Rationality Quotes Thread March 2016

post by elharo · 2016-03-05T18:44:48.980Z · score: 5 (6 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 45 comments

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

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • Post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

45 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Viliam · 2016-03-17T08:58:06.875Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
but delight in airing their own opinions.

-- Proverbs 18:2

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-19T08:36:54.442Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Damn, I think I could learn a lot from this one.

comment by 27chaos · 2016-03-19T06:43:02.089Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Oh, but I only detest the mouth of the lion, where its fangs are kept; I do not detest the ear of the lion, nor its tail."

But the ear is how he found your brother, and when he leapt on your sister, the tail kept him straight.

Tycho of Penny Arcade, on the importance of systems thinking.

comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-11T02:51:00.681Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

To avoid sucker problems, substitute the abstract "government" with "bureaucrats/politicians" & "science" with "scientists/journal editors".

Nassim Taleb

comment by gjm · 2016-03-11T17:30:56.914Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that there's a useful distinction between what government does and what politicians and bureaucrats do; likewise for science (and, e.g., between what the private sector does and what CEOs do; between what religion does and what clergy do; etc.).

CEOs play (at least according to caricature) a lot of golf, but the business world does not play golf. Politicians kiss babies; the government does not kiss babies. Science advances (among other ways) by the death of scientists whose ideas fail to match more recent evidence; individual scientists don't.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-07T22:36:39.922Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In short, the claim is that the experience of psychological practitioners allows them to go beyond the aggregate relationships that have been uncovered by research. The claim that clinical prediction is efficacious is, thus, easily test-able. Unfortunately, the claim has been tested, and it has been falsified. Research on the issue of clinical versus actuarial prediction has been consistent. Since the publication in 1954 of Paul Meehl’s classic book Clinical Versus Statistical Prediction actuarial prediction has been found to be superior to clinical prediction (Kahneman, 2011; Morera & Dawes, 2006; Swets et al., 2000; Tetlock, 2005).

The error of implying that psychological predictions can be made at the level of the individual is often made by clinical psychologists themselves, who sometimes mistakenly imply that clinical training confers an “intuitive” ability to predict an individual case. Instead, decades’ worth of research has consistently indicated that actuarial prediction (prediction in terms of group statistical trends) is superior to clinical prediction in accounting for human behavior

Keith E. Stanovich (member of CFAR's board of advisors) in How to Think Straight About Psychology

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-19T18:27:30.521Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The failures to grasp the meaning which are the impressive feature of our third set of protocols are, therefore, not easy to range in order. Inability to construe may have countless causes. Distractions, preconceptions, inhibitions of all kinds have their part, and putting our finger on the obstructing item is always largely guesswork. The assumption, however, that stupidity is not a simple quality, such as weight or impenetrability were once thought to be, but an effect of complex inhibitions is a long stride in a hopeful direction. The most leaden-witted blockhead thereby becomes an object of interest.

― I. A Richard, Practical Criticism- A study of literature

comment by 27chaos · 2016-03-23T19:07:25.581Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like general stupidity does exist, in the same way that general intelligence does? Not sure what you like about this quote. The idea that biases are diverse, maybe?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-29T16:37:47.776Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

General stupidity exists, but effective stupidity occurs regularly in very intelligent people. It's easy and feels good to dismiss people who disagree with you, and are wrong, as stupid. This is sometimes true, but it closes off the possibility of uncovering biases and other problems and correcting them.

comment by gjm · 2016-03-29T12:30:02.766Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Intelligence and stupidity are both complex things with multiple causes. A "general factor" of intelligence or stupidity doesn't take away the fact that some people are particularly good or bad at particular things for particular reasons.

Incidentally, it may be worth mentioning that the people whose work I A Richards is referring to here, who exhibited such "failure to grasp the meaning" of (in this case) some not especially obscure poetry, were undergraduate students of English at the University of Cambridge. So we're talking about relative stupidity here; these are people selected for intelligence and with at least some interest in (and apparent aptitude for) the material. Some of their errors really are pretty stupid, though.

[EDITED to fix an inconsequential typo.]

comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-11T02:49:08.928Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Strict rules can be harsh. So can the whim and bias that tend to creep in when one relaxes the rules.

