Rationality Quotes - August 2009

post by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-08-06T01:58:49.178Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 122 comments

A monthly thread for posting any interesting rationality-related quotes you've seen recently on the Internet, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages.

122 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by ata · 2009-08-07T04:50:43.958Z · score: 26 (28 votes) · LW · GW

"A witty saying proves nothing." -- Voltaire

I've always found that useful to keep in mind when reading threads like this.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-08T21:12:06.989Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think this should go at the top of all monthly Rationality Quotes posts as an epigraph.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-14T05:00:31.499Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think this should go at the top of all monthly Rationality Quotes posts as an epigraph.

Or an epitaph.

comment by Rune · 2009-08-06T03:43:35.947Z · score: 23 (27 votes) · LW · GW

"As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life - so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls."

-- M. Cartmill

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T13:05:22.485Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

No one has ever announced that because determinism is true thermostats do not control temperature.

Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, qtd. in Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-08-06T13:56:49.617Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But what thermostats don't control is... what the thermostat is set to.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-08-06T14:16:26.844Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But what thermostats don't control is... what the thermostat is set to.

Another control system does that. The chain tops out somewhere, of course.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T16:44:32.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Allan didn't say otherwise.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2009-08-06T17:13:00.996Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Richard didn't say otherwise.

comment by AllanCrossman · 2009-08-06T18:45:21.927Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer didn't say... oh sod it.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T13:04:15.073Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Whitehead, Alfred North (1861 - 1947), An Introduction to Mathematics.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T04:05:53.187Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

Better our hypotheses die for our errors than ourselves.

-- Karl Popper

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2009-08-10T19:22:53.257Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I forget if I've posted this before, but:

"I've noticed that the press tends to be quite accurate, except when they're writing on a subject I know something about." -- Keith F. Lynch

comment by sark · 2010-12-24T16:44:20.367Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure about others, but my first reaction was that we should not trust the press as much, but then I realized that isn't the whole story. So this is for the sake of making it explicit: It could be that when the news comes to talk about something you are an expert in, you were simply nitpicking, using your superior knowledge in a particular domain to show off.

How do we tell? Perhaps there are other ways, but I would focus on relevance. Does my extra knowledge of the subject really affect the conclusions of this op-ed?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T04:07:44.650Z · score: 17 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Freedom is understood in contrast to its various opposites. I can be free as opposed to being presently coerced. I can be free as opposed to being under some other person's general control. I can be free as opposed to being subject to delusions or insanity. I can be free as opposed to being ruled by the state in denial of ordinary personal liberties. I can be free as opposed to being in jail or prison. I can be free as opposed to living under unusually heavy personal obligations. I can be free as opposed to being burdened by bias or prejudice. I can even be free (or free spirited) as opposed to being governed by ordinary social conventions. The question that needs to be asked, and which hardly ever is asked, is whether I can be free as opposed to being causally determined. Given that some kind of causal determinism is presupposed in the very concept of human action, it would be odd if this were so. Why does anyone think that it is?

-- David Hill

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-06T08:58:46.572Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You've made essentially this argument yourself, and I've been wondering: How is causal determinism "presupposed in the concept of human action"?

Can't I do things without the results being guaranteed?

comment by Tiiba · 2009-08-07T18:09:40.002Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"Can't I do things without the results being guaranteed?"

Yes; it's called ignorance. It's not called freedom.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-08-07T23:15:19.863Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You're not providing evidence. You're just presupposing what he's asking for evidence of.

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-07T23:01:00.566Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for giving a definite answer.

But just to make sure I've been clear, I meant to refer to whether the results are guaranteed in the absolute sense (causal determinism) regardless of whether they are guaranteed to match my expectations.

comment by Tiiba · 2009-08-08T00:55:14.393Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you mean quantum fluctuations, that's also something you're ignorant of. It doesn't make you free, though. It's just randomness.

Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. Or that 2+2=goldfish, if that's what floats your boat. The important thing is that your words are determined by your goals. Basically, free will is will that happens to be free.

