Rationality Quotes: March 2011

post by Alexandros · 2011-03-02T11:14:22.319Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 392 comments


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comment by bentarm · 2011-03-02T13:53:46.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cryonics is an experiment. So far the control group isn't doing very well.

Dr. Ralph Merkle (quoted on the Alcor website - I'm surprised this hasn't been posted before, but I can't find it in the past pages)

Replies from: DSimon, MartinB
comment by DSimon · 2011-03-02T14:55:18.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, to be fair, the experimental group isn't doing a lot better either, just yet.

Replies from: gwern, James_Miller
comment by gwern · 2011-03-02T19:43:12.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the living/non-living part, yeah. (They're all dead.)

On the brains remaining recognizable and intact, I suspect they're doing better than even professionally embalmed and maintained corpses like Lenin or Mao are.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-03T01:08:43.751Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the living/non-living part, yeah. (They're all dead.)

For a certain value of 'dead'.

Replies from: Psy-Kosh
comment by Psy-Kosh · 2011-03-03T04:28:25.814Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More precisely, an uncertain value of 'dead'.

Replies from: danlowlite
comment by danlowlite · 2011-03-04T15:06:00.053Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What's that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-05T04:04:12.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I personally added "Cryonics patients" to the Only Mostly Dead TV Tropes Wiki page. (I am not responsible for the current wording.)

Replies from: MBlume
comment by MBlume · 2011-03-05T18:12:49.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Holy shit, I just went to TV Tropes, read one page, and came back. How did that just happen, exactly?

Replies from: danlowlite, FiftyTwo
comment by danlowlite · 2011-03-07T14:59:01.951Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would be a miracle.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-09-11T18:50:09.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possibly the best test of willpower known to humanity.

comment by James_Miller · 2011-03-02T21:04:18.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are in terms of expected value.

comment by MartinB · 2011-03-02T14:18:07.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reminds me of the proposed double blind studies about the effectiveness of parachutes in preventing injuries while falling from great heights.

Replies from: XFrequentist, Waldheri
comment by XFrequentist · 2011-03-02T18:31:19.285Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought it was trite, but here it is.

ETA: Posted this from work, didn't realize it was paywalled. Here's a pdf

Replies from: alexflint, Nominull, MartinB
comment by alexflint · 2011-03-03T09:24:56.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brilliantly done, no matter the point they were trying to make. The headings say it all...

Evidence based pride and observational prejudice

Natural history of gravitational challenge

The parachute and the healthy cohort effect

The medicalisation of free fall

Parachutes and the military industrial complex

A call to (broken) arms

comment by Nominull · 2011-03-03T03:56:29.936Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They're technically not incorrect, but they are on the wrong side of the debate. It's true that we can occasionally understand things without directly experimenting on them, but we could use more experiment, not less.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2011-03-03T13:07:45.194Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you say that all experiments have to be placebo controlled double blind experiments you aren't advocating more experiments.

You are advocating that the resources get spread about over less experiments but that those experiments that are done have a higher standard. http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/2011/01/25/monocultures-of-evidence/

Replies from: MartinB
comment by MartinB · 2011-03-03T19:15:58.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The interesting thing is often not if a treatment method works but how it compares to other methods. Afaik in cancer research often groups get different treatment that then gets compared. Sadly it seems that correct statistical knowledge is not too widely spread in all places where needed. I read a book of german medical professors who dearly complained about that. There is no need to slavishly follow one standard of testing. What would be awesome were a better understanding on how to get good results with the least effort (in case of medics: least ppl. treated ineffectively).

Replies from: IlyaShpitser
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2011-03-05T19:04:18.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While more controlled experiments are undoubtedly a good thing, observational studies are often not useless, since one can often make a plausible argument for extracting causation from them. Sadly, the default state of causal analysis in medicine remains "use regression."

comment by MartinB · 2011-03-03T01:56:32.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh boy.

comment by Waldheri · 2011-03-05T17:47:48.893Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which in turn reminds me of The Onion news piece 'Multiple Stab Wounds May Be Harmful To Monkeys'. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ7J7UjsRqg

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T11:56:33.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Education is implication. It is not the things you say which children respect; when you say things, they very commonly laugh and do the opposite. It is the things you assume which really sink into them. It is the things you forget even to teach that they learn.