Nick Szabo

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-07T22:44:10.583Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

An investigator who hoped to learn something about what scientists took the atomic theory to be asked a distinguished physicist and an eminent chemist whether a single atom of helium was or was not a molecule. Both answered without hesitation, but their answers were not the same. For the chemist the atom of helium was a molecule because it behaved like one with respect to the kinetic theory of gases. For the physicist, on the other hand, the helium atom was not a molecule because it displayed no molecular spectrum.

Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

comment by indexador2 · 2016-03-08T00:41:43.201Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A high school student would say no, because by definition a molecule has more than one atom.

comment by Silver_Swift · 2016-03-09T12:44:02.081Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That depends entirely on your definition (which is the point of the quote I guess), I've heard people use it both ways.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-07T22:47:23.050Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Unlike the engineer, and many doctors, and most theologians, the scientist need not choose problems because they urgently need solution and without regard for the tools available to solve them.

[...]

In this respect, also,The contrast between natural scientists and many social scientists proves instructive. The latter often tend, as the former almost never do, to defend their choice of a research problem—e.g., the effects of racial discrimination or the causes of the business cycle—chiefly in terms of the social importance of achieving a solution. Which group would one then expect to solve problems at a more rapid rate?

Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-11T02:48:27.330Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Those who have never tried electronic communication may not be aware of what a "social skill" really is. One social skill that must be learned, is that other people have points of view that are not only different, but threatening, to your own. In turn, your opinions may be threatening to others. There is nothing wrong with this. Your beliefs need not be hidden behind a facade, as happens with face-to-face conversation. Not everybody in the world is a bosom buddy, but you can still have a meaningful conversation with them. The person who cannot do this lacks in social skills.

Nick Szabo

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-07T22:38:37.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Psychology has been plagued by unfalsifiable theories, and that is one reason why progress in the discipline has been slow.

Keith E. Stanovich (member of CFAR's board of advisors) in How to Think Straight About Psychology

comment by Viliam · 2016-03-11T08:44:36.969Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me it's even worse: that when once in a while some theories say something falsifiable in principle, most psychologists don't care, because they are more interested in learning "what X said" than whether 'what X said' corresponds to the territory. (Or maybe I just had shitty education.)

For example, Freud predicts that people who don't have enough sex will instead find some other activity, such as art. On the other hand, Maslow predicts that people will first attempt to get sex, and only after they get it they will care about things like art.

So this is a rare situation where two famous psychologists were talking about the same topic, made predictions, and those predictions clearly opposed each other. And it's like no one cares enough to make an experiment, which is guaranteed to falsify at least one of those predictions (possibly both if there is no relation between the quantity of sex and the art produced). Whichever of these two theories is right (at least in this specific aspect), its proponents should be doing the experiment, making the result popular, and rubbing it in the faces of their opponents all the time. But no one cares. And that leaves me with an impression that neither side actually cares about whether their favorite theories are true.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-19T18:35:00.300Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But the two theories predict the same observations, because art is a good strategy to get sex.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-11T16:09:53.789Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

an experiment, which is guaranteed to falsify at least one of those predictions

Why do you think so?

Assume we run the experiment and 60% go Maslow way, 40% go Freud way. We try to replicate and 55% go Freud way, 45% go Maslow way. The results from running the test on undergrads at Somecollege show this and the results from running the test on middle-aged adults living in Boonieville show that.

So what got falsified?

comment by Viliam · 2016-03-12T15:19:11.365Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So what got falsified?

Both did. At least, each of them should make their prediction more specific, to explain why it doesn't apply to large groups of people.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-20T08:13:04.741Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Qin Shi Huang sought to live forever. So, he recruited a multitude of advisors to find the hidden secret to immortality. Unfortunately, the men he recruited had no ability to assess which magicians or alchemists might be experts in immortality elixirs. Furthermore, the emperor had no ability to assess which advisors might be experts in assessing experts in immortality elixirs. (Note even further that there are no true experts in the relevant domains here. This may remind you of fields such as technological forecasting.) In the end, as these things tended to go, a lot of advisors got executed.

...