If the freedom you seek is freedom to change your GOALS (like bad habits), well, I guess we are restricted to a degree. I like to think of such goals as not really mine, but those of a beast that lives in my body. I am free.

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-08T01:02:36.499Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The quote was about freedom. My question was about causal determinism, and it wasn't about the relationship between causal determinism and freedom.

comment by Tiiba · 2009-08-08T05:59:57.094Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I reread your first post, and I think that you might have understood the word "action" too literally. Determinism is not presupposed in ANY human action, but to plan your next move, you need some idea of what its effect will be. And to do that, you need rules. That's causality.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-07T18:57:45.491Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You can do things without the results being guaranteed.

But you cannot do anything, be responsible for any action, without causality.

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-07T22:50:33.754Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

RobinZ has pointed out that there's a difference between causality and causal determinism.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-08-07T23:18:02.300Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You're losing sight of the original question. People who believe in free will don't deny causality.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T13:19:52.287Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I personally recommend A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will by Robert Kane to anyone interested in that kind of question - it's short, and except when dealing with Kane's own theory (which it only does for the last few chapters), quite fair-minded.

But to address your remark: one problem with declaring indeterminism in human decision-making is how it interacts with cases where the decision is obvious. Suppose you were visiting a town you only ever traveled to once a decade, and in that town you went to a restaurant serving the greatest (let's say) minestrone soup in the world. You haven't eaten minestrone soup at all for a year, you love the stuff, it's the cheapest thing on the menu, and you're leaving tomorrow so you know you gotta get you some of this.

If you are causally determined to order the minestrone soup, are you acting of your own free will when you do?

If you are not, then are you acting of your own free will if you don't?

(I steal this example from my "Action and Responsibility" class a year or two ago, but it's a good one.)

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-06T17:16:38.652Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Beats me. I guess it depends on what you mean by free will. (There are so many different meanings that I don't like to use the phrase.) It also doesn't answer my question at all.

If you explained how the fact that it's possible to order soup proves that events are perfectly predictable in theory, that would answer my question.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T19:15:41.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, how did you mean your question? I mean, the answer is obviously, "of course you can act without guaranteed results, that's every action anyone has ever taken ever." Except that it's an utterly inane result which the people in the free will community (mostly) don't care about, and this entire debate is in the free will community, and needs to be understood in the context of compatibilism and incompatibilism.

See, there are numerous philosophers (and non-philosophers) whose model of free choice is "choice which could go either way, even under the exact same circumstances" - and they interpret it logically, that you could load the save file from before the decision and see them switch. If that's the nature of a free decision, then you run into the problem of the soup, here - apparently, you're only free to order the soup if you've got some measurable chance of not ordering the soup, despite that you'd have to be crazy or stupid to not order the soup. Which is counterintuitive, because nobody's holding a gun to your head - it looks like an exemplar of a free decision unless you're committed to that sort of philosophy.

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-06T19:47:16.151Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, if it's true that "causal determinism is presupposed in the very concept of human action," then it should stay true when I'm talking about causal determinism and human action alone--and I should be able to ask for an explanation.

In other words, how does the fact that people do order soup show that if you load the save file, you're guaranteed the same result? I know it's used as a step in proofs about "free will," but I'm asking about the step, not the proofs. Another proof rebutting some of the people who don't like the first proof isn't an answer.

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T20:37:00.613Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wait, are you asking the empirical question, "do human decision-making processes operate in a deterministic fashion"? As far as I can tell, the answer is approximately "yes" (at least at scales typical of ordering food at a restaurant without influence from nondeterministic random-number generators), the aforementioned can-go-either-way philosophers are committed to the opposite answer (or to believing that we're just automata), and the people you really should be asking are the cognitive scientists and neuroscientists. Of which I am neither.

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-06T20:54:55.910Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'll try another rephrasing: I have been told that "causal determinism is presupposed in the very concept of human action." I look at the concept of human action and see no presupposition about causal determinism. So I ask, "Where in the concept is this presupposition? I can't find it."