G. K. Chesterton, article in the Illustrated London News, 1907, collected in "The Man Who Was Orthodox", p.96.

Replies from: warpforge, sark
comment by warpforge · 2011-03-03T02:56:14.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your post reminds me of this quote about how a teacher's assumptions affect identity:

"When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you ... when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing." —Adrienne Rich, 1984

Replies from: hamnox, Nornagest
comment by hamnox · 2011-03-06T18:30:19.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read this and connected it to the horrible feeling I got from trying to look at myself during my first attempts to grok the world from a stereotypical bible-belt perspective. I got an Error Message: People who have yet to hear god's word, and satan-lovers who willfully defy or ignore god, sure, but to simply not believe any of it just wasn't in the domain. I can't think of non-computer/mathematic terms to describe looking at the blank spot, and those don't capture the psychological horror of finding yourself in it. (Or rather, not finding.)

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T14:04:21.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If a man heareth me and believeth not, I shall not judge him." or words to that effect.

I think it's somewhere around John 12, or is that Luke 12?, quoting Jesus.

Sorry, it's been a while since I last checked.

Replies from: wnoise
comment by wnoise · 2011-03-14T20:58:45.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

John 12:

47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-03T04:14:02.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Insofar as that quote touches me, it mainly gives me the vaguely oily feeling of ingratiation that I've come to associate with the Dark Arts. It stops short of making any explicit prescriptions, but its framing is very carefully tailored: authority, identity, implications of threat and powerlessness.

Long story short, I'd be very careful about holding statements like that one up as inspiringly rational.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-03T06:19:16.766Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rich may well be generalizing from one example. On the other hand, people do affect each other quite a bit.

Replies from: SRStarin, simplyeric, Nornagest
comment by SRStarin · 2011-03-03T13:44:01.832Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I read this quote, I was reminded of what it felt like to be (repressed) homosexual in a strongly heteronormative culture. The act of claiming my sexuality could only happen outside of that culture (in Europe, for me), and when I came back home, I became profoundly depressed, convinced I would never amount to anything.

Gay people are often surprised at how their internal turmoil, which seems so particular and special, turns out to be the usual result of growing up queer in a straight society. We're surprised because our experience is so different from what most people around us seem to be feeling.

So, I would say Rich was not generalizing from one example, but was talking about the generality of the experience of the ignored minority, and trying to convey that experience to an audience who would be largely ignorant of that feeling of psychic non-existence. They have been affirmed by whatever presumptions are prevalent in their society, be they heteronormative, ethnic, racial, religious or whatever.

So, this is a great rationality quote, because it reminds us all (gay people included) to challenge ourselves constantly to recognize the lenses through which we understand reality, and to try to sort out what is real from what is cultural. People, especially young people, kill themselves because of this. Challenging our cultural assumptions can save lives.

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T14:14:41.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And some people still believe that people choose to be homosexual.

If that were so, why would teenagers commit suicide instead of choosing to be heterosexual.

To me, a gay man is just less competition, and since lots of women are not interested in me anyway, what difference does it make if some of them are gay?

Replies from: anon895
comment by anon895 · 2011-03-15T17:54:34.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Inherent flaws of moral codes based on non-deterministic ideas of free will aside, I don't think I've ever seen a version of that argument where the two sides admitted that they were using different definitions of "be homosexual".

Replies from: SRStarin
comment by SRStarin · 2011-03-16T00:06:36.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have. I've was a member of a Bible club at work for a year. I wasn't Christian, but I chose to participate in the club.

Some folks in that club said they had no problem at all with the person who is attracted to the same sex. The problem lay in the conceit that the homosexual's purpose and burden in life was to either overcome their sexual proclivities or to forgo sex altogether, giving their life to God in some other way than marriage and procreation.

So, the anti-gay stance was that it's a sin to act homosexually.

To be inside a homosexual brain is to feel trapped and even somewhat absent from reality until one acts on, or at least admits and attempts to embrace, this cognitive process that values the sexes in a way fundamentally different from the norm for one's gender. I admit that "being homosexual" is, for me, a facet of my mind that I can't change, and those fundamentalists I talked to admitted to understanding that state of mind, but that the sin lies only in seducing another man (being seduced by another man is seducing him, just to clear that up), and that is what makes a person homosexual.

comment by simplyeric · 2011-03-03T17:11:16.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's quite rational to point out that people have psychological and physiological reaction to "inclusion" and attention. The reaction that people have may not be inherently rational, but identifying it seems quite rational to me.