In domains where reality does not give good feedback, they need to have a set of well-honed heuristics or proxy feedback methods to correct for better output if the result is going to be reliably good (this goes for, e.g., philosophy, sociology, long-term prediction). In domains where reality can give good feedback, they don't necessarily need well-honed heuristics or proxy feedback methods (e.g., massage, auto repair, swordfighting, etc.). All else equal, superior feedback loops have the following attributes (idealized versions below):

Speed (you learn about discrepancies between current and desired output quickly after taking an action so you can course-correct)

Frequency (the feedback loop happens frequently, giving you more samples to calibrate on)

Validity (the feedback loop is helping you get closer to the output you actually care about)

Reliability (the feedback loop consistently returns similar discrepancies in response to you taking similar actions)

Detail (the feedback loop gives you a large amount of information about the difference between current and desired output)

Saliency (the feedback loop delivers attentionally or motivationally salient feedback)

-http://effective-altruism.com/ea/tk/expertise_assessment/

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-19T08:37:49.484Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

“This cosmic dance of bursting decadence and withheld permissions twists all our arms collectively, but if sweetness can win, and it can, then I'll still be here tomorrow to high-five you yesterday, my friend. Peace.”

― Pendleton Ward, Adventure Time Vol. 1

adventure time...the candy people have taught me it's okay just to enjoy my life, I don't have to be force for good or evil. If I'm happy, that's good enough. I'm not a bad thing then. I'm kinda good too by default

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-05T19:04:50.798Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The Hidden Emotion Model is based on the idea that niceness is the cause of all anxiety. People who are prone to anxiety are nearly always people-pleasers who fear conflict and negative feelings like anger. When you feel upset, you sweep your problems under the rug because you don’t want to upset anyone. You do this so quickly and automatically that you’re not even aware you’re doing it. Then your negative feelings resurface in disguised form, as anxiety, worries, fears, or feelings of panic. When you expose the hidden feelings and solve the problem that’s bugging you, often your anxiety will disappear

David D. Burns (on of the people who popularized CBT) in "When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life-Broadway"

comment by elharo · 2016-03-06T01:08:28.963Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It is comfortable for richer people to think they are richer because of the moral failings of the poor. And that justifies a paternalistic approach to poverty relief using vouchers and in-kind support. But the big reason poor people are poor is because they don’t have enough money, and it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that giving them money is a great way to reduce that problem—considerably more cost-effectively than paternalism.

-- Charles Kenney, "For Fighting Poverty, Cash Is Surprisingly Effective", Bloomberg News, June 3, 2013

comment by Viliam · 2016-03-06T14:37:39.744Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

the big reason poor people are poor is because they don’t have enough money

Once I was talking with a beggar on the street. While talking, I was also noticing how much money people were throwing him. I concluded that he makes approximately as much money as is the average salary in my country. When I asked him how he spends the money, he said he buys alcohol, and donates the rest to the church.

A girl I know has an insane aunt. The aunt spends all her disability income on buying figurines of angels. Then she has no money left for food, so her relatives bring her lunch.

Yes, if we twist the meaning of the words sufficiently, these people are poor because they don't have enough money. By that I mean, if we would give them unlimited money, the beggar wouldn't have to beg anymore, and the crazy aunt would always have enough money to pay for food delivery. But it is also true that other people with comparable incomes live very different lives.

Giving each of these two some kind of food-vouchers could improve their lives. Well, at least as long as they would find someone willing to trade the food-vouchers for money; which would happen quite soon.

I am not saying that these two are representative for poor people on average. Just showing how "poor people are poor because they don't have enough money" can be kinda technically true and still hugely misleading.

comment by Val · 2016-03-07T15:58:03.898Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For a counter-example, see the story of almost every lottery winner ever, who was poor before winning the lottery, and ended up poor again soon enough.

comment by Brillyant · 2016-03-08T20:10:50.727Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I know there are many cases of this, but is it as universally true as you say?

And apart from lottery winners, is there evidence that smaller windfalls are squandered in a high percentage of cases?

comment by Desrtopa · 2016-03-06T12:33:43.500Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the short term, giving people money makes them less poor, but in the long term, it may not be so effective.

comment by elharo · 2016-03-06T17:11:04.244Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The long term discussed in that article is multiple generations, and there's still evidence there that wealth does transfer to children and further (e.g. the Swedish doctors). It has little to say about the relative efficacy of social programs vs. direct cash grants in alleviating poverty today.

comment by Desrtopa · 2016-03-06T19:43:53.508Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The evidence with the Swedish doctors versus the lottery winners though, is that it's something other than just the amount of money they have that leaves their descendants better off.

