Rationality quotes: October 2010

post by Morendil · 2010-10-05T11:38:59.920Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 487 comments

This is our monthly thread for collecting these little gems and pearls of wisdom, rationality-related quotes you've seen recently, or had stored in your quotesfile for ages, and which might be handy to link to in one of our discussions.

487 comments

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comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T13:33:08.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing I have advocated, without much success, is that children be taught social rules (when they are ready) in exactly the same way they are taught and teach each other games. The point is not whether the rules are right or wrong. Are the rules of 5-card stud poker or hopscotch right or wrong? It's that we're playing a certain game here, and there are rules to this game just as in any other game. If you want to be in the game, then you have to learn how to play it. Different groups of people play different games (different rules = different game), so if you want to play in different groups, you have to learn the games they play. When you develop the levels of understanding above the rule level, you'll be able to understand all games, and be able to join in anywhere. You won't be stuck knowing how to play only one game.

My problem with selling this idea is that people tend to think that their game is the only right one. In fact, being told that they are playing a game with arbitrary rules is insulting or frightening. They want to believe that the rules they know are the ones that everyone ought to play by; they even set up systems of punishment and reward to make sure that nobody tries to play a different game. They turn the game into something that is deadly serious, and so my idea simply seems frivolous instead of liberating.

William T. Powers

comment by Academian · 2010-10-05T17:21:17.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

The idea of teaching relativism for moral specifics is good, but consider that there are aspects of morality common to all sustainable cultures. Powers' framing would describe these as "common game elements" or "aspects common to all these different games". I think they should be emphasized/emotionalized as a little more than that (even if they aren't), so to avoid sociopathy (if that's even possible).

Less specifically, and with more confidence: emotional intelligence is a thing, and children need to be taught that, too. Perhaps Powers could achieve this by teaching kids that "feeling good about doing good things" is part of the game, and maybe one of the objectives of the game.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-05T18:57:04.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

Sociopaths and mature adults share that conception. Both of these groups of people tend to have also discovered that it is usually not in their best interest to discuss the subject with people who do not share their maturity or sociopathic nature respectively.

The reason a sociopath must arrive at the insight Powers proposes we teach earlier is that they cannot survive without it. Where a normal individual can survive (but not thrive) with a naive morality a sociopath cannot rely on the training wheels of guilt or shame to protect them from the most vicious players in the game before they work things out.

I predict that Powers' curriculum would produce no more sociopaths, make those sociopaths that are inevitable do less damage and result in a whole heap less burnt out, anti-social (or no longer pro-social) idealists.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-10-05T20:31:38.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're awesome. Specifically, you communicate useful insights often. I tend to agree with you, but when I don't, I'm glad to have read you.

Making incompetent sociopaths more rational would create new harms as well. They would be better able to fool people and would erode the trustworthiness of "normal-seeming people" a little. But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

Also, I agree that preventing damaged people from running amok (in the extreme killing N people and then themselves) would be fantastic.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T10:13:31.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Making incompetent sociopaths more rational would create new harms as well. They would be better able to fool people and erode the trustworthiness of "normal-seeming people" a little. But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

That sounds right to me. I suspect the main difference that improving social education for all children would have on sociopaths is that it would knock some of the rough edges off the less intelligent among them. The kind of behaviours that are maladaptive even for sociopaths and may lead them to do overtly anti-social things and wind up sanctioned.

But since there are already many competent sociopaths, and because normal people are situationally also selfishly destructive (self-serving bias+hypocrisy), we have institutions that mitigate those harms.

The models I have for competent sociopaths and high status individuals are approximately identical for basically this reason.

comment by Relsqui · 2010-10-06T20:47:41.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The analogy I use in my head instead of games is languages. They both have rules, but "games" implies something fake, not productive, and not to be taken seriously. "Languages" are tools we're accustomed to using for everyday functional reasons, and it's clearer that breaking their rules arbitrarily has a more immediate detrimental effect on their purpose (communication).

The most common way I use the metaphor explicitly is during a misunderstanding with a friend. "Wait--what does X mean in Sammish? Z? Ohh, now I get it. In Relsquish, X means Y. That's why I thought you were talking about Y."

The nice thing about this model is that, in a game, you expect everyone to know the rules before you sit down to play. If someone doesn't follow them, they're either too ignorant to play or cheating. When you're talking to someone who speaks a different language from you (even if they're just different versions of English, like Sammish and Relsquish are), occasional confusion is a matter of course. When you misunderstand each other, no one has "broken" the rules; it's just a mismatch. You identify that, explain in other words, and move on, with much fewer hard feelings or blame.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-10-06T21:01:58.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Relsquish

That is very fun to say. Rel-squish!

comment by Relsqui · 2010-10-06T21:40:36.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haha. Yes, it is. I don't get to say it much, because I'm Fizz to almost everybody who knows me in person--so I refer to myself as speaking Fizzish instead. I didn't think it was worth the trouble of explaining that for the sake of the example, though. :)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T19:09:02.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be concerned that this phrasing would raise more sociopaths... because that's how they think about morality.

The quote doesn't talk about morality. I take it to be about social rules such as what is considered proper dress, table manners, rudeness and politeness, playing nicely, and so on. At a certain age (as WTP alludes to) children become capable of understanding above that level, and they will need a proper upbringing in what is good and real at that level as well. There's another quote of WTP I could give in this connection, but I've used up my quote quota for this month.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T16:34:31.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's another quote of WTP I could give in this connection, but I've used up my quote quota for this month.

If you share it in a multiply nested reply to another comment then it is not included in the 'quote quota' - it's just the same as including a quote in any other conversation.

(ie. Your interpretation about applying to social rules rather than morality and ethics themselves seems right and I am interested in hearing the quote you have in mind.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-07T22:09:08.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok then:

If you happen to believe that people ought to live all bunched up together, be nice and refrain from violence, keep their promises and commitments to each other, take care of the helpless, do their share by helping with the unpleasant or boring jobs, teach the young, love truth, and be respectful of the environment, that's fine. What you should do is go around talking to people, trying to persuade them that they will be better off if they act like this, explaining to them the advantages of this kind of behavior toward others and the disadvantages of other ways of behaving, and so forth. The more of them you can persuade, the more people there will be in the world who want the same things you want, and who will help get them in situations where one person alone would be ineffective. Nothing the matter with that.

But if you tell them they should do all these things because there are social forces that make them necessary or right, then you're lying. The truth is that these are things you want to happen. You may have lots of good reasons for wanting them to happen, and there's certainly nothing wrong with telling people what convinced you and seeing whether the same things will convince others. But trying to convince people that there are forces other than you that demand the behavior you want in some objective way is just an empty threat; anyone who disagrees with you can nullify your argument by claiming knowledge of other forces that demand a different kind of behavior. Since you're both making up these external forces in your imaginations, nobody wins.

-- William T. Powers

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T23:44:25.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the first paragraph in particular.

comment by prase · 2010-10-06T17:50:09.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Game players usually evolve some sense of honour which avoids them breaking the rules, and although they know the rules are arbitrary, they aren't willing to change them at any moment. If more frequent breaking of the rules is what you fear.

comment by taw · 2010-10-19T22:36:38.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

consider that there are aspects of morality common to all sustainable cultures

Care to name a few that I cannot counter with some European culture of last 3000 years, without even going any further?

comment by Academian · 2010-10-20T15:10:43.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"It is generally undesirable for members of my own culture / social class to murder each other without just cause."

Before you respond, note that "Person X committed murder in Society Y and it was okay," is not a counterexample. You will need to present an entire culture which was

  • sustainable, and
  • has no general aversion to unjust intra-class murder.

... and, I guess if you're still going for it, one which existed in Europe since 1000BC.

comment by taw · 2010-10-21T00:38:34.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Easy, before Christianization Germanic (and some other Indo-European) cultures were totally casual about people killing each other, any social class, no reason necessary.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-10-21T02:24:53.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's like saying that in modern-day U.S., the culture is "totally casual about people killing each other, any social class, no reason necessary," and justifying that by linking to a web page discussing the penalties for murder in present-day American law.

As that Wikipedia page will tell you, wergeld was a legal penalty for killing imposed on the guilty person. Today, punishing murder with fines sounds unusual (though perhaps not so much when you consider that wrongful death torts still exist), and this is indeed a sign of significant cultural change, but the idea that killing people was seen as an OK casual thing to do among the old Germanics, or any other historical people, is just ludicrous.

comment by taw · 2010-10-21T13:19:56.872Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're committing fallacy of reinterpreting past cultures in terms of your own culture.

Weregild was not a penalty, and had nothing to do with guilt. It was debt towards family to compensate for their economic loss with no consideration of "guilt" whatsoever. Wikipedia doesn't say so, but it was debt of extended family to extended family.

Thinking in terms of "guilt" doesn't even make that much sense to cultures that organized society in terms of clans or families instead of individuals. Such cultures used to be very common. Even as late as 19th century there was no legal personhood for most women, and there still isn't much of it for young people (they're treated as children instead far longer than makes sense; more or less like women were treated in earlier times).

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-10-21T16:38:00.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

taw:

Weregild was not a penalty, and had nothing to do with guilt. It was debt towards family to compensate for their economic loss with no consideration of "guilt" whatsoever. Wikipedia doesn't say so, but it was debt of extended family to extended family.

As you say, these people were illiterate, and they didn't leave much record of their feelings and abstract opinions in these cases. But the fact is that if you killed someone, you'd be obliged to submit to legal sanctions, and if you failed to do so, you were in big trouble. This is not a situation that follows after acts that are considered "totally casual," and whatever were the old Germanic words used to describe people in this situation, "guilty" seems to me like an accurate modern English translation. The fact that these sanctions were administered at clan level changes nothing.

Even as late as 19th century there was no legal personhood for most women,

That is true when it comes to property rights, contract law, etc. for married women. But it doesn't mean that killing women was legal, married or not. You are making invalid analogies.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2010-10-21T13:58:40.630Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Weregild was not a penalty, and had nothing to do with guilt. It was debt towards family to compensate for their economic loss with no consideration of "guilt" whatsoever.

The wikipedia page also says that

The payment of weregild was an important legal mechanism in early Germanic society; the other common form of legal reparation at this time was blood revenge.

Emphasis added. How is legal blood revenge consistent with the interpretation of murder as nothing but an economic debt owed to the family?

ETA: Besides which, even if murder were only bad because of the financial loss to the extended family, murder would still be bad. Giving a reason why murder is bad isn't to say that murder is not bad.

comment by taw · 2010-10-21T15:16:14.202Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your paradigm blinds you to reality.

There was no "murder", no "guilt", and no "penalty", and no "legal reparation" (in narrow modern sense) anywhere here. These concepts make no sense in such cultures. Intentional killing is treated identically to a common accident.

For another example - killing own babies was extremely widespread, not even condemned in any way in most cultures including pre-Christian Rome. It was just as casual as abortion is today.

Or killing family members who disgraced your family in any way (your judgment) is widely praised in many cultures.

You might be confused by historical record, as cultures without centralized states and legal systems it brings tends to lack writing as well - so most of our records come from highly unusual subset of cultures with centrally enforced law, relatively individualistic societies etc.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2010-10-21T16:26:47.158Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There was no "murder", no "guilt", and no "penalty", and no "legal reparation" (in narrow modern sense) anywhere here. These concepts make no sense in such cultures. Intentional killing is treated identically to a common accident.

Your disagreement is with the terminology used in your own cite. But the terminology doesn't matter. If your cite is anywhere in the neighborhood of accurate, then these cultures held that something wrong had happened — that is, some imbalance had occurred that had to be righted — when one person caused the death of another. Perhaps they considered intentional killing to be no worse than a common accident. But another way to say that is that they considered unintentional killing to be just as bad as intentional killing.

You might be confused by historical record, as cultures without centralized states and legal systems it brings tends to lack writing as well - so most of our records come from highly unusual subset of cultures with centrally enforced law, relatively individualistic societies etc.

If the cultures you want to use for your argument left sparser evidence, then that means that you should be less confident about your interpretation of the moral thinking that was behind the written laws that they did leave behind.

In fact, you have a greater burden of proof than your interlocutors. You are saying that a culture that left less evidence was different in a particular way from most of the cultures for which we have better evidence, whereas your interlocutors are saying that the less-evidenced culture was probably about the same in this particular way. That means that your hypothesis is more complicated, and so a priori less likely.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-10-21T19:52:15.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

taw:

For another example - killing own babies was extremely widespread, not even condemned in any way in most cultures including pre-Christian Rome. It was just as casual as abortion is today.

Or killing family members who disgraced your family in any way (your judgment) is widely praised in many cultures.

You're right about this. Attitudes towards infanticide vary greatly between cultures, and in many cultures, both past and present, the recognized authority of the senior family/clan members has included the power to enforce their will, and the standards of behavior, by threats of death against the subordinate family members.

But again, all this always happens within a legal structure with clear rules about what constitutes unlawful killing, and serious penalties for those who kill unlawfully. This legal structure may have the form of unwritten folk custom, but people living under it are no more capable of ignoring it than the citizens of modern states can ignore the codified criminal laws. (In fact, even less so, since many laws nowadays are enforced only sporadically or not at all, and flouted widely and openly.)

You might be confused by historical record, as cultures without centralized states and legal systems it brings tends to lack writing as well - so most of our records come from highly unusual subset of cultures with centrally enforced law, relatively individualistic societies etc.

You don't have to reach for misty prehistory, or even for particularly exotic and remote parts of the world, to find examples of traditional societies where the formal state-enforced law is largely irrelevant. For example, there are still ongoing clan blood feuds in some places in the Balkans, specifically in parts of Albania. These examples show a huge problem with informal revenge-based folk justice, namely that vengeance for individual killings can easily escalate into out of control clan warfare. Yet all this only goes to show how serious a transgression it is.

comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2010-10-21T13:49:49.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Easy, before Christianization Germanic (and some other Indo-European) cultures were totally casual about people killing each other, any social class, no reason necessary.

You were to provide an example of a culture where murder without cause wasn't generally undesirable. But instead you pointed to a cultural that quantified exactly how undesirable they considered murder to be. It looks like they imposed pretty heavy fines, especially for the murder of those with high status. So they must have considered the murder of such people to be pretty undesirable.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-21T00:52:22.290Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that that continued until Christianity was still pretty popular. Thus, there were specific rules about the weregild for clergy members.

comment by taw · 2010-10-21T12:59:31.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Impact of Christianity was very shallow at first, and limited to social elites. It took something like century or two for it to really replace previous norms.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-10-06T10:12:22.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish my mother had used this strategy, instead of the completely arbitrary-sounding "this is just the way you are to do things" which just caused a counter-reaction.

comment by Relsqui · 2010-10-06T20:31:29.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grownups have already learned the reason to follow the rules: it's what society expects, so your life will be easier and you will be able to accomplish more if you follow them. But for the most part they learned it by osmosis, intuition, and implication--as you presumably did when you grew up--because nobody made it explicit to them, either. I think that most people don't explain this to their kids because they don't understand it themselves; they've never verbalized the reason, so they're just passing on the social pressure which worked for them.

The sad thing about this is not only that it leads to parroting "courtesy" without real understanding. It's that without being able to articulate the purpose of the social contract in general, one can't evaluate the reasons for specific clauses within it. When they seem arbitrary, they're difficult to remember, and even more difficult to respect. Consciously examining the structure allows you to see patterns in it (e.g. if X is rude, putting someone in a position where they must do X is also rude), as well as compare their implied goals against your actual goals.

For example, there are a few situations where I consider a clear understanding of the situation more important than courtesy, and will press someone to explain something which would otherwise be rude to ask for. But, unless they already know me well not to need it, I'll also explain what I'm doing and why, so they know it's not simply out of disregard. Like many things (grammar, musical composition), you have to understand the rules well before you can break them intelligently. It's a lot more acceptable to violate the social contract if you understand why the part you're violating exists and have made a conscious choice not to follow it.

I suspect that, for that reason, real understanding of society and its rules would make social change easier and bring the rules themselves more in line with peoples' actual goals. The key word there is "real," though. Just a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-19T02:47:42.809Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are the rules of ... hopscotch right or wrong?

Wrong. It's an idiotic game. Makes no sense at all.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-12-19T09:01:19.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eh? On looking it up [1], it seems about as sensible as any other children's game. It encourages dexterity and fitness, it's spontaneously played by children, and it only needs a stick of chalk and a pebble. Whence this burst of antipathy to a game mentioned only in passing?

[1] It was played when I was a boy, but in the culture I grew up in, it was exclusively a girls' game. I never figured out what the rules were just from seeing it played in the street.

comment by HonoreDB · 2010-12-19T09:25:06.329Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know what children's game is wrong? Elbow Tag. It requires a large group, but at any given moment, only two people are actually playing. If the chasee is faster than the chaser, there is an equilibrium state that lasts until the chasee has mercy on the rest of the group and voluntarily lets someone else play...but even if that happens, since the new chasee is rested and the chaser is the same, you're normally back in the same boat.

Ugh. I have no idea what wedrifid has against hopscotch, but I empathize with the sentiment.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-12-19T10:35:50.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

there is an equilibrium state that lasts until the chasee has mercy on the rest of the group and voluntarily lets someone else play

So the game teaches how to have cooperative fun. This is a feature, not a bug.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-19T11:46:29.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like it is a game that mostly allows people to demonstrate superior status by proving how inconsiderate of others they can get away with being. I consider that a bug. I have more respect for games in which people can gain status by proving how skilled they are at said game. (There are other ways to flaunt the ability to be inconsiderate and attention seeking that don't waste game playing time.)

comment by HonoreDB · 2010-12-19T11:28:50.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't all games do that?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-12-19T11:32:31.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't all games do that?

As does life itself. But different situations teach different aspects of a lesson in different ways.

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-05T18:40:15.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that this quote misses an important point - and am in agreement with Academician.

Although the particular social etiquette habits of different cultures vary widely, many of them serve similar, underlying purposes.

Kurt Vonnegut makes my case beautifully, and as gently as always in 'Cat's Cradle'. Without going into the plot, there is a 'holy man' (actually, a rationalist in an impossible situation, IMHO); followers of this holy man, when they meet each other, undertake a ritual called "the meeting of souls" (or similar) :- they remove their shoes and socks, and sit down, legs extended, foot to foot.

Abstract: Ritual forms of social etiquette are human and beneficial (if not essential): the form that they take is non-essential.

There is a higher order of information in this than in the assumption that all rituals are simply arbitrary game-playing.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2010-10-07T19:00:04.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even after ten thousand explanations, a fool is no wiser, but an intelligent man requires only two thousand five hundred.

-- Brahma, Mahabharata

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T00:23:32.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

'One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit.
"Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a second one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies."
The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet.
"You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."'

(R. Diekstra, Haarlemmer Dagblad, 1993, cited by L. Derks & J. Hollander, Essenties van NLP (Utrecht: Servire, 1996), p. 58)

I think of this as a rationalist parable and not so much a quote. It has a lot of personal resonance since I often had dog biscuits with my tea when I was younger.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-10-06T01:19:24.289Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Speaking of Korzybski, does anybody have a concise summary of his ideas? Maybe some introductory material? I looked over the wikipedia article on General Semantics, and I'm still not entirely sure what it's talking about.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T13:01:04.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did a little reading about General Semantics after running into it in SF like Frank Herbert's; my general take on it is that it's an extended reminder that 'the map is not the territory' and that we do not have access to any eternal verities or true essences but only our tentative limited observations.