Now, the way that quote is phrased is not in a rationalist manner, and Rich may not be entirely rational about it: she seems to be saying "this is what it is" without analysis or potential solution. It would take a good strong rationalist to be able to be in the situation Rich describes and not feel marginalized, since the reaction is probably an instinctual one.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-03T17:52:46.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry for the ambiguity-- Adrienne Rich is a woman.

Replies from: simplyeric
comment by simplyeric · 2011-03-03T18:08:14.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I shouldn't have assumed otherwise! Previous post edited.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-03T06:51:32.704Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was thinking more of warpforge's quote than RichardKennaway's. The Chesterton quote seems reasonable, although I'd dearly love to see some clever sociologist work out a way of actually testing it.

comment by sark · 2011-03-03T00:04:39.032Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And what exactly does sink into them? What do they really learn? Would Chesterton agree with Robin Hanson that the explicit curricula is just subterfuge for ingraining in students obedience to authority?

And from a non cynical angle, this can be said of all learning. To be able to learn something, you have to have reasonably understood its prerequisites. So naturally, if you look at something you have just taught someone, it would seem like all you have managed to teach them was the assumptions.

Replies from: simplyeric
comment by simplyeric · 2011-03-03T17:12:14.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be able to learn something, you have to have reasonably understood its prerequisites.

I'm not sure if I understand this, but at face value I disagree with this. For example, there is evidence that infants start learning gender roles as soon as their eyes can focus far enough away to be able to see what all is going on. This is a great example of "the things you assume which really sink into them", and I'm not sure what the understood prerequisite would be.

comment by benelliott · 2011-03-02T15:26:27.011Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When things get too complicated, it sometimes makes sense to stop and wonder: Have I asked the right question?

Enrico Bombieri

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-06T09:17:59.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When things get too complicated, it sometimes makes sense to stop and wonder: Have I asked the right question?

A good follow up question is "Who else can I convince to handle all these fiddly details?"

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-02T15:37:42.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance - it is the illusion of knowledge." -Daniel J. Boorstin

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-02T20:01:07.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reminds me of "It ain't what we don't know that hurts us, it's what we know that ain't so."

Which I have seen attributed to at least half a dozen different people over the years.

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:47:48.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, "what we don't know that we don't know"

comment by AlexMennen · 2011-03-08T01:49:27.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The discovery that the universe has no purpose need not prevent a human being from having one.

-Irwin Edman

Replies from: Snowyowl
comment by Snowyowl · 2011-03-13T11:13:42.552Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My personal philosophy in a nutshell.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-07T02:22:17.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Peanuts, 1961 April 26&27:

Lucy: You can't drift along forever. You have to direct your thinking. For instance, you have to decide whether you're going to be a liberal or a conservative. You have to take some sort of stand. You have to associate yourself with some sort of cause.

Linus: How can a person just decide what he's going to think? Doesn't he have to think first, and then try to discover what it is that he's thought?

Replies from: Mark_Eichenlaub
comment by Mark_Eichenlaub · 2012-12-21T04:03:19.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just looked this up. It seems the text has been altered, and in the original, Linus said "Are there any openings in the Lunatic Fringe?" http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1961/04/26

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2012-12-21T07:48:02.042Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Read the next one: http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1961/04/27

I skipped the punchlines.

Replies from: Mark_Eichenlaub
comment by Mark_Eichenlaub · 2012-12-26T20:37:04.987Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see, thanks.

comment by Alexandros · 2011-03-02T11:15:08.937Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't hate the playa, hate the game

-- Ice-T

Or, as the Urban Dictionary puts it:

Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.

A meta-comment: It's always good to have an arsenal of mainstream-accessible quotes to use for those times when explaining game theory is just loo much of an inferential leap. I'd like to find more of these.

Replies from: RichardKennaway, James_K, Jonathan_Graehl, wedrifid, BillyOblivion, parabarbarian, orthonormal, Dorikka, atucker
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T12:20:59.411Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't hate the playa, hate the game

Disagree. This is just a get out of jail free card, a universal excuse. Don't blame me, blame the system / my genes / my memes / my parents / determinism / indeterminism...

Replies from: Alexandros, wedrifid
comment by Alexandros · 2011-03-02T13:16:33.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When said in first person, it can feel like a dodge.

However, when used as a third-person response to retorts like "politicians have got to stop being so corrupt!", I find it fits just fine, and it is in this context that I posted it. (also, notice that the elaboration is in third person)

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-02T12:31:21.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Disagree. This is just a get out of jail free card, a universal excuse. Don't blame me, blame the system / my genes / my memes / my parents / determinism / indeterminism...

