not conclusive proof that all such differences in governments' behaviors in all places and times are caused by the same factor.)

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-06T23:21:04.490Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But I think that such a definition where "national character" are the norms followed by a a national government and which it's expected to be followed by a broad consensus, leads to bizarre ideas such as e.g. the "national character" of the whole of Eastern Europe must be described as having changed at the fall of communism, even though the fall came from within. So the national character suddenly modified itself, just because the norms of government changed themselves. Eh. I don't think that's really how these words are normally used.

And if we return to the subject of actually secret, non-open operations -- if I believe (which I do) that FSB bombed some of Russia's own apartment buildings (for I am a conspiracy theorist in regards to several conspiracy theories), but that the MI5 wouldn't do that against British apartments, nor would CIA do it for American apartments, I don't think it makes much sense to say that the Russian national character enables Russia to blow its own people up, but that the British and American national characters does not. The character of their respective government structures, sure. But not the national characters.

To the extent that there's a "national character" that affects policy, I feel it has primarily, perhaps even solely to do with concepts of self-identification similar in type to the concept of Clash of Civilizations by Huntington. e.g. Greece supported the Serbs in the Yugoslav wars for no more and no less reason than that its "national character" contained a self-identification with Eastern Orthodox significantly more than with Catholics or with Muslims. Now there's predictive power. In any dispute between orthodox and non-orthodox, I know that Greece will back the orthodox. I know that Arab nations will back the Palestinians against Israel. America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't.

There's the extent that national character plays in regards to policy. If there's some other element in it with predictive power, I don't see it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T12:45:45.162Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't.

With some noteworthy exceptions, particularly in Africa. I do generally agree that rules of thumb like this generally have decent predictive power though.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-07T12:59:00.115Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

With some noteworthy exceptions, particularly in Africa.

If the exceptions are about opposition to white-racist regimes, I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T13:20:38.671Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the exceptions are about opposition to white-racist regimes, I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist.

Yes I was mostly referring to countries that where under white rule such as South Africa and Rhodesia.

Note that equal predictive power on this set of examples can be gained by say US opposition to any system except somewhat free market universal suffrage democracy. It would also fit with the recent rhetoric that strings together meddling from Libya to Iraq in the past decade. And it fits the popular narrative about the 20th century that's been with us since way back in the late 1920's about Fascisms, Liberal Democracy and Communism battling to capture the future of mankind. But as I write I can think of many more exceptions to my hypothesis than I can to yours in the last 40 years.

Which leads me to a question, why didn't you then put that as the example for Americans in line with Greeks supporting the Orthodox side?

Edit: The last question was referring to your hypothesis rather than mine.

I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-07T13:58:13.545Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Note that equal predictive power on this set of examples can be gained by say US opposition to any system except somewhat free market universal suffrage democracy.

No. I probably don't have enough fingers and toes to count all the dictatorships the US has supported just because they happened to be anti-leftist dictatorships. I think white-rule regimes are the only type of regimes that counts lower in status than "communist" to Americans.

why didn't you then put that as the example for Americans in line with Greeks supporting the Orthodox side?

In conservative forums I can still hear Americans say that Greeks should be grateful for things like the US-supported junta because it "saved Greece from the commies", even though it abolished democracy.

So, no. Opposition to communists and white-rule regimes are good examples for the American "national character", but oppositions to dictatorships in general is not.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T18:08:00.054Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In conservative forums I can still hear Americans say that Greeks should be grateful for things like the US-supported junta because it "saved Greece from the commies", even though it abolished democracy.

Heh. Sorry I know its an awful stereotype and I don't want to offend anyone but that's just such an American thing to do or say. Like:

"If it wasn't for us you'd all be speaking German!"

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-07T18:44:13.180Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Every time I hear such discussion a dialogue runs in my head

USA: If it wasn't for us that nail would have never been hammered.

WORLD: It was a bolt.

USA: Doesn't count. Still Hammered It.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-07T18:50:19.050Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That's brilliant. I'll remember that one.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T15:09:59.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think we misunderstood each other. I basically dismissed the hypothesis I was considering in the second paragraph with the last sentence of that same paragraph.

But as I write I can think of many more exceptions to my hypothesis than I can to yours in the last 40 years.

Which leads me to a question, why didn't you then put that as the example for Americans in line with Greeks supporting the Orthodox side?

The question was with regard to

I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-07T17:11:24.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states.

American opposition to communism does make for a much more obvious, simple, and clear-cut example, in contrast, with dozens of substantiated anti-communist actions. And I'm not a troll that I would give unclear and controversial examples to be disputed and argued over when more clear-cut and obvious examples suffice to make my point.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T04:49:38.009Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern... [...] American opposition to communism does make for a much more obvious, simple, and clear-cut example...

A well-substantiated more general pattern is that in U.S. foreign relations, anti-colonialism trumped anti-communism solidly. Besides Rhodesia and South Africa, some other major examples are the Katanga Crisis and the Suez Crisis. In the latter, the U.S. effectively joined forces with the Soviet Union to support Nasser against the British and the French.

Moreover, in some cases the U.S. "support" for anti-communists was of the "with friends like that, who needs enemies" variety, sometimes with major elements within the U.S. government effectively favoring the communists. China is the most notable example. Not to mention the cases where the U.S. supported communists who fought under a flimsy and transparent pretense of being non-communists, like Castro in Cuba.

So, on the whole, I wouldn't say the pattern of U.S. Cold War anti-communism is so consistent and clear-cut.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-08T05:51:09.611Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Besides Rhodesia and South Africa, some other major examples are the Katanga Crisis and the Suez Crisis.

Are Nasser and Mobutu supposed to be communists in your model of history? They are not in mine.

In the latter, the U.S. effectively joined forces with the Soviet Union to support Nasser against the British and the French.

Nasser opposed communism. Sure, both American and the Soviet Union preferred a non-Europe-controlled Egypt, because they respectively preferred an America-controllled and a Soviet-controlled Egypt. What does that have to do with anti-colonialism trumping anti-communism? It wasn't a communist regime that America supported then, it was Nasser's anti-communist regime.

Look, I'm not interested in having a discussion where "communism" has been redefined to mean pretty much the entire modern world. I'm well aware that there exist some people (e.g Moldbug-type reactionaries) that believe that even modern-day America is "communist" according to their own definition, but I'm talking about ordinary definitions of "communism".

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T06:20:50.340Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Are Nasser and Mobutu supposed to be communists in your model of history? They are not in mine.

Mobutu consolidated power only in late 1965, and there were many other relevant people involved about whose degree of affiliation with communism we could debate. (And frankly, I'm not very knowledgeable about, or particularly interested in, the details of this particular war.) The point however is that a reflexively and consistently anti-communist U.S. policy would have simply backed Tshombe and his Katangan government.

As for the Suez crisis, the point is not about Nasser's ideology. The point is that the U.S. took the same side as the Soviet Union and a Soviet-aided regime (though, as you correctly point out, not a Soviet-run one), and against European colonial powers that opposed the latter. Again, a model that postulates consistent anti-communism on part of the U.S. cannot predict this; it will require at the very least a few epicycles.

Moreover, note that you were the one who claimed that the U.S. anti-communism was simple and clear-cut. To dispute that claim, it is enough to demonstrate that the situation was in fact much more complicated and murky. It is not necessary to provide examples where the U.S. clearly and indisputably aided communists. (Though Castro and arguably Mao provide such examples.)

Look, I'm not interested in having a discussion where "communism" has been redefined to mean pretty much the entire modern world.

I don't know at whom, or what, this is supposed to be directed. While I readily acknowledge that you may have reasonable disagreements with my opinions, I don't think this is a reasonable response to anything I have written in this thread or elsewhere.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-08T12:10:07.420Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that the U.S. took the same side as the Soviet Union and a Soviet-aided regime

Or that the Soviet Union took the same side as a US-aided regime. Since said regime was anti-communist, that's a bit more surprising perhaps than the USA supporting it.

Though Castro and arguably Mao provide such examples

I'm getting tired of this contrarian view of history. America was selling guns, bombers and napalm to Batista for the majority of the duration of his government, and even for the majority of his combatting Castro. That America stopped backing Batista a couple months before the end, that's not "supporting Castro"... that's America cutting its losses.

Moreover, note that you were the one who claimed that the U.S. anti-communism was simple and clear-cut.

How many communist/anti-communist nations did USA invite into NATO during the cold war?
How many communist/anti-communist nations did USA sell weapons to?
The torturers of how many communist/anti-communist regimes did CIA help train?

Zero and lots.

For the sake of my argument imagine that when I said "America consistently supports the anti-communist side", that by 'supports' I meant "sells weapons to, invites to military alliances, or helps train its torturers"

Contrarian views of history work by focussing on minor details and enlarging them until they swamp out the plain-to-see elephant in the room.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T15:39:29.557Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Or that the Soviet Union took the same side as a US-aided regime.

It is unrealistic to paint Nasser's relationship with the U.S. and the Soviet Union as symmetrical. In any case, simple and clear-cut anti-communism would have implied joining the colonial forces against a Soviet-leaning and Soviet-armed local ruler, not joining the Soviets in an effort to restrain them.

That America stopped backing Batista a couple months before the end, that's not "supporting Castro"... that's America cutting its losses.

However you turn it, the U.S. at some point did go out of its way to support Castro and destroy Batista. (This is a simple matter of public record, not a conspiracy theory. It involved, among other things, placing an arms embargo on Batista in a critical moment.) The fact that this was a reversal still makes it a problem for your "simple and clear-cut" theory.

How many communist/anti-communist nations did USA sell weapons to?
...
Zero and lots.

This is just plain false -- if anything, the communist Yugoslavia received plenty of U.S. aid and weapons after its break with the U.S.S.R. in 1948. Thus demonstrating another problem with your theory: the U.S. apparently did't mind getting friendly with at least some communists who were willing to show some degree of cooperation. Again, not what I'd call simple and clear-cut anti-communism.

Contrarian views of history work by focussing on minor details and enlarging them until they swamp out the plain-to-see elephant in the room.

The existence of even minor contrary details (and I wouldn't call these minor) is a valid argument against a theory that presents things as simple and clear-cut. You are writing as if I were arguing for some bizarre mirror image of your position, whereas I'm merely pointing out that reality is much more complex.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-08T17:15:56.371Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Does this argument help your case about "national character"? It's clearly true that a naive anti-communist would do a terrible job of predicting the actions of the United States during the Cold War. That's an argument that anti-communism was not a part of the national character of the US.
But your position seems to require that national character have some predictive power in policy decisions. So what particular national character drove US actions in the Cold War? I personally think that national self-interest (i.e. Great Power politics) drove the Cold War, not ideology. But self-interest is an odd thing to label a "national characteristic" because it seems unlikely that there are nations that lack that quality.


To recap, this is the quote that started this sub-debate:

To the extent that there's a "national character" that affects policy, I feel it has primarily, perhaps even solely to do with concepts of self-identification similar in type to the concept of Clash of Civilizations by Huntington. e.g. Greece supported the Serbs in the Yugoslav wars for no more and no less reason than that its "national character" contained a self-identification with Eastern Orthodox significantly more than with Catholics or with Muslims. Now there's predictive power. In any dispute between orthodox and non-orthodox, I know that Greece will back the orthodox. I know that Arab nations will back the Palestinians against Israel. America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't.

There's the extent that national character plays in regards to policy. If there's some other element in it with predictive power, I don't see it.

I don't see how disproving the highlighted portion shows that the following sentences are untrue.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-09T04:03:11.574Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So your complaint is that Vladimir is arguing a point that doesn't necessarily advance his main argument. Why is this bad? That's what rationalist discussions are supposed to look like.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-09T04:38:21.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So your complaint is that Vladimir is arguing a point that doesn't necessarily advance his main argument. Why is this bad? That's what rationalist discussions are supposed to look like.

Usually, yes. So long as it is not used as a logically rude tactic, verbal sleight of hand to make it look like a position is being supported while doing something completely different.

(I have no idea whether that is the case here. From what I understand the conversation is a mix of 'philosophizing' about a trivial conversation by that Wittgenstein fellow and bickering about American politics. I try to avoid both.)

comment by TimS · 2011-12-09T13:20:55.456Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As I understand Vladimir, his point is that "national character" is more than a semantic stop sign. But political realism - i.e. Great Power politics (as opposed to other theories of international relations) does not really include "national character" as a variable for predicting the acts of nations.
So, I saw the invocation of political realism as contradicting Vladimir's overarching point that "national character" is a meaningful thing.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-08T17:42:36.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But your position seems to require that national character have some predictive power in policy decisions.

Indeed, but it has significant predictive power only in cases where some state of affairs would be in striking contradiction with the "national character." It's clearly not a heuristic that would give concrete and reliable predictions about all issues.

My objection to the comment you cite is that: (1) the proposed anti-communism heuristic, while not entirely devoid of predictive power, is nowhere as consistently accurate as the commennter claims, and (2) contrary to the commenter's claim, there are issues outside of the proposed category (religious, ideological, etc. identification with parties in foreign disputes) where heuristics based on national character make accurate predictions.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-08T18:12:47.680Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

contrary to the commenter's claim, there are issues outside of the proposed category (religious, ideological, etc. identification with parties in foreign disputes) where heuristics based on national character make accurate predictions.

Can you give examples? Because my paradigmatic example of the use of national character to make predictions is Napoleon's (failed) prediction that a "nation of shopkeepers" would not be able to successfully resist his domination of Europe based on their supposed lack of will.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-09T01:01:16.888Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That was indeed a prediction driven by obvious biases. But there are many examples where it's easy to make predictions so clearly true that they seem trivially obvious based on certain norms that are a matter of wide consensus in particular nations.

For example, the same plan for a public project implemented in a country known for notoriously corrupt practices in business in government will result in vastly more graft and embezzlement than if it's implemented in a country known for a low level (and generally zero tolerance) for such corruption. What's more, even if tomorrow both these countries were occupied by some third country and had the same system of government imposed on them, in practice the former one would likely still end up with a more corrupt system, since this sort of thing tends to be influenced by deeper cultural factors that can't be readily changed by dictate from above.

Whether or not you think "national character" is an appropriate term for these factors (and it is indeed a somewhat antiquated term), it's this sort of thing I have in mind, and it's easy to think of many such examples. Surely you have often thought yourself that something is much more or less likely to happen in one place than another based on the deeply ingrained local culture, customs, attitudes, etc.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T18:06:32.641Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states.

Really depends on which period. In the 1950s you didn't hear much condemnation from anyone except maybe Communist countries. Makes sense since much of the US was segregated in the 1960s, also South Africa did get some non-military support from the US in the name of fighting communism, because the US needed the country for operations in Africa. Perhaps the phenomena we talked about with regards to their hostility with South Africa and Rhodesia, where basically meant as a disingenuous ploy by some US anti-communist players. It is no secret that many important politicians in private argued that eliminating segregation in the US was necessary to try and reduce the appeal of Soviet propaganda in the Third world. Maybe relations with South Africa where at first seen as a delicate balance looking good and helping the Communists take over the country versus looking bad and helping Soviets gain influence elsewhere.

In a way the "egalitarian" bent wasn't something that affected only those two states, but more the general US attitude towards decolonialization, which was a significant phenomena and trend of the second half of the 20th century. Overall making states independent didn't help slowing the spread of Communism but it arguably often made direct political influence easier, so why this impulse found expression in action rather than just sympathy isn't exactly a mystery.

Also to check the other side of "less hostile than others" statement, this wasn't always true. I think Israel was cooperating rather closely with South Africa even in a military sense during the 1970s (there is even speculation of cooperation on their nuclear programs), and places like Japan just didn't care (say in the late 80s) and simply wanted to do business. Even Britain's opposition was much muted due to economic concerns.