Exercises like writing in E-Prime remind us of our own fallibility. We should not say 'Amanda Knox is innocent' (who are we, an omniscient god judging her entire life?) but 'Amanda Knox likely did not commit that murder and I base this probability on the following considerations...' (note that I don't hide my own subjective role by saying something like 'the probability is based on').

(I've never found E-Prime very useful because I've always been rather empiricist in philosophy outlook and aware that I should always be able to reduce my statements down to something referring to my observations, and I suspect most LWers would not find E-Prime useful or interesting for much the same reason. But I could see it being useful for normal people.)

In this specific anecdote, the students are mistaking map for territory. The biscuit is perfectly good to eat as dog food is produced to pretty similar quality levels (and health problems would be very unlikely even if the quality were much lower), they have just eaten and enjoyed some anyway, the label 'dog biscuit' only refers to one potential use out of a great many, and yet they still have these incredible reactions to a particular label being put on this agglomeration of wheat and other agricultural products, a reaction that has no utility and no reason behind it.

EDIT: an earlier comment of mine on E-Prime: http://lesswrong.com/lw/9g/eprime/6hk

comment by pjeby · 2010-10-06T20:51:54.780Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never found E-Prime very useful because I've always been rather empiricist in philosophy outlook and aware that I should always be able to reduce my statements down to something referring to my observations, and I suspect most LWers would not find E-Prime useful or interesting for much the same reason. But I could see it being useful for normal people.

I personally think of it as a tool, not unlike "lint" for C programmers. It shows things in your code (speech) that may contain errors.

To put it another way, if you know how to spot what isn't E-Prime in a sentence, you can dissect the sentence to expose flawed reasoning... which actually turns out to be a pretty useful tool in e.g. psychotherapy.

Whether or not RET (rational-emotive therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) directly derive from General Semantics and E-Prime (or their logical successor, the linguistic meta-model), modern psychotherapy is all about map-territory separation and map repair.

comment by erratio · 2010-10-06T01:34:47.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Extremely short version: it's a load of crap

Slightly longer version: He taught that you should never refer to things in general terms or else you'll confuse the map for the territory. For example, the chair I'm sitting in now is chair^1, the identical chair across the table is chair^2, there's chair^1 as I'm eperiencing it now, chair^1 as I experienced it last night, and so forth. Oh and you should try to avoid the use of the copula "to be" because it encourages sloppy thinking (i'm not sure how, just paraphrasing what I remember)

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T10:36:08.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You didn't make it sound like a load of crap: it reminds me of the idea of using Lojban, or even better a formal logic system, for everyday speech. Impractical, but it would avoid a ton of misunderstanding, or spilled blood for that matter.

comment by erratio · 2010-10-06T10:51:09.435Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a big fan of Lojban in principle, even more so after studying it in depth for a paper I'm writing, but I just don't think it's possible to significantly affect thought through language.

That's why General Semantics is a load of crap to me - being anal retentive with language is just going to annoy the heck out of everyone involved, and nothing else. There's a good reason why natural language is so vague.

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-06T14:26:18.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of note is that Lojban doesn't fall into that chair trap in particular. I can easily talk about "le stizu" the same way I use "the chair" in English.

More literally, "le stizu" means "the particular chair(s) which in context I'm obviously referring to". Lojban is all about using context to reduce unneccessary verbiage, same as a natural language. The big difference is that the ambiguity in Lojban is easier to locate, and easier to reduce when it becomes necessary.

(Also, if I really did need chair^1 and chair^2 for some reason, I can just talk about "le stizu goi ko'a" and "le stizu goi fo'a", then later use just "ko'a" and "fo'a" for shorthand).

comment by erratio · 2010-10-06T20:14:30.547Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the more interesting things I noticed in Lojban is that the underlying structure is this awesome predicate logic, but the way it's actually used by most people is very similar to other natural languages, just with some nifty tricks stolen from programming to supplement it.

Would it bother you if I PMed you with some questions about the stuff I'm working on? I've spent as long on Lojban as I had time to (read: not long enough) but I'm worried I might have gotten the details wrong, or missed something even niftier that deserves an example

comment by rastilin · 2010-10-10T05:13:45.881Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have much experience with Lojban but the news that people use it in a similar way to current languages wouldn't surprise me at all. I've noticed that a great deal of misunderstandings happen when one side is being vague on purpose because they don't want to give up too much information.

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-06T22:56:58.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Go ahead, though you should be aware that I am far from an expert on Lojban.

I also recommend the FreeNode #lojban channel, they've always been friendly and helpful whenever I've stopped by.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T12:07:37.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a big fan of Lojban in principle, even more so after studying it in depth for a paper I'm writing, but I just don't think it's possible to significantly affect thought through language.

I was about to upvote this but then I realised I wasn't in the right thread for that!

I couldn't disagree more strongly. Our thoughts are fundamentally affected by which concepts are easiest to express given our language primitives. You can control how people think simply by altering which concepts are permitted as base level representations even if everything is permitted as a construct thereof.

In the same way people will think differently when they are writing in C than when they are writing in LISP even though technically everything that can be done in one can be done in the other (or in Brainfuck or Conways Life for that matter).

comment by nerzhin · 2010-10-06T18:05:52.840Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can control how people think simply by altering which concepts are permitted as base level representations

Really? A claim like this needs some evidence. George Orwell novels don't count.

I recommend Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which clarifies to what extent language can influence thought.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T18:16:02.066Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? A claim like this needs some evidence. George Orwell novels don't count.

I never read it. I understand there were pigs involved.

I recommend Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which clarifies to what extent language can influence thought.

I liked Pinker when I read other stuff of his but I haven't got to that book yet.. Now, back to thinking about good modularity and DRY while writing OISC machine code.

(In case my meaning was not clear, let me be explicit. You made the response "A claim like this needs some evidence" to a comment that actually referred to evidence. Even if you think there is other, stronger, evidence that contradicts what we can infer from observing the influence of language on programmers it is still poor conversational form to reply with "needs non-Orwell evidence".)

comment by nerzhin · 2010-10-06T21:04:04.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I apologize for poor conversational form.

Let me try again, hopefully more nicely: You made a very strong claim with very weak evidence.

You claimed our thoughts were fundamentally affected by our language, and that someone can control how people think by tweaking the language. Your evidence was your own sense (not a paper, not even a survey) that people think differently when writing in a different programming language.

If you have more evidence, I would really like to see it, I am not just saying that to score points or to make you angry.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T05:11:11.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your evidence was your own sense (not a paper, not even a survey) that people think differently when writing in a different programming language.

I refer not to my own sense so much as what is more or less universally acknowledged by influential thinkers in that field. That doesn't preclude the culture being wrong, but I do put Paul Graham on approximately the same level as Pinker, for example.

While Pinker is an extremely good populariser and writes some engaging accounts that are based off real science, I've actually been bitten by taking his word on faith too much before. He has a tendency to present things as established fact when they are far from universally agreed upon in the field and may not even be the majority position. The example that I'm thinking of primarily is what he writes about fear instincts, regarding to what extent fear of snakes (for example) is learned vs instinctive. His presentation of what has been determined by primate studies is, shall we say, one sided at best.

comment by erratio · 2010-10-07T05:48:58.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While Pinker is an extremely good populariser and writes some engaging accounts that are based off real science, I've actually been bitten by taking his word on faith too much before. He has a tendency to present things as established fact when they are far from universally agreed upon in the field

Seconded. Reading him is a good method of learning how to resist the Dark Arts, since he's pretty good at writing persuasively.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-07T15:07:55.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've heard more than once from people who are fluent in more than one language that they feel as though they're a different person in each language.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-07T01:26:45.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a fairly extensive subject; I doubt you'll settle this within a comment thread.

With regards to whether it is possible to deliberately use language to alter everyday thoughts, we know Orwell's Newspeak was based on at least one real-life example (and I can think of a couple of similar tricks being employed right now, but this could verge into mind-killing territory).

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T04:56:10.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and I can think of a couple of similar tricks being employed right now, but this could verge into mind-killing territory

You have made me quite curious...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T04:41:29.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair points, and using the term control does make the claim sound a whole heap stronger than 'are influenced' does. (Although technically there is very little difference.)

comment by sfb · 2010-10-06T21:45:12.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never read it. I understand there were pigs involved.

I guess you are referring to Newspeak, which is in "1984" whereas pigs are in "Animal Farm". If you wish to read either, (George) Orwell's writings and books are available online for free (I don't know what the copyright situation is) here:

http://www.george-orwell.org/

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T04:45:46.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess you are referring to Newspeak, which is in "1984" whereas pigs are in "Animal Farm".

My point was that I was not referring to anything by Orwell, having read none of his works.

Thankyou for the link. I suppose I wouldn't be doing my nerdly duty if I didn't read Orwell eventually. Even though from what I've seen the sophisticated position is to know what's in Orwell but to look down your nose at him somewhat for being simplistic.

comment by erratio · 2010-10-06T20:04:14.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree with you at least as strongly, but since I have a deadline to meet I'll have to leave it at that.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T04:46:04.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Understood.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-09T01:42:32.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Philosopher: Can we ever be certain an observation is true?

Engineer: Yep.

Philosopher: How?

Engineer: Lookin'.

Scrollover of SMBC #1879

comment by AdShea · 2010-10-12T17:55:58.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say a good engineer would reply: No observation is true, but truth doesn't matter if it works.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-10-13T20:52:49.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, I'd say you're using a much too binary definition of "true". I'm sure this has been posted a dozen times before, but it seems relevant:

"When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

-Isaac Asimov

comment by AdShea · 2010-10-13T21:45:43.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Exactly the sort of quote I was looking for. The philosopher is asking about absolute truth, the engineer only cares about finding parameters for a model of reality that works well enough for what you need it to do.

comment by Tiiba · 2010-10-12T15:34:25.659Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head.

**Note: the dupes are on purpose

comment by Tiiba · 2010-10-12T15:34:11.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head.

**Note: the dupes are on purpose

comment by Tiiba · 2010-10-12T15:33:48.907Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sssso there AR threeeeeee Hariats. Toldem so Oh god, my head.

**Note: the dupes are on purpose

comment by Apprentice · 2010-10-06T10:13:16.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We live in a world where it has become "politically correct" to avoid absolutes. Many want all religions to be given the same honor, and all gods regarded as equally true and equally fictitious. But take these same people, who want fuzzy, all-inclusive thinking in spiritual matters, and put them on an airplane. You will find they insist on a very dogmatic, intolerant pilot who will stay on the "straight and narrow" glidepath so their life will not come to a violent end short of the runway. They want no fuzzy thinking here!

-- Jack T. Chick

comment by simplicio · 2010-10-06T18:57:11.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm continually amused by the abundance of quotes here on LW from sundry wingnuts and theists, some of which are quite good. We've had Jack Chick, Ted Kaczynski, CS Lewis (howdya like that reference class, Lewis), GK Chesterton, and that crazy "Einstein was wrong!" guy.

Maybe being a contrarian in anything whatsoever helps one to break through the platitudes and cached thoughts that ordinary folks seem to bog down in whenever they try to think.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-07T02:50:43.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter. Rationalist aphorisms by Voltaire or Russell are a regular feature of their writing, and have been quoted in books and articles for decades or centuries, but a pearl of wisdom by a fideist is a tough find and most likely unknown to other LW readers.

Heh. Of all goddamn things to be a hipster about, "rationality quotes" has got to be one hell of a weird choice.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-10-07T06:50:36.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's also a certain fun challenge in looking for jewels among the fecal matter.

Do that with the writings of Space Tetrahedron Guy, and then all further Ultimate Space Tetrahedron Documents will have a header text SPACE TETRAHEDRON THEORY IS ENDORSED BY NIHILCREDO.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-09T06:46:27.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the game "Alpha Protocol", one of the characters is a conspiracy theorist. When he sends you an email about the Federal Reserve (which, according to him, is deliberately engineering a financial crisis so the banks can foreclose on all the houses and get everyone's property), you can respond by quoting Time Cube at him. Which makes him like you more.

comment by N_MacDonald · 2010-10-12T09:30:14.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, they don't want a dogmatic and intolerant pilot. They want an empirical pilot who trusts his observations and instruments and uses them to make the best judgement regarding how to operate the plane.

On the other hand, a dogmatic, absolutist pilot who is absolutely sure as to the best way to land the airplane under all conditions, ignores his instruments, weather conditions and data from the control towers, and never listens to his flight crew... is a recipe for disaster.

Dogmatic absolutists mistake observation, skepticism, tolerance and empiricism for "fuzzy thinking". They don't realize that their own thinking is the very opposite of scientific thinking- which is based on observation, not fixed dogmas.

comment by Apprentice · 2010-10-12T10:44:08.649Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree! And I think atheist writers, in their worst moments, fall into the same trap.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-10-12T11:41:03.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you give an example?

comment by Apprentice · 2010-10-13T00:01:00.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, the obvious one is the Dawkins quote on the airplane, already treated in ways I agree with by SilasBarta. More generally, I am troubled by atheist attacks on the idea of religious tolerance - Sam Harris says it's "driving us toward the abyss". I mean, really, if you find yourself nodding along to a pro-intolerance rant from Jack Chick then maybe you want to ask yourself some questions.

Even so, I, like Sam Harris and Jack Chick, think that Islam is awful and needs to be resisted.

Edit: Bleh, this comment came out wrong - it's more condescending than helpful. The subject is probably too complicated to deal with here. Basically I think religious tolerance has a fairly good track record and I'd want to be very careful in tinkering with it.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-10-13T07:23:18.474Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your last sentence. But I don't think you've provided an example of any of these writers doing any of the things attributed to "dogmatic absolutists" in N_MacDonald's last paragraph.

comment by Dragonlord · 2010-10-15T08:46:42.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

IMO I think that this is because athism is as much a matter of belief as believing in a God. After all there wouldn't be the term Agnostic if it wasn't a middle ground.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-19T12:59:48.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the current freethinker discourse, agnosticism and atheism are considered to be independent properties - "gnostic" meaning "believing knowledge is possible" and "agnostic" meaning "believing knowledge is impossible". There was a very active agnostic theist poster on the forum then known as the Internet Infidels Discussion Board when I was a regular, for example.

Even if this were not true, changing the definition of the word "atheism" merely means that the word no longer describes the people you are disagreeing with - not that their opinions must correspond to the new word.

(If you are a YouTube fan, QualiaSoup's "Lack of belief in gods" is a pretty good overview.)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-20T04:17:30.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Revisiting your comment after a productive back-and-forth with Perplexed:

I realize immediately that I never addressed the substance of your claim: that, so far as I can tell, being that it takes as much faith to believe that no gods exist as to believe that (at least?) one god does. Or, to avoid the possible misuse of the word "faith", to say that any standard by which "I believe in God" needs justification is a standard by which "I believe there is no God" needs justification.

Which is perfectly correct. But it misses a lot of what is being said, for two reasons.

First, as I alluded to previously, a large contingent of affirmative atheists these days lack belief in any general god rather than assert a blanket nonexistence. There are exceptions - Perplexed is one - but it is an oversimplification to say that "atheism" is a matter of positive belief. If you go on random.org and generate an integer from 1 to 100, I will not believe that it is 42 - but I will not believe that it is not 42. I have no reason to hold any positive belief in such a case.

Second, however, we do have evidence. If you generate a number from 1 to 100, I will believe that it isn't "blue". Again, exceptions like Perplexed [edit: if Perplexed is an exception] may appear, but many of the ostensible atheists you will meet will have reasons for thinking that many or most possible deities are not real - reasons like absence of evidence and lack of support for ontologically basic mental entities. In fact, many of the ostensible theists will have reasons for thinking that one or more deities in particular are real!

What I'm saying is: it is not "as much a matter of belief", it is a factual dispute. Either the god is real or the god is not, and we have different expectations each way. To compare the two positions is a first step, but it is a mistake to halt before comparing their respective support.

comment by Document · 2010-10-20T02:30:47.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say it's because all current atheist writers are human, and therefore suffer from the same basic limitations of brain design as theists. A rational AI could, in principle, form and communicate beliefs without being as vulnerable to the trap.

But you probably meant that atheism and theism are both non-fact-based, which is a bigger inferential gap than I'm willing to try to cross right now. (Edit: And I don't get how it's implied by the existence of a middle ground at all.)

comment by Document · 2010-10-20T03:11:12.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, there are no particular requirements that force atheist writers to be smart or rational, especially if they come from an atheist community. To quote another post here, "the God-test no longer works".

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-15T17:58:53.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And bald is a hair color.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-19T05:59:53.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's not respond to bad comments with cached slogans.

Actually, let's not respond to bad comments at all.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-19T13:01:38.894Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is Dragonlord's first comment - I think a bit of Atheism-101 is appropriate. If DL proves to be a troll, then we may perfectly well annihilate his future contributions without discussion, but that's far from established.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-19T14:41:07.045Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is "True Atheism 101". A bit like "True Scotsman".

Your true atheist is characterised by epistemic purity. Any opinions regarding deities or the supernatural are formed by rational consideration of evidence.

Of course, regarding persons who claim to be atheists and who apparently generate their opinions on the matter by a kind of actively choosing to believe that evidence for the supernatural is impossible - well true atheists simply ignore folks like that. They are not true atheists and hence true atheists are under no obligation to create a label for them.

Edit: spelling "belief" vs "believe".

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-19T18:29:00.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your true atheist is characterised by epistemic purity. Any opinions regarding deities or the supernatural are formed by rational consideration of evidence.

That's not what the word means, neither definitionally nor extensionally. An atheist is merely someone who lacks a belief in deities. Their history as to not acquiring that belief is irrelevant to whether they are an atheist or not.

Someone who rationally considers the evidence (whether or not on the subject of deities) is a rationalist.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-19T18:33:43.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone who rationally considers the evidence (whether or not on the subject of deities) is a rationalist.

But rationality is not just about evidence. One needs to be reasonable about a priori beliefs as well, or more pragmatically/generally, possess effective reasoning skills.

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-20T18:12:10.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Would you say that thinking logically requires reasonable axioms, or merely the ability to reason correctly given a set of axioms?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-20T18:19:43.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Humans don't think logically (as in, formal logic where talking about axioms makes sense), so I don't understand your question.

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-20T21:55:11.876Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So a math proof is evidence that mathematicians aren't human? You might want to back off from that statement. Humans don't always think logically.

It was an analogy -- prior beliefs in either informal reasoning or Bayesian probabilities are like axioms in that they're input to a procedure to determine conclusions. The analogy doesn't have to be instantiated precisely in humans to have a reasonable sense extractable.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-19T15:44:52.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...what? I read Dragonlord as talking about prominent atheist writers like Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris), or even P. Z. Myers - who are all epistemically careful. And the terms are used the way I described among the active atheist communities I am familiar with - and not just the online communities: I've seen Matt Dillahunty give this definition of "agnostic" on The Atheist Experience.

The people Dragonlord were talking about are not fideist atheists, whether or not atheists who believe without good reason are around.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-19T16:42:40.493Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...what? I read Dragonlord as talking about prominent atheist writers like Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, or even P. Z. Myers - who are all epistemically careful.

... what? How did you arrive at that belief? Dragonlord, as you point out yourself, just made his first posting here. He may well have formed his impression of "athists" in the local coffee shop, or at talk.origins, or by reading the comments at Pharyngula.

But let me come right out with the real question. What is the proper label for someone like myself who knows of no evidence for or against the existence of a deity, but chooses to believe that there is no God?

And, btw, calling PZ and Sam Harris "epistemically careful" is not what I would call evidence-based analysis. PZ doesn't do even the most rudimentary fact checking before passing along anti-religion horror stories on his blog - he has fallen for hoax stories about atrocities by Muslims several times in recent months. And PZ is currently in a debate with Jerry Coyne about whether it is even possible for evidence of a deity to exist. PZ says he would remain an atheist in spite of any evidence.