Regardless of the normative value of the quote your description of the meaning, purpose and implication is flawed. That just is not what the statement means.

Replies from: TobyBartels, RichardKennaway
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-03T02:32:52.328Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That just is not what the statement means

That may not be what it's supposed to mean, but I've heard people use it that way.

If there were no players, then there would be no game.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-03T04:49:05.956Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That may not be what it's supposed to mean, but I've heard people use it that way.

If you have, in fact, heard people use the statement to mean "Don't blame me, blame" any of "my genes / my memes / my parents / determinism / indeterminism" (everything except 'the system') then you have heard people calling a tail a leg. There is a world of difference between 'just a universal excuse' and something that is sometimes used as an excuse combined with a list of half a dozen unrelated excuses.

This isn't a matter of normative judgement, it is a matter of basic comprehension. And in this case a matter of thinking a negative opinion of something is a justification for misrepresentation.

If the phrase is being used sometimes (or even often) as an excuse then that objection can be expressed explicitly, without abusing the language for rhetorical effect. That's the difference between prompting my agreement and eliciting disgust.

If there were no players, then there would be no game.

That doesn't appear true either. Alexandros' meta comment becomes relevant here, regarding descriptions "for those times when explaining game theory is just loo much of an inferential leap". The 'game' is set up, to a significant extent, by the external (social) environment. By people who are not themselves the relevant players. Without players you just have a game that is not at a Nash equilibrium... yet.

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-04T06:20:25.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't intend to defend Richard's comment in its entirety. But words mean what people use them to mean, and the same goes for ambiguous phrases.

I mostly hear people use it to mean "My actions are ethically unimpeachable, because that is the way that people do things.", which is a refinement of "Don't blame me; blame the system.". I gather from your comment that you accept the latter sentence as a legitimate interpretation of the phrase (and it's the first one that Richard offered). If you think that the refinement is illegitimate, perhaps it's not what Ice-T meant, but it's a natural interpretation.

(Actually, Ice-T seems to have meant something very different, since he was addressing fellow players who criticise him out of sheer envy. But if they were to start hating the game, then this would just make them hypocrites, so it doesn't seem to be sound advice. Better to just improve one's game, or quit.)

I certainly agree that it's better to change the system than to change individual players. However, sometimes one has more influence over particular individuals, especially if one of those individuals is oneself. And if, as in the social situations where I have heard the phrase applied, the system emerges from the various players, then changing the players is ultimately the only way to change the game.

To make it clear where I'm coming from, I mostly hear the phrase used by people who've been caught breaking promises of sexual fidelity, or rather by people discussing such.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-04T06:57:05.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And if, as in the social situations where I have heard the phrase applied, the system emerges from the various players, then changing the players is ultimately the only way to change the game.

Not so. At least, not without redefining the game such that the 'players' include all those that would otherwise have been considered the external social environment.

Replies from: TobyBartels
comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-04T07:55:07.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that depends on how widely you take "the game". Nevertheless, in the contexts where I run across the phrase, changing the players in question would suffice.

There are definitely situations where it goes differently, however. One example that came up in conversation today (without this phrase) is a draftee in a war, who is forced to shoot at people to avoid being shot. Changing all of the players in this position would work, but only if the players on both sides change at once. I would not blame such a person, if they don't actually want to be there.

So I seem to have just come to this conclusion: It's illegitimate to blame (to state the ethical culpability of) any player who doesn't want to play the game but is unable to quit. That includes a lot of examples, just not the ones where I've met this phrase.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T12:39:47.608Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That just is not what the statement means.

Given the context, I stand by my interpretation.

Replies from: pjeby
comment by pjeby · 2011-03-02T16:36:59.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given the context, I stand by my interpretation.

Er, that context doesn't sound like "I'm a puppet of the system" to me at all. It sounds more like, "don't be mad at me because I'm successful and you're not ("Actin' like a brother done did somethin' wrong cause he got his game tight"); if you have to be mad at something, be mad at the rules which elevate some and lower others ("some come up and some get done up"), by requiring us to risk much to gain great rewards ("If you out for mega cheddar, you got to go high risk"). Otherwise, work on improving your own performance ("tighten your aim"), rather than envying my success ("act like you don't see me / You wanna be me")."