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T20:57:22.622Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

...my, I am an idiot. No, it certainly doesn't look presupposed - I imagine someone is misunderstanding (Edit: or equivocating) the term "causal determinism". Causality is presupposed, but not determinism.

comment by Jeremy · 2009-08-07T09:27:20.776Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was also frustrated by Hill's vagueness on what seemed to be an important point (perhaps he elaborates later?). In any case, I can tell you what I think Hill was thinking when he wrote that, though I'm not exceptionally confident about it.

The concept of human action--of making plans and following through with them--seems to be based on the assumption that the world is fundamentally predictable. We make decisions as if the future can to some extent be determined by a knowledge of the present, paired with a set of well-defined rules.

The natural objection to this would be that human action only presupposes some ability to predict the future, but not the perfect ability that might be possible if causal determinism is true. However, one could argue that it is far more natural to assume that the future is completely predictable, at least hypothetically, based on the fact that even our limited knowledge of the laws of nature seems to give us a good deal of predictive power. After all, there are many things we cannot yet do, but this would seem to be poor evidence that they are logically impossible.

So in my mind, Hill wasn't trying to make a definitive case for causal determinism, only observing that it is the far more natural conclusion to draw, based on the planning-oriented way human beings interact with the world.

comment by zcunning · 2009-08-15T06:54:47.244Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're misreading the quote, I think. Hill isn't talking about the planned results of one's action being "guaranteed" or determined, but rather simply stating that action itself is impossible without some form of causality.

In the quote Hill seems to be assuming that any form of causality would be in some way deterministic, which makes sense to me. Whether or not you agree with it is another question.

EDIT: Another way to think about it is that the determinism Hill is referring to doesn't have to do with whether certain results are guaranteed (as you seem to be thinking of), but rather simply with the fact that a result is guaranteed.

That is, some form of causal determinism (A causes B causes C) must be assumed in order for the whole idea of "action" to make any sense, according to Hill.

I know I've stated my point at least twice now in slightly different ways, but I struggled (more than) a bit in trying to sensibly formulate an answer to your question.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-08-07T23:09:08.818Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm surprised that's gotten so many upvotes. It's just a very long way of saying "Why do people disagree with me?" without providing any reasons to agree. The sudden switch to talking about causal determinism is a non-sequitur.

Causal determinism is presupposed in the concept of human action? Um, no. Belief in free will is not the same as denial of causality.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T03:50:52.536Z · score: 17 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Consequentialism: The belief that doing the right thing makes the world a better place.

-- DanielLC

comment by James_K · 2009-08-06T04:57:56.309Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Suitably pithy, but that really should be the other way around shouldn't it?

NB: I recognise the difference between quoting and approving of the quote.

comment by Technologos · 2009-08-06T05:35:05.553Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding is that the quote is meant to invert the way we normally think of consequentialism (that making the world a better place is doing the right thing). The quote simply puts the logic in causal order, such that we can naturally say "I am doing the right thing if (and only if?) it makes the world a better place."

comment by Nominull · 2009-08-06T06:44:13.969Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, you need an implicit "and doing the wrong thing does not" before it becomes logically equivalent to consequentialism.

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-11T23:17:10.911Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Alice came to a fork in the road. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" responded the Cheshire cat. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." ~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

comment by [deleted] · 2009-08-06T05:30:25.513Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it pisses on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying to gently bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don't learn to do this, I think I'll keep getting things wrong.

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

comment by gwern · 2009-08-06T08:06:13.421Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(*bringing)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T03:52:00.296Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I almost believe we are ghosts, all of us. It's not just what we inherit from our fathers and mothers that walks again in us - it's all sorts of dead old ideas and dead beliefs and things like that. They don't exactly live in us, but there they sit all the same and we can't get rid of them. All I have to do is pick up a newspaper, and I see ghosts lurking between the lines. I think there are ghosts everywhere you turn in this country - as many as there are grains of sand - and then there we all are, so abysmally afraid of the light.