As for Harris, he seems to be currently peddling some kind of scientifically-based approach to ethics.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-19T18:23:24.806Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the proper label for someone like myself who knows of no evidence for or against the existence of a deity, but chooses to believe that there is no God?

What do you mean by "chooses to believe"? Maybe, "happens to believe"? A choice is a result of deliberative procedure, and since you are specifically stating that (these salient in the current conversation) explicit reasoning procedures were not the cause of your belief, the belief doesn't seem to qualify as result of a choice.

(See also Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence.)

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-19T23:17:55.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A choice is a result of deliberative procedure ...

When did that become the definition of "choice"? Oh dear, we may need to change that axiom in set theory. Just as well, I never really cared for that one anyways. One sock from every pair? As a result of a deliberative procedure? Give me a break.

But perhaps you can suggest a word. Not arbitrary choice, but arbitrary __. What is that word? To be honest, "decision" is the only alternative I can think of, and to my mind to "decide" sounds far more deliberative than to "choose".

I notice you don't suggest a label for my 'theological' position.

comment by Cyan · 2010-10-19T23:42:14.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When did that become the definition of "choice"?

On June 14, 2008. (I almost feel like this should be cross-posted to the EY facts thread.)

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T05:13:02.518Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I very much enjoyed your response. But some streak of masochism forces me to take it semi-seriously and respond.

I have no complaint with Eliezer extending the meaning of "choice" to include the results of deterministic search algorithms. I just object to having the meaning restricted to exclude a response to the request "Choose a number between 1 and 10".

comment by Cyan · 2010-10-20T16:24:39.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I very much enjoyed your response. But some streak of masochism forces me to take it semi-seriously and respond.

Oh no, don't do that! Then I'd have to defend my assertion, which is clearly untenable.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-20T13:40:29.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How would it exclude that?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T15:49:42.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would exclude that if someone happened to believe Vladimir_Nesov's dictum that

A choice is a result of deliberative procedure, and since you are specifically stating that ... explicit reasoning procedures were not the cause, ... [it] doesn't seem to qualify as result of a choice.

Most people, when choosing a number between 1 and 10, do not utilize "explicit reasoning procedures", and hence, according to VN, are not making a choice.

It is no big deal; I understand that VN has decided not to insist upon deliberation; but that provides the background to my masochistic impulse.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-20T16:15:14.794Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh! That's VN's wording, not EY's - in Cyan's link:

So your brain has a planning algorithm - not a deliberate algorithm that you learned in school, but an instinctive planning algorithm. For all the obvious reasons, this algorithm keeps track of which states have known paths from the start point. I've termed this label "reachable", but the way the algorithm feels from inside, is that it just feels like you can do it. Like you could go there any time you wanted.

At no point does EY propose "deliberative procedure". I think Cyan was simply assuming that the definitions matched - I know I did.

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-10-20T17:19:12.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The whole discussion seems to revolve around semantics. What is the actual problem?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-20T01:53:35.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I considered making my grandparent comment more precise, to indicate that I was not discussing definitions, but the reasons behind the implicit question I posed in it stemming from the words you used. Since the straightforward incorrect interpretation is also straightforwardly void, I didn't. Yet you reply with more of the dictionary stuff.)

The actual question was, what did you mean by "choosing to believe", and what kind of process for arriving at that belief you referred to.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T02:41:12.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean that I examined the evidence and found the evidence inconclusive. Yet, like Pascal, I found that for various practical reasons I would need to make an assumption one way or the other. So I examined the evidence again, judged most characterizations of deities I had so far encountered to be implausible, given the evidence. At this stage, many, but not all, of my practical concerns were taken care of. So, my options, as I saw it, were to call myself an agnostic, or to call myself an atheist. I chose atheist, because it seemed less wimpy to me, and at that stage of my life, my self-image required me to be "bold'.

Now, let me ask you a question. What difference does it make what the process was? Even if the process were completely irrational, I would still be an atheist. An atheist who believes for reasons not all that different from those described by many thoughtful theists. Why are today's atheists so insistent on seeing themselves as universally rational and on seeing theists as universally irrational?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-20T03:03:50.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First, I don't think you did anything particularly irrational. Religions' descriptions of God or gods are pretty specific. If you don't see sufficient evidence for the existence of this very specific entity, then it makes sense not to be a believer. You're not a religious believer for perfectly rational reasons. Choosing to call yourself "atheist" instead of "agnostic" is a matter of choosing what to emphasize. "Atheist" makes the point that believing in God is unjustified; "Agnostic" makes the point that God is possible. Both can be true, and it's your own choice what label you prefer.

As for why atheists call themselves rational -- some of it may be pride, but some of it is justified. "Converts" to atheism, in particular, often deliberately decided to discard things they believed that made no sense. They not only developed doubts about theology, but they decided to take their own doubts seriously, to believe their own brains. It's a rare case when people have to make a pure choice between thought and non-thought.

I remember asking myself, "Yes, this is what my brain says, this is what the evidence says, this is what my conscience says -- but who am I to believe my own thoughts?" When you say, "Yes, dammit, I believe my own thoughts, I'll bet on thought, I'll bet on my own capacity to reason, because it's all I've got," it's a determination that sticks with you, and follows you into other topics.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-20T09:49:27.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Agnostic" makes the point that God is possible.

Which is about as crazy as believing that God is likely. The not-0%-impossible point applies to God in about the same sense as to Santa Claus. If you want to specifically make the point that Santa Claus is possible, something is still seriously wrong with you, even if you stopped making the mistake of believing that Santa Claus is most certainly real.

comment by byrnema · 2010-11-07T01:47:57.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As SarahC intimated above, it's very unlikely that a specific deity exists. But when you suggest that the probability of God is so unlikely as to make one crazy to entertain the possibility, I wonder what your definition of 'God' is.

Over the course of writing and revising this comment, I'm recalling that the context of God here on LessWrong is almost always that of an anthropomorphic, personal, intervening, laying-out-rules-you-better-not-break god. But consider how flexible the meaning can be from one context to another. In which case, could Perplexed comment on what sort of God he is choosing not believe in without sufficient evidence? With all this discussion of what atheism means, it might also be helpful to pin down if we mean different things by 'God'.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-07T02:19:35.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In which case, could Perplexed comment on what sort of God is not believed in without sufficient evidence?

The question is "What sort of God do I disbelieve in?" with it understood that I have already admitted that my disbelief is not based on sufficient evidence.

My answer is that I do not believe in any being with supernatural powers, including beings who control computers in which I am being simulated. Such powers would be supernatural from my viewpoint, if not from their own. I don't believe such entities exist. That is reasonable. I believe that such entities do not exist. That is less reasonable. I plead guilty to this departure from ideal rationality.

Incidentally, a philosophy blog that I sometimes read is currently half-seriously asking the "What is a god, anyways?" question.

comment by ata · 2010-11-07T02:42:54.609Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe such entities exist. That is reasonable. I believe that such entities do not exist. That is less reasonable. I plead guilty to this departure from ideal rationality.

If you know that a certain belief is unreasonable, and in what direction it is unreasonable, how do you still believe it? (I mean that both in the sense of "Why would you?" and of "How can you?".) Is that not an instance of belief in self-deception?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-07T05:18:51.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that not an instance of belief in self-deception?

I don't think so. And neither should you unless you think that God exists. That posting by Eliezer is about Tarski's litany - which I think I can recite without hypocrisy.

If God exists, I desire to believe "God exists"

If God doesn't exist, I desire to believe "God doesn't exist".

Since I believe that God does not exist, therefore I believe I have believed what I want to believe. It sounds far more disreputable than it really is.

To be honest, I have already discussed the issue of how much my decision (to believe that God does not exist) departs from Bayesian rationality and whether that departure from rationality matters. I would prefer not to discuss it further, unless it is to discuss it with a theist. That might lead to a more interesting discussion.

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-11-07T12:22:44.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would prefer not to discuss it further, unless it is to discuss it with a theist. That might lead to a more interesting discussion.

Because the theist has a good definition (or at least they think so) of what God is. If I remember right then the debate you had here revolved around semantics. You've to ask if to believe that a specific being, with certain characteristics and qualities, does exist departs from Bayesian rationality. But simply asking if believing that God does exist departs from Bayesian rationality on LW is like asking color-blind aliens if believing that the color red does exist departs from reality. They could probably offer a lot of answers, but without asking the right (specific) question you'd gain nothing.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-11-07T10:56:58.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shame on you!

(A bit of social pressure is in order.)

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-07T16:06:35.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Request: Please explain. What (which?) is the crime? Why is "social pressure" the appropriate sentence? And what does the linked post have to do with either one?

Comment: There are several people here with the annoying habit of writing critical responses that are so terse and cryptic as to be useless to the recipient. You are one person who often does this; wedrifid is another. EY sometimes does it too.

If your goal in making these comments is to other-optimize, or to uphold LW standards, then you should understand that cryptic criticism does not accomplish those goals. If you are merely signaling your own cleverness, well ..., ok, but if it were me, I would seek to appear clever to multitudes.

comment by byrnema · 2010-11-07T03:48:34.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it is problematic that there is no immediate observable difference in behavior between the beliefs. I guess this is asking -- how does Perplexed know he has the stronger belief?

[nevermind this second paragraph, omitted, the lines between actions, beliefs, and choices seem so murky to me, I don't think there's any point in pursuing them]

comment by Perplexed · 2010-11-07T05:30:38.492Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it is problematic that there is no immediate observable difference in behavior between the beliefs. I guess this is asking -- how does Perplexed know he has the stronger belief?

I suppose I could respond "If there is no difference in what behavior would be rational for me to exhibit, what makes you think that one belief is stronger than the other?".

There is one hypothetical behavior difference, though. A more cautious atheist, confronted with a hypothetical Judgment Day, will simply say "Well, what do you know? God exists after all!" He will then do his Bayesian updating and proceed about his business. Whereas I, having been too impulsive in my youth, will wander around muttering to myself, "I notice that I am confused".

That is a difference in behavior, hypothetically at least. Now, if only I knew that this is the way I would hypothetically behave, then I could answer your original question.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-11-07T10:54:40.735Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe such entities exist. That is reasonable. I believe that such entities do not exist. That is less reasonable.

What's the difference between the two (why should there be one), in more of your own words?

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-20T00:54:39.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The deliberative procedure doesn't have to be a good or reasonable deliberative procedure. (And yes, the axiom of choice is badly named.)

Perhaps "prefer" and "preference" would get across your believed lack of deliberation.

I notice you don't suggest a label for my 'theological' position.

Perhaps he noticed that someone else answered, and had no quibble.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-19T18:11:46.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... what? How did you arrive at that belief? Dragonlord, as you point out yourself, just made his first posting here. He may well have formed his impression of "athists" in the local coffee shop, or at talk.origins, or by reading the comments at Pharyngula.

Look at the parent comment.

But let me come right out with the real question. What is the proper label for someone like myself who knows of no evidence for or against the existence of a deity, but chooses to believe that there is no God?

Strong atheist.

And, btw, calling PZ and Sam Harris "epistemically careful" is not what I would call evidence-based analysis.

Compared to typical justifications offered for God-belief? I'm not grading them on the same curve I use for Less Wrong users. And Dawkins, Dennett, and Dillahunty would pass even by that standard.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-19T23:47:44.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

RobinZ: I read Dragonlord as talking about prominent atheist writers like Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris, or even P. Z. Myers - who are all epistemically careful.

Perplexed: ... what? How did you arrive at that belief?

RobinZ: Look at the parent comment.

I did. I still fail to see why you think someone who can't even spell "atheist" was talking about the "four horsemen".

Perplexed: What is the proper label for someone like myself who knows of no evidence for or against the existence of a deity, but chooses to believe that there is no God?

RobinZ: Strong atheist.

So why am I not an example of the kind of atheist that Dragonlord is talking about? Or is a "strong atheist" not a kind of atheist (as a "blue moon" is not a kind of moon)?

Incidentally, it is amusing that we have atheists squabbling over definitions on a thread which started with a Jack Chick quote that got voted up into double digits. :)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-20T00:52:08.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Please tell me what, if anything, you disagree with in my statement to Dragonlord. If you have a specific point of disagreement concerning either my definition of agnostic or my claim that you can't refute atheism by definition, I want to know. If you do not, I can't understand what we're arguing about.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T02:22:08.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe (without proof) that there is no God. I strongly dislike it when people like Dragonlord are dismissed when they argue that people like me also are, in a sense, people of faith. When I read that kind of dismissal, it certainly feels like I am being defined out of atheism.

As I understand it, Dragonlord was not trying to refute atheism by making a definition. What he said was in no way a refutation of my brand of atheism, nor yours. It was merely a charge that an atheist who considers himself by definition epistemically superior to a theist is something of a hypocrite. As it happens, I agree.

I find your "you can't refute atheism by definition" to be both ambiguous and ironic. Clearly, what you mean to argue is that it is impossible to refute a position (such as atheism) by making a definition. But, it can also be read as the exact opposite: "By definition, you can't refute atheism." And it certainly appears to me, as well as to most theists, that this is exactly what far too many atheists are doing these days.

I have been an atheist longer than most posters here have been alive. At the time I began calling myself an atheist, the definition was that an atheist is someone who believes that there is no God. A theist believes there is a God. An agnostic is unsure or unwilling to commit. But, as a result of jibes like Dragonlord's, our brave modern-day atheists have redefined the term to include almost everyone formerly called agnostics. They are so frightened of being soiled by that word "faith" that they deny having any beliefs at all regarding the existence of a deity.

That is what I am arguing about.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-20T03:12:51.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe (without proof) that there is no God. I strongly dislike it when people like Dragonlord are dismissed when they argue that people like me also are, in a sense, people of faith. When I read that kind of dismissal, it certainly feels like I am being defined out of atheism.

You're not being defined out - other people are being defined in. But you're correct: I don't actually address Dragonlord's point (which I assume regards the matter of the burden of proof) in any fashion by nitpicking the definition of "agnostic" and "atheism". I am writing a new reply.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T03:56:49.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok. We cool now.

comment by timtyler · 2010-10-20T14:07:13.550Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The etymology fairly strongly suggests that a-theism is a lack of belief in theism, and a-gnosticism is a lack of belief in gnosticism.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-10-20T17:24:09.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, the etymology of agnosticism is rejection of gnosis, which is rather broader than the gnostics. We know that because Huxley said so when he coined the word in 1869. That's also exactly the meaning RobinZ gave.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T02:31:24.417Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "without proof" do you mean that you don't have 100% evidence or by without proof you mean that you are believing this even though you don't have evidence for the claim? If the first, there's no problem as long as your probability estimate for some form of deity isn't 0. If the second then whether or not you are an atheist there's a serious gap in your rationality.

Incidentally, it might help in this discussion to taboo the word the atheist.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T02:53:00.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would prefer to taboo the word 'evidence'.

If you want to taboo 'atheist', please provide your translation of what Dragonlord said to begin this discussion.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-20T03:23:41.619Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would prefer to taboo the word 'evidence'.

What does that leave us with, precisely, on a rationalist website?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T03:58:24.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reasons for belief. JoshuaZ used the phrase "100% evidence", which strikes me as meaningless. He also asked whether I believed something with no evidence. That strikes me as an absurd question. Evidence is always present - the evidence might easily be inadequate, and conceivably could be balanced. But "don't have evidence"?

I think that if he tries to ask his questions using different words, he will find that he already knows the answers and that my previous responses provide the answers.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T03:02:20.537Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are multiple interpretations I have of what Dragonlord meant. The statement wasn't very clear. Here are three translations:

In the first, Dragonlord was defining "atheist" as someone who is 100% certain that there is no god and then meant something something like "A 100% claim that there is no God is just as irrational as someone who claims to believe in God." And then he implicitly defined the term "agnostic" as anyone assigning a probability to God's existence that isn't 0 or 1.

In the second, Dragonlord was defining atheist as someone who assigns a very low probability to God's existence. He then meant something like: "Anyone who makes a strong claim about the probability of God's existence has insufficient evidence either way and so is using "faith" to push their probability estimate in a direction unjustified by evidence." And then he implicitly identified agnostic as people with a middling probability.

In the third, Dragonlord identified atheism the same way as in the second but then meant something like "I am uncomfortable with people making strong claims about this question, so I am going to declare that everyone making strong claims about this question are being irrational in the same way." And then he identified agnostics as people who aren't making him uncomfortable with strong claims about the existence of a deity.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T04:31:30.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah! Very good. Thank you. That exercise was more productive than I expected.

My original interpretation (and the interpretation I still hold) was that he was saying either the first or the second. And, based on that interpretation, I felt that Dragonlord's statement was reasonable and perhaps even defensible. And I felt that the downvoting was unfair. I realize that RobinZ also thought the downvoting was unfair, but I thought that RobinZ's defense of Dragonlord ("The poor guy just doesn't understand the definitions", in effect) was worse than useless, because it didn't respond to what Dragonlord was actually trying to say.

And I thank you for making clear what he apparently really was saying. And even if Dragonlord actually meant your third version, he should still have received a substantive response rather than a lecture on the modern usage of the word "atheist" among atheists.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T04:37:24.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, part of the response about how people use the word atheist might be something like simply clarifying that people aren't making an 100% claim when they identify as atheists. That's quite relevant if he meant the first interpretation. I'm not so sure that anything discussed is that relevant to interpretation 2.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T05:02:52.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I am making a 100% claim. Certainly a claim as strong as the claim of most theists, and they would also admit to being 100% certain. Call me irrational, if you wish. Remind me of Cromwell's rule. But don't ask me to admit that I made a mistake until you can prove to me that God exists.

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-20T16:47:40.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Call me irrational, if you wish. Remind me of Cromwell's rule.

Okay, I'll do so, because it genuinely seems like you need it: You are, in this particular instance, being irrational, and Cromwell's rule (or more specifically, the way 0% or 100% priors conflict with Bayesian updating) does indeed explain why.

You clearly know what mistake it is you're making; why are you stopping right before the part where you correct that mistake?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T18:46:55.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You clearly know what mistake it is you're making; why are you stopping right before the part where you correct that mistake?

Because:

  1. Just because I understand why you are calling it a mistake doesn't mean that I need to either agree with you that it is a mistake or argue with you.
  2. I have already suggested elsewhere that my preference would be to assign an infinitesimal probability, rather than a zero probability, to God's existence, but that spoilsport Jaynes doesn't want to let me.
  3. You Bayes purists keep telling me that the mistake, once made, is very difficult to correct, and I have enough difficulties in my life right now. Seems to me that I may as well just continue with my current probability assignments until I die. At which time I may either be proven right after all, or else I will be presented with ample time to correct my mistake.
comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T23:26:16.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

or self I will be presented with ample time to correct my mistake.

I'm confused by this. You seem to be implying that you use a different epistemology if there's life after death than you do during life. How do you justify this? If you aren't doing so, how can you then update in the way described?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T23:56:05.565Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You seem to be implying that you use a different epistemology if there's life after death than you do during life. How do you justify this?

More time to think things through carefully. But, at least to some extent, I was being facetious in my point #3.

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-20T22:21:45.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have already suggested elsewhere that my preference would be to assign an infinitesimal probability, rather than a zero probability, to God's existence, but that spoilsport Jaynes doesn't want to let me.