American opposition to communism does make for a much more obvious, simple, and clear-cut example, in contrast, with dozens of substantiated anti-communist actions. And I'm not a troll that I would give unclear and controversial examples to be disputed and argued over when more clear-cut and obvious examples suffice to make my point.

I think agree with this.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-08T15:23:24.543Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states.

What about the Portuguese colonial wars, with Holden Roberto and the CIA backed FNLA and UPA?

Greece supported the Serbs in the Yugoslav wars for no more and no less reason than that its "national character" contained a self-identification with Eastern Orthodox significantly more than with Catholics or with Muslims. Now there's predictive power. In any dispute between orthodox and non-orthodox, I know that Greece will back the orthodox. I know that Arab nations will back the Palestinians against Israel. America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't."

I could take a standard die and tell you, or even someone who had never seen a die before, that of its six faces, one, two, three, four, or five dots are always face up after a roll. In such a case, it's not clear that's better than not knowing anything - it would depend on exactly what you were doing with the information. The correct rule (when we only care about whether or not a six is rolled) is "one, two, three, four, or five dots are face up after a roll 5/6 of the time, and 1/6 of the time the six dots are face up."

comment by Oligopsony · 2011-12-08T15:54:38.903Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What about the Portuguese colonial wars, with Holden Roberto and the CIA backed FNLA and UPA?

That's pretty well-explained by the anti-communist rule of thumb.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-09T08:00:43.735Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia:

The Estado Novo), ("New State"), or the Second Republic, was the corporatist authoritarian regime installed in Portugal in 1933. It was established following the army-led coup d'état of 28 May 1926 against the democratic but unstable First Republic. The Estado Novo, greatly inspired by conservative and authoritarian ideologies, was developed by António de Oliveira Salazar, ruler of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, when he fell ill. Opposed to communism, socialism, liberalism, and anti-colonialism, the pro-Roman Catholic Estado Novo regime advocated the retention of Portuguese colonies as a pluricontinental empire.

This isn't explained by the US cutting losses by abandoning a doomed anti-communist regime, even with US support, those rebels didn't win:

The combined forces of the MPLA, the UNITA, and the FNLA succeeded in their rebellion not because of their success in battle, but because of the Movimento das Forças Armadas' coup in Portugal.

That coup succeeded significantly because of Portuguese defeats in Guinea.

By most accounts, Portugal's counterinsurgency campaign in Angola was the most successful of all its campaigns in the Colonial War. Angola is a large territory, and the long distances from safe havens in neighboring countries supporting the rebel forces made it difficult for the latter to escape detection...Another factor was internecine struggles between three competing revolutionary movements - (FNLA, MPLA, and UNITA) - and their guerrilla armies. For most of the conflict, the three rebel groups spent as much time fighting each other as they did fighting the Portuguese...Strategy also played a role, as a successful hearts and minds campaign led by General Costa Gomes helped blunt the influence of the various revolutionary movements. Finally, unlike other overseas possessions, Portuguese Angola was able to receive support from a local ally, in this case South Africa...The combined forces of the MPLA, the UNITA, and the FNLA succeeded in their rebellion not because of their success in battle, but because of the Movimento das Forças Armadas' coup in Portugal.

The US chose to support an anti-communist insurgency as a means of opposing colonial rule and also opposing communism. An excellent chance of having a successful colonialist anti-communist regime was dropped in favor of a decent chance of having an anti-communist anti-colonial regime and a decent chance of having a communist anti-colonial regime.

Anti-communism was one very important factor of American foreign policy after the second world war, but it wasn't of overriding importance. American anti-white-rule positions towards Rhodesia and South Africa aren't the only examples of how egalitarianism/anti-colonialism/etc. was a feature of American decision making in determining whom to support, how to support them, etc.

This example actually conforms to the language ArisKatsaris used regarding the main point of contention, "in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't." This shifts the maximized policy goals from causing desired outcomes of conflicts to acting according to favored procedures, but doesn't tell us if the procedure is just supporting favored groups or if it is also supporting groups acting according to favored norms.

I.e., it doesn't help us distinguish between those procedures being almost exclusively based on the identity of the supported, i.e. "I feel it has primarily, perhaps even solely to do with concepts of self-identification," or based substantially on the sorts of actions taken by the supported, i.e. "a violation of certain norms that the British government is known to follow consistently in practice, and expected to follow by a broad consensus of the British people -- such consensus being strong enough that it can be considered part of their national character." That is the main claim in question here, this comment of mine addresses an apparent shift in ArisKatsaris' position on the minor point of opposition to white-minority colonial regimes.

He had first correctly said, "If the exceptions are about opposition to white-racist regimes, I believe this is explained by modern-day United States identifying itself even more as multiracial and egalitarian (atleast in regards to race), than it does as anti-communist." He later said, "Frankly, because two examples (Rhodesia and South Africa) don't make for a well-substantiated pattern -- especially when United States was less severe than most of the rest of the world in its condemnation of these states"

I added a third example. Furthermore, I think there are good reasons to support his earlier statement besides examples of it actually occurring, in the way that I think there are good reasons to believe the US would oppose a military dictatorship of octopuses riding flying shark cavalry with laser weapons, despite the absence of even one example.

So on a side point at issue here, I think ArisKatsaris changed from a reasonable position to an unreasonable one. He also backs it up with literally true but misleading or inadequate statements like saying that the two examples cited don't make a pattern, though there are more examples and there are also reasons other than the examples to believe his original statement was correct.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T15:47:57.189Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with this discussion is that "support" is an ambiguous term. The U.S. government is not a monolithic entity whose parts all act in unison so that it would be meaningful to speak of its support or opposition as a clear-cut matter. What's more, its ostensible "support" is in many cases qualified, indecisive, badly executed, and attached with monstrous strings (often due to internal conflict within USG itself) so much that it ends up being ruinous for the "supported" party.

To take only the most notable example, the U.S. "support" for the Chinese nationalists against Mao's communists was, for all practical purposes, equivalent to a prolonged backstab.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-08T15:16:57.865Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Soviet support for the Second Spanish Republic is a good example of this phenomenon.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T02:26:37.673Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In addition to my previous reply, and to separate the more controversial part from the rest:

And if we return to the subject of actually secret, non-open operations -- if I believe (which I do) that FSB bombed some of Russia's own apartment buildings (for I am a conspiracy theorist in regards to several conspiracy theories), but that the MI5 wouldn't do that against British apartments, nor would CIA do it for American apartments, I don't think it makes much sense to say that the Russian national character enables Russia to blow its own people up, but that the British and American national characters does not.

Frankly, if you believe that people running the MI5 or the CIA would be willing and capable of doing something like that, I think you have a very distorted view of reality in this regard. Unfortunately, the inferential distances are probably too large for us to have a productive discussion about it in this context.

(In reality, I don't think CIA would be capable of killing my neighbor's cat without it leaking into the press tomorrow. In fact, they'd probably bungle the task so badly that the leak wouldn't even be necessary.)

America in the Cold War self-identified as anti-communist, so in any dispute between people identifying as communists and people that didn't , I know America would back the people that didn't.

That would have been news to many anti-communists, but let's better not go there.

comment by Oligopsony · 2011-12-07T05:48:03.008Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Frankly, if you believe that people running the MI5 or the CIA would be willing and capable of doing something like that, I think you have a very distorted view of reality in this regard. Unfortunately, the inferential distances are probably too large for us to have a productive discussion about it in this context.

The CIA assassinated a US citizen not two months ago, and the government made no attempt to hide it out of an (accurate) expectation that the public would approve. Of course I doubt the FBI has killed a white person on US soil by blowing up their apartment recently, or will in the forseeable future, but if we allow probable facts about national character to be this specific it seems that trivially any fact about what a government is likely to do is a fact about its national character.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T02:25:07.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But I think that such a definition where "national character" are the norms followed by a a national government and which it's expected to be followed by a broad consensus, leads to bizarre ideas such as e.g. the "national character" of the whole of Eastern Europe must be described as having changed at the fall of communism, even though the fall came from within. So the national character suddenly modified itself, just because the norms of government changed themselves.

This is just the confounding factor of foreign domination, just like in the North/South Korea example. Of course, like with all political categories, the distinctions aren't always clear, since prolonged foreign domination may gradually cause irreversible changes, or even gradually get to be seen as the normal state of affairs. Still, the different national characters of Eastern European countries have been amply demonstrated when comparing their state both before 1990 and since then.

A better example of what you're aiming for would be periods of political instability in which some extremist faction like e.g. the Nazis grabs power and proceeds to implement extremist policies that would have seemed unbelievable coming from that same country shortly before that. Clearly, such black swan events limit the predictability of any model one uses for understanding history and politics. It doesn't mean they have no predictive power during normal times, though.

The character of their respective government structures, sure. But not the national characters.

These things can't be separated from each other. You are speaking as if the system of government is an independent variable. In reality, formally the same system of government imposed in different places will produce very different results, and these results are very much dependent on what is conventionally understood as "national character."

To the extent that there's a "national character" that affects policy, I feel it has primarily, perhaps even solely to do with concepts of self-identification... [...] If there's some other element in it with predictive power, I don't see it.

It's hard to make any concrete predictions without offending various nationalities, so I'll limit myself to offending my own kind. For example, suppose I read a story about an affair where vast millions were pillaged in corrupt dealings some years ago and yet the culprits are happy, free, and untouchable despite all this being public knowledge. If it happens in Croatia, I'll shrug my shoulders. But if I heard about this happening in, say, Denmark, I would, like Malcolm, express disbelief because it would, indeed, sound incompatible with their national character. Even though the laws on the books and the theoretical legal consequences are probably similar in both places.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-07T02:45:59.692Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If it happens in Croatia, I'll shrug my shoulders. If I heard about this happening in, say, Denmark, I would, like Malcolm, express disbelief because it would, indeed, sound incompatible with their national character.

I understand that you are trying to defend a better form of Malcolm's statements, but is there any other reason you are defending the phrase "national character"? One could just as easily explain the differences you note by reference to national culture, national values, national commitment to rule of law, or suchlike. By contrast, "character" is often deployed as an applause light without any way of cashing out the reference more specifically.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-07T05:19:55.931Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All these terms are also often deployed as applause lights. "National character" is just a term that is supposed to subsume them all. Nowadays this term is somewhat antiquated, and it's not a part of my regular vocabulary, but I definitely don't see any reason for why someone's casual use of it 72 years ago should raise any eyebrows (either back then or now).

comment by soreff · 2011-12-07T02:17:05.787Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If there's some other element in it with predictive power, I don't see it.

Historically, there have at least been some iodine-poor areas within nations that outsiders might have dismissed as being full of cretins without being wholly unjustified...

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-06T18:07:20.755Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They have different citizenships, different cultural messages from birth, different access to such messages from the rest of the world (such as the US). They cannot accurately be described as having the same nationality.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-06T18:15:58.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Different something, sure.

But North Korea has more in common with South Korea than it has in common with any other country. And South Korea is probably much closer to North Korea than any other country is to North Korea. Anyway, this is all nitpicking, because ArisKatsaris' main point remains: South Korean leaders don't refrain from harem-kidnapping based on national character, but based on the negative incentives they face.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-06T18:18:15.114Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure that if you had asked me what "national character" means before this thread, I would definitely have included "personality cult around a wacky dictator"!

comment by TimS · 2011-12-06T18:28:25.977Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the reasons laid out in the quote that started this discussion, I'm not sure "national character" refers to anything at all.

It's either all applause lights or what behaviorists might call explanatory fiction (i.e. it describes certain behavior, but does not actually explain anything).

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-06T18:39:43.431Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

it describes certain behavior, but does not actually explain anything

That's not so much of a problem, provided 1) it can help you make predictions, and 2) it's not screened off by better models (which would necessarily include those that actually do explain, provided they are simple enough to be practically applied).

comment by TimS · 2011-12-06T18:59:27.531Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

An explanatory fiction in the wild:

A: Why is Charlie doing badly in school?
B: He's lazy.
A: What makes you say that?
B: He's always daydreaming.
A: So let's
B: Nah, it wouldn't work. Charlie is lazy.


So, saying that the British don't use assassination as a foreign policy tool based on their "national character" is really just saying the British don't assassinate because they don't assassinate.

Notice how saying "The British won't assassinate in the future because they haven't in the past" doesn't really invoke "national character" at all.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-06T19:19:49.143Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If "[h]e's always daydreaming" is in fact the only evidence that Charlie is lazy, then the Lazy Charlie model is poor at making predictions new situations. If it was only the most salient, and B has much experience with Charlie in other situations that leads to the same conclusion, "Charlie is lazy" may be a better model, and a daydreaming specific intervention would be of less value.

"The British won't assassinate because they haven't in the past" does not invoke "national character" but it is also discarding portions of the theory that might be put to predictive use. "The British won't assassinate because they haven't in the past, they have spoken publicly against doing so, and they seem to value the appearance of consistency", for instance - if you have evidence for each of those, you should be adjusting your belief that the British were behind the plot downward somewhat; "that they haven't in the past" is not the only kind of evidence that applies. Models of that type might, in a handwavy casual conversation (although I'm not sure Wittgenstein ever had casual conversations) be pointed at with the phrase "national character" without a specific model necessarily being described in detail.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-06T20:00:01.141Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It could easily be that national character was used as a shorthand, which would make Wittgenstein's response look bad because holding conversation to a higher standard of precision without warning is quite rude.

But if it's a shorthand, then it doesn't actually explain anything. And the risk is that Malcolm thought his statement was an explanation, not a shorthand. Your experience may be different, but most of the encounters I've had with the phrase "national character" are intended as explanations. Or in-group identification signals intended to avoid further questions.. But maybe the idiom meant something different in 1940s England.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-06T17:52:16.523Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Which governments did so? I can only think of some that politely asked families to send them their daughters.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T10:24:10.813Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I can only think of some that politely asked families to send them their daughters.

Reread that phrase with a cynic's mind in the context of a power struggle.

comment by Oligopsony · 2011-12-06T17:45:47.033Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How would that benefit the US government?

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-06T16:46:39.719Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, to be fair the proposition that the assassination attempt had British backing implicitly means that it had systematic approval in at least some government division, so it's a rather stronger claim than saying that at least one British person was willing to commit resources to backing the attack. But it did seem to me that Wittgenstein was criticizing his student for naive and sloppy thinking (which he was indeed guilty of) not for having the belief that there can be prevailing trends in national character.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T03:38:22.326Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-06T21:57:55.814Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The quote and comments raise two questions: 1) What was Wittgenstein chastising Malcolm for? and 2) Were their opinions rational?

On the first, I don't think there's enough information to tell. Was Wittgenstein protesting that Malcolm drew too close a connection between national character and state conduct or that Malcolm was victim of an idealized view of British national character? I think Malcolm was "primitive" for both reasons, and it seems fairly plausible that Wittgenstein might have had both in mind.

But there's a third form of primitiveness in Malcolm's remark, and Wittgenstein appears to have shared Malcolm's premise—although that's not completely clear. It is a cached-belief bias: that the assassination of any foreign head of state is immoral. Such formalism is irrational when considering a radically new development (the rise of a Nazi Germany and the degree of its dependence on its fuhrer). Only "primitive" people would assume that "decent" people necessarily eschew assassination, regardless of the despot's international role.