-- Ibsen, 1881

comment by gwern · 2009-08-06T08:10:13.622Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

--Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)

comment by gwern · 2009-08-06T08:12:21.818Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Layer upon layer, past times preserve themselves in the city until life itself is finally threatened with suffocation; then, in sheer defense, modern man invents the museum."

--Lewis Mumford, quoted in The Clock of the Long Now

comment by thomblake · 2009-08-14T15:09:11.031Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Albert grunted. "Do you know what happens to lads who ask too many questions?"
Mort thought for a moment.
"No," he said eventually, "what?"
There was silence.
Then Albert straightened up and said, "Damned if I know. Probably they get answers, and serve 'em right."

-Terry Pratchett, Mort

comment by Cyan · 2009-08-06T17:29:24.796Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"The account of perception that’s starting to emerge is what we might call the “brain’s best guess” theory of perception: perception is the brain’s best guess about what is happening in the outside world. The mind integrates scattered, weak, rudimentary signals from a variety of sensory channels, information from past experiences, and hard-wired processes, and produces a sensory experience full of brain-provided color, sound, texture, and meaning. ... Perception is inference."[emphasis added]

- Atul Gawande

comment by djcb · 2009-08-06T17:15:45.669Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

There is no opinion so absurd that some philosopher will not express it.

-- Marcus Tullius Cicero

[ while in general I value philosophy, there is also much nonsense and, especially, little progress ]

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2009-08-06T05:57:38.394Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

[Mathematical methods of inference] literally have no content; long division can calculate miles per gallon, or it can calculate income per capita. The statistical tools of experimental psychology were borrowed from agronomy, where they were invented to gauge the effects of different fertilizers on crop yields. The tools work just fine in psychology, even though, as one psychological statistician wrote, "we do not deal in manure, at least not knowingly."

-- Steven Pinker, How The Mind Works

comment by XFrequentist · 2009-08-06T03:25:20.628Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Our imagination is stretched to the utmost, not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there.

-- Richard Feynman The Character of Physical Law

comment by anonym · 2009-08-07T05:27:59.151Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.

John Von Neumann

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-08-07T06:37:22.388Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

That seems like the perfect condemnation for his book on quantum mechanics.

This is also the guy who said "Young man, in mathematics you don't understand things. You just get used to them." Wikipedia says that what the young man didn't understand is the method of characteristics, which sounds like it should be understood, from what little I know about it.

Do you have a source or context for this quote?

comment by anonym · 2009-08-08T04:19:41.235Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No, I've come across it many times but never seen a source. Wikiquote includes it but without a source.

comment by JohannesDahlstrom · 2009-08-07T19:29:07.138Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

comment by anonym · 2009-08-07T05:36:59.318Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Your job as a scientist is to figure out how you’re fooling yourself.

Saul Perlmutter

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-06T08:32:18.046Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW
   It's great to be able to stop
   When you've planned a thing that's wrong,
   And be able to do something else instead

-- Fred M. Rogers, "What Do You Do?"

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2009-08-06T12:28:35.112Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which he recited right in front of a senate committee in the process of trying to get more funding for PBS, I think it was.

comment by Rune · 2009-08-06T03:43:23.078Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

"It’s hard to argue with a counter-example."

-- Roger Brockett

comment by soreff · 2009-08-07T22:43:43.335Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A co-worker of mine regularly responds to counterexamples of software designs, examples which show where the design breaks, with "Show me an example from a real user case". :-(

comment by RobinZ · 2009-08-06T13:03:37.659Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1646-1716): Although the whole of this life were said to be nothing but a dream and the physical world nothing but a phantasm, I should call this dream or phantasm real enough, if, using reason well, we were never deceived by it.

In J. R. Newman (ed.), The World of Mathematics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.

comment by dclayh · 2009-08-06T05:16:39.230Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.

—Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground

(Self-promotion: this is the epigraph to the novella I'm working on, which is not really about rationality but is about what we're pleased to call "human nature", and which you may read the beginning of here if so inclined.)

comment by gwern · 2009-08-06T12:37:33.555Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Reading through that, I itch to give feedback (even if just the spelling alone). What's the best way to do that?

comment by Simulacra · 2009-08-06T05:49:43.687Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Read the first chapter of your novella. Were it not for the delineation I probably would still be reading and hiding from sleep. Work tomorrow, I expect I'll come back to it after.

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T23:09:50.410Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

exactly. and that's a man simply trying to gain his point. The bottleneck for the ideas on this blog finding reality are in f*d up economic incentives and feedback loops. I think it's asenine of us to stick to our ball to the wall INTJ-ness in light of the current economic and political events. it may not be that bad, but it's light years away from the optimum.

comment by Simulacra · 2009-08-06T04:46:55.048Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Feedback phenomena and human intuition are uncomfortable bedfellows. When people dislike where an equilibrium argument takes them, it is therefore unsurprising that they invent simpler arguments that lead to more palatable conclusions. However, the first principle of rational thought is never to allow your preferences to influence your beliefs.

Ken Binmore

comment by Rune · 2009-08-06T03:44:23.146Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

"If you’ve never missed a flight, you’re spending too much time in airports."

-- Umesh Vazirani (as quoted by Scott Aaronson)

comment by dclayh · 2009-08-06T05:12:49.412Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Do you know the original source for that quote? Because I came across it (with no attribution given) in Steven Landsburg's book Fair Play, and while it's not so original a thought that it couldn't have been thought of independently, someone stealing seems more likely.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-08-06T02:00:24.571Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I sure wished I knew what the hell I was talking about, but I'd picked up enough terms and felt the importance attached to them, so that I could use them properly without knowing what they meant. But they felt right, so very right...

-- Roger Zelazny, as Corwin ("Nine Princes in Amber").

comment by kpreid · 2009-08-06T12:59:16.865Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Which book is this? I might read it for the context.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-08-06T13:29:33.496Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Nine Princes in Amber"

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-08-06T04:04:49.216Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

True, it would be some kind of bland comfort if no one had any cause for which they would be willing to kill. It would be an unimaginable horror, though, if no one had a cause for which they were willing to die.

-- Tailsteak

comment by Nominull · 2009-08-06T06:46:53.170Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Being willing to die for a cause is being willing to kill for a cause, with the caveat that your devotion is so lukewarm that you limit yourself to killing at most one person.

A true superhero would die or kill to save the world, as the situation dictated.

comment by edolet · 2009-08-06T22:27:59.804Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"Most men are so thoroughly subjective that nothing really interests them but themselves. They always think of their own case as soon as any remark is made, and their whole attention is engrossed and absorbed by the merest chance reference to anything which affects them personally, be it never so remote: with the result that they have no power left for forming an objective view of things, should the conversation take that turn; neither can they admit any validity in arguments which tell against their interest or their vanity."

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

comment by thomblake · 2009-08-14T14:23:39.053Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.

-Mark Twain

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-11T23:15:20.657Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. ~Andre Gide

comment by JohannesDahlstrom · 2009-08-07T19:28:35.364Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The trouble was that he was talking in philosophy, but they were listening in gibberish.

-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-14T23:05:15.313Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

“To rationalize their lies, people -- and the governments, churches, or terrorist cells they compose -- are apt to regard their private interests and desires as just.”

--Wendy Kaminer (A woman social activist)

comment by orthonormal · 2009-08-15T20:35:43.588Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You need to attribute quotes (and, as per the rules above, you can't quote yourself).

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-15T21:31:17.660Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

yeah, just totally missed it...edited now

comment by thomblake · 2009-08-14T15:21:44.926Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

-Buddha

comment by anonym · 2009-08-15T18:27:18.903Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

On the same theme:

O monks, just as a goldsmith tests his gold by melting, cutting and rubbing, sages accept my teachings after full examination, and not just out of devotion.