Does setting an infinitesimal probability preclude updates to non-infinitesimal probabilities?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T05:05:23.792Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok. This is a real problem then. Because then there's no way to update based on new evidence. Indeed, I suspect that there's probably some set of evidence which would make you change your mind. If that's the case, then you can't have a prior of 1 even if you round up to that. Note incidentally the most of the theists who make that claim are demonstrably incorrect based on their actual behavior which demonstrates a lot more uncertainty about their beliefs than they profess.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T05:42:26.567Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand that I cannot be a true Bayesian and assign a probability of 0 to something unless it is logically impossible. But I'm not sure why you say I can't update. I can update everything except my belief (disbelief) in a deity. And I don't expect I will ever have to do that.

And the way I figure it, if I ever do encounter overwhelming proof of God's existence, I am going to have bigger problems than a need to back out all of the Bayesian updating I have done since I became an atheist and start from scratch.

But I have another reason for being less worried than you think I ought to be about probabilities of 0 and 1. I am looking into Abraham Robinson's non-standard analysis and so actually my true level of belief in God is not exactly 0, it is (literally) infinitesimal. Now all I need are some Bayesian updating rules for how to handle 'black swan' events.

comment by Peter_de_Blanc · 2010-10-20T22:02:57.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I can explain both sides of this disagreement.

A Bayesian is someone who is, at some level of abstraction, keeping track of their entire hypothesis space. "Updating," for a Bayesian, means paying more attention to the part of yourself that predicted what you just saw happen. If a Bayesian says that they updated towards believing in God, they mean that they are paying more attention to the small part of themselves that already believed in God. "I assign a probability of 0 to God" means that no part of you believes in God, so there is no possibility of updating. You can't shift attention towards a part of yourself that isn't there.

Humans who say that they assign a probability of 0 to God, but who also claim that they could update, are not keeping track of the entire hypothesis space within their own brains. They are also using other brains to do that. There is no part of these humans that believes in God, but they would be able to copy this part from other humans if they ever needed to. These humans do not see themselves as trying to create a complete Bayesian within their own single brain; rather, they are trying to be part of a multiple-brain process that is doing something Bayesian. It does not matter as much to them which particular brains are paying attention to God.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T23:39:42.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like your model, or something similar. The way I would do it, though, is to claim that my own decision-making is done by a committee of rational Bayesian minds - all resident within my head. Right now, the chairman of the committee assigns 0 to the probability that God exists. However, should we have a black swan event like a Rapture, then the chairman is helpless - he cannot update. No problem, though, because the other members of the committee were not so foolish as to become strong atheists. They will simply assassinate the now-useless former chairman of the Committee for Allowing Perplexed to Exhibit Rationality (CAPER) and replace him with a theist. The mind is under new management, but the body marches on.

comment by neq1 · 2010-10-20T15:24:48.941Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"And I don't expect I will ever have to do that."

You do not sound 100% certain.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T16:24:33.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indirect response: Perhaps you should discuss my level of confidence with Tim Tyler. When you two reach consensus regarding my level of confidence, then come back and challenge me about it.

Direct response: Do you have some point in making your observation?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-20T10:17:06.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I have another reason for being less worried than you think I ought to be about probabilities of 0 and 1. I am looking into Abraham Robinson's non-standard analysis and so actually my true level of belief in God is not exactly 0, it is (literally) infinitesimal.

Now this is a clear rationalization. You are giving a justification by analogy, not quite a mysterious answer to a mysterious question (because non-standard analysis is not mysterious, on the other hand Bayesian epistemology based on non-standard analysis is), but epistemically the same error (with other examples being, seeking answers in complexity and randomness).

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T16:08:50.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to be clear, I am not using my research program into non-standard analysis to justify my "carelessness" in becoming a strong atheist when the evidence only forces me into weak atheism. That carelessness happened fifty years ago, before I had even heard of Robinson.

What I may be rationalizing is my lack of concern regarding my violation of Cromwell's rule. And I don't see this as a mysterious answer. It is pretty straightforward. The set of 'worlds' in which God exists is not empty, but it is a set of measure zero. Using standard analysis, I am forced to assign probability zero to this event, and hence I have no way to update. Using non-standard analysis, I may be able to assign an infinitesimal probability to the God Hypothesis, and then (details not yet worked out) have the arithmetic work should proof of God's existence somehow appear and I be forced to reassign measures to the remaining possible worlds (no longer a set of measure zero).

comment by ata · 2010-10-20T16:49:05.506Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be clear, would you actually bet an unbounded amount of money or resources or other things that are valuable to you (for instance, your life or your children's lives or the entire human race) against the existence of any god, for a payoff of $1 if you are right? That's the sort of thing that you should be able to calmly and confidently do if you really have infinitesimal credence in the thing you're betting against.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T18:09:42.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be clear, would you actually bet an unbounded amount of money or resources or other things that are valuable to you (for instance, your life or your children's lives or the entire human race) against the existence of any god, for a payoff of $1 if you are right?

Yes. PM me and I will provide the address where you should send the money.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-20T10:12:39.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand that I cannot be a true Bayesian and assign a probability of 0 to something unless it is logically impossible.

Normally, you won't be able to learn that it's logically impossible, because you can only ever use potentially faulty calculators to come to that conclusion, so there goes this clause. It could be directly in your prior though.

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-20T17:12:56.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the way I figure it, if I ever do encounter overwhelming proof of God's existence, I am going to have bigger problems than a need to back out all of the Bayesian updating I have done since I became an atheist and start from scratch.

What will you do if you encounter evidence of God's existence that is significant but not overwhelming?

That's the major concern I have with Bayes-breaking priors. You don't really need Bayes for cases where there is overwhelming evidence, but those are pretty dang uncommon. Bayes is very helpful when dealing with evidence at everyday levels of moderate or slight significance.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T18:28:59.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What will you do if you encounter evidence of God's existence that is significant but not overwhelming?

Well, suppose I currently assess the odds of God's existence at epsilon. If I encounter evidence with an odds ratio of a million to one, then I update to 1,000,000 * epsilon.

If epsilon is required to be a standard real number, then I am forced to either make epsilon non-zero (but less than 1 ppm), or make it zero and stop calling myself a Bayesian.

But if epsilon is allowed to be a non-standard real - specifically, an infinitesimal - then I think I can have my atheist cake and be a Bayesian too.

Perhaps this example might help. Suppose I tell you that I am thinking of a random point in the closed unit square. You choose a uniform prior. That means you believe that the probability that my point is on the boundary of the square is zero. So, what do you, as a Bayesian, do when I inform you that the point is indeed on the boundary and ask you for the probability that it is on the bottom edge?

Either you had to initially assign a finite probability to the point being on the boundary (and also a finite probability to it having an x coordinate of exactly 0.5, etc.) or else you find some way of claiming that the probability of the point is infinitesimal - that is, if you are forced to pick a real number, you will pick 0, but you refuse to be forced to pick a real number.

comment by JGWeissman · 2010-10-20T19:23:41.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps this example might help. Suppose I tell you that I am thinking of a random point in the closed unit square. You choose a uniform prior. That means you believe that the probability that my point is on the boundary of the square is zero. So, what do you, as a Bayesian, do when I inform you that the point is indeed on the boundary and ask you for the probability that it is on the bottom edge?

For any probablity p strictly between 0 and 1, and any distance r greater than 0, there exists a finite amount of evidence E that would convince a Bayesian that your point is within the distance r of the boundary with probablity greater than p.

Do you think that propositions about God are part of an uncountably large space? Is there a reasonable notion of "similar" such that you could be convinced with finite evidence that there is a true proposition arbitrarily "similar" to a proposition that a given God exists?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T20:47:14.745Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think we need to taboo the word "finite". And stick to my example of the square for the time being.

If you had a uniform prior over the square, and then I inform you that my "random point" is on the edge, have I provided you with a 'finite' or an 'infinite' amount of evidence? A case could be made, I think, for either answer.

The same applies for the amount of evidence required to demonstrate something similar to the proposition that God exists, for many reasonable values of 'similar'.

Notice that "amount of evidence" is not just a property of the evidence. It also depends on what your prior was for receiving that evidence. It is a subjective number.

comment by JGWeissman · 2010-10-20T21:22:02.464Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And stick to my example of the square for the time being.

No. That example was a metaphor, it is reasonable to explore how its features correlates back to features of the question of interest, which is if it makes sense for you to assign infinitesimal probability to propositions about God.

If you had a uniform prior over the square, and then I inform you that my "random point" is on the edge, have I provided you with a 'finite' or an 'infinite' amount of evidence? A case could be made, I think, for either answer.

Then I would update my differential probability distribution using prior conditional probablities that you would make such a claim given that your "random point" is any particular point in the square. This could cause me to conclude that your point is very close to the border with high probability, but not to concentrate all my probablity onto the border itself, which would require that I had infinite information about under which conditions you would make such a statement.

You have not answered my question about if the proposition about God is part of an uncountable space. The rest of this only matters if your answer is yes.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T23:50:32.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You have not answered my question about if the proposition about God is part of an uncountable space. The rest of this only matters if your answer is yes.

If by "uncountable", you mean of cardinality greater than aleph-nought, then I think that you are using the wrong mathematical machinery. It is measure theory that we are concerned with here, not cardinality.

Ah! But perhaps you are suggesting that I can only formulate a countable number of sentences in my logic and hence that I should be using some kind of Solomonoff prior which necessarily forces a finite prior for the God Hypothesis - assuming that I can express it. Is that what you are getting at? If so, I'm not sure exactly how the hypothesis that some kind of god exists can be expressed properly in any axiomatizable logic.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-10-21T00:12:18.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but in a countable measure space the measure is determined entirely by the measures on the points, hence there is no problem with making the interpretation "probability 0 = impossible", and this sort of weirdness does not occur.

Countability is not precisely the condition needed to avoid this, but it's certainly a sufficient condition.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T02:17:19.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Uh, what sort of weirdness does not occur?

comment by JGWeissman · 2010-10-21T00:16:38.960Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If by "uncountable", you mean of cardinality greater than aleph-nought, then I think that you are using the wrong mathematical machinery. It is measure theory that we are concerned with here, not cardinality.

Measure theory tends to be a lot simpler with countable sets.

But perhaps you are suggesting that I can only formulate a countable number of sentences in my logic and hence that I should be using some kind of Solomonoff prior which necessarily forces a finite prior for the God Hypothesis - assuming that I can express it. Is that what you are getting at?

No, although, if you answer that the space of propositions is countable, then I would argue that all propositions in that space should have a real probability between 0 and 1.

I would like you to answer the question, rather than speculating on hidden meaning in the question, so that I can know what kind of probability distributions we should be talking about.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T02:11:43.485Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, I don't know the cardinality of the space we are talking about, but since I have trouble imagining a language permitting an uncountable number of sentences, lets assume that the space is countable. What are the consequences of that?

comment by JGWeissman · 2010-10-21T02:27:37.637Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the space is countable, then as long as you can order the propositions in some way, say by complexity, you can assign non-zero probability to every proposition so the total adds up to 1, so you don't have the same excuse you have in the case of predicting which point in a continuous space is special for using infinitesimal probabilities.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T02:42:42.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, that makes sense. As I told JoshuaZ, I need to retire and lick my wounds at the very least. I seem to recall that in Nelson's version of non-standard analysis, there could be infinitesimals even in systems of countable cardinality, but I need to check that and decide whether it matters in this case.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-10-21T02:49:02.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I seem to recall that in Nelson's version of non-standard analysis, there could be infinitesimals even in systems of countable cardinality, but I need to check that and decide whether it matters in this case.

Sorry, what do you mean by this? We're talking about the cardinality of the set the measure is on; this sounds like you're talking about the cardinality of its target space? (Where values of measures are somehow generalized appropriately... let's not worry about how.) It's easy to put an order on, say, Q[t] so as to make t infinitesimal but I don't see what that has to do with this. Or is that not what you meant?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T04:20:59.023Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We're talking about the cardinality of the set the measure is on.

So am I. But I may be confused about what cardinality even means in Nelson's internal set theory.

Let me give a simple example of the kind of thing I am thinking about. Consider the space of ordered pairs (a,n) where a is either 0 or 1 and n is a non-negative integer, i.e. an element of {1,2,...}. To each such pair with a=0, associate the measure M(0,n)= 1/2^n. To each such pair with a=1 associate the "infinitesimal measure" M(1,n)=M(0,n)/omega where omega is taken to be indefinitely large.

So, the total measure of this space is 1 unit, and all but an infinitesimal portion of that total measure is associated with the portion of the space with a=0.

I claim that in some sense P(a=1) = 0 but P(n=2 | a=1) = 1/4.

The analogy here is that the assertion a=1 corresponds to the assertion that God exists. The probability is infinitesimal, yet Bayesian updating is possible (in some sense). And yet the space of all events is countable.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2010-10-21T04:55:16.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, so by "there could be infinitesimals" you meant "there could be things of infinitesimal measure".

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T05:06:07.726Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. Definitely. Sorry that was unclear. And infinitesimal measures result in probabilities which are zero in some sense, but not exactly zero in a different sense.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-21T02:21:30.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If by "uncountable", you mean of cardinality greater than aleph-nought, then I think that you are using the wrong mathematical machinery. It is measure theory that we are concerned with here, not cardinality.

The two are related. Most relevantly, if my set is countable then I must have some singletons with non-zero measure. Moreover, the subset of points who have zero measure itself has zero measure, so they don't matter at all. It is only in higher cardinality sets that you can have a collection of points each with zero measure that still have positive measure.

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-21T02:34:24.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, I can see that this tends to rule out my use of the unit-square analogy to justify my suggestion that the probability of the God Hypothesis is infinitesimal. I'm going to have to look more closely at the math, and in particular at my references for non-standard analysis to see whether any of my intuitions can be saved.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2010-10-20T23:24:10.378Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious then. Suppose that every child under five years or so old dissappeared as did most evangelical Christians. Would you then assign a chance of zero that the Rapture had just taken place?

comment by timtyler · 2010-10-20T14:11:30.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It seems as though you are being overconfident.

What's the deal with that? Are you trying to signal something?

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-20T18:50:47.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p) Yeah, right Tim. I am just trying to align myself with community mores here.
comment by timtyler · 2010-10-21T09:31:49.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Exactly - which is part of why I don't get it. A 50 year-old habit, maybe?

However, there doesn't seem much reason to speculate when we can just ask you.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-10-20T09:10:05.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, let's not respond to bad comments at all.

Might be a good idea. The huge thread that swelled up below shows that drive-by trolling (regardless of whether the original commenter was one) can give big rewards here.

In general, long threads sparked by a disagreeable single comment of someone who doesn't participate in the further discussion have started to look like a forum behavior anti-pattern to me.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-19T14:08:31.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's not respond to bad comments with cached slogans.

Not cached by me. Never heard it before.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-19T17:39:25.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a rather widespread phrase.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-06T17:14:58.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Compare:

Show me a cultural relativist at thirty thousand feet and I'll show you a hypocrite.

-- Richard Dawkins

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T18:36:46.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was about to stand and applause, until I realized...

Let's say I like flying, I like the earth's ecology, I think large-scale flying is killing the earth's ecology, I think my individual flying is not capable of making a difference to the planet's ecology, and I think technologically advanced cultures capable of sustaining commercial human flight only appear superior because they're able to offload the costs of their advancement to the rest of the earth's population [1].

And I'm at 30,000 feet. Am I a hypocrite?

Worse, am I Richard Dawkins, once you clip of the last item on the first paragraph?

[1] Not my actual beliefs. Except one.

comment by gjm · 2010-10-07T01:46:49.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you may have misunderstood the point Dawkins was making. It wasn't "if you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to denigrate the society whose achievements made that possible". It was "If you're in an aeroplane, you aren't entitled to claim that all truth is relative, because the fact that the aeroplane stays in the air is dependent on a very particular set of notions about truth, which demonstrably work better than their rivals -- as demonstrated by the fact that our aeroplanes actually fly."

Some context that may be helpful.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-07T22:21:06.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, point taken. But to nitpick, that sounds more like epistemological relativism than cultural -- though he can be forgiven for not expecting his audience to be sensitive to the difference. And the context makes it clear too.

comment by Tenek · 2010-10-06T16:05:10.039Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, Jack doesn't want any thinking at all, so I'm not sure if that's better or worse than fuzziness.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T10:27:10.920Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jack T. Chick

That guy would've gone through hell in high school unless he was really good at sport. :P

comment by billswift · 2010-10-07T04:59:25.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or really funny. When I was in school I know I thought those little booklets were hilarious.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T05:15:46.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Err... booklets? Am I missing something here? Oh, are you talking about airplane flights?

comment by arundelo · 2010-10-07T05:56:08.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Chick tracts are short evangelical-themed tracts created by American publisher Jack Chick."

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T06:03:18.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ahh, thanks. I don't think we ever got those here.

comment by arundelo · 2010-10-07T06:13:26.138Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ooh, they are insane. You can read many or all of them online. This one ("Dark Dungeons") is a favorite of mine.

Edit: As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, an earlier version of "Dark Dungeons" (the one that was my introduction to Chick tracts a couple decades ago) listed C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as occult authors whose books should be burned.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-10-08T02:39:13.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No link to chick.com is complete without mentioning these two things:

Dark Dungeons with MST3K-style snarking. This really improves it.

Lisa, which is no longer published or archived on the Chick Publications web site. It has some... interesting ideas about how one should deal with people who rape children. (Everything is okay after five minutes of prayer! No need to report it to the police! Lalala!)

There are some other great Chick tracts, but those are the cream of the crop.

comment by gjm · 2010-10-09T15:13:20.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And also the famous Who will be eaten first? which, for the avoidance of doubt, is not really by Jack Chick.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T06:20:11.719Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

listed C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as occult authors whose books should be burned.

That's brilliant. :P

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-07T15:12:29.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a notion that the Chick flavor of Christianity is trying to set itself up as the monopoly supplier of fantasy.

comment by AngryParsley · 2010-10-07T06:44:04.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jack T. Chick draws religious comics called Chick tracts.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-07T02:52:19.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wouldn't surprise me if he'd been home-schooled.

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-09T22:14:44.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

from a European perspective, and simultaneously from the perspective of one who sees most state-sanctioned educational approaches as almost comically counter-productive, the idea that appears common in the US, that home schooled = fundamentalist christian parents is confusing. Many home educators in europe are specifically atheist.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-09T22:53:03.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as I can tell, "home schooled = fundamentalist" is American left-wing nonsense.

In fact, while many home-schoolers are fundamentalist, there are a slew of motivations. Some home schoolers think that conventional schooling is a bad environment for learning. Some have children with special needs. Some live in isolated areas. Some are religious, but not pathologically so.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-10T12:02:31.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depends on which parts of Europe, I guess. I am told that homeschooling is relatively common in the British Isles, but in the countries I am familiar with (Italy, Sweden, to a lesser degree Germany and Belgium) it ranges from unheard-of to extremely unusual.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2010-10-07T19:04:21.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

— Marcus Aurelius

comment by Document · 2010-10-11T03:54:41.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a general name for that shape of argument? It or something close to it seems to be a recurring pattern.

(Edit: removed opening "also".)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-11T13:13:47.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

False dilemna. Also false dicholomy or possibly black and white thinking.

comment by jimrandomh · 2010-10-11T04:03:11.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never heard a name for that, and it ought to have one. How about "the predestination fallacy"? They all seem to start with the assumption that something will go the same way no matter what, then conclude that therefore, pushing it in a bad direction is okay.

comment by Document · 2012-09-12T00:16:59.429Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looks like it's called Morton's fork.

comment by gjm · 2010-10-11T12:26:21.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not always a fallacy. Examples:

  1. You're trying to achieve some objective, and the difference between achieving it and not achieving it swamps all other differences between credible outcomes. It may then be rational to assume that your desired objective is achievable. (You have nasty symptoms, which can be caused by two diseases. One will kill you in a week whatever you do. One is treatable. If it's at all difficult to distinguish the two, you might as well assume you've got the treatable one.)