As I think about it, I can't dismiss that this aspect might have been what offended Wittgenstein, who does not appear to have been completely honest; to my ear, he sounds personally offended. What offended him, we might guess, is that Malcolm was insinuating that Wittgenstein's approval of such an endeavor was indecent. (A point on which Wittgenstein was, I think, sensitive and which would offend most people when directed toward them.)

comment by gwern · 2011-12-06T22:39:12.300Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are seriously over-thinking that third form, and that is not what is intended at all; you can be mortally wounded that your philosophy has completely failed to teach someone a little critical thinking about how licit it is to argue an assassination attempt did not occur because of 'national character' without any regard to whether you personally approve of assassination or not. (I doubt Wittgenstein was any fan of the Nazis, what with being a secular Jew dispossessed by them and living in England.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T10:26:43.419Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Only "primitive" people would assume that "decent" people necessarily eschew assassination, regardless of the despot's international role.

Or you know deontologists and some virtue ethicists.

As I think about it, I can't dismiss that this aspect might have been what offended Wittgenstein, who does not appear to have been completely honest; to my ear, he sounds personally offended. What offended him, we might guess, is that Malcolm was insinuating that Wittgenstein's approval of such an endeavor was indecent. (A point on which Wittgenstein was, I think, sensitive and which would offend most people when directed toward them.)

Seems plausible actually.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-07T10:50:29.190Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Or you know deontologists and some virtue ethicists.

They would still have to be 'primitive' deontologists and virtue ethicists.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T11:34:35.048Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-01-04T13:48:49.194Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is a cached-belief bias: that the assassination of any foreign head of state is immoral. Such formalism is irrational when considering a radically new development.

There nothing radically new about getting heads of state in Europe that want to wage wars. European's in that time aren't like modern American's who have no concept of honor and no respect for international law. European's fought their wars according to a honor codex that allow certain form of violence but forbids other forms.

Given the morality of the time it is indecent to violate the laws of war and go and assassinate a foreign head of state. Neither side of WWII fully followed international law and principles of honorable behavior at all times but when they didn't followed those principles they still were indecent.

You shouldn't forget the fact that Germany started WWI because of an assassination of a head of state by a government that was allied with Germany. That assassination wasn't done by France of Great Britain. Even when the British still considered Germany to be responsible for WWI they didn't thought to highly of that assassination.

comment by djcb · 2011-12-02T06:48:20.492Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW · GW

If you hit this sign, you will hit that bridge.

-- Road sign in Griffin, Georgia, showing that sometimes it's good to have some distance between map and area.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-06T04:19:12.226Z · score: 23 (27 votes) · LW · GW

"I did not think; I investigated."

Wilhelm Roentgen, when asked by an interviewer what he thought on noticing some kind of light (X-ray-induced fluorescence) apparently passing through a solid opaque object. Quoted in de Solla Price, Science Since Babylon, expanded edition, p. 146.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-06T06:43:03.865Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for reading de Solla Price :)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-03T15:05:16.984Z · score: 23 (25 votes) · LW · GW

Fujiwara no Yoshitake (954-974), a handsome nobleman, tragically died of smallpox at age 21. He left a love poem full of pathos:

Kige ga tame
oshikarazarishi
Inochi sae
Nagaku mo gana to
Omoikeru kana

For your precious sake, once I thought
I could die.
Now, I wish to live with you
a long, long time.

--Hokusai and Hiroshige

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-12-04T00:06:20.836Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

For your precious sake, once I thought I could die.

It took me a long time to figure out this poem isn't about a recovering alcoholic.

comment by Maniakes · 2011-12-03T00:26:40.254Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.

-- Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

comment by gwern · 2011-12-08T03:59:31.662Z · score: 22 (24 votes) · LW · GW

'Tell me one last thing,' said Harry. 'Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?'

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-09T03:27:31.322Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I held off reading this series (my children being in their 30s and having no grandchildren) until several months ago when I realized that just because I didn't watch television or go to many movies, I should not be totally left out of modern culture. And so I started the first year. I could not put these books down and more or less inhaled all seven as fast as I could. What an excellent choice of quotations for this thread.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-31T21:21:38.595Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

Because... it's not real?

Just sayin'.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-11-20T10:31:33.763Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What Harry should've asked isn't where the experience was taking place but whether the Dumbledore he was talking to was the model of Dumbledore in his head, which only knows things that Harry knows, or enough of the actual Dumbledore to know things that Harry doesn't know. That is, what's relevant isn't the location of the experience but the source of the information feeding into that experience. That would also be the relevant criterion for distinguishing between, for example, a message from God and a hallucination.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-01-01T19:26:39.268Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's like saying is depression real, or is it just happening inside the patient's head?

The correct answer is yes and yes.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T22:06:03.069Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

Because... it's not real?

Within the perspective of a fantasy world it certainly can be. It isn't just Harry imagining things. Magic is involved.

comment by Maniakes · 2011-12-03T00:30:14.452Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

If you're tempted to respond, "But I love school, and so do all my friends. Ah, the life of the mind, what could be better?" let me gently remind you that readers of economics blogs are not a random sample of the population. Most people would hate reading this blog; you read it just for fun!

-- Bryan Caplan

comment by Tesseract · 2011-12-01T17:40:37.113Z · score: 22 (26 votes) · LW · GW

One of the toughest things in any science... is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth.

Thomas Carew

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-12-04T08:10:29.376Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

-Probably not Henry Ford

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/henry_ford_never_said_the_fast.html

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-12-04T00:23:32.190Z · score: 20 (26 votes) · LW · GW

In the early 1970's it cost $7 to buy a share in [Warren Buffett's] company, and that same share is worth $4,900 today... That makes Buffett a wonderful investor. What makes him the greatest investor of all time is that during a certain period when he thought stocks were grossly overpriced, he sold everything and returned all the money to his partners at a sizable profit to them. The voluntary returning of money that others would gladly pay you to continue to manage is, in my experience, unique in the history of finance.

  • Peter Lynch, "One Up on Wall Street"
comment by Ezekiel · 2011-11-30T23:03:32.468Z · score: 20 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I had a dream that I met a girl in a dying world. [...] I knew we didn't have long together. She grabbed me and spoke a stream of numbers into my ear. Then it all went away.

I woke up. The memory of the apocalypse faded to mere fancy, but the numbers burned bright in my mind. I wrote them down immediately. They were coordinates. A place and a time, neither one too far away.

What else could I do? When the day came, I went to the spot and waited.

And?

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

~ Randall Munroe, xkcd #240: Dream Girl

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-11-30T23:16:58.863Z · score: 15 (19 votes) · LW · GW

It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

Except that in this case it did.

comment by philh · 2011-12-02T13:01:51.474Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

What made it real was (among other things) Randall posting that comic. He wanted the meetup, and chose that method to publicise it.

Wanting something isn't sufficient: desire is a force that acts upon you, not on the universe.

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-11-30T23:54:19.797Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Just reading that maxed out my GDA for fuzzies.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-06T19:17:46.688Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

-- You can look at the stars and say "they sure are pretty" without having to calculate how many light-years away each one is.
-- Not if you want to get to them someday.

-- Questionable Content #2072

comment by Raemon · 2011-12-06T21:26:49.457Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Saw this today, and wanted to yell at Marigold.

comment by kpreid · 2011-12-08T15:28:21.130Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why?

Sure, discounting the value of understanding is bad, but so is the Straw-Vulcan excessive attention to detail irrelevant to the current situation.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-12T15:17:24.805Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, flippantly trivializing other people's passions in conversation with them is generally assholish behavior.

Besides which, glass houses, unless she's dying to be asked why keeping up with her guild raids in World of Warcraft is so important.

comment by bungula · 2011-11-30T16:11:16.281Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

"I just read a pop-science book by a respected author. One chapter, and much of the thesis, was based around wildly inaccurate data which traced back to ... Wikipedia. To encourage people to be on their toes, I'm not going to say what book or author."

-Randall Munroe, xkcd

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-11-30T11:05:02.779Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Gradually I began to intellectually reject some of my delusionally influenced lines of thinking which had been characteristic of my orientation. This began, most recognizably, with the rejection of politically-oriented thinking as essentially a hopeless waste of intellectual effort.

-John Nash, A Beautiful Mind

In other words, recognizing that politics is the mind-killer helped Nash manage his paranoid-scizophrenia.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-30T11:28:57.912Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Or, at least, he believes it did.

comment by Matt_Simpson · 2011-11-30T17:38:24.142Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Are you saying that it actually didn't help Nash manage his scizophrenia or are you just inserting the uncertainty back into that statement?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-30T17:41:40.422Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

The latter. I don't think Nash is a reliable narrator.

EDIT: And not merely because of his schizophrenia. Without hard data, I'd be hard-pressed to evaluate whether or not learning a mental habit increased or decreased my sanity, and that's assuming I'm sane to begin with.

comment by DSimon · 2011-12-05T02:04:14.561Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Unlike programs, computers must obey the laws of physics.

-- Alan J. Perlis, in the foreword to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-14T17:31:27.808Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This works as long as you think information is outside the purview of physics.

comment by DSimon · 2011-12-14T18:44:53.764Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mathematical systems are outside the purview of physics. I can make true statements about infinite series and n-dimensional spaces all day long and never have to actually go point at any in the real world.

Except... the decidedly non-trivial exception to this rule is that whatever is actually implementing the mathematical reasoning is constrained by physics, whether it's my brain or an i5 quad core.

Which is how I interpret the quote: the internal rules of abstract systems are not subject to physics, but the systems themselves sooner-or-later are. This is particularly relevant to programming because you can use non-physical abstractions if and only if you (or the people who wrote your tools) can explicitly represent them with physical processes.

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-14T18:49:31.605Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My point was merely that some would consider the laws of Information Theory to be contained within "the laws of physics", and programs cannot violate the laws of Information Theory.

comment by baiter · 2011-12-01T22:34:19.791Z · score: 18 (24 votes) · LW · GW

God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.

-- Dutch proverb

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-01T23:01:52.662Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Can someone please explain this one to me? I'm just getting "living things shape their environment", which while inspirational doesn't have much to do with rationality.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-01T23:14:14.946Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Possibly it's making a subtle equivocation between "earth" and "land", that is, the Dutch obtained a lot of what is now the Netherlands by extracting underwater land from the sea (or used to, something like that). It's not just saying that the Dutch "created their nation" in the sense of laws and whatnot, but actually "made" the land for it.

My guess, anyway.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-01T23:19:12.485Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's the interpretation given in this French children's book, where I first encountered the proverb.

comment by bbleeker · 2011-12-02T11:11:44.061Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

That's also how this Dutchwoman interprets it. But of course, while it literally refers to the creation of polders, the figurative meaning is 'faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems', like PhilosophyTutor said. (With a little bit of 'Gee, aren't we Dutch GREAT?' thrown in. ;p)

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-01T23:18:22.213Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It looks to me like a more pacifistic version of "God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal". Which could be taken to mean "faith might have its place, but science and hard work are what solve problems". Both proverbs are open to other interpretations of course.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-01T20:48:36.416Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

"The older we become, the more important it is to use what we know rather than learn more."

--I.J. Good (as quoted in "The Problem of Thinking Too Much" by Persi Diaconis)

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-12-02T15:09:16.197Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Mind is a machine for jumping to conclusions - Daniel Kahneman

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-09T03:42:02.261Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"If a theory has a lot of parameters, you adjust their values to fit a lot of data, and your theory is not really predicting those things, just accommodating them. Scientists use words like “curve fitting” and “fudge factors” to describe that sort of activity. On the other hand, if a theory has just a few parameters but applies to a lot of data, it has real power. You can use a small subset of the measurements to fix the parameters; then all other measurements are uniquely predicted. " Frank Wilczek

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-12-09T10:25:17.170Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

"With four parameters I can fit an elephant, and with five I can make him wiggle his trunk."

John von Neumann

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-11-30T11:39:36.961Z · score: 14 (28 votes) · LW · GW

The man, who in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.

-Voltaire, Cato

comment by peter_hurford · 2011-11-30T21:07:43.654Z · score: 14 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I think this quote unfairly trivializes the subjectively (and often objectively) harsh lives suicidal people go through.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-12-01T03:59:48.200Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW

As a 911 Operator, I have spoken to hundreds of suicidal people at their very lowest moment (often with a weapon in hand). In my professional judgment, the quote is accurate for a large number of cases (obviously, there are exceptions).

comment by lemonfreshman · 2011-12-02T20:33:48.832Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

There are many people who want to die. There are few who are willing to commit suicide to do it.

comment by brazzy · 2011-12-05T11:39:24.949Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The point is that whether and how much one wants to die tends to fluctuate a lot, and the willingness to commit suicide depends a lot on the availiability of means to easily and painlessly do so. A large percentage of suicide attempts are opportunistic rather than planned. The planned ones probably succeed more often, but that does not necessarily mean that those people really wanted to die more - just that their will to die was over a certain threshold for a certain time.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-12-05T16:59:26.240Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The so-called 'psychotically depressed' person who tries to kill herself doesn't do so out of quote 'hopelessness' or any abstract conviction that life's assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a cer­tain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

  • DFW, Infinite Jest
comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-02T01:58:37.860Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I have read that a majority of people who survive suicide attempts end up glad that they did not succeed (although I can no longer remember and thus cannot vouch for the source.) A somewhat alarming proportion of my own acquaintances have attempted suicide though, and all except for one so far have attested that this is the case for them.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-12-03T16:38:05.642Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I think this quote is objectively accurate:

"of all would-be jumpers who were thwarted from leaping off the Golden Gate between 1937 and 1971 — an astonishing 515 individuals in all — he painstakingly culled death-certificate records to see how many had subsequently “completed.” His report, “Where Are They Now?” remains a landmark in the study of suicide, for what he found was that just 6 percent of those pulled off the bridge went on to kill themselves. Even allowing for suicides that might have been mislabeled as accidents only raised the total to 10 percent."

In other words, if you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% chance you're wrong. Behave accordingly.

comment by quinsie · 2011-12-04T19:59:31.769Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

All this data says is that between 90% and 94% of people who are convinced not to jump did not go on to successfully commit suicide at a later date. It would be a big mistake to assume that whether or not you would come to regret your choice is 100% independent of whether or not you can be convinced not to jump and that therefore the fraction of people who came to regret commiting suicide is the same as the fraction who would have come to regret commiting suicide if they had failed their attempt.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-12-05T23:20:16.876Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Apprehended" isn't synonymous with "convinced not to jump", but there does seem to be a sampling bias here, yes. (And can I say how refreshing it is to hear someone point that out and not be ignorantly insulted for it by dozens of people? Hyperlink to a "More Wrong" website omitted in the name of internet civility, but take my word for it that I'm describing an actual event.)

I think even "convinced not to jump" wouldn't necessarily change the decision calculus here, though. To the extent there is a selection bias it's because some subset of suicidal people behaved in ways which caused them to avoid opportunities to have their minds changed. That's so irrational you could practically write a book about it.

One old study about one bridge is not the whole body of evidence regarding suicide, either. Read a few more bits from just that one news article.

Suicide rates reduced by a third in Britain merely because one easy method became unavailable? In other words, a large minority of would-be suicides didn't even need to be convinced by someone else, they just needed less time to convince themselves than it would have taken them to find a slightly less convenient way of killing themselves. Even "very slightly less convenient" can provide enough time: 4 bridge jumpers per year were all deterred by one new barrier at the Ellington bridge, the local suicide rate went down by 4 jumpers per year, and the suicide rate at the unprotected, easily visible neighboring bridge only went up by 0.3 per year?