If the reason that the poor are poor is only that they don't have enough money, then it shouldn't be necessary to keep funneling in more money to keep them from being poor. That is, if a person has a low-paying job, but has income supplementation which gives them the same level of money as someone with a better job, then their children should be as likely to be well off as the children of the person with the better job, because both have the same access to money. But in practice this appears not to be the case.

There's a lot of middle ground between "the poor have less money because they're morally lacking and deserve to have as little as they do" and "the poor have less money only because they started out with less money, and the key to being able to make money is already having money.

Having worked as an educator for some persistently poverty-stricken school districts, I have to say that there being a "human capital" element is definitely attested to in my experience, and I don't mean this simply as a euphemism for "genes." I've seen plenty of intelligent, conscientious young people who are going to be seriously disadvantaged in achieving future financial success, because they

  • Haven't been exposed to standards and expectations that prepare them for how hard they'll have to work to compete with similarly intelligent people from more functional environments.

  • Have absorbed disadvantageous social norms about how to manage money (flaunting it via conspicuous consumption, living ahead of paychecks, not investing for future needs or building up a buffer for unforeseen situations, etc.) because these were the examples that everyone they knew who had any money set with it.

  • Engage in a lot of avoidable conflict, because high conflict interpersonal styles are the norm in the social circles they grew up with (but are not the norm in the social circles they're going to have to move in in more lucrative careers.)

  • Have had their learning opportunities sabotaged, because even when they were capable and willing to engage in a high level of learning, they were surrounded by peers who disrupt their teachers' attempts to create an educational environment.

...And so on.

Not just on a personal level, but on a community level, there are different reasons for being poor, and some poor communities may have very different social norms and values (see Kiryas Joel for instance,) but the norms still tend to perpetuate poverty.

I can't claim it constitutes a large data set, but I've watched a couple of people in these communities regress from being financially well off (due to payouts from having won lawsuits) to being poor again in just a couple of years. And I tried to talk them out of the money management habits that were inevitably leading to that. But while they recognized my cause for concern, they made it clear that they wanted to use the money to gain a few short years living in a way that would make them pinnacles of admiration in their community. Neither of them were dumb, but they were reasoning according to the social norms they'd grown up with.

I don't think program paternalism is necessarily a good solution, since being forced to use resources pragmatically doesn't mean that people will learn to use their resources effectively when they have autonomy over them. But I think it's incorrect to suppose that poor people and more affluent people in general are separated only by the amount of money they have access to, and not by any sort of cultural gaps that act to perpetuate their differences in wealth.

As far as simple wealth transfers having a lasting impact, I think it's likely that the impact will tend to be different in different places. With the cash transfers to poverty-stricken Ugandan women, for instance, as the article says, most of them used the money to set some kind of retail operation in motion. They had the motivation to use the money entrepreneurially, but also, crucially, they had access to markets with relatively low competition and barriers to entry. Give a couple hundred thousand dollars to a poor person in an American city, and they might want to use it to start a business, but not many would be able to start a business with those resources which would turn a profit given the level of existing competition they'd have to face.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-07T13:40:55.326Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Sacrificing anonymity may be the next generation's price for keeping precious liberty, as prior generations paid in blood.

-Hal Norby, as quoted in The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? (1998), by David Brin, p. 3.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-07T13:41:58.339Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh no, I can't unretract!

After attending this panel talk it hits me that lay people are way off on which experts to consult regarding AI safety and regulation.

Qin Shi Huang sought to live forever. So, he recruited a multitude of advisors to find the hidden secret to immortality. Unfortunately, the men he recruited had no ability to assess which magicians or alchemists might be experts in immortality elixirs. Furthermore, the emperor had no ability to assess which advisors might be experts in assessing experts in immortality elixirs. (Note even further that there are no true experts in the relevant domains here. This may remind you of fields such as technological forecasting.) In the end, as these things tended to go, a lot of advisors got executed.

...