  2. You're trying to achieve some objective, and you know it's achievable because others have achieved it, or because the situation you're in has been crafted to make it so. It's rational to assume it's achievable. (There's an example in J E Littlewood's "Mathematician's Miscellany": he was climbing a mountain, he got to a certain point and couldn't see any way to make progress, and he reasoned thus: I know this is possible, and I know I've come the right way so far, so there must be a hidden hold somewhere around there ... and, indeed, there was.)

comment by b1shop · 2010-10-25T15:44:19.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a general name for that shape of argument?

Disjunctive reasoning. I liked the example in this post.

comment by Document · 2010-10-27T19:03:57.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Calling it fake or selective disjunctive reasoning might describe it, I guess.

comment by b1shop · 2010-10-28T16:59:05.794Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you think of any possibilities the good emperor didn't mention?

comment by Document · 2010-10-11T21:59:48.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also:

I'll edit this post with any further examples. Last edited 2010/11/07.

comment by Document · 2011-10-18T21:08:29.670Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've just been advised that he probably didn't say that.

comment by Document · 2010-10-09T06:48:19.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the first two "then"s, the conclusions seem plausible but far from the only possible ones if the possibility of (knowable) gods were taken seriously. It sounds like saying that if you live under an unjust government, you should act like it doesn't exist until you get arrested, rather than either accepting it or trying to fight it.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-10T23:55:27.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher king, I get the feeling this quote is in the context of the gods being unknowable. The unjust government, on the other hand, is here and knowable.

comment by Document · 2010-10-11T02:39:12.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Were there people who advocated worshipping unknowable gods?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-11T02:57:32.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Arguably. The main one I could find was this:

St. Augustine - "A God understood is no God at all."

Though I remember at least once being told that God's "mystery", that is, the inability to figure him out, understand him, or be absolutely certain he's there, was part of a reason to worship him.

comment by Document · 2010-10-11T07:29:44.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since St. Augustine was a Christian, I don't think he fits. By "knowable" I meant something like "we can identify an action that they're more likely to regard as worship than as blasphemy, thereby making the question of whether to worship them relevant". I'm uncomfortable with my use of the action/inaction distinction there, but I'm going to leave it.

Alternate interpretation of the Marcus Aurelius quote: It illustrates how far thoughts fit ideals. Regardless of whether he took gods seriously, they were distant enough that he could make grand moral claims without worrying about living up to them.

comment by Document · 2010-10-09T06:11:53.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the first two "then"s, the conclusions seem plausible but far from the only possible ones if the possibility of (knowable) gods were taken seriously. It sounds like saying that if you live under an unjust government, you should act like it doesn't exist until you get arrested, rather than either accepting it or trying to fight it.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-06T13:48:49.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind, purposely avoids the reading of books and the company of men that call into question or discuss it, and regards as impious those questions which cannot easily be asked without disturbing it--the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.

... "But," says one, "I am a busy man; I have no time for the long course of study which would be necessary to make me in any degree a competent judge of certain questions, or even able to understand the nature of the arguments."

Then he should have no time to believe.

--W. K. Clifford, "The Ethics of Belief."

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-06T16:03:19.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first line was previously posted in a Rationality Quotes without context or full citation - I consider the additional material sufficient value-added to justify the duplication.

comment by Rain · 2010-10-05T17:37:38.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The singularity is my retirement plan.

-- tocomment, in a Hacker News post

comment by Nisan · 2010-10-06T03:59:28.783Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds like a bad idea.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T17:09:59.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds like a bad idea.

It does, but mostly for the same reasons that cryonics does. It's a violation of Common Sense and Sensibility. But given the beliefs that tocomment has (emphasis: not mine!) it is the wise decision for him to make. He has just bitten the bullet and actually followed through from his stated beliefs with (token verbal support of) the rational conclusion.

I think tocomment has his predictions about the future miscallibrated and has probably not accounted for his own cognitive failure modes but I suspect that people would judge him to be 'unwise' almost completely independently of whether or not they share his premised beliefs.

Basically, I think we (that is, humans) are likely to judge him as naive and foolish because he is actually acting as though his beliefs should relate to his pragmatic choices.

By way of some illustration:

  • A mainstream 'retirement plan' is probably making the same 'putting all your eggs in one basket' mistake that tocomment makes. It is by no means certain that the structures and circumstances that make conventionally wise retirement plans will remain in place. There are perhaps other more fundamental actions that should be taken to ensure future safety and wellbeing than investing in superannuation. "Creating a stash of gold somewhere" may be a little trite but "develop the kind of social and political connections and develop the skills and resources that will allow you to survive into your later years even in the face of social upheaval" is something that makes sense and has applied across all cultures and times. Yet we aren't likely to look down our noses at people who don't divert significant resources away from their 401k and into that sort of future insurance.
  • "Retirement Plans" essentially amount to saving up lots of money for use while you go through the process of physical and mental decline and then death. A plausible and sane person may actually have values such that a conventional retirement plan is a strictly irrational allocation of resources. That person is probably still going to be labelled foolish, unwise or naive despite the fact that he is acting entirely in his own best interests. ie. At worst he is weird, not stupid but will usually be lumped with the latter judgement.
comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T18:25:05.633Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know, that actually sums up my concerns regarding saving.

I think that: Within the next 30 years, a singularity and major economic upheaval are each much more likely than any kind of "business as usual" situation for which IRAs were intended. I also think that money (at least USD) will be of much less value to me when I'm 60.

And yet I contribute anyway, and only have about 8% of current USD value of my savings invested in a way appropriate for one of those scenarios.

Now, I've gotten a bit better: I stopped maxing out the 401k (i.e. putting 25% of pre-tax earnings in it), and I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off. But if I were really serious about this, I should empty most of the account, and put it in something else, even though this will incur a big penalty.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T19:05:09.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Now, I've gotten a bit better: I stopped maxing out the 401k (i.e. putting 25% of pre-tax earnings in it), and I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off.

Wow. I was the one that initiated this line of reasoning and even so I took a double take at seeing that

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T19:43:23.212Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Elaborate.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T19:51:55.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm just noting that while it makes sense in context I don't usually expect to see "Now, I've gotten a bit better ... I'm keeping a car loan I could pay off." The irony appeals.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T20:00:42.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

LOL good point. 99.999% of personal finance discussions, it's supposed to work out the opposite.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-11-30T09:35:59.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should empty most of the account, and put it in something else, even though this will incur a big penalty.

What would the something else be?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-05T18:29:26.165Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brilliant. And if they did make it into a tshirt (as per reply) I'd quite possibly buy one!

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-05T22:57:43.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I is going to get started on setting up the Less Wrong store with User:Kevin starting in a week or two, after which we'll be able to sell awesome LW-related shirts like this.)

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-05T23:16:06.463Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good, I was afraid I was the only one who'd started calling him "User:Kevin" after seeing Clippy do it.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T08:36:40.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By the way, I will definitely design an "Escape your closing parenthesis." t-shirt.

comment by Cyan · 2010-10-07T00:45:48.798Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Must repost:

comment by curiousepic · 2010-10-06T13:52:14.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where will proceeds go?

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T14:24:23.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure yet... I think the largest functionality will be selling rationality-related books and the like, pre-vetted by rationalists, with reviews, and all in one place. I'm not sure if we can get bulk pricing, and there's not much incentive to buy books from the LW store if you can get the same from Amazon. What I wanted to do was set up a checkout system where you can choose your price beyond a certain minimum, where proceeds will go to your choice of one of a few rationality-related charities listed (potential candidates being FHI, SIAI, Richard Dawkins Foundation, et cetera).

At some point I'm going to dig through my old files and find my original proposal, then modify it and post it in the discussion section here at LW. I'll ask for proposals and request ideas/critiques. That'll probably be in a week to three from now.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T14:36:59.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure yet... I think the largest functionality will be selling rationality-related books and the like, pre-vetted by rationalists, with reviews, and all in one place. I'm not sure if we can get bulk pricing, and there's not much incentive to buy books from the LW store if you can get the same from Amazon.

Did you consider just using Amazon Affiliates? If I recall one of the options would just allow you to set up a completely independent website, send the orders through them and take a cut. Charging more is also possible. Obviously you don't get anywhere near as much money as if you did it all yourself but you would need to be passing a LOT of inventory to make that hassle worthwhile. And if you do end up making large numbers of sales then you can transition to handling the orders yourself if it happens to be worth it.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T14:51:53.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh, Affiliates seems to have changed since I checked it out a few months ago, or maybe I misunderstood it back then. Thanks for the tip.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T14:54:22.152Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh, Affiliates seems to have changed since I checked it out a few months ago, or maybe I misunderstood it back then. Thanks for the tip.

From memory there are actually a variety of different options. Ranging from 'link to us and get a cut if your readers convert to sales' through 'they will not even know Amazon is involved' and even the option of actually owning your own stock and using Amazon to handle storing and distribution. (None of this is as cheap as making some business connections and private arrangements. But it's a heck of a lot easier!)

comment by Document · 2010-10-06T20:06:57.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I wanted to do was set up a checkout system where you can choose your price beyond a certain minimum

I have no actual information on how well that will work (it seems like it would), but that phrase triggered a memory for me of an xkcdsucks post:

Radiohead style would be letting people pay however much they want, including nothing. (...) No one cares that you could pay more than a usual price for the album, that's not news. (What! Radiohead will be glad to take money you want to give them! Well stop the presses, mother fuckers!)

I'll try to ignore that bias and evaluate the store neutrally when it's up. This post may be noise.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-10-06T22:28:17.414Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a bit tangential to your point...

No one cares that you could pay more than a usual price for the album, that's not news.

That may well not be true. I doubt that there's an easy route to send small amounts of money to most bands (unlike charities). Here is a tech-savvy author turning away tips from readers, out of fear that they're pirating his books. And he does have free books that might elicit a tip.

comment by Document · 2010-10-18T05:25:54.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. I just found Cory Doctorow expressing a similar view here:

Every time I put a book online for free, I get emails from readers who want to send me donations for the book. I appreciate their generous spirit, but I'm not interested in cash donations, because my publishers are really important to me. They contriebute immeasurably to the book, improving it, introducing it to an audience I could never reach, helping me do more with my work. I have no desire to cut them out of the loop.

In his case, he's apparently set up a system for readers to buy copies and have them donated to libraries.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T14:21:27.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure yet... I think the largest functionality will be selling rationality-related books and the like, pre-vetted by rationalists, with reviews, and all in one place. I'm not sure if we can get bulk pricing, and there's not much incentive to buy books from the LW store if you can get the same from Amazon. What I wanted to do was set up a checkout system where you can choose your price beyond a certain minimum, where proceeds will go to your choice of one of a few rationality-related charities listed (potential candidates being FHI, SIAI, Richard Dawkins Foundation, et cetera).

At some point I'm going to dig through my old files and find my original proposal, then modify it and post it in the discussion section here at LW. I'll ask for proposals and request ideas/critiques. That'll probably be in a week to three from now.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T10:53:25.833Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Appropriate, since it's about as wise as the average T-shirt slogan.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T11:58:40.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand some t-shirts are a source of true wisdom! ;)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T12:37:58.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already possess.

Rene Descartes.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-07T04:07:04.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ha! That's very clever and nicely phrased. (And true, sadly.)

comment by cata · 2010-10-06T19:25:11.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of my mentors once gave me a list of obvious things to check when stuff doesn't work. Funny, years later I still need this list:

  1. It worked. No one touched it but you. It doesn't work. It's probably something you did.

  2. It worked. You made one change. It doesn't work. It's probably the change you made.

  3. It worked. You promoted it. It doesn't work. Your testing environment probably isn't the same as your production environment.

  4. It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

  5. It worked perfectly for 10 years. Today it didn't work. Something probably changed.

edw519, Hacker News, on debugging.

I always need that list, too.

comment by sketerpot · 2010-10-08T02:31:13.422Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It worked for these 10 cases. It didn't work for the 11th case. It was probably never right in the first place.

That one is counterintuitive, but true surprisingly often. Maybe not most of the time, but more often than you might think. And it picks the worst times to be right, let me tell you. Especially if it reveals a mistake in the math underlying everything you've been doing....

The solution, I suppose, is to learn to enjoy rewriting.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T12:41:05.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the same theme as the previous one:

I've begun worshipping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There is no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there is no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

George Carlin

comment by MC_Escherichia · 2010-10-05T16:42:23.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Either the prayer is answered, or not, so the odds must be 50%, right? :)

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-05T19:03:33.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to "God" are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate.

From this I infer that Carlin errs somewhat on the side of pessimism. Optimal habits of thought will tend to produce the kind of positive attention and focus that prompts prayer in cases that are actually less than 50% likely to occur.

comment by Kobayashi · 2010-10-06T23:28:21.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"You can always reach me through my blog!" he panted. "Overpowering Falsehood dot com, the number one site for rational thinking about the future--"

  • Zendegi, by Greg Egan (2010)

Go ahead, down-vote me. It's still paradoxically-awesome to be burned in a Greg Egan novel...

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-07T01:36:57.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is the context of the quote? Is the OF.com guy a total dolt, an arrogant twat, a cloud cuckoolander, or what?

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-10-07T06:38:18.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Found a couple of semi-spoilery reviews for Zendegi. Apparently it has stand-ins for Robin Hanson and SIAI as foils for the authorial message.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2010-10-07T06:58:12.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thought this was worthy of its own thread in Discussion so interested people won't miss it: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/2ti/greg_egan_disses_standins_for_overcoming_bias/

comment by gwern · 2010-10-07T00:03:14.698Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I see - the ref is to 'Overcoming Bias.com'. For a moment I was confused because overpoweringfalsehood.com doesn't work and I didn't see any URL in your profile and I thought you were talking about you being burned and not all of us.

comment by MC_Escherichia · 2010-10-09T22:25:01.342Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone's snapped it up now: http://whois.domaintools.com/overpoweringfalsehood.com

comment by gwern · 2010-10-10T00:03:17.243Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And not by someone who intends to use it for good, it seems.

(Only now do I realize that 'overpoweringfalsehood.com' isn't that bad a domain name.)

comment by iongantas · 2010-10-10T13:34:39.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That depends entirely on whether 'overpowering' is a verb or an adjective.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-10T14:18:09.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So... you're saying it would be a perfect replacement domain for timecube.com?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-10T13:39:48.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Same applies to 'overcoming' of 'overcoming bias'.

comment by MC_Escherichia · 2010-10-10T15:23:53.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Overcoming" doesn't really work as an adjective.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-10T23:56:53.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My goodness, that bias is quite overcoming, wouldn't you say?

comment by MC_Escherichia · 2010-10-11T00:34:04.214Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, nobody would ever say that.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-11T08:35:15.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems so, 79000 results for "is quite overpowering" compared to 1800 for "is quite overcoming".

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-11T02:50:03.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I realize. It was a joke to even see if it sounded like it fit.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-11T08:29:38.916Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would.

comment by Apprentice · 2010-10-06T10:47:42.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I close my mind in fear, please pry it open.

-- Metallica

comment by Unnamed · 2010-10-05T20:48:57.371Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

-- adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

Is this a piece of traditional deep wisdom that's actually wise?

comment by Alicorn · 2010-10-05T21:46:49.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the local version would be something like, "May my strength as a rationalist give me the ability to discern what I can and cannot change, and the determination to make a desperate effort at the latter when remaining uncertainty allows that this has the highest expected utility."

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T00:07:02.324Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Where leaving out or replacing 'strength as a rationalist' makes the quote a whole lot more appealing to me if nobody else. Heck, even the jargon term 'luminosity' would feel better.)

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-07T04:07:40.164Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was beautiful. :)

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-10-07T10:33:19.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

God grant me the strength to change the things I can,

The intelligence to know what I can change,

And the rationality to realize that God isn't the key figure here.

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-07T18:47:57.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cute, but you just undermined "strength" :)

comment by Unnamed · 2010-10-06T02:00:55.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I like about the serenity prayer (at least the way I interpret it) is that it puts the priority on changing things; serenity is just a second-best option for things that are unchangeable.

In that respect, it's like a transhumanist slogan. With something like life extension, I want to point to the serenity prayer and say we can change this, which means we need to have the courage to change. Death at the end of the current lifespan isn't something that we should serenely accept because we can change it. The serenity prayer calls for courage and action to follow through and make those changes.

Part of the difficulty is that the wisdom to know the difference also requires the wisdom to change your mind. Once people accept that something cannot be changed, then their serenity-producing mechanisms prevent them from reconsidering the evidence and recognizing that maybe it really can (and should) be changed.

If I was going to alter the serenity prayer, that's one thing I'd add. In Alicorn's version, that means the strength as a rationalist to distinguish what I can and cannot change, and to update those categorizations as new evidence arises.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-10-06T04:12:53.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Friends, help me build the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to continually update which is which based on the best available evidence.

comment by arch1 · 2010-10-06T21:15:06.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, how about the wisdom to know whether a thing should be changed in the 1st place?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T00:08:08.658Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A good point... although I would remove the 'should' and instead emphasise the coherence and self awareness to know which things I want.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-06T05:40:04.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it genuinely wise, it contains three related important concepts: 1) You should try to make the world a better place, 2) You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail, 3) in order to succeed at 1 & 2 you need to be able to understand the world around you, a desire, to affect change isn't enough.

The only thing that's missing form it is something about having the insight to distinguish good changes form bad ones.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T00:01:36.230Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You shouldn't waste your effort in attempting 1 in situations when you will almost certainly fail,

Not quite. You want to consider the expected value of the attempt, not the raw probability of success. A 0.1% chance of curing cancer or 'old age' is to be preferred over an 80% chance of winning the X-Factor (particularly given that the latter applies to yourself).

It would definitely be foolish to waste effort attempting something that will certainly fail.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-08T04:25:29.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your qualifications, I was oversimplifying. And the reason I didn't say certainly fail because I try to avoid using the word "certain" unless I'm dealing with purely logical systems.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T04:38:55.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the reason I didn't say certainly fail because I try to avoid using the word "certain" unless I'm dealing with purely logical systems.

A worthy goal. Usually that will prevent you from making claims that are technically wrong despite being inspired by good thinking. This seems to be a rare case where defaulting to not using an absolute introduces the technical problem.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-08T10:46:26.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just an indication that one should avoid absolutes: even an absolute directive to avoid absolutes ;)

comment by soreff · 2010-10-09T17:22:10.025Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that

1) You should try to make the world a better place

is actually implied by the original wording. Clippy could also view

God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

as wise, though in vis case, "the things I cannot change" would be closer to "the resources I am unable to apply to paperclips". One can't expect too much specificity from a 25 word quote... I'm taking your point

The only thing that's missing form it is something about having the insight to distinguish good changes form bad ones.

(which I agree with) as meaning that one should have the insight to distinguish instrumental subgoals that actually will advance one's ultimate goals from subgoals that don't accomplish this. (This is separate from differences in ultimate goals.)

comment by James_K · 2010-10-09T20:42:38.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That all sounds right to me.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T12:58:24.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this a piece of traditional deep wisdom that's actually wise?

Yes.

comment by Scott78704 · 2010-10-06T15:13:12.210Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except for the God grant me part, yeah.

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-07T18:46:36.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Mike Vassar said something like "you should not have preferences over the current states of the world, only over your emotional dispositions". It's a second-hand quote, but seems like a good way of putting it.

comment by Document · 2011-07-10T23:14:14.632Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you sure you don't have his comment backwards?