I personally wouldn't have predicted any of this, but I don't think there's any major flaws in the data now that I've seen it. The biggest selection bias here may be one for those of us who naturally try to predict how people will rationally respond to changing incentives: applying such predictions to a tiny fraction of the population which has already self-selected for irrationality is not going to work well.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-06T01:23:41.394Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Suicide rates reduced by a third in Britain merely because one easy method became unavailable? In other words, a large minority of would-be suicides didn't even need to be convinced by someone else, they just needed less time to convince themselves than it would have taken them to find a slightly less convenient way of killing themselves.

Not that I don't think that most people who plan to kill themselves will tend to think better of it as time passes, but it's a mistake to assume that trivial inconveniences only prevent people from doing things they don't really want or believe are good for them.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-03T16:44:22.963Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In other words, if you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% chance you're wrong.

That isn't what the quote tells you. It is evidence that you could be wrong but certainly doesn't make you 90% likely to be wrong.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-12-05T22:51:16.853Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Well, yes, it just establishes a prior. But a remarkably hard prior to update, don't you think? "I'm probably in worse shape than all those people who tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge" would demand some exceptional new information.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-06T01:01:55.467Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you ever think you want to kill yourself, there's a 90% percent chance that, either you're wrong, or you will be after surviving the attempt.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-06T00:59:56.319Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From what I understand, it's accurate. Whether waiting a week would result in a more or less responsible decision is an open question.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-12-05T17:18:20.979Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

When it is subjectively and not objectively harsh, what needs to happen is that their malfunctioning brain be fixed.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-05T17:39:48.927Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And what needs to happen, for the others, is that their objective reality be fixed.

comment by anonymous259 · 2011-12-02T02:38:59.238Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Relevant discussion.

comment by Nominull · 2011-11-30T15:34:52.462Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But which of these more accurately represents his "actual preferences", to the extent that such a thing even exists?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-30T17:03:01.111Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Not only is "actual preferences" ill-defined, but so is "accurately represent." So let me try and operationalize this a bit.

We have someone with a set of preferences that turn out to be mutually exclusive in the world they live in.
We can in principle create a procedure for sorting their preferences into categories such that each preference falls into at least one category and all the preferences in a category can (at least in principle) be realized in that world at the same time.
So suppose we've done this, and it turns out they have two categories A and B, where A includes those preferences Cato describes as "a fit of melancholy."

I would say that their "actual" preferences = (A + B). It's not realizable in the world, but it's nevertheless their preference. So your question can be restated: does A or B more accurately represent (A + B)?

There doesn't seem to be any nonarbitrary way to measure the extent of A, B, and (A+B) to determine this directly. I mean, what would you measure? The amount of brain matter devoted to representing all three? The number of lines of code required to represent them in some suitably powerful language?

One common approach is to look at their revealed preferences as demonstrated by the choices they make. Given an A-satisfying and a B-satisfying choice that are otherwise equivalent (and constructing such an exercise is left as an exercise to the class), which do they choose? This is tricky in this case, since the whole premise here is that their revealed preferences are inconsistent over time, but you could in principle measure their revealed preferences at multiple different times and weight the results accordingly (assuming for simplicity that all preference-moments are identical in weight).

When you were done doing all of that, you'd know whether A > B, B>A, or A=B.

It's not in the least clear to me what good knowing that would do you. I suspect that this sort of analysis is not actually what you had in mind.

A more common approach is to decide which of A and B I endorse, and to assert that the one I endorse is his actual preference. E.g., if I endorse choosing to live over choosing to die, then I endorse B, and I therefore assert that B is his actual preference. But this is not emotionally satisfying when I say it baldly like that. Fortunately, there are all kinds of ways to conceal the question-begging nature of this approach, even from oneself.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-01T06:20:01.055Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would instead ask "What preferences would this agent have, in a counterfactual universe in which they were fully-informed and rational but otherwise identical?".

comment by Nominull · 2011-12-01T07:18:38.955Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Quoting a forum post from a couple years ago...

"The problem with trying to extrapolate what a person would want with perfect information is, perfect information is a lot of fucking information. The human brain can't handle that much information, so if you want your extrapolatory homunculus to do anything but scream and die like someone put into the Total Perspective Vortex, you need to enhance its information processing capabilities. And once you've reached that point, why not improve its general intelligence too, so it can make better decisions? Maybe teach it a little bit about heuristics and biases, to help it make more rational choices. And you know it wouldn't really hate blacks except for those pesky emotions that get in the way, so lets throw those out the window. You know what, let's just replace it with a copy of me, I want all the cool things anyway.

Truly, the path of a utilitarian is a thorny one. That's why I prefer a whimsicalist moral philosophy. Whimsicalism is a humanism!"

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-01T22:18:47.337Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

The sophisticated reader presented with a slippery slope argument like that one first checks whether there really is a force driving us in a particular direction, that makes the metaphorical terrain a slippery slope rather than just a slippery field, and secondly they check whether there are any defensible points of cleavage in the metaphorical terrain that could be used to build a fence and stop the slide at some point.

The slippery slope argument you are quoting, when uprooted and placed in this context, seems to me to fail both tests. There's no reason at all to descend progressively into the problems described, and even if there was you could draw a line and say "we're just going to inform our mental model of any relevant facts we know that it doesn't, and fix any mental processes our construct has that are clearly highly irrational".

You haven't given us a link but going by the principle of charity I imagine that what you've done here is take a genuine problem with building a weakly God-like friendly AI and tried to transplant the argument into the context of intervening in a suicide attempt, where it doesn't belong.

comment by peter_hurford · 2011-12-06T00:18:11.880Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks to all the pushback against my initial complaint, I've retracted my downvote. I announce this here so that I can signal what a wonderful rationalist I am.

comment by Alerik · 2011-12-06T17:28:36.754Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” ― Paul Valéry

comment by Username · 2011-12-19T06:23:58.088Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I occasionally do this as a routine for meditation/reflection/expanding perspective/entertainment/not sure what label to use, and I recommend it because I think members of the community will be able to do it.

I basically go outside and walk around looking around at trees the sidewalk and grass and trying to disassociate what I'm seeing from any notions of 'tree' or 'grass' object classes. Once I can get those I can usually extend it to everything in my perception. A sort of de-object-ification, trying to hold in my mind the notion that there are no boundaries between one thing and the next, and that 'thing' itself is a fundamentally false concept. If you read HPMOR, it's Harry's thought processes when he attempts partial transfiguration.

The effect is somewhat of an exhilarating experience of stepping out of the system and seeing it for what it is, and a peaceful intimate connection with the air around you, realizing that there really is no boundary between self and the world.

If I can point to anything similar, it would be Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her stroke, and drug experiences I've had recounted to me, though I don't have personal experience in either area.

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-17T17:19:00.836Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Could someone offer an explanation for this quote?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-17T17:35:27.126Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

My interpretation: humans have a tendency, upon creating a node in their minds that represents a given object (or event, or class of object, or class of events, or other representable thing), to thereafter stop paying much attention to the object (or whatever) itself. For example, I've seen a U.S.quarter thousands of times, but I would have a very hard time drawing one from memory, or even selecting the correct face from a set of plausible alternatives, because I really don't pay attention to what a quarter looks like... I merely examine the object for long enough to identify it as a quarter, and then I pay attention to other things instead.

One way of describing this behavior on my part is to say that, upon "remembering the name" of the thing I'm seeing (that is, on identifying it as a quarter) I give up actually "seeing" it (that is, actually attending to the particulars of the thing).

And so Paul observes that, by contrast, if I am to actually "see," I must in so doing suppress the act of "remembering the name."

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-20T12:18:03.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Verbal overshadowing.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-06T06:34:25.567Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes decieved, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.

I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, August 15, 1820.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-16T16:58:11.797Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I had thought that Jefferson and Adams were bitter political rivals and so was very surprised to read this. With a quick check from Wikipedia, I learned that, "[after being] defeated for re-election by Thomas Jefferson and retir[ing] to Massachusetts, he later resumed his friendship with Jefferson."

Anyway, I like the quote for rationality purposes as well as for the fact that I now have a start on quote-mining if I ever need to write terrifying Jefferson/Adams shipping fanfiction. Why I would need to do so is nonobvious to me right now, but it is one of many contingencies for which I am now prepared.

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-12-04T12:04:58.998Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

When you choose

How much postage to use,

When you know

What's the chance it will snow,

When you bet

And you end up in debt,

Oh try as you may,

You just can't get away

From mathematics!

Tom Lehrer, "That's Mathematics"

(If one were so inclined, one could give a quasi-rationalist commentary on practically every lyric in that song.)

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T03:18:52.756Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Il est dans la nature humaine de penser sagement et d'agir d'une façon absurde.

English translation: It is human nature to think wisely and to act in an absurd fashion.

Anatole France, Le livre de mon ami (1885)

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T03:27:23.713Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Anatole France is probably better known for saying, "La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain" - or, in English, "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-02T15:52:32.452Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I love how English/French translations have so many cognates! (You could even up that one a little more by using "sagely" instead of "wisely".)

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T17:18:05.013Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I actually have a mild distrust of cognates - I don't think the connotations are necessarily preserved.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-03T00:23:30.514Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Also true of translated terms in general...

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-02T19:42:47.109Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree, especially with French. (I've seen people translate "dialogue" from French using the cognate, and it sounds like middle-manager-speak.) Didn't mean to criticize your choice, just something I've found neat.

comment by ema · 2011-12-02T07:56:23.799Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't see how this is a rationality quote. This would imply that humans have a hard time controlling their actions. How else could someone who thinks wisely act in an absurd fashion? Isn't rationality about how to overcome that humans don't think wisely?

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-02T17:20:52.696Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I read the quote as remarking on the problem of implementation - people often can enunciate the optimal course of action for themselves in their present situation (e.g. I should be working on my paper right now) without this enunciation having the slightest effect on their behavior. Therefore, since the benefits of rationality only accrue to those whose behavior is rational, no art of rationality is complete that does not deal with implementation.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-01T04:35:04.462Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another."

--Arthur Schopenhauer

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-12-01T11:09:19.263Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This seems obviously true, but why is it true?

comment by Larks · 2011-12-01T11:17:30.671Z · score: 35 (37 votes) · LW · GW

There's not point being annoyed at nature, but a precommitment to revenge is useful.

comment by machrider · 2011-12-09T00:35:30.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is the subtext implied in the saying, "A Lannister always pays his debts," from A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Margin. It is frequently applied in the context of compensating someone for helping one of the Lannisters, but it also functions as a warning against misdeeds.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-01T14:55:14.209Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Incidentally, I would point out that I'm pretty sure I've read of psychology experiments where self-inflicted pain is rated as less painful than the same electrical shocks inflicted by another person.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-12-01T17:50:07.851Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2008). The sting of intentional pain. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1260-1262. pdf

comment by soreff · 2011-12-02T14:33:23.078Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Many thanks for the reference!

I wonder what would happen where the pain is something like a needle-stick in a blood donation: Inflicted by someone else, but with the consent of the person experiencing it. Presumably the element of malice wouldn't be present...

comment by Thomas · 2011-12-11T15:35:40.954Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Remember — there is a correlation between correlation and causation.

  • ChaosRobie on Reddit
comment by Alejandro1 · 2011-12-11T22:02:15.122Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

More like a causation, I'd say: causation causes correlation.

comment by FAWS · 2011-12-13T12:27:44.314Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But correlation only correlates with causation.

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2011-12-17T04:52:17.960Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

The way I like to put it is this: "correlation correlates with causation because causation causes correlation." :)

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-17T05:07:42.764Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I believe that both of them also sell sea shells by the sea shore :-)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-11-30T11:21:10.016Z · score: 12 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung.

-Pierre de Beaumarchais (and usually incorrectly attributed to Voltaire)

comment by fortyeridania · 2011-11-30T12:20:35.073Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Is this about the seductive power of music to fool people into believing implausible things? If not, what is its rationality?

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-11-30T22:45:10.390Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I would take it to be about art in general rather than music specifically. It's socially acceptable for works of art to support a particular viewpoint - and try to convert their consumers to it - without supplying much evidence to show that it's actually true.

One example that will probably ring true with LWers is the strong lesson in lots of fiction that following one's "heart" is a better (more moral, or more likely to lead to success) course of action than following one's "head".

comment by lessdazed · 2011-11-30T23:22:26.740Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A similar principle might be: any popular game with poor plot, balance, gameplay, etc. has good graphics.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-12-03T16:44:47.596Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine you find yourself in a conversation with a room full of other high school kids, most of whom are as full of confusion and self-doubt as high school kids typically are, and many of whom have found solace, self-identification, and reassurance in popular music.

In that context, this quote is far too stupid to be spoken or sung.

I think they mostly forgave me eventually.

comment by harshhpareek · 2011-12-04T07:32:21.225Z · score: 11 (17 votes) · LW · GW

The Meander (aka Menderes) is a river in Turkey. As you might expect, it winds all over the place. But it doesn't do this out of frivolity. The path it has discovered is the most economical route to the sea

-- Paul Graham, "The Age of the Essay" (http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html)

comment by jimmy · 2011-12-15T19:04:55.243Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But its not true. (well, under the most reasonable interpretations that come to mind)

Rivers do meander "frivolously" due to instabilities.

Even if it didn't carve into the earth, it wouldn't be true, since it's a simple gradient descent.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-03T00:17:34.792Z · score: 11 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Every properly trained wizard has heard of Abraham, the idiot apprentice who recklessly enchanted a massive diamond instead of selling it to pay someone more skilled to fix his cursed noble friend. Haven't you destroyed the bloody thing by now?

  • Raven, from Dan Shive's webcomic El Goonish Shive.
comment by Tesseract · 2011-12-01T17:39:22.842Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

A system for generating ungrounded but mostly true beliefs would be an oracle, as impossible as a perpetual motion machine.

(McKay & Dennett 2009)

comment by jdgalt · 2011-12-03T01:21:44.415Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't pure mathematics a counterexample?

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-03T05:17:41.856Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Each theorem is grounded in axioms (although, one is often working many, many levels above the most basic axioms). And each axiom is independent of physical reality, so it doesn't have a definite truth value (as long as it is not inconsistent with itself).

comment by roland · 2011-12-05T21:27:01.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And each axiom is independent of physical reality,

I'm not so sure about this. IMHO mathematics is more or less a formalization of practical intuitions, so it is at least somewhat grounded in physical reality. For example the concept of natural numbers and sum, subtraction, multiplication. Set theory, etc...

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T00:26:32.500Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

IMHO mathematics is more or less a formalization of practical intuitions

The mathematics used for describing the universe most certainly are, by construction; but any particular mathematical structure is not linked to or unique to this universe. That is, the properties of the universe force us to use one specific mathematical structure to describe it, but that doesn't mean that this is the only possible mathematical structure. This paper explains something similar, in a better way.

For example the concept of natural numbers [...] [and] Set theory

The exact properties of the natural numbers are defined by a set of axioms, and there is no reason why mathematicians in a universe without practical intuition of the natural numbers (work with me...) couldn't still propose the axioms and derive the consequences of them (prime numbers etc.). And similarly with set theory (This actually provides a good example: infinite sets don't have a physical basis but we can still work with them abstractly).

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T00:54:29.944Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

but any particular mathematical structure is not linked to or unique to this universe.

How can you be sure? Every mathematical structure has to be represented in a physical brain. So the mathematical structures are constrained by the physicality of this universe.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-06T00:59:42.635Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. I can imagine a lot of things that don't exist in our universe, from magic flying ponies to Cthulhu. Some of those things are physically impossible; and yet, this imagination still takes place in my physical brain... Doesn't it ?

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T02:55:27.561Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That wasn't my point. Whatever you are imagining has to be represented in your brain even if it is a phantasy. Can you imagine an infinite set in your brain? I'm not talking about the concept of an infinite set, but an actual infinite set?

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T03:29:31.926Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your question doesn't make sense. Can you represent an actual elephant in your head?