-- Buddha, Tattvasamgraha

comment by djcb · 2009-08-06T17:10:04.818Z · score: 4 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man > who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."

~ Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

[ I'm actually not too fond of objectivism, but this quote is spot-on ]

comment by Nominull · 2009-08-06T17:42:34.781Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You say "slave morality" like it's a bad thing.

comment by djcb · 2009-08-06T18:45:30.972Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Could you please explain?

There is no mentioning of slave morality at all; it's about people trying to subjugate others with words like 'sacrifice'.

Even If you see a relation to Nietzsche's master/slave-morality, the quote clearly is not in support of that at all.

comment by Jens · 2009-08-06T12:39:11.700Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

In sane moments we regard only the facts, the case that is. Say what you have to say, not what you ought. Any truth is better than make-believe.

-- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

comment by billswift · 2009-08-16T13:38:02.583Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with engineers is that they tend to cheat in order to get results.

The problem with mathematicians is that they tend to work on toy problems in order to get results.

The problem with program verifiers is that they tend to cheat on toy programs in order to get results.

the UNIX fortune-cookie program; original source unknown

comment by brian_jaress · 2009-08-09T03:52:31.970Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

[T]he dogmatist within is always worse than the enemy without.

-- Stephen Jay Gould

comment by anonym · 2009-08-07T05:30:21.063Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The study of mathematics cannot be replaced by any other activity that will train and develop man’s purely logical faculties to the same level of rationality.

Cletus O. Oakley

comment by anonym · 2009-08-07T05:29:12.443Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It cannot be that axioms established by argumentation should avail for the discovery of new works, since the subtlety of nature is greater many times over than the subtlety of argument. But axioms duly and orderly formed from particulars easily discover the way to new particulars, and thus render sciences active.

Francis Bacon

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-13T20:51:08.847Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Whenever, then, anything in nature seems to us ridiculous, absurd or evil, it is because we have but a partial knowledge of things, and are in the main ignorant of order and coherence of nature as a whole, and because we want everything to be arranged according to dictates of our own reason; although in fact, what our reason pronounces bad is not as bad as regards the order and laws of universal nature, but only as regards the order and laws of our own nature taken separately.... As for the terms good and bad, they indicate nothing positive considered in themselves...For one and the same thing can at the same time be good, bad and indifferent. For example, music is good to the melancholy, bad to mourners and indifferent to the dead. ---Spinoza

From the story of philosophy by Will durant

comment by endoself · 2011-02-05T02:24:39.227Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Ha ha, a literally rationalist quote!

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-13T21:14:25.644Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Can somebody tell me what is wrong with the above quote? Just curious, because I already see downvotes on it

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-08-13T23:01:39.615Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You admitted to reading secondary sources.

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-13T23:18:26.445Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What is wrong with that?

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-13T21:12:47.359Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Can somebody tell me what is wrong with the above quote? Just curious, because I already see downvotes on it

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-08-06T14:14:11.924Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"God ha' mercy! What cannot be racked from words in five centuries? One could wring, methinks, a flood from a damp clout!"

Shakespeare in the 20th century, as imagined by Isaac Asimov in "The Immortal Bard".

comment by spriteless · 2009-08-06T03:02:42.755Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When even fourth grade starts looking good Which you hated And first grade's looking good too Overrated And you boys long for some little girl that you dated Do you long for her or for the way you were?

A verse from Jonathan Richman's song, "Summer Feeling," on memory.

comment by Nanani · 2009-08-10T01:07:46.021Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This quote is so utterly alien to me that I must ask why it was selected.

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-26T17:50:00.163Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality.