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-07T20:58:47.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't expect much karma for this, but WTF with the downvote?

comment by gwern · 2010-10-07T23:11:32.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because the quote seems to be endorsing wireheading, which is pretty universally condemned here, and seems of little relevance anyway.

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-08T00:49:06.837Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as the false suspicion of wireheading, I am not sure about the attitudes here, but isn't it just a value? I mean I don't think I am interested in wireheading, but if someone truly thinks it's for them, why would we condemn? I thought the forum is about being rational, not about a specific set of values.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T00:58:39.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As far as the false suspicion of wireheading, I am not sure about the attitudes here, but isn't it just a value? I mean I don't think I am interested in wireheading, but if someone truly thinks it's for them, why would we condemn? I thought the forum is about being rational, not about a specific set of values.

Your point is valid.

Where it does make sense to call another's choice to wirehead a mistake (rather than just a difference in values) is when that person thinks that wireheading is what they want but they are actually mistaken about their own values or how to achieve them.

It is a little counterintuitive but even though values are entirely subjective people are actually not the absolute authority on what their subjective preferences are. Subjective preferences are objective facts in as much as they are represented by the physical state of the universe (particularly that part of the universe that is the person's head). People's beliefs about that part of the universe and the implications thereof can (and often are) wrong. This particularly applies to abstract concepts - we aren't very good at wiring up our abstract beliefs with rest of our desires.

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-08T01:32:02.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is a little counterintuitive but even though values are entirely subjective people are actually not the absolute authority on what their subjective preferences are.

Absolutely. In a way we owe this understanding to Freud, he popularized the notion that people do not know what they are really pursuing. Of course he thought they were pursuing sex with their mother...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T02:06:37.022Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely. In a way we owe this understanding to Freud

Could we instead say "this understanding is predated by Freud's popularized notion..."? There is no debt if the concept is arrived at independently and this is a general philosophical point that is not limited to humans specifically while Freud's is proto-psychology.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T23:50:32.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

+(-1)

Did Vassar really say something like that? I didn't think he was, well, silly.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-07T23:59:07.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't either; fortunately, no source has been presented, so I don't need to believe he said that and can postulate that he actually said the opposite or was engaged in criticizing such a position.

comment by LucasSloan · 2010-10-08T00:37:03.024Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can confirm he said something like it. However, what he meant by it was that our emotions should be keyed to how we act, not how the universe is. We should be rewarded for acting to produce the best outcome possible. We don't control what the universe is, just our actions, so we shouldn't be made to feel bad (or good) because of something we couldn't control. For example, if we imagine a situation where 10 people were going to die, but you managed to save 5 of them, your emotional state shouldn't be sad, because they should reward the fact that you saved 5 people. Equivalently, you shouldn't really be all that happy that a thousand people get something that makes them really happy when your actions reduced the number of people who received whatever it is by 500. Just because the people are better off you shouldn't be emotionally rewarded, because you reduced the number who would be happy. If the best you can make the universe is horrible you shouldn't be depressed about it, because it isn't good to increase the amount of disutility in the universe and doesn't incentivize acting to bring the best situation about. Conversely, if the worse you can do is pretty damn good, you shouldn't be happy about it, because you shouldn't incentivize leaving utility on the table. Basically, it's an endorsement of virtue ethics for human-type minds.

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-08T00:47:45.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, that is a deeper understanding than I got from it second - hand (though I did not think it meant wireheading). I understood it to warn having and reacting to false sense of control, which I often see, "accepting that there are (many) things you cannot change".

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T00:51:18.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Equivalently, you shouldn't really be all that happy that a thousand people get something that makes them really happy when your actions reduced the number of people who received whatever it is by 500.

I've got no problem with being happy that a thousand people get a bunch of utility (assuming they are people for whom I have altruistic interest). I would not be glad about the fact that I somehow screwed up (or was unlucky) and prevented even more altruistic goodies but I could be glad (happy) that some action of mine or external cause resulted in the boon for the 1,000.

I have neither the need nor desire to rewire my emotions such that I could unload a can of Skinner on my ass.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-05T19:02:24.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

-- Bertrand Russell

(Quoted, in Italian translation, on p. 174 of Amanda Knox's appeal brief.)

comment by Alicorn · 2010-10-05T20:15:24.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why does something called a "brief" have 174-plus pages?

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-10-06T04:14:18.463Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

brief (n.) from L. breve (gen. brevis), noun derivative of L. adj. brevis (see brief (adj.)) which came to mean "letter, summary" (specifically a letter of the pope, less ample and solemn than a bull), and came to mean "letter of authority," which yielded the modern, legal sense of "summary of the facts of a case" (1630s). The verb meaning "to give instructions or information to" (1866) was originally "to instruct by a brief" (1862); hence briefing, first attested 1910 but popularized by WWII pre-flight conferences.

[Dictionary.com]

As a member of the legal profession, all I have to add is that "summary of the facts of the case" isn't quite right; better would be "summary of the law that applies to the facts of the case." The term passed from ecclesiastical law to civil law because the applicable civil law is an authority on what a judge should do in much the same way that a papal proclamation was thought of as an authority on what Catholics should do.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T10:41:40.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just got the urge to paraphrase Duke Leto Atreides: "A rationalist lawyer would be formidable indeed."

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-10-06T13:34:45.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Flattery will get you everywhere.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-06T05:36:49.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting; thanks.

In the Italian system, as I understand it, the first level of appeal remains concerned with the facts of the case, in addition to the applicable law -- so "summary of the facts of the case" would actually be more appropriate than usual here. (Although the most informative description is probably just "critique of the lower court's ruling".)

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-05T20:34:35.463Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ha -- you'd have to ask a member of the legal profession. (No doubt you could think of a few other questions while you were at it.)

In fairness, however, the document is actually called an atto di appello (literally "act of appeal"). I probably should have just translated it as "appeal document" rather than trying to show off my cursory familiarity with (anglophone) legal terminology.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2010-10-07T19:07:18.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A neighbor came to Nasrudin, asking to borrow his donkey. "It is out on loan," the teacher replied. At that moment, the donkey brayed loudly inside the stable. "But I can hear it bray, over there." "Whom do you believe," asked Nasrudin, "me or a donkey?"

-- old Sufi parable

comment by Vladimir_M · 2010-10-06T22:49:54.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Prompted by the discussion of Sam Harris's idea that science should provide for a universal moral code, I thought of this suitable reply given long ago:

[The] doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine [would] have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

(It also provides for some interesting perspective on the current epistemological state of various academic fields that are taken seriously as a source of guidance for government policy.)

comment by torekp · 2010-10-17T01:15:22.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The continuing controversy over well-established facts of evolution, even though the threat they pose to religious leaders' dominion is very indirect, would seem to prove Hobbes right.

comment by RolfAndreassen · 2010-10-05T18:09:40.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. All else is bookkeeping.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-05T23:02:30.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, how about...

Beliefs are justified by their Solomonoff-nature. That is the core of Bayesianism. Science is bookkeeping.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T10:51:05.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It bothers me that "bookkeeping" is given a disparaging tone.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T17:46:16.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's because it's easy to misvalue assets if you're disconnected from the production process. So when you have specialized bookkeepers, others will typcially see them as ignorant of the true value of the assets, and associate this with bookkeeping per se, rather than bookkeeping with a screwy incentive structure and/or knowledge flows. Because this is the context in which most people interface with accountants, they tend to be associated with misvaluing assets. And thus:

"Beancounters didn't think a soldier's life was worth 300 [thousand dollars]." -- Batman Begins

Edit: Sorry, I forgot to translate all that: P(observe "accountant" | believe accountant misvalued assets) > P(observe "accountant" | ~believe accountant misvalued assets)

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T18:01:07.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...

...

...reason #7 I love LessWrong: when they want to improve audience comprehension, people have to translate from English to mathematical formulas instead of the reverse.

comment by RomanDavis · 2010-10-06T19:50:14.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I could just recruit another equally capabler soldier for $ 299,000 or less with no ill consequences, then this seems like a shut up and multiply situation that accountants are trained for.

Hell, from a utilitarian perspective, if I saved a single soldier with that money instead of feeding and housing let's say, 300 African children for 10 years, then I made a stupid decision.

I think the accountant got things just about right.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T19:58:23.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point, bad example -- that's probably a case where accountants have the best knowledge of the costs of losing a soldier, and the generals are best capable of communicating it. The military also provides a certain payout to the family for a death.

Still, I find it hard to believe that there aren't some US soldiers for which it's worth spending 300k for the level of protection that a high-tech kevlar bodysuit provides. Special Forces goes to pretty insane lengths to provide protection, although perhaps the $300k unit cost would only be with a bulk discount, etc.

(Of course, it's fictional evidence anyway...)

comment by RomanDavis · 2010-10-06T20:14:36.839Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Usually military personnel who have received expensive enough training to justify that are called officers, but there are definitely some exceptions. I wouldn't disagree.

And, now that you mention it, I could imagine the pay out being expensive enough that not paying the money would flatly irrational, but I don't know the number.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T20:28:30.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't either, but the most it could save would be the soldier's life value times the current risk of death (i.e. assume the bodysuit prevents all deaths), not the full life value. And, although Lucius Fox is potrayed as a smart man, the context makes it seem like he was comparing $300k to the cost of a life, without adjusting for the chance that it would actually save the life.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-06T21:56:42.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Usually military personnel who have received expensive enough training to justify that are called officers, but there are definitely some exceptions.

That isn't a counterargument. "Officer" is a (category of) rank, not a job description. A whole lot of actual military "action" work is in fact performed by officers, particularly if it involves high levels of skill. (For example, pilots are usually officers.)

comment by RomanDavis · 2010-10-06T22:11:13.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, they are. But I've never heard a pilot called a soldier. This goes for most jobs performed by people in the O Ranks.

I am using Soldier to be interchangeable with Enlisted Man since I've seen and heard it used that way myself.

I assumed it was used that way in context, but maybe it wasn't.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-06T23:07:32.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, "soldier", at least in U.S. military jargon, means "member of the Army" (as opposed to the other services). The Army chief-of-staff, a four-star general, will refer to themselves as a "soldier".

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-06T17:56:30.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is very insightful. Upvoted.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-06T13:20:42.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never met an accountant I didn't like. The nice thing about bookkeeping is that you have to make your sums come out right.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T16:37:16.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never met an accountant I didn't like.

Nor have I. (But I haven't met enough accountants for this to mean much either way.)

I also thoroughly approve of all kinds of bookkeeping, related to science or otherwise. In particular I praise anyone else who takes care of it (so that I don't have to!)

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T12:52:07.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps because it is easy to ritualize bookkeeping? I think to remember that is to keep within the spirit of the twelfth virtue, the void.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T20:18:21.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see it as disparaging because I regard it as something a computer ought to be doing. If a human is doing bookkeeping and they aren't doing it for a reason like 'to practice' or 'to understand better', then something is very wrong.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T20:26:30.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just because something is a job for computers does not mean that it's not a critical job.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T20:47:22.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maintaining a nuclear core at a constant temperature is a very critical job, but I would regard as a dystopia any world where all cores are so maintained by a human and not a microcontroller.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T20:53:06.963Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We are in agreement on that. My point is that the quote "everything else [in scientific rigor] is bookkeeping" conveys the idea that it's not important, not that it isn't a human's job.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T16:35:46.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Testing" needs to be replaced with a new term if you are moving to that level.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-10-06T16:37:45.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Changed to 'justified' 'cuz that's the first thing that came to mind...

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T17:11:37.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That works. I was tossing up "evaluated" or "weighed" but nothing sprung to mind that was a clear winner.

comment by Morendil · 2010-10-05T11:40:36.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The suggestion that designers should record their wrong decisions, to avoid having them repeated, met the following response: (McClure:) "Confession is good for the soul..." (d’Agapeyeff:) "...but bad for your career."

-- Proceedings of the 1968 NATO Conference on Software Engineering

comment by apophenia · 2010-10-09T23:54:34.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Because this is the Internet, every argument was spun in a centrifuge instantly and reduced down into two wholly enraged, radically incompatible contingents, as opposed to the natural gradient which human beings actually occupy." -Tycho, Penny Arcade

comment by tim · 2010-10-06T04:57:36.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it's just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture "This is a pipe," I'd have been lying!

-- René Magritte, on his painting The Treachery of Images depicting a pipe with "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" ("This is not a pipe") written under it

comment by xamdam · 2010-10-15T12:03:34.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

AI makes philosophy honest

-- Dan Dennet

comment by Rain · 2010-10-12T00:18:52.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can't figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don't have to know an answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn't frighten me.

-- Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-06T22:53:08.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Elphaba, where I'm from, we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - "history."

A man's called a traitor - or liberator.

A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist.

Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?

It's all in which label is able to persist.

There are precious few at ease, with moral ambiguities. So we act as though they don't exist.

  • The Wizard of Oz, during the song Wonderful from Wicked
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-05T14:34:03.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is required is less advice and more information. – Gerald M. Reaven

Found at The Healthy Skeptic.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-05T17:05:54.645Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cited here as appearing in Reaven GM, "Effect of dietary carbohydrate on the metabolism of patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus." Nutr Rev 1986 , 44(2):65-73.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T12:30:08.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you state any two propositions abstractly enough, they will appear to be the same because you subsume them under the same generalization. But this does not mean they have anything to do with each other; it means only that you prefer not to see the differences.

William T. Powers

comment by James_Miller · 2010-10-05T13:49:30.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand the first sentence.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T14:04:33.154Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Proposition 1: All matter is composed of four elements: earth, water, air, and, fire, each having an unchanging essence, and the variety of the world resulting from their combinations.

Proposition 2: All matter is composed of about 90 elements (the cutoff depending on how many of the more unstable ones one counts), most of which are created out of hydrogen and helium in stars and their supernovas, and which, in combination, give rise to the different material substances we observe.

More abstract proposition that ignores the differences: all matter is composed of fundamental elements.

Erroneous conclusion: the ancients knew modern science!

Proposition 1: Six thousand years ago, God created the world in six days.

Proposition 2: Everything started with the Big Bang some billions of years ago.

Abstract proposition: The universe had a beginning.

Erroneous conclusion: God created the universe. Scientists just call it the Big Bang because they don't want to admit it was God.

ETA: Further example: anyone saying that all religions are fundamentally the same.

ETA: Proposition 1: Here is a hammer. It drives nails.

Proposition 2: Here is a screwdriver. It drives screws.

Abstract proposition: Here is a tool. It drives spiky metal fasteners.

Erroneous conclusion: A Manchester screwdriver.

comment by DanielVarga · 2010-10-05T16:10:30.691Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your explanation was way better than your quote.

comment by bbleeker · 2010-10-06T13:47:03.109Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! I get it now.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T14:19:18.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ETA: Further example: anyone saying that all religions are fundamentally the same.

comment by bbleeker · 2010-10-05T15:11:11.257Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voted up, because I don't understand that sentence either. Could someone explain it, with an example if possible?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-05T16:57:22.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reference class tennis.

comment by Thomas · 2010-10-20T11:45:29.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Truth does not demand belief. Scientists do not join hands every Sunday, singing 'Yes, gravity is real! I will have faith! I will be strong! I believe in my heart that what goes up, up, up must come down, down, down. Amen!' If they did, we would think they were pretty insecure about it.

  • Dan Barker
comment by ata · 2010-10-13T18:11:19.160Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

— Timothy Leary

comment by gwern · 2010-10-24T23:58:59.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The conversation eventually turned to the fact that Palanpur farmers sow their winter crops several weeks after the date at which yields would be maximized. The farmers do not doubt that earlier planting would give them larger harvests, but no one, the farmer explained, is willing to be the first to plant, as the seeds on any lone plot would be quickly eaten by birds.
I asked if a large group of farmers, perhaps relatives, had ever agreed to sow earlier, all planting on the same day to minimize the losses. 'If we knew how to do that,” he said, looking up from his hoe at me, "we would not be poor.'"

--Microeconomics, pg 39, Samuel Bowles

comment by ata · 2010-10-13T02:51:06.977Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ralph: When's Bart coming back?
Lisa: He's not. He thought he was better than the laws of probability. Anyone else think he's better than the laws of probability?
(Nelson raises his hand.)
Lisa: Well, you're not!

— The Simpsons, Season 22, Episode 3, "MoneyBART"

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T14:56:53.691Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A real-world example of Parfit's Hitchhiker was prominently in the news recently, about firefighters that watched a guy's house burn down because didn't buy a subscription, even though he offered to pay when they arrived at the scene (which I assume means with all the penalties for serving a non-member, etc.). The parallel to PH became clear from this exchange with a writer on Salon:

Yes, he offered to pay, while his house burned. I can’t prove what would have happened, but the FD would probably have had to sue him to gain full reimbursement. ...

A man whose house is on fire will say anything to a guy with the means to put the fire out -- best not to trust him, unless you can get it in writing.

Obviously, this doesn't carry over the "perfect predictor" aspect, but I'm guessing the FD's decision maker could do much better than chance in guessing whether they'd be able to recover the money -- and the homeowner suffered as a result of not being able to credibly tell the FD (which, of course, has its own subjunctive decision-theoretic concerns about "if I put out the fires of non-payers when they ...") that he would pay later.

(Sorry if this has been posted already, and let me know if this belongs somewhere else like the new discussion forum.)

Update: Okay, it looks like details are in dispute -- by some accounts, he wasn't offering the penalty rate, and people dispute whether the nonpayment was deliberate or an oversight (and the evidence strongly favors the former). "You'll say anything", indeed.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2010-10-06T15:15:35.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I assumed that the firefighters didn't accept the offer to pay them on the spot because that would send the signal to all the other houseowners that they could skip the regular fire department fee and then make an emergency payment when their house catches fire.

comment by SilasBarta · 2010-10-06T15:34:30.418Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, but that wouldn't be a free ride if the emergency payment were high enough -- the guy wasn't saying, "okay, fine, I'll pay this year's subscription fee -- now will you put out the fire?" He was offering the higher amount (which isn't credible, because the court wouldn't enforce it because if your house is burning, you'll lie, knowing you won't pay, because the court won't enforce ...).

(Long ago, I had this image in my mind of a rude, doesn't-get-it guy who didn't buy car insurance, didn't understand car insurance, and then when his car was wrecked, visits an insurance company, expecting a payout. When they don't pay out, he sighs and says, "Fine, how much is a month of coverage? There -- there you go. NOW will you pay for my car?"

That's not what's going on here.)

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T15:57:50.638Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiple paragraph parenthesising - nice!

An analogy that fits better is that of simple gym membership. "I haven't paid a gym membership for this year but I really want to go to the gym today. How much do you charge?" There is no particularly good reason why the fire putting out service must be a subscription service or insurance model.

The ambulance service, at least the one we have here, seems to be practical. You can get a membership. If you don't have one then when you wake up in hospital you'll have a bill to pay. If you needed a helicopter rescue it'll be a big bill.

comment by rastilin · 2010-10-10T05:20:11.509Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been told that the cost of deploying the fire department runs into several thousand; this would be a pretty nasty invoice to get in addition to fire damage. The insurance model makes it easier to pay.

Also, in that specific incidence, it wasn't their fire-department. The township was getting fire services from the next station over; not their own. They had to pay monthly fees for this, so without a monthly payment, they wouldn't be convincing those guys to maintain service.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-06T15:16:30.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow. I just felt a surge of patriotism. I had no idea that sort of system was in place in any first world country. I'm sure it's all Right, True, and Capitalistic but I must say I prefer the system here.