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-06T03:54:00.532Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not entirely clear on the categorical difference between the concept of an infinite set, and an actual infinite set. Aren't sets concepts to begin with, even finite ones ?

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T01:33:21.702Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would you say that mathematics is invented? Or that it is discovered?

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T03:04:02.401Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good question. I don't know and honestly I don't care. It is one of those deep philosophical question that can be debated ad nauseum.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T03:56:34.367Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But it is relevant to this discussion:

If it is invented, then any particular piece of mathematics doesn't exist until someone thinks it up (i.e. requires a physical brain).

If it is discovered, then all mathematics exists (in some sense), but humanity can only see a small portion of the whole (and it being in a physical brain or not is irrelevant).

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T00:49:44.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

infinite sets don't have a physical basis but we can still work with them abstractly).

there is some controversy surrounding infinite sets for example: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Talk:Infinite_set_atheism

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T01:32:14.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The "controversy" about infinite sets is about their existence/usefulness as physical objects, not their mathematical existence (you'll note that I was careful to say that they were not physical objects in the grandparent). From that article:

"Infinite set atheism" is a tongue-in-cheek phrase used by Eliezer Yudkowsky to describe his doubt that infinite sets of things exist in the physical universe.

Thus, infinite sets are a perfect example of a mathematical object disconnected from physical reality/practical experience.

We can construct the natural numbers by starting with two symbols "0" and "1" that are naturals, and saying that if n is a natural, then n+1 is too i.e. adding 1 over and over again. Part of the definition is each time we add 1, we get a number we haven't seen before; and so we have an infinite set by construction. And we can make bigger ones by taking the power set (the power set always has a larger cardinality then the set it comes from).

So infinite sets are definitely mathematical objects because we can (and just have) construct them.

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T03:12:56.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Watch Eliezers response to this question, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dufqGC8X8c

scroll to 4:40 I like his one argument: if we have finite neurons and thus cannot construct an infinite set in our "map" what makes you think that you can make it correspond to a (hypothetical) infinity in the territory?

comment by antigonus · 2011-12-06T04:43:37.519Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

scroll to 4:40 I like his one argument: if we have finite neurons and thus cannot construct an infinite set in our "map" what makes you think that you can make it correspond to a (hypothetical) infinity in the territory?

I don't really see what this argument comes to. The map-territory metaphor is a metaphor; neural structures do not have to literally resemble the structures they have beliefs about. In fact, if they did, then the objection would work for any finite structure that had more members than there are synapses (or whatever) in the brain.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T03:51:37.021Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If he is saying that infinite sets are a mathematical impossibility then he is wrong.

But I'm fairly sure that he is saying they are a physical impossibility. Which is not at all unreasonable. (this is the "territory" I think he is talking about)

I have a feeling we are working with different definitions of the "mathematics". I think your definition of "mathematics" might be "symbols that occur in physics and can be manipulated to give answers about the universe".

My definition is something like "set of axioms => conclusions about the structure of the object generated by the axioms" (which includes things like the real numbers, which gives calculus, so the first version of "mathematics" is included the second).

comment by roland · 2011-12-06T02:59:56.378Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Part of the definition is each time we add 1, we get a number we haven't seen before; and so we have an infinite set by construction.

No. You have a rule that hypothetically would produce an infinite set if applied ad infinitum. This may seem like nitpicking but there is a difference between the concept of an infinite set and an actual infinite set, the latter can't be represented in a finite brain(I suppose).

I can write down the rules of a turing machine, but this doesn't produce a working computer to spring to life if you get my point.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-12-06T03:41:41.958Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No. You have a rule that hypothetically would produce an infinite set if applied ad infinitum.

Yep, exactly; no problem with that, that's how mathematics works. There is only a problem if someone wants to write down every element of an infinite set.

there is a difference between the concept of an infinite set and an actual infinite set

This is mathematics. The concept of a mathematical object is the object, because the "concept" version satisfies all the same rules (axioms) as any "actual" version, and these rules completely describe its structure, and (broadly) mathematics is the study of structure/patterns.

One does not need a physical basis for these rules, and so one does not need a physical basis for structures generated by such rules.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-01T01:40:48.891Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.

~Epictetus

comment by JoachimSchipper · 2011-12-01T14:03:50.370Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This is rather self-serving: the Stoics in general were renowned (and well-paid) teachers. (More practically, I've seen some articles suggesting that, in the US, the cost of some majors now outweighs the monetary benefits. The cost of education should at least be considered.)

comment by shokwave · 2011-12-01T01:49:41.126Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Better to leave them well-instructed and rich, surely?

comment by Nominull · 2011-12-01T02:15:56.048Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

you can trade money for goodness of instruction by e.g. hiring tutors

comment by Biater · 2011-12-01T04:02:15.582Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Only if you are wise enough to know that, and wise enough to tell a good tutor from a poor one

comment by Nominull · 2011-12-01T04:12:16.789Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, at some point you have to be wise enough to listen to Epictetus, too. Maybe you could get him to recommend you a tutor.

Reminds me of Sartre's talk of despair and abandonment. In the end there is no way to avoid taking responsibility for our actions. Oh well!

comment by Xom · 2011-11-30T22:27:11.402Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps you are beginning to see how essential a part of reading it is to be perplexed and know it. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature.

~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-12-01T05:19:09.729Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

The story of computers and artificial intelligence (known as AI) resembles that of flight in air and space. Until recently people dismissed both ideas as impossible - commonly meaning that they couldn't see how to do them, or would be upset if they could.

-Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-16T18:12:02.113Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

A witty saying proves nothing. --Voltaire

This is just reinforcing what people (on LessWrong) already think about non-narrow AI; you could just as easily have someone say that:

The story of computers and artificial intelligence (known as AI) resembles that of alchemy and the search for the philosopher's stone. There have been some resultant areas of research, such as chemistry deriving from alchemy, but the original focus (the philosopher's stone) will never be reached.

I remember reading on LessWrong (though I can't find the link now) about how if folk wisdom/sayings can be reversed and applied to the situation, it means that neither is capable of giving real insight to the problem.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-12-17T01:09:41.692Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought seriously about whether or not to post it, for that reason. And I myself have commented a few times in the past on quotes that espoused libertarianism, or transhumanism, or singularitarianism, but didn't have some sort of rationality message. While I do in fact think that AI is possible in the way Drexler wrote, the part I was actually thinking about was the definition of impossible. I actually tried to come up with a way of "censoring" the quote, while still leaving the passage readable, but I didn't see a way to do it.

Which of course doesn't mean that it's impossible ;)

PS. Upvoted

comment by Xom · 2011-11-30T22:26:52.735Z · score: 10 (22 votes) · LW · GW

Every Sauron considers himself a Boromir.

~ Mencius Moldbug

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T00:23:21.431Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't seem like the right pair of characters for making the intended point. Here is the context:

Perhaps the most important fact about power is that the powerful are almost always sincere. They honestly believe they are doing good. Every Sauron considers himself a Boromir. And - as Acton observed - every Boromir has an inner Sauron.

Boromir himself was an example of a character who was doing bad but thought (until just before the end) that he was doing good. So, to consider oneself to be a Boromir is to consider oneself to be fooling oneself in just the way that Moldbug describes. Boromir already is just the kind of self-deluded person that Moldbug is saying that powerful people are. It would have made his point better to say that "Every Boromir considers himself a Faramir". Or, "Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf".

comment by DanArmak · 2011-12-17T15:20:28.612Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Boromir himself was an example of a character who was doing bad

You let an evil magic artifact of unimaginable power sway you for literally two minutes and that's the only thing people remember you for, for the rest of eternity.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T15:36:34.490Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Heh. But, didn't Boromir advocate using the ring as a weapon in the war with Sauron since the Council of Elrond? And wasn't it implied that, even as he acquiesced, he was still hoping to sway the others to this course down the line?

comment by DanArmak · 2011-12-17T16:38:16.062Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What's wrong with advocating a minority view, as long as you're not acting against the consensus?

He first heard of the Ring at the Council. So did many of the others there. And yet he was the only one who asked the eminently rational question: why seek to destroy it and not use it? And was answered, essentially, "because that's the way the plot goes, kthxbye".

Offhand, I'm sure I could think of ways to use the Ring safely. The main problem is we're never told what the Ring's powers are; so the problem of using it safely is underspecified. The Council believed that by using the Ring one could win the war by main force. Making one invisible and possibly able to understand different tongues isn't that interesting. It's said to give more power to those who are already more powerful, and to tailor the specific powers to the specific individual, so more experimentation is in order.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2012-11-27T15:43:33.690Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The main problem is we're never told what the Ring's powers are; so the problem of using it safely is underspecified

According to a discussion on reddit I can't currently find the idea was that the ring inncreased the power of 'will' in Tolkeins semi-mystical sense of exerting your will upon the world.

So in lesswrong terms you have the ability to more effectively fulfill your utility function, but it will be corrupted and drift towards that of the ring.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-17T07:19:41.863Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf".

The problem is that Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it. Whereas Moldbug's point is about how Sauron would rationalize taking the ring. Perhaps a better phrasing would be, "Every Sauron starts out as a Boromir."

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T07:44:20.899Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is that Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it.

Like Gandalf, then, except smart enough not to pass up such an awesome opportunity to do so much good :D.

Incidentally, there's an essay by Tolkien where he explores the differences between the motivations of Morgoth and Sauron: Notes on motives in the Silmarillion. Some excerpts:

Thus, as "Morgoth", when Melkor was confronted by the existence of other inhabitants of Arda, with other wills and intelligences, he was enraged by the mere fact of their existence, and his only notion of dealing with them was by physical force, or the fear of it. His sole ultimate object was their destruction. [...] This was sheer nihilism, and negation its one ultimate object [...] Melkor could do nothing with Arda, which was not from his own mind and was interwoven with the work and thoughts of others: even left alone he could only have gone raging on till all was levelled again into a formless chaos.

[...]

Sauron had never reached this stage of nihilistic madness. He did not object to the existence of the world, so long as he could do what he liked with it. He still had the relics of positive purposes, that descended from the good of the nature in which he began: it had been his virtue (and therefore also the cause of his fall, and of his relapse) that he loved order and coordination, and disliked all confusion and wasteful friction. [...] Sauron had, in fact, been very like Saruman, and so still understood him quickly and could guess what he would be likely to think and do, even without the aid of the palantíri or of spies; whereas Gandalf eluded and puzzled him. [...] But like all minds of this cast, Sauron's love (originally) or (later) mere understanding of other individual intelligences was correspondingly weaker; and though the only real good in, or rational motive for, all this ordering and planning and organization was the good of all inhabitants of Arda (even admitting Sauron's right to be their supreme lord), his "plans", the idea coming from his own isolated mind, became the sole object of his will, and an end, the End, in itself.

[...]

Morgoth had no "plan"; unless destruction and reduction to nil of a world in which he had only a share can be called a "plan".

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-17T09:51:03.751Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Like Gandalf, then, except smart enough not to pass up such an awesome opportunity to do so much good :D.

Not really. For an ultimate ring of power the ring in question seems rather pissweak. The expected alteration of his own utility function (ie. corruption) more than offsets the lame ass powers that ring gives.

Mind you Gandalf has plenty of his own power that he doesn't seem to make efficient use of. That seems a far bigger deal!

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T15:00:10.856Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Like Gandalf, then, except smart enough not to pass up such an awesome opportunity to do so much good :D.

Not really. For an ultimate ring of power the ring in question seems rather pissweak. The expected alteration of his own utility function (ie. corruption) more than offsets the lame ass powers that ring gives.

I was describing how Sauron views himself. He wouldn't think of the ring as corrupting or "pissweak".

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-17T15:03:39.797Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was describing how Sauran views himself. He wouldn't think of the ring as corrupting or "pissweak".

There were two characters to the comparison; I was talking about the other one - Gandalf.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T15:22:09.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From your replies and the downvote, it's clear that I failed to make myself clear. Here was the flow of the conversation:

I said "Every Sauron considers himself a Gandalf". Eugine_Nier pointed out that "Gandalf explicitly refuses the ring for fear he would find it useful and thus be corrupted by it." Sauron knew that Gandalf did this (IIRC), so I grant that Sauron wouldn't think that he's like Gandalf in this respect. So, I said, maybe Sauron thinks of himself like Gandalf (ie, working for the greater good), except that he (Sauron) is smart enough not to pass up such a powerful tool (for so he himself thinks it) for doing such good.

So, as you say, Gandalf considers the ring to be corrupting. But that isn't an objection to my point. That is just one of the ways in which I was saying that Sauron considers himself to be smarter.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-17T15:32:54.285Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Even from Sauron's point of view Sauron should not be making that evaluation - at least not about the ring in particular. While for Sauron the ring is particularly powerful and not-values-changing he knows that for Gandalf it is, in fact, corrupting and also that Gandalf doesn't get anywhere near the same power from the ring.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T15:50:40.702Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that part of Sauron's character is that he can't understand why Gandalf views the ring as corrupting. Maybe he should be able to figure this out, but I was describing how Sauron might think, not how he should think.

As for whether Gandalf would get power from the ring — It's true that the ring wouldn't give Gandalf as much power as it would give Sauron. But it would still give Gandalf a lot of power.

In some other essay, Tolkien speculates about who would win in a one-on-one fight between Gandalf-with-the-ring and Sauron-without. Unfortunately, I can't remember what Tolkien said the outcome would be, and I can't find a copy online at this moment[*]. However, I do remember that he said that it would be close, a lot closer than if neither had the ring.

Tolkien also says somewhere (in LOTR or in an essay) that the ring would make someone like Gandalf an effectively unstoppable military leader in some unspecified way (IIRC).


* ETA: Here's at least some excerpts from that "essay" (actually a letter): http://www.americanidea.org/handouts/06240110.htm Tolkien doesn't give a final verdict on who would win. The key passage:

Gandalf [with the ring] might be expected to master him [ie, Sauron without the ring].

[...]

One can imagine the scene in which Gandalf, say, was placed in such a position [of possessing the ring and fighting Sauron one-on-one]. It would be a delicate balance. On one side the true allegiance of the Ring to Sauron; on the other superior strength because Sauron was not actually in possession, and perhaps also because he was weakened by long corruption and expenditure of will in dominating inferiors. If Gandalf proved the victor, the result would have been for Sauron the same as the destruction of the Ring; for him it would have been lestroyed, taken from him for ever. But the Ring and all its works would have endured. It would have been the master in the end.

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-17T16:03:45.259Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sauron knows that Gandalf has different values than Sauron, and knows that the nature of the ring is to alter its user's values to be more like Sauron's than Gandalf's. If, knowing those two things, he can't understand why Gandalf doesn't endorse using the ring, then he's simply not thinking clearly.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-12-17T16:18:52.011Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sauron knows that Gandalf has different values than Sauron,

Sauron is probably a cynic. He probably thinks that "Every Gandalf is really a Sauron." That is, every do-gooder who seems to be guided only by virtuous principles is really a self-aggrandizing power-grabber trying to mask their power-grabbing behind a veil of pious slave-morality (as Nietzsche might put it). So (Sauron must figure), claiming the ring would actually be the best way for Gandalf to realize his own actual ends. But (Sauron must conclude) Gandalf must just be too stupid, or blinded by convention, or self-deluded, or something, to realize this.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-12-17T17:16:37.729Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Gandalf as Ring-Lord would have been far worse than Sauron. He would have remained ‘righteous’, but self-righteous. He would have continued to rule and order things for ‘good’, and the benefit of his subjects according to his wisdom (which was and would have remained great).