In domains where reality does not give good feedback, they need to have a set of well-honed heuristics or proxy feedback methods to correct for better output if the result is going to be reliably good (this goes for, e.g., philosophy, sociology, long-term prediction). In domains where reality can give good feedback, they don't necessarily need well-honed heuristics or proxy feedback methods (e.g., massage, auto repair, swordfighting, etc.). All else equal, superior feedback loops have the following attributes (idealized versions below):

Speed (you learn about discrepancies between current and desired output quickly after taking an action so you can course-correct)

Frequency (the feedback loop happens frequently, giving you more samples to calibrate on)

Validity (the feedback loop is helping you get closer to the output you actually care about)

Reliability (the feedback loop consistently returns similar discrepancies in response to you taking similar actions)

Detail (the feedback loop gives you a large amount of information about the difference between current and desired output)

Saliency (the feedback loop delivers attentionally or motivationally salient feedback)

-http://effective-altruism.com/ea/tk/expertise_assessment/

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-07T13:42:37.297Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You know C. S. Lewis, whom I greatly admire, said there’s no such thing as creative writing. … He said there is, in fact, only one Creator and we mix. That’s our function, to mix the elements He has given us. See how wonderfully anonymous that leaves us? You can’t say, “I did this; this gross matrix of flesh and blood and sinews and nerves did this.”

-P. L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins stories, in The Paris Review No. 86 (Winter 1982).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-19T18:37:20.728Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's the medieval theory of art in a nutshell. CS Lewis was, of course, a medievalist. Creativity was not discovered until the 18th century. Before that, it was a word only ever applied to God.

comment by [deleted] · 2016-03-07T13:43:42.319Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You know when you’re little and the future feels really far away? You don’t know what it looks like, you just hope you’ll have stuff figured out by then. You’ll know exactly how to act, and feel. You’ll have conquered all your fears, and you’ll never feel dumb or uncomfortable. You don’t think about how you’ll actually get there. The middle parts, between now and then, the middle parts suck. Which is why I split, I guess.

  • Adventure Time
comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-16T01:35:13.235Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The corporate world is predatory, and the mercenary class of executives are certainly in it for no one but themselves, but for sheer thievery, I think only the financial industry can even begin to compete with the non-profit world. At least the corporations have to deliver to their customers on some level, or they go out of business.

Not so the non-profit charities and foundations, which often seem to exist primarily to provide those who run them a very good living.

Vox Day

comment by Glen · 2016-03-16T14:30:25.268Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The closest thing to rationality content I can pull from this is "just because a thing looks good, doesn't mean it is good". However, the source page lists a grand total of one corrupt non-profit. You can find one bad version of anything, no matter how good or bad the whole group is. You could probably even find a hundred such examples, just from population size and base rate alone. Vox doesn't attempt to check if he is right, he doesn't even list a few examples. He just lists a single instance of a probably corrupt non-profit and, pleased with his own cynicism and insight, declares he they has found a pattern. This is a good example of what not to do, and an important failure mode to watch out for, but you are presenting it as though it were rational rather than a cautionary tale.

comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-16T21:02:18.983Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Think of it as an exercise in looking at the incentives people in various situations have. You may want to start by examening the sentence:

At least the corporations have to deliver to their customers on some level, or they go out of business.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-16T14:53:42.673Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The closest thing to rationality content I can pull from this is "just because a thing looks good, doesn't mean it is good".

Look closer. It's a comment about organizations which exist mostly for the benefits of their employees. One might call them parasites.

comment by Glen · 2016-03-16T15:18:52.073Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

He lists a single "parasitic" non-profit, and then declares the entire field of non-profits to be corrupt thieves on the scale of the financial sector. This post is explicitly about his disgust with the "non-profit world", and he pretty clearly believes that this sort of this is common despite providing no strong evidence in support of that belief. That is his mistake, generalizing from a single example with no additional evidence provided or even discussed.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-16T15:38:49.442Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That is his mistake, generalizing from a single example with no additional evidence provided

It's a quote. Most quotes generalize and don't provide or discuss evidence.

comment by Glen · 2016-03-16T16:09:04.847Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

By he I meant Vox. I read the linked post, and it makes all these mistakes. I wouldn't expect a quote to include a full argument or evidence base, but the source ideally should.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-19T18:31:33.326Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Most quotes have a justification lurking about somewhere, either within the quote itself, or in shared experience. A quote that's just an unsubstantiated claim shouldn't be quoted.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-21T14:51:49.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Most quotes have a justification lurking about somewhere, either within the quote itself, or in shared experience.

"Shared experience" is the most common, I think, and is conveniently unfalsifiable.