In fact, in rural areas (where I grew up) most firefighters are actually volunteers. Those that I knew considered the drastic enhancement to sexual attractiveness to be more than enough payment. ;)

comment by James_K · 2010-10-07T08:13:42.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a government-run fire station, so it's not all that capitalistic.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-07T08:35:07.569Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Going for a 'worst of both worlds' approach it would seem. ;)

If you are going to make fire fighting a pay for individual service system instead of a cooperation problem handled by central authority and taxation then you may as well at least get the efficiency benefits of competition in private industry. In fact a completely capitalistic organisation with no interest in public welfare would probably not have had a problem like we see in this instance. The organisation would have set up payment contingencies such that they can sell their services at a penalty rate to those who didn't buy according to the preferred subscription/insurance model.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-08T04:20:14.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some strange reason a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp ( I would consider their health insurance system as an example). As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.

comment by wnoise · 2010-10-08T05:47:13.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I'm not an American I don't know why this is the case.

Neither do Americans.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-08T14:51:27.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Neither do Americans.

Sure we do. It's all the other party's fault.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-08T15:23:46.806Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sure we do. It's all the other party's fault.

I agree with this statement. Either extreme would probably be better than what we actually ended up with.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2010-10-08T18:23:32.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

a lot of US policy in particular seems to fall into the "worst of both worlds" camp

Could you give other examples? I certainly accept health insurance and this particular fire department, but I don't think it is a representative fire department. Is the common theme the word "insurance"?

comment by orangecat · 2010-10-09T04:19:56.555Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Too big to fail" banks: they profit when their gambles pay off, we bail them out when they don't. Also arguably telecommunications carriers that have quasi-natural quasi-monopolies.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-09T06:07:20.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd go along with both of those examples (though the US has a history of corporate bailouts that extends far beyond current events). Also rent control (it has significant perverse effects on rental markets and often hurts the poor).

That's not to say other countries don't have their problems, I don't think the US is a uniquely bad policy maker, but there is something about the way the US government makes policy that seems to want to have its cake and eat it too. When they try that it usually doesn't end well.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-08T04:40:05.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would consider their health insurance system as an example

What little I know of that system scares me.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-08T10:52:31.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm an economist and it makes no sense to me at all. It seems almost like someone carefully identified the efforts insurance markets make to mitigate the failures in health markets and then crippled them. I actually have trouble convincing some of my colleagues that I'm serious when I describe the regulatory structure.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-08T16:17:11.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you expand on the specific details of what went wrong?

comment by James_K · 2010-10-08T19:24:58.044Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The essential problem is the way health insurance works in the US. The basic function of insurance is to protect people from strongly adverse events that would put them into financial distress. Insurance companies have to charge more than an actuarially fair rate for insurance in order to make a profit. This means that it is inefficient to run small or high probability expenses through an insurance scheme. The only reason this happens in the US is the tax deductibility of insurance and the mandates on coverage in some states. This turns health insurance into an inefficient health savings scheme.

Furthermore community rating produces very adverse outcomes. By preventing insurance companies from pricing insurance policies at a different rate for each customer (thus creating an expected profit from each customer), the insurance company has an incentive to refuse cover to high risk people (i.e. those that need insurance the most) or drive them away by making their life a misery every time they try to lodge a claim. To the extent they can't do this it drives low risk people out of the market, which leave them exposed if they suddenly need emergency health care (this is especially problematic since low risk people are generally young and therefore have little savings) and insurance companies have to raise premiums further to make up for the loss of the highly profitable young people.

My advice to the US government would be to end community rating, guaranteed issue and mandated coverage. I would suggest eliminating the tax deductibility of insurance (or failing that, make putting money into a Health Savings Account tax deductible). Medicare and Medicaid should be discontinued and replaced with a system of income support where poor or unusually sick people would receive extra money in a health savings account that could be spent on healthcare or health insurance. If you have to include old people in the scheme explicitly to make it politically possible, that would be OK as a second-best solution.

The basic principle in this is to let market mechanisms work in the absence of a clear market failure and then deal with people who can't afford vital services by helping them directly. To what extent you provide that help is a terminal values question so I won't venture an opinion here, but however much or little you want to help, this system should result in cheaper insurance for most people and essential coverage for the poor or those in need of extraordinary levels of health care. It should also arrest the escalating health costs of the US government.

comment by jimrandomh · 2010-10-08T19:45:28.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This idea seems to involve people negotiating their health care expenses with providers directly, which doesn't work. Or rather, it only works for the routine expenses, and not the unexpected ones. Some fraction of health care decisions are made under conditions that are literally "buy this or die", and a large fraction of the remainder are made by people who are in no condition to negotiate, so either some form of collective bargaining, or else direct regulation of prices, is required.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-09T06:01:17.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not at all. Emergency care is precisely the sort of thing that should be covered by insurance. Equally, there's no reason why the providers of health savings accounts couldn't negotiate rates for their members, if that's a valuable service (in fact many insurance companies offer HSAs at the moment. Though I wouldn't object to the US government forcing hospitals to be more transparent about their pricing.

comment by komponisto · 2010-10-08T13:33:11.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow. I just felt a surge of patriotism. I had no idea that sort of system was in place in any first world country. I'm sure it's all Right, True, and Capitalistic but I must say I prefer the system here.

It is very likely that this is an issue of a particular locality and that plenty of places in the U.S. are sane about matters like this. (You'll also note that it made the news, suggesting people may not have realized this kind of thing was possible.)

From what I know, it's utterly common for several different fire departments to respond to a single call that happens to be near, even if not in, their specific jurisdictions, and I was utterly shocked to read this story.

comment by humpolec · 2010-10-09T22:54:05.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see here a Newcomb-like situation, but in the reverse direction - the fire department didn't help the guy out to counterfactually make him pay his $75.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-15T17:32:03.627Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no point in saying that one should not doubt or one should believe. Just to say 'I believe' does not mean that you understand and see. When a student works on a mathematical problem, he comes to a stage beyond which he does not know how to proceed, and where he is in doubt and perplexity. As long as he has this doubt, he cannot proceed. If he wants to proceed, he must resolve this doubt. And there are ways of resolving that doubt. Just to say 'I believe', or 'I do not doubt' will certainly not solve the problem. To force oneself to believe and to accept a thing without understanding is political, and not spiritual or intellectual.

Walpola Rahula

comment by gwern · 2010-10-25T00:02:12.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Persist, and faith will come to you."

--Jean le Rond d'Alembert on infinitesimals (as quoted in Mathematics: the loss of certainty, by Morris Kline)

comment by mtaran · 2010-10-09T03:23:00.765Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From a hacker news thread on the difficulty of finding or making food that's fast, cheap and healthy.

"Former poet laureate of the US, Charles Simic says, the secret to happiness begins with learning how to cook." -- pfarrell

Reply: "Well, I'm sure there's some economics laureate out there who says that the secret to efficiency begins with comparative advantage." -- Eliezer Yudkowsky

comment by gwern · 2010-10-13T18:12:43.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand this one. A poetry guy says something practical (and completely unrelated to poetry) is a valuable thing, and Eliezer replies that an economics guy would say something about economics?

The message eludes me.

comment by whpearson · 2010-10-13T19:00:04.586Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My take: Comparative advantage as I understand it is about specializing and being better off for it (in simplistic terms).

So Eliezer is hinting that you should become good at thing X where X isn't cooking and pay for someone who has specialized in cooking to cook for you, and you'll both be better off.

Edit: I think he phrased it in the way (Economics laureate etc) as parody and to highlight the appeal to authority in the original (why should a poet laureate, no more than a normal poet or any other person what the secret to happiness was).

</ humour destruction through explanation>

comment by gwern · 2010-10-13T19:27:59.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That seems possible... but I don't like the disconnect between the poetry guy talking about increasing happiness and the economics guy talking about increasing efficiency, with no connection given. They aren't the same thing at all, and I'm sure Eliezer understands that better than either of us.

comment by roland · 2010-10-31T00:03:49.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just saw this. I figured out a food with said qualities: chicken.

1) cheap and healthy 2) fast to prepare if you do it my way: buy chicken hips. wash them and put them into a pan with water, cook for 18 minutes. Eat.

They don't taste that good but you can't beat the price and convenience.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2010-10-13T15:21:41.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

thanks, but no quoting LWers in this post

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-13T15:58:32.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But the quote is from a hacker news thread, isn't it? Would we want to stop quoting Dennett's books if he became a regular here?

comment by Fleisch · 2010-10-13T19:58:07.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably not, but you wouldn't (need to) quote what he wrote here.

EDIT: Or rather, what he's writing since he's here, unless it's still novel to LW.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2010-10-07T19:08:15.446Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The line between genius and insanity is measured only by success

-- unknown

comment by Apprentice · 2010-10-09T10:04:35.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Compare:

Only the insane have strength enough to prosper. Only those that prosper may truly judge what is sane.

comment by Leonhart · 2010-10-11T23:32:10.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Therefore, one-box. FOR THE EMPEROR.

comment by katydee · 2010-10-09T20:50:27.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Generally speaking, Warhammer 40k probably isn't a good source for philosophy.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-09T22:28:08.018Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I rate it above Decartes.

comment by bojangles · 2010-10-11T04:09:27.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

above "invented analytic geometry" Descartes or just above meditations descartes?

comment by gwern · 2010-10-12T01:37:19.455Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least in fiction (quoted approvingly in the past by our glorious leader), Warhammer is great for instrumental rationality...

comment by DSimon · 2010-10-05T14:21:30.167Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dexter: Dee Dee! I'm confused...

Dee Dee: Good!

Dexter's Laboratory

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-24T05:46:51.280Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Marijuana is death on writers. I’ve seen several go that route. Typical behavior for a long time marijuana user is as follows. He gets a story idea. He tells his friends about it, and they think it’s wonderful. He then feels as if he’s written it, published it, cashed the check and collected the awards. So he never bothers to write it down.

Alcohol can have the same effect.

-- Larry Niven

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2010-10-24T06:58:04.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am momentarily breaking hiatus specifically to say that you don't even need marijuana or alcohol to suffer from this. The normal human capacity for self-delusion and need for self-esteem are more than deadly enough all by themselves.

Personally, I'm still struggling to accept this lesson: that it's not enough to be a smart person who has good ideas; you need to do something that actually works. It is, in its own way, a highly counterintuitive idea, much like this notion that plausibility isn't enough, and beliefs should actually predict experimental results. I keep wanting to protest that I was morally right. Well, say that I was. In order for that moral rightness to change anything, I still need a method that really actually works, not just morally works.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2010-10-24T10:10:43.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there are legitimate questions about the advisability of marijuana, but this is a claim for which counterexamples are plentiful. Alan Moore springs to mind.

OTOH "you only tell your story once so do it on paper" is also in Dorothea Brandt's "Becoming a Writer".

comment by Relsqui · 2010-10-24T08:15:05.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Funny, I got the same advice sans drugs about NaNoWriMo a while back, and was just passing it on recently to someone else. The way it was put to me, though, was that "you can only tell your story once." Not literally, of course--you can relate what happens in it more than once--but you can only really tell it and put your heart into it once. Don't waste it talking to your friends about the idea. Get it on paper the way you feel it. Then tell your friends the lesser version afterwards, or just wait and let them read what you wrote down.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T12:39:14.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My philosophy requires me to believe in the things I can see as well as those I can't see. When any faith contradicts truths that are plainly visible through the window, I believe it invalidates itself.

Serion Ironcroft

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-05T12:58:38.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That philosophy is not Psyclobin Complete. :)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T14:17:05.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No philosophy survives sticking a crowbar into your own brain.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-05T14:38:15.761Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know - Philip K. Dick seemed to do all right. And I heard of at least one schizophrenic who tried to record the voices in her head on a tape and figured out they weren't real that way.

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-05T14:40:02.583Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm... The complaint was that Psyclobin (for example, amongst other everyday occurrences) causes one to see things that you should not believe in. I'm not sure where the analogy holds with a crowbar, or else what point you were trying to make.

The philosophy does not survive in the sense that it is instantiated in ones brain and the brain has been destroyed. But the crowbar experiment does not thus show that the beliefs thus destroyed are false.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2010-10-05T15:08:25.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The crowbar was a metaphor for psilocybin and the like.

I mean, yes, you can have hallucinations that you take for real and are mistaken to believe. But, y'know, there is such a thing as healthy mental functioning, and a real world that we are able to grope towards some fallible understanding of. There's a baseline of rationality that you have to have reached in order to progress to any higher level, but it isn't very high: anyone who hasn't suffered grievous insults to the brain is already there.

Anyway, it's interesting to see this quote at -2, while the George Carlin quote is at +2 although it says the same thing. Surely on LessWrong people aren't merely voting up witty words, and nitpicking anything expressed more plainly?

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-05T15:14:25.820Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your quote seems to state, "Believe everything you see", on a site where people would often agree "Don't believe everything you think". Carlin does not seem to be making the same sort of claim.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T19:47:23.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Shouldn't you believe you see everything you see?

If you want to then make wild inferences like 'there is an imperceptible separate "matter" or "object" which "causes" these sights on past and future occasions and which continues to exist between them unobserved, and every sight has a corresponding "matter" or "object"', well, that's not Ironcroft's problem.

comment by cousin_it · 2010-11-01T13:40:05.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He was at once a man of thought and a man of action - a combination as rare as it is usually deplorable. The man of action in him might have gone far had he not been ruined at the outset by the man of thought.

-- Rafael Sabatini, "The Sea-hawk"

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-25T15:18:39.531Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not want to itemize the various fallacies that are commonly offered in seeking to justify cooperation in the Prisoner's Dilemma. In brief, they mostly proceed by arguing that the Prisoner's Dilemma is really some other game in which cooperation is not irrational. Game Theorists do not object to some other game being analyzed: only to the analysis of some other game being offered as an analysis of the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Ken Binsmore - in a critique of Gauthier's "Morals by Agreement"

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-13T17:42:11.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who knows truly? Who here will declare whence it arose, whence this creation? The gods are subsequent to the creation of this. Who, then, knows whence it has come into being?

Whence this creation has come into being; whether it was made or not; he in the highest heaven is its surveyor. Surely he knows, or perhaps he knows not.

Not sure if this will qualify as a rationalist quote, but these are the last few lines from the Creation Hymn in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Hindu sacred texts & estimated to be composed around 1100 BC. I like the note of uncertainty, rather rare among religious texts.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-13T18:10:10.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In its original, atheist Carvaka writings contained much verse (as Indian philosophy/theology usually does); see http://www.humanistictexts.org/Carvaka.htm In translation, they almost sound like senryū:

 If a beast slain as an offering to the dead
 will itself go to heaven,
 why does the sacrificer not straightway offer his father?
comment by sketerpot · 2010-10-13T20:49:07.737Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reminds me of the doctrine that some Christians have, where anybody who dies before a certain age automatically goes to heaven, while people above that age can go to hell. The question then becomes: why don't parents kill their children, thus saving them from the all-too-likely possibility of eternal torture?

(Fun fact: most people who believe in hell can be made very uncomfortable if you look at the unfortunate implications of what they believe.)

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-10-19T23:28:25.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was once in a debate in which I pursued that point at some length. I don't think most people who believe in Hell find that particular point more difficult to rationalize than most of their other religious beliefs, but I bring it up because it led to a quote which, while only tangentially relating to rationality, strikes me as pretty memorable.

"That seems like an awfully selfish reason not to kill a million babies."

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-20T17:12:44.958Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I once read about a radical Christian sect in the early modern era that would kidnap newborn children, baptise them, and immediately kill them. I'm quite annoyed that I can't seem to remember the source, and particularly whether it was a real or fictional sect.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-11T06:20:51.245Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kids, you tried your best, and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.

-- Homer Simpson

comment by M88 · 2010-10-08T12:39:34.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Freedom is not an immutable fact graven in nature and on the heart of man. It is not inherent in man or in society, and it is meaningless to write it into law. The mathematical, physical, biological, sociological, and psychological sciences reveal nothing but necessities and determinisms on all sides. As a matter of fact, reality consists in overcoming and transcending these determinisms.

...Freedom is not static but dynamic; not a vested interest, but a prize continually to be won. The moment man stops and resigns himself, he becomes subject to determinism. He is most enslaved when he thinks he is comfortably settled in freedom.

Jacques Ellul, "The Technological Society"

comment by nhamann · 2010-10-24T19:48:41.086Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it through grandmother or grandfather that you descend from a monkey?

-- Samuel Wilberforce

Would I rather have a miserable ape for a grandfather, or a man highly endowed by nature and possessed of great means and influence, and yet who employs these faculties and that influence for the mere purpose of introducing ridicule into a grave scientific discussion – I unhesitatingly affirm my preference for the ape.

-- T. H. Huxley

From an 1860 Oxford evolution debate (Quoted from Games, Groups and Global Good)

(Interestingly, the author, Robert May, after presenting these quotes, goes onto suggest that "Wilberforce, had he possessed an all-encompassing knowledge of the science of his day, could have won the debate. The Darwin–Wallace theory of evolution, at that time, had three huge problems.")

comment by nhamann · 2010-10-24T20:38:19.531Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh what the heck, here are two of the problems that Robert May spoke of in the above quote:

The first problem concerned the time available for evolutionary processes to operate. Fifty years were to elapse before the first glimmers of awareness of weak and strong nuclear forces were to appear. Of the four fundamental forces recognized by today’s physics, only gravitational and electromagnetic (“chemical”) forces were known in Darwin’s day. But if the sun’s energy source was gravitational, it could not have been burning for more than about 20 million years. And chemical fuels would give an even shorter life. A different calculation showed that it could not have taken more than roughly 20–40 million years for the earth to cool from molten rock to its present temperature. These two calculations meant that either the earth was at most a few tens of millions of years old, or that Victorian physics was fundamentally deficient...Of course, the subsequent discovery of nuclear forces showed Victorian physics was indeed inadequate: the sun burns nuclear fuel; and the heat generated by the decay of radioactive elements inside the earth invalidates simplistic calculations about cooling rates. We now understand that evolutionary processes on earth have all the time they need.

...

The second problem stemmed from the conventional wisdom of the day, namely that inheritance worked by a blending of maternal and paternal characters. The essentials of this issue can be grasped by considering a trait (such as height or weight) that can be described by a single variable.... It is [...] straightforward to show that, with blending inheritance, the variance of this trait in the next generation is halved. But persisting variability is the raw stuff upon which natural selection works to produce descent with modification; it was critical to Darwin’s ideas.... The resolution of this major difficulty lies, of course, in the fact that genes are inherited in particulate Mendelian fashion, not by “blending”. And, as shown in 1908 independently by Hardy and by Weinberg, under Mendelian inheritance variability remains unchanged from generation to generation, unless perturbed by factors such as selection, mutation, statistical drift, or nonrandom mating.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-24T20:05:29.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, now I have to link this DC: http://dresdencodak.com/2009/08/06/youre-a-good-man-charlie-darwin-2/

(Interestingly, the author, Robert May, after presenting these quotes, goes onto suggest that "Wilberforce, had he possessed an all-encompassing knowledge of the science of his day, could have won the debate. The Darwin–Wallace theory of evolution, at that time, had three huge problems.")

Not a surprise at all. Most major new paradigms have huge gaping flaws; this is one of the core theses of Paul Feyerabend's brand of philosophy of science in works like Against Method (eg. look at his analyses of major flaws in Galileo).

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2010-10-24T15:31:28.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I was amazed this was not on the first three pages of a google search of the site.)

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that."