I fail to see how this description is 'far worse' than Sauron. It seems to me far better than Sauron, who certainly wasn't ruling according to any conception of the good of his subjects.

comment by latanius · 2011-12-17T11:47:51.722Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess it would have been a much more powerful device in Sauron's hands... but that's the classic "we find some amazing new tech, then declare that it's wrong and the best thing we can do is to stay where we are" story, found in lots of sci-fi stories. (There surely is some tv tropes concept for this...)

By the way, the Ring is even cooler than that... see HPMOR chapter 64 (or is this Reasoning from Non-Canonical Evidence? :P)

(edit: ch. 64 is Omake files 3 with non-HP fanfics, so I really really hope it's free of HPMOR spoilers...)

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-02T23:48:59.380Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't let a liar like Sauron win! I owe it to The People!

Saruman, in this image at A Tiny Revolution.

comment by rmurf · 2011-12-08T22:59:57.602Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

“If you follow the ways in which you were trained, which you may have inherited, for no other reason than this, you are illogical.”

--Jalaluddin Rumi

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-01-04T02:03:11.828Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe you are irrational. There's nothing illogical about the process.

comment by fortyeridania · 2011-12-19T15:22:13.654Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But changing one's behavior often involves switching costs. Going with the flow avoids these costs. Since the benefits from switching are sometimes lower than the costs of switching (including the effort spent estimating the costs and benefits!), going with the flow is sometimes net-beneficial.

Example: Aren't heuristics often adaptive, even in the modern world?

comment by TimS · 2011-12-19T15:42:32.533Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is being satisfied in a local optima rational? A rationalist should recognize that there are costs to change and they might outweigh benefits, but being better at achieving goals is the point.

comment by fortyeridania · 2011-12-19T16:01:09.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That is true, people should recognize that. In fact, I don't think I disagree with anything you've said. But I think the wording of the quotation made it sound as though following pre-established behavioral patterns were always suboptimal. Surely that claim is false?

comment by TimS · 2011-12-19T18:28:09.584Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's an interesting empirical question how much of what we do is sub-optimal. I'm sure it is larger than what most people would guess. For example, I expect that most LWers would agree that unwritten social norms, especially politeness norms, are optimized for status showing, not achievement of material goals.

for no other reason than this

That part of the quote seems to limit the applicable scope. I read it as rejection of "tradition" as a stand-alone justification. That is, we don't drive on the right side of the street in the US by "tradition," but based on Schelling point type analysis.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-20T05:39:37.567Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's an interesting empirical question how much of what we do is sub-optimal.

Sub-optimal relative to what? To what a hypothetical God/AI with unlimited computing power would recommend? Well, we don't have access to that kind of computing power.

I read it as rejection of "tradition" as a stand-alone justification.

As Nick Szabo points out in this essay, tradition often contains wisdom that would be computationally infeasible recover from first principals. So yes, all other things being equal, you should accept "tradition" as a stand-alone justification. If all other things aren't equal, then you should treat the existence of the tradition as evidence to be incorporated like other.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-20T16:55:17.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link to that interesting essay. It seems to rely on the possibility of inter-subjective truths (i.e. truths that should persuade) that are not objective (i.e. based on empirical results). Basically, I don't believe in inter-subjective truths of that kind because they are capable of proving too much. For example, "God exists" is a plausible candidate for inter-subjective truth, but there are empirical things I would expect in a world where God exists that do not appear to be present. In short, there seems to be no limit to what can be labeled inter-subjective, non-objective truth.

Most small deviations, and practically all "radical" deviations [in cultural beliefs], result in the equivalent of death for the organism: a mass breakdown of civilization which can include genocide, mass poverty, starvation, plagues, and, perhaps most commonly and importantly, highly unsatisying, painful, or self-destructive individual life choices.

This asserted fragility of society is inconsistent with historical evidence. You can pick just about any moral taboo (E.g. human sacrifice or incest) and find a society that violated it but continued on, and fell for reasons independent of the violation of the moral taboo. For example, Nazi Germany didn't lose WWII because they were immoral jerkwads. Germany lost WWII because it picked a fight with a more powerful opponent (who happened to also be an immoral jerkwad).

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-21T05:25:33.935Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, I don't believe in inter-subjective truths of that kind because they are capable of proving too much.

Only if you think of them as incontrovertible evidence, rather than merely another type of evidence to be incorporated.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-21T15:31:01.782Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, it's clear that I don't understand what is meant by the concept of "inter-subjective truth." Why use the word truth? Especially when there is the perfectly appropriate word "evidence" for the concept of believing based on the fact that others believe.

Evidence and truth are not pointing to similar concepts at all. Something can be true even if I have no evidence to believe it to be so. Contrarily, I can have evidence in support of a belief that is, in fact, false.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-21T09:56:38.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the possibility of inter-subjective truths (i.e. truths that should persuade)

I don't think "truths that should persuade" is a good definition of what Szabo (or others) mean by "inter-subjective truths".

Wikipedia is not very helpful, but I understand it more as "things whose truth-value depends of how many people believe in them", i.e. "children are expected to obey their parents", "you should drive on the left side of the road", etc.

comment by Dar_Veter · 2011-12-20T19:37:54.469Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the link to that interesting essay.

Would be more interesting had author defined what he means by "highly evolved tradition" and added some real world examples.

Most small deviations, and practically all "radical" deviations [in cultural beliefs], result in the equivalent of death for the organism: a mass breakdown of civilization which can include genocide, mass poverty, starvation, plagues, and, perhaps most commonly and importantly, highly unsatisying, painful, or self-destructive individual life choices.

Genocide is usually (and traditionally) fate of traditional society that meets more modern one. And as for mass poverty, starvation and plagues, these were traditional part of life for all recorded history and were abolished by modernity. I'm afraid the author disproves his own thesis...

comment by Dar_Veter · 2011-12-20T19:26:55.965Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As Nick Szabo points out in this essay, tradition often contains wisdom

The problem is that there is no such thing as "tradition". In every society bigger than village there are numerous, mostly incompatible traditions. Even in one family often happens that, if you follow grandmother's way, you anger the other one.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-12-24T16:37:35.492Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I have a lot of beliefs, and I live by none of them. That's just the way I am. They're just my beliefs, I just like believing them. I like that part.

They're my little "believees," they make me feel good about who I am. But if they get in the way of a thing I want or I want to jack off or something, I fuckin' do that.

Louis C.K., Live at the Beacon Theater

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-28T21:02:44.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You beat me to it! -- I thought when I watched it that this bit would make a good rationality quote.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-24T17:05:23.522Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-12-24T21:22:35.345Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I like Louis C.K. Many comedians tend to be genuine, but he is consistently so.

comment by GLaDOS · 2011-12-18T15:15:26.276Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"Well, if it were true, how would the world look different from what we see around us?"

--Gregory Cochran

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-11T20:31:27.038Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

"Numbers---you know? The kind with decimals in them?"

--Max Tegmark, asking for some quantitative information in a vague lecture.

comment by HonoreDB · 2011-12-01T18:31:19.754Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Winning is getting what we want, which often includes assisting others in getting what they want. Winning may forward a just cause. It may help strangers. It may discover the truth. Winning may help a loved one to succeed, a child to bloom, an enemy to see us in a new light.

Gerry Spence (emphasis his)

comment by bungula · 2011-11-30T16:22:08.854Z · score: 8 (28 votes) · LW · GW

The Doctor: The security protocols are still online and there's no way to override them. It's impossible.

River: How impossible?

The Doctor: A few minutes.

-Doctor Who, Season 5, Episode 5

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-01T05:30:34.032Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I love the quote. The Doctor is badass. But ultimately this seems to be a quote about misusing the word 'impossible' - totally out of place in this thread!

comment by bungula · 2011-12-02T12:17:01.689Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I see it as taking the Outside View on impossibility. Of course, in real life it usually takes more than a few minutes, but in the Whoniverse it is not unreasonable. Also, asking "How impossible?" seems to me like a good question in some cases.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-02T15:00:02.391Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I see it as taking the Outside View on impossibility. Of course, in real life it usually takes more than a few minutes, but in the Whoniverse it is not unreasonable. Also, asking "How impossible?" seems to me like a good question in some cases.

So long as it is kept in mind that "How impossible?" is merely a more polite and less coherent way of replying "Bullshit. How difficult is it really?".

comment by brilee · 2011-12-02T14:29:41.945Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe it's a bit of metahumor/sarcasm aimed at this plot device:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MillionToOneChance

comment by MatthewBaker · 2011-11-30T20:03:02.229Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Oh my dear Melody...

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-15T16:41:13.804Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If wanting to be right is wrong, I don't want to be right.

-- Steven Kaas

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-15T18:28:25.836Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Old joke, but a good one.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-02T05:26:12.251Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Once man is in a rut he seems to have the urge to dig even deeper

Fritz Zwicky, Morphological Astronomy

comment by Keratin · 2011-12-24T06:33:23.629Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"'...You are now nearly at childhood's end; you are ready for the truth's weight, to bear it. The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valor. It was theater. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcomes resolve all-- all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify an audience. An audience.' He made a gesture I can't describe: 'Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality-- there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire. No one to see you. Do you understand? Here is the truth-- actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested.'"

"'Routine, repetition, tedium, monotony, ephemeracy, inconsquence, abstraction, disorder, boredom, angst, ennui-- these are the true hero's enemies, and make no mistake, they are fearsome indeed. For they are real.'"

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, p. 232

comment by M88 · 2011-12-04T03:30:07.494Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

With ten-thousand-time-told truths, you've still got to ask for proof. Ask for proof, because if you're dying to be led they'll lead you up the hill in chains to their popular refrains until your slaughter's been arranged, my little lamb, and it's much too late to talk the knife out of their hands.

"The Latest Toughs" by Okkervil River http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tziQcj4XIYw

comment by thelittledoctor · 2011-12-12T03:22:29.207Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until they are middle-aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can't teach a baby to walk by explaining the matter to her logically -- she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some way like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds that she can do it. She can go on living -- not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar and shifting sense of balance which defies each of these things often. She no longer hopes to live by seeking the truth -- if women ever do hope this -- but continues henceforth under the guidance of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one -- knowledge of the world.

The slow discovery of the seventh sense, by which both men and women contrive to ride the waves of a world in which there is war, adultery, compromise, fear, stultification and hypocrisy -- this discovery is not a matter for triumph. The baby, perhaps, cries out triumphantly: I have balance! But the seventh sense is recognized without a cry. We only carry on with our famous knowledge of the world, riding the queer waves in a habitual, petrifying way, because we have reached a stage of deadlock in which we can think of nothing else to do.

And at this stage we begin to forget that there ever was a time when we lacked the seventh sense. We begin to forget, as we go stolidly balancing along, that there could have been a time when we were young bodies flaming with the impetus of life. It is hardly consoling to remember such a feeling, and so it deadens in our minds.

But there was a time when each of us stood naked before the world, confronting life as a serious problem with which we were intimately and passionately concerned. There was a time when it was of vital interest to us to find out whether there was a God or not. Obviously the existence or otherwise of a future life must be of the very first importance to somebody who is going to live her present one, because her manner of living it must hinge on the problem. There was a time when Free Love versus Catholic Morality was a question of as much importance to our hot bodies as if a pistol had been clapped to our heads.

Further back, there were times when we wondered with all our souls what the world was, what love was, what we were ourselves.

All these problems and feelings fade away when we get the seventh sense. Middle-aged people can balance between believing in God and breaking all the commandments, without difficulty. The seventh sense, indeed, slowly kills all the other ones, so that at last there is no trouble about the commandments. We cannot see any more, or feel, or hear about them. The bodies which we loved, the truths which we sought, the Gods whom we questioned: we are deaf and blind to them now, safely and automatically balancing along toward the inevitable grave, under the protection of our last sense. "Thank God for the aged", sings the poet:

Thank God for the aged And for age itself, and illness and the grave. When we are old and ill, and particularly in the coffin, It is no trouble to behave.

-T.H. White, in The Once And Future King (book III, Le Chevalier Mal Fet)

comment by Manfred · 2011-12-12T15:20:14.268Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant.

We have never yet found a single illogical thing. Things, by and large, are pretty ordinary. If something is hard to teach and hard to learn, it's more likely that humans just suck at teaching and learning it. Alternately, some of this stuff sounds like it would really suck to learn, so active avoidance could be part of it too.

Really well written though :D

comment by thelittledoctor · 2011-12-13T03:17:06.605Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Of course. What he's describing isn't rationality, it's dysrationalia - and especially the ability to compartmentalize. The rational ones in this passage are the young, who are "intimately and passionately concerned" with the existence of God, Free Love versus Catholic Morality, and so on. More than anything I see this quote as a caution against losing the fire in your belly.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-12-12T17:42:27.778Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Alternately, some of this stuff sounds like it would really suck to learn, so active avoidance could be part of it too.

That's the point. The passage is being sarcastic.

comment by Nisan · 2011-12-15T18:51:26.087Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Related: This comment by Mitchell Porter.

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-14T17:37:43.132Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

long quote is long.

comment by brilee · 2011-12-02T14:32:02.858Z · score: 5 (27 votes) · LW · GW

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.” - Zen saying

A warning that not all hyperrationality is beneficial.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-12-02T14:47:42.606Z · score: 32 (32 votes) · LW · GW

Or a warning that the Zen notion of enlightenment won't let you automate menial tasks you dislike.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-02T16:21:12.938Z · score: 17 (25 votes) · LW · GW

...or another way of saying "it all adds up to normal."

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-12-28T06:22:33.874Z · score: 8 (24 votes) · LW · GW

How strange; I live in an Enlightened civilization and I haven't chopped wood or carried water in a good long while. It would seem that someone has, once again, underestimated the potential of the mind because their own method did not suffice to achieve it.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2011-12-28T07:02:58.186Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

This is obviously a different sense of the word "enlightenment", and a different intended connotation of "chop wood, carry water". Downvoted.

(I always thought that, like TheOtherDave said below, this quote means "it all adds up to normality".)

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2011-12-30T14:15:39.354Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree; I think that the saying is straightforwardly mistaken in exactly the way Eliezer states.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2011-12-30T17:40:56.306Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I read it as something like "enlightened or not, you're still made of atoms".

comment by marchdown · 2012-01-04T09:26:03.596Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

... and you still have the same evolutionary history and basic urges, all of which significantly constrain your preferences and capabilities.

comment by jdgalt · 2011-12-03T01:18:02.482Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Or at least, that at some point, if you want to improve your lot, you need to leave off thinking long enough to build, buy, or improve some gadget or agreement that will actually help. Labor-saving tech really does equal progress.

comment by Tesseract · 2011-12-01T17:35:16.805Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe.

Euripides, Helen

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-01T23:13:57.029Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

We practice rationality because we don't have a "sense" of what not to believe, or at least not a reliable one. The closest thing is the absurdity heuristic, which is very hit-and-miss.

comment by Multiheaded · 2011-12-26T12:49:50.978Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(I can't give the exact quote, as it's hearsay, and I'm translating it back into English from Russian)

During WW2, British aircraft engineers had to reach a compromise between an airplane's structural durability and other uses of weight such as armor, defensive armament, etc. The odds of losing a bomber due to its structure falling apart were much less than those of it simply being shot down; 1:10000 and 1:20 respectively. Yet when the designers proposed sacrificing some structural integrity to improve the bomber's armor plating or machineguns, the pilots were adamant. They hated the thought of their plane breaking up on its own so much that they passed up the opportunity to reduce a MUCH more likely risk.

(I suspect that the bias here had to do with risks somewhat dependent on the subject seeming much more controllable and less abhorrent).

  • Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down, by J. E. Gordon
comment by jcb · 2011-12-23T01:56:34.792Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

“The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more."