--Eliezer (http://lesswrong.com/lw/if/your_strength_as_a_rationalist/)

comment by Cyan · 2009-08-26T18:09:59.629Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From the OP: do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB.

comment by ajayjetti · 2009-08-27T09:58:38.577Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

got it

comment by botogol · 2009-08-11T09:35:43.629Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something" Thoreau

comment by cousin_it · 2009-08-10T21:28:25.618Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A saint may fight against a knave. Alternatively, two knaves may fight. A dragon may be slain by St. George, or by another dragon. In the former case you are left with St. George, who deserves a reward for slaying his dragon. In the latter case you are faced with a dragon, which did only what dragons do. He was probably the bigger of the two, and now he is even bigger than that.

-- Mencius Moldbug, teaching us how to argue any point persuasively. (In this example he's talking about the Allies vs Nazi Germany.)

comment by JohannesDahlstrom · 2009-08-07T19:27:52.485Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Now we've got a truth to die for!" "No. Men should die for lies. But the truth is too precious to die for."

-- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

comment by anonym · 2009-08-07T05:34:01.340Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More than ambition, more than ability, it is rules that limit contribution; rules are the lowest common denominator of human behavior. They are a substitute for rational thought.

Hyman G. Rickover

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-08-16T15:40:28.192Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"You can't tell what someone is doing by watching what they're doing."

-- Richard Marken

"Action speaks nothing, without the Motive."

-- anonymous fortune cookie

comment by RichardKennaway · 2009-08-10T21:12:45.948Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Mencius said, "Whenever anyone told him that he had made a mistake, Tzu-lu was delighted. Whenever he heard a fine saying, Yü bowed low before the speaker. The Great Shun was even greater. He was ever ready to fall into line with others, giving up his own ways for theirs, and glad to take from others that by which he could do good."

comment by Rune · 2009-08-06T03:44:51.275Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

"If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity."

-- Deuteronomy 25:11-12 (New International Version)

comment by gwern · 2009-08-06T08:15:09.503Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The point of a quote is usually obvious, but this one isn't. The original writers were simply laying down their sexist laws - but why are you quoting it?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2009-08-07T04:03:26.685Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't speak for Rune, but I think it's interesting because it's awfully specific. It's an example of the conjunction fallacy that someone thought this important enough to be a rule. To my common-law mind, it would be more sensible if it were something like "...even if it's to save her husband." And maybe it did mean that, since conjunctions are a common place for miscommunication.

comment by Rune · 2009-09-01T20:47:00.266Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, my interpretation was similar. It is far too specific to simply be used as an exhibit of sexist thinking.

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T14:59:05.910Z · score: -3 (15 votes) · LW · GW

"We are not rational, we're rationalizing". (hope this is still in the spirit of the blog...i think)

comment by cousin_it · 2009-08-06T15:12:51.529Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This thought is very pervasive to OB/LW: see here, here, here, here, here, here, or use Google. Downvoted because you're quoting your own LW comment, violating two of the guidelines above.

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T19:28:20.794Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not saying, give up the fight, just acknowledging the problem. The quote is attributed to Anonymous, the greatest philospher that's ever lived, not me. And the only time i mentioned it was asking for everyone's opinion when i first stumbled onto this blog. That's hardly pushing my agenda. I still don't understand how you guys trust yourself to not rationalize. I can't remove myself out of the context of my existence (very similar to my issue with Ethics philosophy). I very quickly get to a point where survival and existance become more important than staying internally consistent.

comment by Rational77 · 2009-08-06T21:18:30.686Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Studies of patients with split brains have allowed us to begin to understand the functions and relative roles of different parts of our thinking organ. The left hemisphere, usually referred to as the "rational" side, is actually the rationalizing one, what neurobiologists call "the left interpreter." It is in charge of holding onto one person's current paradigm and worldview, no matter what the evidence. The left brain will distort facts if they conflict with the current held viewpoint. We like to think of ourselves as rational animals, but perhaps it would be more accurate to describe ourselves as rationalizing animals. However reasonable a view may be, it’s possible that we have acquired it for wholly irrational reasons and are now simply rationalizing it in order to maintain our self-image as consistent, rational, and moral. It’s not just a question of rationalization, either — we appear capable of making up complete falsehoods as part of this.