Richard Feynman in cargo cult science.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-24T15:47:31.957Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It has been mentioned several times, including in April '09, but never as a top-level comment on a Rationality Quotes post.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-13T12:15:18.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Whereas the howto is, by definition, addressed to a lay audience, it currently takes an expert on howtos to know which title in the tangled mass will deliver the goods." ---Dwight MacDonald, 1954

Cited here in an article about recalls of dangerously inaccurate how-to books.

comment by Thomas · 2010-10-06T18:51:49.706Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The new man of science must not think that the "inquisition of nature is in any part interdicted or forbidden." Nature must be ... put "in constraint" and "moulded" by the mechanical arts. The "searchers and spies of nature" are to discover "her" plots and secrets.

  • Francis Bacon
comment by simplicio · 2010-10-06T20:57:04.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Great quote, but what's with the quotation marks?

comment by arundelo · 2010-10-06T21:28:59.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looks like this is actually a quote from Carolyn Merchant's The Death of Nature; only the parts in quotation marks are Bacon's words, taken from "The Great Instauration", "The Masculine Birth of Time", and "De Dignitate".

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-07T00:20:10.987Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Confirmed from the linked Amazon.com page by searching the preview for "searchers and spies of nature" (no quotes).

comment by arundelo · 2010-10-07T01:14:15.574Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's exactly what I did! (And looked up the sources in the endnotes.)

comment by Thomas · 2010-10-07T05:14:23.240Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is the very essence of the negation of the environmentalism. Too rational, too heartless quote for many readers of this page.

comment by simplicio · 2010-10-07T14:20:40.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpreted it as a call for experiment, not industry. I could very well be wrong.

comment by XiXiDu · 2010-10-05T13:49:19.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct. Naive falsificationism takes it for granted that the laws of nature are manifest and not hidden beneath disturbances of considerable magnitude. Empiricism takes it for granted that sense experience is a better mirror of the world than pure thought. Praise of argument takes it for granted that the artifices of Reason give better results than the unchecked play of our emotions. Such assumptions may be perfectly plausible and even true. Still, one should occasionally put them to a test. Putting them to a test means that we stop using the methodology associated with them, start doing science in a different way and see what happens. Case studies such as those reported in the preceding chapters show that such tests occur all the time, and that they speak against the universal validity of any rule. All methodologies have their limitations and the only ‘rule’ that survives is ‘anything goes’.

Paul K. Feyerabend [The final chapter of Against Method, 1975]

The virtue which is nameless?

comment by [deleted] · 2010-10-07T04:15:56.845Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, no. In the rest of "Against Method" it's pretty obvious that Feyerabend is saying is that since even our methodologies and standards of evidence are paradigm-dependent, none of them really allow us to objectively connect with reality. As a result, epistemology and science are "anything goes"; any standard of evidence is acceptable no matter what it is. So he's closer to a relativist than a rationalist.

(Edited for clarity)

comment by aausch · 2010-10-27T21:15:04.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm above average in talent, but where I think I excel is psychotic drive. All I need is for somebody to say I can't do something and this crazy switch inside me makes me attack whatever I'm doing. Psychotic drive is where I excel over people that are probably more naturally gifted.

-- Will Smith

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-17T13:27:44.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

....research is after all, asking the universe silly questions and getting silly answers until neither question nor answer are silly any more

From a discussion of authodidacticism which may be of general interest.

comment by utilitymonster · 2010-10-13T13:26:40.653Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some wisdom on warm fuzzies: http://www.pbfcomics.com/?cid=PBF162-Executive_Decision.jpg

[Not a quote, but doesn't seem suitable for a discussion article.]

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-13T13:48:04.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Might this imply that we might still want open threads?

comment by aausch · 2010-10-08T16:30:07.296Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may not be smart enough to debate you point-for-point on this, but I have the feeling about 60% of what you say is crap.

David Letterman, To Bill O'Reilly, in discussion about the supposed War on Christmas, as quoted in "In Letterman appearance, O'Reilly repeated false claim that school changed 'Silent Night' lyrics", Media Matters for America, (2006-01-04) (From Wikiquote)

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-09T23:34:13.943Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I imagine this is getting up-voted here in response to the sentiment, and I'm not going to vote it down. But this approach is more often used by deists against rationalists, and the next step is book-burning.

comment by aausch · 2010-10-13T20:25:13.936Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This quote, for me, shows two ideas: The I defy the data that khafra mentions below, as well as, on Letterman's side, an ability to accurately detect bs and dismiss it without having spent significant resources on formal debate. That ability seems incredibly useful to me, and definitely worth cultivating.

I associate the second idea with the Prior Information Chapter of HPMoR

comment by wedrifid · 2010-10-09T23:45:39.116Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do deists really go around telling people how unintelligent they are? Around here they tend to be insecure about their intelligence and try hard to act smart. But the intellectual status of religious belief is something that varies by culture.

comment by khafra · 2010-10-13T16:15:00.829Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I saw it as a real-life example of I defy the data.

comment by James_Miller · 2010-10-05T13:26:40.752Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"[H]e who commands thirty legions is the most learned of all"
Favorinus explaining why he admitted that Emperor Hadrian had won their debate.

"Won't you stop citing laws to us who have our swords by our sides?" Pompey

comment by James_Miller · 2010-10-05T13:45:47.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The second quote explains why even in the United States you shouldn't argue over law with a police officer who is questioning you in a situation in which non-police officers are not observing you.

Pompey probably wasn't threatening but rather was pointing out stupidity.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-06T10:59:05.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect Plutarch stole the second quote from Cicero (Silent enim leges inter arma, "for among weapons laws fall silent") before shoving it in Pompey's mouth.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-10-06T04:20:39.812Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even here, this quote should not be presented with commentary. Some of the greatest tragedies of human history happened because people who commanded thirty legions through luck, birth, or narrow political talents believed that they were the most learned of all and insisted that others act accordingly.

Might does not make right (justice); still less does it make right (wisdom/truth).

comment by James_Miller · 2010-10-05T13:42:19.307Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The value of the first quote to a rationalist comes from understanding that the sentiment behind it has distorted the words of many writers. Favorinus probably believed that Hadrian would not have punished him had he not stated that he lost the debate.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-10-31T12:00:42.037Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted." --Sir Francis Bacon

From a TED talk about the remarkable low cost inventions being developed in India

comment by gwern · 2010-10-29T21:08:23.887Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"...It is a severe prescription. And yet now, as I grin broadly and wave to the gawkers, it occurs to me that the cold rationality of his approach may be only a surface feature and that, when linked to genuine rewards, even the chilliest of systems can have a certain visceral appeal.
By projecting the achievement of extreme memory back along the forgetting curve, by provably linking the distant future — when we will know so much — to the few minutes we devote to studying today, Wozniak has found a way to condition his temperament along with his memory. He is making the future noticeable. He is trying not just to learn many things but to warm the process of learning itself with a draft of utopian ecstasy."

--Gary Wolf in Wired, "Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm", of Piotr Woźniak and his SuperMemo program which exploits spaced repetition for efficient memorization/learning

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-25T15:06:16.798Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[W]hat theory of morals can ever serve any useful purpose, unless it can show, by a particular detail, that all the duties, which it recommends, are also the true interest of each individual?

Hume - An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-08T17:21:55.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions] Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?a Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service? Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription? Bernard Woolley: Yes. [does a double-take] Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

  • Yes, Prime Minister (ep. "The Ministerial Broadcast")
comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-08T17:20:29.314Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions]

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service? Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions. [survey two] Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will? Bernard Woolley: Yes. Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription? Bernard Woolley: Yes. [does a double-take] Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

  • Yes, Prime Minister (ep. "The Ministerial Broadcast")
comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-08T03:16:26.307Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The meaning of life, as explained by a 12-year-old girl.

(The visuals are required to get the joke.)

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-08T16:15:34.797Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see any rationality there, but the site seems a good resource for practising German. (Bilingual webcomic = bite-sized parts, usually fairly simple sentences, pictures provide hints, if still updated it becomes a regular exercise)

comment by Perplexed · 2010-10-05T21:27:42.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If capitalism is the evolutionary engine that leads to AI, then the advent AI cannot be separated from the larger economic consequences of AI. In my judgment, the single most realistic way to design God-AI that is friendly is to evolve such AI directly out the economy that succeeds human capitalism, i.e. as an economic servant to human needs. While this is not a guarantee of friendly AI in itself, any attempt to make AI friendly purely on the basis of absolute, unchanging principles is doomed to ultimate failure because this is exactly how human intelligence, at its best, does not work.

Mitchell Heisman, Suicide Note p315

comment by cousin_it · 2010-10-05T23:24:36.965Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding CronoDAS, that's an awful book, but I found one funny sentence in it:

Can the theory of the separation of facts and values be tested empirically?

comment by James_K · 2010-10-06T05:44:53.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is that understanding the economy is probably harder than understanding human intelligence. After all, the global economy is the product of over 6 billion human brains interacting with each other and their environment.

comment by gwern · 2010-10-06T19:42:02.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does 'understanding the economy' mean? Routinely economists point out missed opportunities which the market then exploits (IIRC one of the standard examples was a paper which discovered a small average rise on Mondays), or simple models outperform the economists' predictions of the future.

comment by James_K · 2010-10-07T05:04:53.993Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By "understand", I mean have a sufficiently good model to make high quality predictions about what key economic variables are going to do. And I wouldn't call papers like the one on the Monday effect routine, though they do happen.

comment by CronoDAS · 2010-10-05T23:00:59.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I looked at that site. The guy writes like a crackpot.

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-03T18:03:41.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Specific quote is a bit reminiscent of Social Justice Warriors who oppose capitalism, but see capitalism as being defined by oppression, inequality, and other bad stuff rather than by capital.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-02-03T23:36:20.577Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

... as opposed to Libertarian Warriors who support capitalism, but see capitalism as being defined by freedom of speech, at-will employment, and legalized drugs and prostitution rather than by capital?

(Blue, Green, let's call the whole thing ao.)

comment by ikrase · 2013-02-03T23:46:23.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, kinda.

The Battle for Capitalism has always seemed to be a bit unusual here, though. Especially as it kind of looks like he just did try to make an AI with unchanging principles.

comment by Holla · 2010-10-05T15:48:52.388Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Desire is the essence of man insofar as it is conceived as determined to any action by any one of its modifications."

Baruch Spinoza

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-05T18:33:53.894Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Everything has been said, yet few have taken notice of it. Since all our knowledge is essentially banal, it can only be of value to minds that are not"

Raoul Vaneigem

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-10-05T20:11:52.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm having an extremely hard time understanding this quote. Its premises seem to contradict themselves.

How can a mind be original (not banal) if everything has been said and all knowledge is banal?

Only the set of beliefs that are actually routinely expressed can be considered banal; no matter if someone else has already said something, if it occurs to me organically, then it's probably useful.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-06T18:19:13.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps data is banal and code may be either banal or non-banal.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-10-06T22:16:35.550Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that would be necessary for the quote to make sense. However, I call a mind banal to the extent that its output is.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-06T22:27:42.709Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When evaluating the outputs of an algorithm, we have to consider the interestingness of the outputs under various counterfactuals. Otherwise, all game-theoretic agents are equivalent to either Cooperation Rock or Defection Rock, and all probabilities are either 0 or 1. And once you're specifying outputs as a complete truth-table, you're effectively specifying the algorithm.

To give a concrete example, I consider the server running lesswrong.com to be a banal mind, because it performs little computation of interest itself, even though when messages are sent from it to my computer those messages often contain very interesting ideas.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2010-10-07T20:00:01.433Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see your point. I was presuming a human mind w/ the typical range of experiences available to it.

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-09T23:17:00.445Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The interesting thing about minds is that they are able to produce interesting conjunctions of and inferences from, seemingly unrelated data/experiences. Minds appear to be more than the sum of their experiences. This ability appears to defy the best efforts of coders to parallel.

EDIT: This got voted down, perhaps because of the above: it may be worth me stating that I am not posing a 'mysterious question' - the key words are 'appears to' - in other words, this is an aspect which needs significant further work..

I consider almost all code 'banal', in that almost all code 'performs little computation of interest'. Pavitra clearly distinguishes between 'interest' and 'value'.

Surely one way of looking at AI research is that it is an attempt to produce code that is not banal?

comment by DilGreen · 2010-10-09T23:08:48.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The implication is that connections between data are made by minds, and that minds that are not banal can make new and interesting connections between data.

comment by Holla · 2010-10-05T15:51:04.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Desire is the essence of man insofar as it is conceived as determined to any action by any one of its modifications.

Baruch Spinoza

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-07T18:19:12.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a scientist can't burn the Bible, he is a liar, not a scientist.

  • Gene Ray
comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-07T20:00:48.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why am I getting downvoted for this?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-10-08T16:51:30.582Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted, since burning Bibles is stupid and pointless, and certainly not a sane test for recognizing ability to be a scientist. (I agree with the implied point of getting over the reverence, but the presentation is poor.)

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-07T20:56:47.328Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Off the cuff guesses:

  1. It's a quote from the time cube nutter.
  2. The quote itself doesn't seem to have much to do with rationality.
  3. It's technically false. A scientist without means of creating fire, or a bible, is still a scientist.
  4. It commits the fallacy of false dilemma. Scientists can be liars.

Can't guess any other reasons.

comment by Swimmy · 2010-10-07T22:03:44.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

5) Burning Bibles is socially considered far more disrespectful than simply calling the Bible "false." Even a scientist who treats honesty as a lexicographic preference may still try to maximize politeness or social capital afterwards.

6) A scientist who lives in a time/region when Bible-burning leads to self-burning will use the method of observation to determine that burning the Bible is a bad idea.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-08T02:39:44.300Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe this about captures it - for the purpose it serves, burning Bibles is usually needlessly incendiary.

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-11T20:38:29.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted for the punnish double entendre.

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-11T20:42:03.462Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I aim to please (if not always inform). (:

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-08T02:03:17.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

5. To the extent that a person places political correctness before truth, that person is not behaving as a scientist.

6. i strongly doubt that's what the people who downvoted me had in mind. I could imagine getting a few downvotes on those grounds, but not net downvotes.

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-08T15:45:41.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding 5, I don't see how not burning a particular book is a necessary condition for valuing truth above political correctness. "Destroying information" and "Valuing truth" might seem logically equivalent to you, but to me they seem quite in tension.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-08T15:57:01.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Again, this seems disingenuous. Are people really interpreting the quote in terms of censorship rather than blasphemy?

comment by thomblake · 2010-10-08T16:30:47.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The quote's at -2. That could well be 2 downvotes total. You have at least 6 reasons here that believably could be why someone might have done that, and you still seem to balk. Is it really that confusing?

When I first saw the quote, I thought "meh". When I saw it again, a couple of the things I cited occurred to me. It's totally out-of-context, and I'm not sure what the intended interpretation is. I definitely wasn't thinking in terms of "censorship" or "blasphemy"; rather, I tried to imagine what the author might have thought scientists do all day that requires them to set books on fire.

There are very few things that I would count as logically necessary conditions for being a "scientist", and that particular action isn't one of them. Why do bibles have anything to do with scientists at all? Are you a religious nut or something?

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-08T16:39:51.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The quote's at -2. That could well be 2 downvotes total. You have at least 6 reasons here that believably could be why someone might have done that, and you still seem to balk. Is it really that confusing?

2 downvotes total requires not only that two people downvote it, but also that no people upvote it. It is the latter that I find surprising.

Why do bibles have anything to do with scientists at all?

I was thinking of the objection to scientists who believe unsupportable things when they leave the laboratory.

Are you a religious nut or something?

I certainly hope not. :(

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-10-08T16:29:38.483Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. Historically as well as in current culture, burning a book is THE signal that you wish for it to disappear, not just that you consider it wrong. It implies that you would do the same to all copies, not just one, and book-burners who had the power to do so almost always did. Ridiculously extensive Wikipedia article.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-08T16:40:08.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In retrospect, I really should have thought of that myself.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-08T01:59:44.796Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. This one did all right.

  2. The intended point is that it is not sufficient to be a scientist only while in the laboratory.

  3. That's stupid. After reflecting on the problem of inferential distance, I could believe that someone could reasonably respond that they didn't understand what the quote was trying to say, but the form of the rhetoric should have made clear that the literal meaning was not the one meant.

  4. My first reaction was "lolwut". I see where you're coming from, but it still just feels wrong, as if I were missing the point. The non-God-repudiating scientist is not just lying to others, but lying to herself, and that is incompatible with the serious pursuit of truth.

I know it's a leaky generalization, that there are obvious exceptions and edge cases, but that's true of all English sentences and especially true of those that are composed for pithiness and rhetoric, that is, the ones that make good quotes.

(Edit: I had originally linked "serious" above here, but I like the current pothole better.)

comment by RobinZ · 2010-10-08T20:16:08.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The intended point is that it is not sufficient to be a scientist only while in the laboratory.

I honestly expected a link to Outside the Laboratory.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-10-09T02:21:42.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's what I had in mind, but for some reason when I googled for it the other thing came up instead.

comment by youaretheone · 2010-10-10T04:00:55.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How interesting,! Please allow me to share with you what just took place and with the usage of hindsight placed in this process , I guess one could say If hindsight were or is a true value, you would not be reading this right now truly changing cause and effect, It will always remain in the "what If/" category for me You see, I was the one that gave you the negative mark on this comment. WAS it intentional ? . No ,by no means, Yet this is a pure example of what one could consider to be hindsight...""" If I'd only Known SYNDROME" For some odd reason I use my cursor as a placement while reading off the Internet, , As the cursor was following my eyes, and my mind was contemplating on that phrase by you( " which is actually an inverted version of the truth, that still sounds plausible enough that people will try to explain it even though it's wrong.) "When out of Nowhere my finger accidentally clicked down on the mouse , I didn't realize what had happened until I was taken to the next page, And there I was, ,faced with your belief system in regards to your approach on dealing with your readers negative or positive feedback, I didn't want to read that! JESSEE almost felt like was punished for a mere slip of the finger... NOW this is a Funny thing , or is It mere coincidences? Who Knows, maybe it was some unconscious physical reaction on my behalf , just so i could respond now. Seriously Really I don't think so... Simply a mere accident on my behalf, However, the YES IF I"D KNOWN THAT WOULD HAPPEN... My Little mouse would have stayed put.! , because, you see I found your article quite interesting, It intrigued me and made me think (Yet still this happened ), There's weight to that subject of yours and I like to see views through another eyes , even if the absolute conclusion has yet to surface. Now In hindsight I would have kept my mouse still, To be honest, I was rather embarrassed! However, this brings me to the thought" Was this a subconscious reaction on my behalf? Honestly. I'll never know, Like I stated earlier, I liked your article., But in regards to hindsight , I would not be writing you right now If Id been prepared for this to have happened. I am a firm believer that there are those who once exposed to, or placed into extreme certain conditions In comparison to the other who wasn't, the exposed becomes stronger other and therefor can better cope. I believe most of us know this as" Born with a silver spoon in thy mouth" , In my personal opinion Ive seen the Non exposed have a much harder time getting through what ever challenge they are facing, Now of-course this does leave room for controversy, as it simply depends on just "What" exactly that is, You depicted War, In that sense there's many variables, Where do we derive our inner sterngth from? Is It Based on knowledge alone? Is It In our genetic make-up? Some choose to be Victims , while others simply Grin and Bear It... then there's even those that feel empowered, They're Stronger because of what they just went through,,, Thanks to Good OLE HINDSIGHT... We simply make what we project and to each of us, That is what becomes our own reality ... I played Victim in this scenario, But I'm leaving empowered... You can bet i'll never use my little OLE mouse as a guide again, especially while contemplating ones beliefs and just how they arrived at that conclusion. I still have much to learn. I want to Thank you, for teaching me something about myself today. keep up the good work, I enjoy your articles very much. In Hindsight I would have marked that a positive!!!!.