--Christopher Hitchens (Dec. 15 December 2011) The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-believer

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-12-16T23:33:56.946Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

At some point, our society decided with great certainty that the Earth is a sphere and, consequently, that further consideration is unnecessary and anyone holding an opposing viewpoint is unworthy of debate.

-- Daniel Shelton, re-founder of the Flat Earth Society

(We're looking for good illustrations of motivated uncertainty, insistence that no conclusion can be drawn from overwhelming data. Shelton may not be a good example because he is probably a deliberate troll who does not really believe the Earth is flat. Also, religious examples are excluded, but examples from e.g. astrology and homeopathy would not be. Daily-life examples are best.)

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-20T21:55:23.298Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Daily-life examples are best.

Is this different from the colloquial "But there's still a chance" or "But you can't be sure"?

comment by gwern · 2011-12-14T16:52:08.492Z · score: 4 (16 votes) · LW · GW

"One should forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged."

--Heinrich Heine; an early, little-known German contribution to the Evil Overlord List.

comment by Morendil · 2011-12-13T09:33:11.134Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I should not choose long, hard words just to make other persons think that I know a lot. I should try to make my thoughts clear; if they are clear and right, then other persons can judge my work as it ought to be judged.

-- Guy Steele, Growing a Language (pdf)

comment by kalla724 · 2011-12-02T19:29:19.882Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Let's go for two-in-one this time:

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this.

  • Bertrand Russell

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

  • Benjamin Franklin
comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-04T18:48:10.187Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. - Bertrand Russell

I would've been more rational to spend five minutes and notice all the evidence against that... ;-)

comment by lessdazed · 2011-12-02T07:50:17.058Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Phenotype is the genotype transformed and refracted through the lens of developmment and the environment; all genes are pleiotropic, all traits are polygenic.

--PZ Myers

comment by JQuinton · 2011-12-07T21:17:18.973Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” - Sir Francis Bacon

comment by JJXW · 2011-12-05T23:24:33.344Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The crucial point to be considered in a study of language behavior is the relationship of language and reality, between words and not-words. Except as we understand this relationship, we run the grave risk of straining the delicate connection between words and facts, of permitting our words to go wild, and so of creating for ourselves fabrications of fantasy and delusion.

-- Wendell Johnson, as quoted in Language Thought and Action

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-04T06:40:05.943Z · score: 3 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

-John Lennon on leaving a line of retreat

comment by spriteless · 2011-12-07T22:52:06.770Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You know, in Middle School choir I had hymns alongside this song. It was actually the first time I thought about being an atheist on purpose, not just through neglecting to go to church.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-04T13:49:36.440Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Not actually a dupe, to my surprise. (Personally, I would've linked to 'Joy in the Merely Real' or something; lines of retreat doesn't seem that relevant.)

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-04T18:32:37.676Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the leaving a line of retreat article actually gives the example of a religious person imagining the world (even if they don't think it's really possible) where there's no god. Joy in the merely real makes sense too, I guess.

I actually gave it 50% odds that I'd lose karma for this quote, but I like it anyway.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-11-30T11:11:08.975Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you stock it with such furnature as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.

-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

comment by cousin_it · 2011-11-30T18:18:37.321Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Is there some research corroborating this quote? I have a lot of useless knowledge but it doesn't seem to stop me from accumulating useful knowledge. It does make sense to avoid spending time and energy on acquiring useless knowledge, though.

comment by thomblake · 2011-11-30T18:37:16.866Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is there some research corroborating this quote?

If this is a question about causality, I would assume not. Sherlock Holmes was eccentric to the point of insanity and made up all sorts of funny wrong things.

In reality, it seems like in general exercising the brain improves its function on several dimensions. Also, relevant silly article about brain memory capacity

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-12-01T07:45:44.380Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's less about making things up and more about then-current ideas that are now outdated.

Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.

There are more of them in Holmes stories, like like the idea that you can tell a man's intelligence from his skull shape/size (phrenology).

I have a lot of useless knowledge but that doesn't seem to stop me from accumulating useful knowledge.

As I understand it (not that I can quote any research), knowledge helps gain more knowledge due to how memory works; it's easier to remember something if you have previous ideas to which to "link" or associate the new ones (and those links don't have to be within the same domain of knowledge). Also, wouldn't it be true that the more things you understand, the more likely you are to have a shorter inferential distance to whatever new ideas you come across?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-12-01T11:16:43.806Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I had a different interpretation. To me, this sounded more like a warning against bad personal epistemic hygiene and about the tradeoff between epistemic and instrumental rationality, not what happens when you reach the upper bound of your memory capacity. Now that I think about it, your interpretation is probably closer to what Doyle had in mind (what with his 19th century pop-psychology and all).

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-12-02T22:36:02.825Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In the book this quote is in, Holmes uses it to justify refusing to remember that the Earth goes around the Sun.

comment by Karmakaiser · 2011-12-07T18:54:24.416Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, he does demonstrate this knowledge later in the series and in fact turns out the be a well of useless facts later on though I don't have the source for the inconsistency handy at the moment.

comment by Xom · 2011-11-30T22:42:13.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I read this as concerning organization instead of capacity.

relevant: Your inner Google

comment by Apprentice · 2011-11-30T14:53:09.612Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Reminds me of some Warhammer 40,000 quotes:

A fine mind is a blessing of the Emperor - It should not be cluttered with trivialities.

A small mind is a tidy mind.

A broad mind lacks focus.

An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-30T20:10:08.587Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Knowledge is power. Guard it well.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-11-30T16:13:52.388Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Always liked that last one. There are memes out there I'd rather not get infected with.

Though don't listen to me; I find it impossible not to like anything said by Isador Akios.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-30T16:28:34.744Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Really? The last quote seems expressly anti-rationality. Especially considering the source.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-30T21:25:24.331Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

One could make an argument that, in the world of Warhammer 40K, keeping your mind barred and guarded is actually the most rational thing to do. Because if you do not, then instead of saying things like "only in death does duty end", you'll find yourself saying things like, "maim kill burn MAIM KILL BURN" and "Arrghbllgghhayargh NURGLE". Only it wouldn't be you saying those things, precisely, but a daemon that slipped into your unguarded mind and took up residence in your body.

comment by TimS · 2011-11-30T22:22:22.186Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It may be that xenophobia is a local optimum for humanity in 40K. But technology is explicitly mystical in that universe. Imagine how many fewer problems they would have with their enemies if their stuff all worked, and they had more of it.

It's like bringing a 1000 pt army to a 500 pt skirmish. Every time.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-30T22:28:21.660Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine how many fewer problems they would have with their enemies if their stuff all worked, and they had more of it.

IIRC that actually did happen a couple of times in that universe. The answers were usually "A Machine God eats the factory planet" and "Necrons". So, the outcome was... not good.

On the other hand, the T'au have a pretty good handle on their tech, and they're improving it all the time, so maybe the humans could take some lessons from them. On the third hand (*), the T'au as a whole seem to be immune to Chaos corruption, which is a luxury that the humans do not enjoy.

(*) Or tail or tentacle or what have you.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-12-01T07:22:18.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(*) Or tail or tentacle or what have you.

Mechadendrite, thank you very much.

comment by Apprentice · 2011-11-30T16:53:37.275Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Some of us enjoy the challenge of finding rationalist ideas in unlikely places - or fitting ideas from non-rational sources into a rationalist framework. In this case, it seems fairly easy to do so. As Markus already points out, it is important to keep your mind from becoming infected with bad stuff.

comment by Apteris · 2011-12-02T12:34:23.705Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed it is. But the way you fight "memetic infection" in the real world is to take a look at the bad stuff and see where it goes wrong, not to isolate yourself from harmful ideas.

comment by Apprentice · 2011-12-02T22:04:13.459Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. In this metaphor, the guard at the gates takes a look at the bad stuff and decides against letting it into the fortress.

comment by jdgalt · 2011-12-03T01:43:01.961Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'll bite: how am I supposed to judge (or predict) the usefulness of facts when I first see them, in time to avoid storing the useless ones?

I think the closest we get to this is that every time we remember something, we also edit that memory, thus (if we are rational enough) tossing out the useless or unreliable parts or at least flagging them as such. If this faculty worked better I might find it a convincing argument for "intelligent design," but the real thing, like so much else in human beings, is so haphazard that it reinforces my lack of belief in that idea.

comment by gwern · 2012-01-02T02:25:40.276Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think one necessarily edits the memory. Memories intrinsically decay over time; each recall is associated with a greater chance of being able to recall it in the future (memorization), with bonuses to spaced out recollections (spaced repetition) and optional userland hinting to the OS (going to sleep while expecting to be tested on something leads to greater retention for the same number of reviews).

In other words, the brain is a cache that implements Least Recently Used eviction.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-07T19:06:11.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If this faculty worked better I might find it a convincing argument for "intelligent design,"

Why would you expect intelligent design to explain that very much better than evolution?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-07T19:23:28.312Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why would you expect intelligent design to explain that very much better than evolution?

I think the reasoning is more along the lines that intelligent design is worse at explaining haphazard mush than it is at explaining well ordered things. As such an observation of well ordered things will result in a high weighting for intelligent design than an observation of haphazard mush in the same place simply because it must be discounted far less in the former case.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-12-07T19:48:39.470Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but that's only half the story... I wouldn't say it's zero evidence, but "convincing argument" seems far flung when there's plenty of reason for evolution to select for better use of our brain meats.

comment by MarkusRamikin · 2011-12-01T07:34:39.560Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Anyway, W40k aside. Isn't this actually pretty bad advice based on outdated ideas about how the brain works?

Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.

I don't think this actually happens.

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-10T00:27:39.704Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Quantum phenomena do not occur in a Hilbert space. They occur in a laboratory.

--Asher Peres

comment by spriteless · 2011-12-11T01:15:37.493Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So is this to differentiate the n-dimensional calculus used to model quantum phenomena from the reality of a laboratory?

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-11T02:49:39.826Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In some sense, yes. Peres has long been of the view that instead of looking to some kind of 'philosophical interpretation' of what quantum mechanics is, we need to see what quantum mechanics tells us about the experiments we perform. And that questions such 'what quantum mechanics means' makes sense only if they tell us something about the outcome of an experiment.

More broadly, I put that quote here to illustrate the difference between map and territory.

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-07T12:44:45.796Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seeing how individual decisions are rational within the bounds of the information available does not provide an excuse for narrow-minded behavior. It provides an understanding of why that behavior arises. Within the bounds of what a person in that part of the system can see and know, the behavior is reasonable. Taking out one individual from a position of bounded rationality and putting in another person is not likely to make much difference. Blaming the individual rarely helps create a more desirable outcome. – Donella H Meadows

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-08T02:09:43.016Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Blaming the individual rarely helps create a more desirable outcome.

Blaming individuals for their narrow-minded behavior is one way to encourage less narrow-minded behavior.

comment by jsbennett86 · 2011-12-02T02:02:32.560Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Clear language engenders clear thought, and clear thought is the most important benefit of education." - Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-02T02:01:20.640Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW
  • Make Hyper Bubble
  • Cause Black Hole
  • Become Insane
  • PB Takes Off My Glasses
  • Save The Day
  • Win Heart Of The Princess

-- Finn's Note, from "The Real You"

An example of working precommitment (to a plan that may involve forgetting the plan).

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-14T00:14:02.009Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

After describing an odd subjective experience:

If the rationalist reader has had the quite super-Stylite patience to read to this point, he will surely now at last throw down the book with an ethically justifiable curse.

Yet I beg him to believe that there is a shade of difference between me and a paradox-monger. I am not playing with words -- Lord knows how I wish I could! I find that they play with me! -- I am honestly and soberly trying to set down that which I know, that which I know better than I know anything else in the world, that which so transcends and excels all other experience that I am all on fire to proclaim it.

Yet I fail utterly. I have given my life to the study of the English language; I am supposed by my flatterers to have some little facility of expression, especially, one may agree, in conveying the extremes of thought of all kinds. Yet here I want to burn down the Universe for lack of a language.

-- Aleister Crowley here

comment by Raemon · 2011-12-07T14:52:09.232Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Is there NOTHING political parties can work on together? Can't each side shift at least some of their focus towards goals they have more or less in COMMON with the other side rather than zeroing in on what they think their opponents are wrong about?"

"But they're wrong about EVERYTHING!"

"Well, fixate on whatever it is they're least wrong about, then."

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-07T16:29:56.447Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This strikes me as dreadful advice on pretty much all fronts that matter.

To the extent that I want to improve my status, I want to focus on the stuff my opposition is least compelling about. (It would be nice if this were also the stuff they were most wrong about, but that ain't necessarily so. That said, it's unlikely to be what they are least wrong about.)

To the extent that I want to solve important problems, I want to focus on problems I consider important, regardless of whether the opposition agrees with me or not.

Focusing on what they are least wrong about only makes sense if what I want is to maximize cooperation. This can be a good idea if cooperation is a viable intermediate goal to something else, which is often true, but in the situation implied by this example doesn't seem likely.

comment by Raemon · 2011-12-07T17:02:02.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

First of, 90% of the reason I posted this was become it ended with "whatever they're least wrong about." I do not think it necessarily stands up to intense scrutiny.

That said, cooperation is only valuable as an intermediate goal, yes, but I think it's a pretty damn important intermediate goal. If both sides are defecting, nothing gets done. Don't forget your most important goals, but go for them strategically in a way that doesn't burn all your good will.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-14T00:37:38.634Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent points. On the other hand, cooperation seems like a good way to help your opponents learn about you and see you as an ally in at least one community. Depending on what you want, this may be at least 34% of the battle.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-03T08:48:36.107Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Of course there’s sophisticated theology – it’s the one which uses Bayes theorem to estimate how many angels can dance on a pinhead.

-- Kiwi Dave

comment by Tesseract · 2011-12-01T17:43:01.558Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Education helps close the gap between what man believes to be the truth and truth itself.

Richard Scholz

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-30T20:09:52.803Z · score: 1 (27 votes) · LW · GW

Hope is the first step on the road to disappointment.

-- Warhammer 40,000

comment by hankx7787 · 2011-12-10T14:19:12.376Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

erm, this isn't rationality... this is poisonous cynicism.

comment by billswift · 2011-12-01T16:35:44.196Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I downvoted it because it is meaningless noise - "hope" is the first step to anything, without hope a person would just sit there in an apathetic puddle. Without hope, a person won't even try to find the "reasonable expectations" you mentioned in a latter response. Everything is founded on "hope".

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2011-12-10T14:33:51.026Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'd rather focus on anticipation. For me, "hope" has connotations of unjustified optimism, like "faith". As such, unjustified belief is (hopefully) a step on a road that would end with learning what's actually true and probably against unjustified belief, a "disappointment".

comment by iwdw · 2011-12-07T05:58:09.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That depends on your definition of hope, really.

I've generally been partial to Derrick Jensen's definition of hope, as given in his screed against it:

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/170/

But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I turned the question back on the audience, and here’s the definition we all came up with: hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.

I'm not, for example, going to say I hope I eat something tomorrow. I just will. I don't hope I take another breath right now, nor that I finish writing this sentence. I just do them. On the other hand, I do hope that the next time I get on a plane, it doesn't crash. To hope for some result means you have given up any agency concerning it.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-01T02:52:17.746Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Normally I consider asking "omg why the downvotes boo hoo" to be crass, but in this case I'm genuinely curious: why do you guys think that this quote is inapplicable ?

comment by Grognor · 2011-12-01T04:40:30.389Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I liked the quote, and you have my upvote. It says to me, stop wasting time hoping things will turn out right (and contrapositively, worrying that things will turn out wrong) and get down to fixing the problems.