Massimo Pigliucci continues in the Summer 2003 issue of Free Inquiry:

In fact, the left brain can literally make up stories if the evidence is scarce or contradictory. A typical experiment was with a patient characterized by a complete severance of the corpus callosum (which connects the two hemispheres in normal individuals). He was shown a chicken leg to the right half of the visual field (which is controlled by the left brain) and was asked to pick a corresponding object. Logically enough, he picked a chicken head. The subject was then shown a house with snow to the left field (controlled by the right brain) and, also logically, chose a shovel.

The individual was then asked to explain why he picked a chicken head and a shovel. Notice that there was no communication between the two hemispheres, and that the only hemisphere that can respond verbally is the left one. Astonishingly, the left hemisphere made up a story to explain the facts while being ignorant of half of them: the shovel was necessary to clean the chicken excrement! I never cease to be amazed at the sorts of things that these experiments on cognition and brain function reveal. I’m sure that the average person would not have thought the above situation to be likely, but it clearly happened: a person made a choice for entirely sensible reasons, but because their brain was unable to understand or articulate them, it made up entirely new reasons and created a story around them.

Simply amazing — and all the more so because the belief being rationalized here was so obviously reasonable and appropriate in the first place. It’s bad enough that a person might rationalize bad beliefs, but apparently we rationalize good beliefs as well. How often do you suppose this happens? How many of our beliefs, especially the very good ones, are rationalized rather than rational?

Should be perhaps change our beliefs about qualifies as “rational”? If we did, wouldn’t that be a rationalization as well?

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T21:34:47.446Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

longest quote EVER. hahah.

comment by cousin_it · 2009-08-06T19:55:23.011Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

We don't "trust" ourselves not to rationalize, we acknowledge the problem and fight it.

If you're trying to make the point that truth-seeking isn't always beneficial, we know that too. I'm too lazy to give you a large list of links, but the first ever post by Robin and the second ever post by Eliezer discuss the issue. I'd estimate the number of posts dealing with this exact topic to be somewhere between 10 and 100 (including my own first post on LW when I was much stupider than now), so you may find it interesting to browse the archives for a while.

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T21:08:35.588Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

simply saying that you've talked about a weakness doesn't erradicate it. The weakness may be within you, but what affects you mroe is the extent of the problem with the REST of the society. If anything my point is that you should be spending all your effort working on the other 99% of the population, because they're going to affect your life a whole lot more by limiting your ability to live your life they way you think it oughta be lived. you know - bigger bang for the buck. Our (ANY country) education, medicine, politics, business, marriage are so full of BACKWARDS incentives that we will never come close at ALL to USING the intricacies of the problems this blog discusses. Maybe you think you can live a life disconnected from this, but if you have a job or are in a relationship or have kids, then you're not overcoming any bias. You may know that, but you're not living it. Paying tribute to that with my Anonymous quote.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-08-06T22:19:03.518Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

simply saying that you've talked about a weakness doesn't erradicate it.

Presence of discussion about the problem doesn't make the problem go away. But it is what makes your assertion about the presence of the problem useless: it's known, it's acknowledged, it's discussed, nothing to be gained by rehashing the issue without making progress.

comment by agolubev · 2009-08-06T22:54:43.020Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

once again, there are two problems. 1 - we all have it. 2 - they all have it way worse. you guys focus on 1 and i'm sayign that in a world of blind one eye man is dead meat. Sure seems like you guys are quite emotional about the whole thing with negative ratings (didn't realize it was also a contest for worst quote), so you don't seem to be makign that much progress on 1.

comment by edolet · 2009-08-06T22:19:25.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Even when I'm railed at, I get my quota of renown."

~ Pietro Aretino

comment by Cyan · 2009-08-06T15:24:01.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

hope this is still in the spirit of the blog...i think

Not so much. Around here, rationalization is considered an irrational activity. (Also, are you quoting yourself?)