Am I reading too much into it? I don't think so. I don't care, either. It made me smile because it showcases a big part of my world-view.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-01T05:31:17.215Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the upvote; I interpret the quote in a similar way.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-01T03:12:49.577Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The quote denies the possibility of Progress or Improvement.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-12-01T03:25:37.563Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Just as a matter of precise use of language (i.e. pedantry): no it doesn't. It merely says that it is impossible to be disappointed without first having hope.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-01T03:42:10.803Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Given that Warhammer 40K is a dystopia of the first degree, the natural reading of the quote is that disappointment is an inevitable consequence of hope.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-12-01T03:51:26.657Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It does sound like the sort of thing a Nurglite evangelist would proclaim, but the problem is that "disappointment is an inevitable consequence of hope" is simply not what the words mean.

comment by rwallace · 2011-12-03T13:50:07.728Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Warhammer 40K is one of those settings that is highly is open to interpretation. My interpretation is that it's in a situation where things could be better and could be worse, victory and defeat are both very much on the cards, and hope guided by cold realism is one of the main factors that might tip the balance towards the first outcome. I consider it similar in that regard to the Cthulhu mythos, and for that matter to real life.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-01T03:15:42.697Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure what "Progress" or "Improvement" mean in this context, but I interpret the quote to mean, "Instead of unfounded hope, try and get some reasonable expectations, or else you're going to end up being disappointed". I could be wrong, though. In any case, thanks for replying !

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-28T21:01:02.682Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Whenever I am confronted with a major decision like this, I think "what would the protagonist in a sci-book do?"

-- Salman Khan

(Edit: Pretty sure he means "sci-fi book".)

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-03T04:26:39.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In our acquisition of knowledge of the Universe (whether mathematical or otherwise) that which renovates the quest is nothing more nor less than complete innocence. It is in this state of complete innocence that we receive everything from the moment of our birth. Although so often the object of our contempt and of our private fears, it is always in us. It alone can unite humility with boldness so as to allow us to penetrate to the heart of things, or allow things to enter us and taken possession of us.

This unique power is in no way a privilege given to “exceptional talents” – persons of incredible brain power (for example), who are better able to manipulate, with dexterity and ease, an enormous mass of data, ideas and specialized skills. Such gifts are undeniably valuable, and certainly worthy of envy from those who (like myself) were not so “endowed at birth, far beyond the ordinary”.

Yet it is not these gifts, nor the most determined ambition combined with irresistible will-power, that enables one to surmount the “invisible yet formidable boundaries” that encircle our universe. Only innocence can surmount them, which mere knowledge doesn’t even take into account, in those moments when we find ourselves able to listen to things, totally and intensely absorbed in child’s play.

— Alexander Grothendieck (attributed; couldn't find a reliable source)

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-02T10:42:01.924Z · score: 0 (16 votes) · LW · GW

[...] Let the voice of reason chime,
Let the friars vanish for all time,
God's face is hidden,
all unseen,
You can't ask him,
What it all means,
He was never on your side,
God was never on your side,
Let right or wrong alone decide,
God was never on your side.
See ten thousand ministries,
See the holy,
righteous dogs,
They claim to heal,
But all they do is steal,
Abuse your faith,
Cheat and rob,
If god is wise,
Why is he still,
When these false prophets,
Call him friend,
Why is he silent, Is he blind?!
Are we abandoned in the end?
Let the sword of reason shine,
Let us be free of prayer and shrine,
God's face is hidden,
turned way,
He never has a word to say,
He was never on your side,
God was never on your side,
Let right or wrong alone decide!
God was never on your side!
No, no, no!
[...]

Motorhead - God Was Never on Your Side

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-02T13:35:46.173Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

On YouTube.

Formatting note: You can do
a line break
without
a paragraph break
by putting two spaces at the end of a line.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-03T17:11:56.041Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you, edited. Is this the reason for the downvoting, or is there something else?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-06T05:27:33.320Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have a policy of down-voting quotes that are simply anti-religious cheering.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-06T09:46:43.213Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for sharing your reasons.

I was seeing more than militant atheism in this song. I thought that a more general message could be taken from it: use the strength of your reason, don't believe what other people tell you by faith, life isn't fair and we have to actively make it better. I'm still seeing all of this, to be honest, but at this point I have to admit the possibility that I'm biased, and my positive feelings about the music are conditioning me to see more in the text than what's really in it.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-12T14:38:43.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But that's a bad message! When told "think for yourself", people just ignore the experts and make stuff up and end up worse off.

...plus, No voices in the sky is way better.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-12T15:01:42.622Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

...plus, No voices in the sky is way better.

Yes, probably, I just happened to be listening to Kiss of Death at the time :)

But that's a bad message! When told "think for yourself", people just ignore the experts and make stuff up and end up worse off.

Well, if you really think for yourself, then it's not a bad advice*. This of course doesn't mean "disregard all the experts' opinions, ignore all evidence and come up with whatever conclusion you like more", which probably is how most people interpret the sentence, I have to admit.

*Assuming that losing the time to do that doesn't return negative utility. Ok, I have to concede that the issue requires a more delicate treatment.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-05T23:36:45.879Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a little torn - it still seems too long, and the line "all they do is steal" guarantees that our theists (all eight of them) will take it the wrong way, but parts seem quite good.

Eh, upvoted to -1.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-06T09:47:41.831Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Length is indeed another possible problem, thank you.

comment by arundelo · 2011-12-03T19:10:01.683Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe people just don't like it. FWIW, I upvoted it.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-12-03T22:59:37.389Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't (up/down)vote (the grandparent) but I imagine it's a combination of signalling concerns and a distaste for anything resembling theism.

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-04T12:19:58.881Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for sharing your considerations.

I re-analyzed my motivations and honestly I don't think I was trying to signal. There's a small possibility that part of the motivation for the post was a sort of counter-signaling ("Hey, look at me, I listen to Motorhead!"), but for what I can reconstruct I honestly thought it was a good rationality quote. I may overvalue the quote because I like the song, of course, but I still think it has some good content. While the focus here is on God, the message that can be taken from it is, in my opinion, broader.

comment by Barry_Cotter · 2011-12-04T20:56:20.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I was analysing the motivations of the downvoters, not yours. Also, why would Motorhead be counter-signalling?

comment by Cthulhoo · 2011-12-05T09:49:37.615Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You mentioned signalling concerns, and I stopped for a moment to think if they were motivated (i.e. if there was a hidden will to signal). I'm here to be less wrong after all ;)

Also, why would Motorhead be counter-signalling?

In my experience it's not common for high IQ people to listen to hard rock / heavy metal. Indirectly mentioning that instead I do, could have looked like counter-signalling.

comment by minderbinder · 2011-12-01T19:03:44.475Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

African proverb

comment by minderbinder · 2011-12-01T19:08:08.362Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

Whoops, didn't mean to retract that. The quote is "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now." - African proverb

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-12-01T19:14:54.616Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For blockquotes, put a > at the beginning of the paragraph.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-12-01T20:42:03.438Z · score: -7 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Africa is a continent. "African proverb" makes around as much sense as calling all proverbs of Native American tribes, modern American proverbs, proverbs from Western European philosophy currently used in the US, and their Latin American counterparts, "American proverbs".

comment by minderbinder · 2011-12-01T22:50:41.118Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I found it in a book about rethinking aid to sub-Saharan Africa (Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo). If you google the quote it's either identified as a proverb or African proverb, so that's about as specific as I, or anyone else for that matter, can be. But I do appreciate the concern.

comment by iwdw · 2011-12-07T18:32:57.694Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

… every culture in history, in every time and every place, has operated from the assumption that it had it 95% correct and that the other 5% would arrive in five years’ time! All were wrong! All were wrong, and we gaze back at their naivety with a faint sense of our own superiority.

-- Terence McKenna, Culture and Ideology are Not Your Friends

comment by tut · 2011-12-12T17:05:41.779Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

… every culture in history, in every time and every place ...

We should implement a filter that changes the above phrase to "The USA in the 1950s". Because then the statements that include the phrase would generally become true.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-13T06:18:10.844Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-13T09:36:25.765Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You can delete the duplicate comments now that they are retracted.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-13T06:18:09.301Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-12-13T06:17:10.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're being a little to harsh on the OC. You can at least use the phrase "Western Culture in the 20th century". (;

comment by Nornagest · 2011-12-07T19:05:48.195Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I don't really disagree with the point he's trying to make there, and if we restrict ourselves to talking about post-Enlightenment Western cultures the argument might be largely accurate; but over all cultures in all times and places he's simply wrong.

It's actually fairly unusual for a culture to be consistently forward-looking at all, let alone to assume that the solutions to all its problems and the answers to all its open questions will arrive in a few years or decades. Most seem to have assumed that the present world's unusually debased and that things will only get worse, usually culminating in some sort of cataclysm; compare Hesiod's Ages of Man, the Kali Yuga, et cetera. This sort of thing might seem like a reactionary fantasy to us here and now, but that or a cyclical viewpoint or some combination are part of the bedrock of myth in essentially all the traditional cultures I know anything about.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-07T19:35:06.638Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

every culture in history, in every time and every place, has operated from the assumption that it had it 95% correct and that the other 5% would arrive in five years’ time!

Don't believe it.

Cultures, to the best of my knowledge, differ somewhat significantly with respect to their attitude to moral and ideological progress or decline. It doesn't even seem particularly likely that every culture in history has even had an attitude such that it can be said to be operation with an assumption one way or the other.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-01-04T15:57:45.442Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you would ask members of the present US culture whether the legal way gays are treated is optimal I doubt you will get that answer.

One the one hand you have people who disagree with state laws that allow homosexual marriage. Some of them disagree with laws that forbid discrimination. On the other hand you do have people who would want equal marriage rights for homosexuals.

Neither side believes that their position will get cultural consensus in five years.

comment by Stabilizer · 2011-12-04T13:23:06.708Z · score: -2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Even communism works. In theory.

-Homer Simpson

comment by CharlieSheen · 2011-12-19T13:18:49.325Z · score: -3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

The social sciences are largely hokum.

--Sheldon Cooper, fictional character from the Big Bang Theory

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-19T17:40:59.630Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

While I kind-of agree, quoting that out of context without an explanation is mere gratuitous name-calling IMO, rather than a “Rationality Quote”.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2011-12-23T13:03:36.688Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Consider some of the other rationality quotes in previous threads. I am simply following established precedences.

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-03T20:47:44.252Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Any sufficiently analysed magic is indistinguishable from technology.

~ Girl Genius

(They're actually talking about fantasy fiction, but the principle applies to real life as well.)

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2011-12-04T06:42:20.627Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Duplicate and not verbatim)

comment by Ezekiel · 2011-12-04T11:56:10.604Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Retracted. Thanks and sorry.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-29T17:05:22.679Z · score: -4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

My philosophy is that losers have goals and winners have systems.

-- Scott Adams

comment by Vaniver · 2011-12-30T00:14:53.987Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Why I liked it as a rationality quote: it concisely states the importance of instrumental rationality. Simply wanting something is insufficient to achieve it, you need a way to get there that survives contact with reality.

The example he gives is of an exercise system: rather than just wanting to exercise, he goes to the gym every day, and then decides to exercise when he's at the gym. He doesn't beat himself up when he decides not to exercise; he's just executing the system. The system delivers results; he exercises more than he would if he didn't follow the system.

comment by Nisan · 2011-12-20T03:36:09.790Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW
comment by benelliott · 2011-12-29T19:36:53.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In what way is mathematics not real?

comment by RobinZ · 2011-12-20T07:12:35.181Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This lacks context. What is this "theory of thinking about the real world", and why should I believe other mathematicians are unaware of it?

comment by albert · 2011-12-07T03:08:04.470Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."

  • Richard Feynman
comment by kateblu · 2011-12-06T11:58:32.941Z · score: -4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers: but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. G. K. Chesterton as quoted in John D. Barrow's 'Pi in the Sky'.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-06T14:53:14.786Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Factually false. The Openness personality trait, and creativity in general, is linked with mental issues like schizophrenia (see also Spent 2011), while the only investigation I currently am aware of for mathematicians does not find any noticeable increase for 48 prominent modern logicians (including Godel): http://blog.computationalcomplexity.org/2011/07/disproofing-myth-that-many-early.html

(I will note I am not surprised in the least that the quote comes from Chesterton.)

comment by kateblu · 2011-12-07T03:14:55.119Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is 48 a statistically significant sample? Seriously, I do not take this quotation as factually correct. I am intrigued by the idea of logic set against imagination as I don't view them as necessarily opposing attributes. I am also amused at the idea of dividing the world into (a) poets and other creative artists and (b) chess players, mathematicians and cashiers. When I am amused I like to share - and I thought that was the point of this particular thread.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-07T03:22:41.559Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Statistically significant? Well, I've seen psychology studies published with smaller Ns... The point is that that is way more solid evidence than the usual litany of anecdotage which is adduced as evidence for that thesis, which is rarely meant metaphorically. Usually when one sees someone remark about mathematicians and madness, they mean it quite literally. I have no reason to think Chesterton, that old contrarian Catholic, meant it any differently.

comment by shokwave · 2011-12-07T03:26:40.373Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers: but creative artists very seldom

It seems like I have many more examples of mad poets than mad mathematicians and chess players available in my head.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-07T03:33:13.888Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Give yourself to availability bias. It is the only way you can save this argument. Yes, let your context betray you. Your experiences with it are strong. Especially with... mad poets. So, you know some mad poets.

comment by alexflint · 2011-12-02T12:22:22.160Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe in an interventionist god

But I know darling that you do

But if I did I would kneel down and ask him

Not to intervene when it came to you

-- Nick Cave, Into My Arms

comment by Quikdraw · 2011-12-07T07:50:20.635Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"...Isn't sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean, all you get is one trick; rational thinking. But when you're good and crazy, woo-oo-oo-oo-hoo the sky's the limit!" Ben Edlund (The Tick)

comment by achiral · 2011-12-02T16:07:11.115Z · score: -5 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"Hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people."

comment by achiral · 2011-12-03T14:18:26.863Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The downvotes this comment has received probably indicate that the downvoters either don't understand the quote or perhaps think I was quoting myself.

I saw this unattributed quote on a web forum. The quote is speaking to emotional truths that, in all likelihood, can't be understood without life experience. It has to do with rationality because we are all emotional and social creatures, and therefore emotional awareness is extremely important to our mental health, with repercussions that extend to every aspect of our lives. Not being emotionally aware and healthy will be a hindrance to pretty much any other goal a rationalist might pursue.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-03T19:02:21.640Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The downvotes this comment has received probably indicate that the downvoters either don't understand the quote or perhaps think I was quoting myself.

No. I downvoted (now) because it is a terribly inelegant and inaccurate way to express the slight grain of truth in the concept space.

The quote is speaking to emotional truths that, in all likelihood, can't be understood without life experience.

It isn't complicated at all. Someone raised in a bubble could understand given either a rudimentary education about animal behavior or a couple of sentences explanation.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-03T14:26:42.577Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The downvotes this comment has received probably indicate that the downvoters either don't understand the quote or perhaps think I was quoting myself.

I didn't downvote it, but other possibilities are that it wasn't attributed, and that people just don't consider it a very good rationality quote.

comment by gwern · 2011-12-03T16:37:36.777Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I understand it fine; I object to it on literary grounds (healed/heal breaks the rhythmic symmetry) and a general suspicion that this is the kind of New Agey sentiment that seems correct initially but breaks down catastrophically when one finally finds some empirical evidence relating to it and is revealed to be nothing but a platitude.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-12-01T04:31:21.111Z · score: -8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

It's good to be the king.

-Mel Brooks