Given that most of the song is bragging about his past actions and willingness to take more such actions in the future, it certainly doesn't sound like a declaration of helplessness. Heck, for a rap song, it's practically self-improvement advice. ;-)

Replies from: Gray, RichardKennaway
comment by Gray · 2011-03-03T00:42:49.928Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say that the quote isn't about "I'm a puppet of the system" but more a critique of a particular incentive system, and there's validity to this. If a certain activity is incentivized, then it shouldn't be surprising to expect that someone would eventually engage in that activity. Perverse incentive systems produce truly horrendous results.

Also, up vote for analyzing rap music :)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-03T22:35:15.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, that context doesn't sound like "I'm a puppet of the system" to me at all.

The scenario I imagined was a wealthy drug dealer justifying his profession. But I'll agree the lyrics allow more benign applications.

comment by James_K · 2011-03-03T04:22:21.093Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this quote is especially apposite when your looking at ways of reforming a system. Attributing bad policy outcomes to the perfidy of individuals is generally unhelpful in designing a solution.

Replies from: BillyOblivion
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-08T08:20:56.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


If the potential perfidy of humans is not counted for in your solution, then it's a fail.

Humans lie, cheat, and steal. Especially when the system is policy is designed to encourage that behavior.

Replies from: James_K
comment by James_K · 2011-03-09T04:03:32.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, blaming the failure on self-serving behaviour is futile, but its imperative that you account for people's tendency to do this when you design a system.

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-03T00:09:12.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't hate the playa, hate the game

It's good to understand the player's actions as being part of a particular game. But it's okay to punish the player, if you're feeling altruistic or vengeful enough (that is, you want to do your part to discourage people from playing that game).

When you're not prepared to anger the player, the game is indeed a safe target for your ineffectual outrage.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-03T01:05:54.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's good to understand the player's actions as being part of a particular game. But it's okay to punish the player, if you're feeling altruistic or vengeful enough (that is, you want to do your part to discourage people from playing that game).

It is similarly okay for the player or, indeed, a third party to consider your 'altruistic' punishment to be itself blameworthy or anti-social and subject it to punishment. After all, encouraging 'altruists' to punish the kind of player who is not powerful enough to deter punishment is typically just another part of the game, one step up in sophistication.

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-03T19:59:41.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're right. We punish the weak. The piling-on effect I see sometimes sickens me; once someone is already roundly criticized, all sorts of cheap moral-enforcement-altruism-signalers latch on.

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-04T08:46:29.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just like how wedrifid begin criticising people like that, and then you joined in. :P

Replies from: Jonathan_Graehl
comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2011-03-06T08:16:51.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I definitely didn't consider that my comment was so self-describing :) Clever.

I guess I could stand to implement a final "how will this be perceived" habit (pretend I'm the observer reading what some other man has written).

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-02T12:15:29.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.

This in particular is very well put.

Replies from: simplyeric, jmmcd
comment by simplyeric · 2011-03-03T18:02:22.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although it does smack of "I was just following orders".

I know that's not what the original quote is about, not most of the responses in this thread. But it's a "logical" extension of the sentiment.

Don't hate the playa, unless the playa is playing a game that is inherently and obviously worthy of hate ("I was just following orders"), or a game that might allow certain things that are worthy of hate. Exploitation of child labor, for example, is within the rules of the game (just not in certain places), and could allow a player to be more successful than one who didn't go to that extent of the rules. In that circumstance, it seems ok to hate the player.

comment by jmmcd · 2011-03-03T01:36:31.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's the type of inaccurate verbiage typical of writers trying to write above their ability.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-03T01:44:13.092Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's the type of inaccurate verbiage typical of writers trying to write above their ability.

Not at all. It is more accurate and clear than the vast majority of quotes in the quotes threads. It does a good job of translating the implied meaning (such as of the word 'hate' in the context) into more tangible descriptions.

Do you perhaps have a particular problem with semicolons? Or consider the status of urban dictionary authors insufficient to permit them the use of words like 'rebuke' and 'participant'?

It is this urban dictionary definition that earned my upvote in this case (even though DHTP;HTG probably would have scraped through on its own).

Replies from: jmmcd
comment by jmmcd · 2011-03-03T12:37:56.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I deleted my post immediately because I decided I didn't want to defend it, but since you saw it I will.

"Discern" is superfluous. What distinction is intended between "rebuke" and "fault"? Using "rebuke" for a behaviour, as opposed to a person, sounds wrong to my ears -- the opposite of what is intended. What distinction is intended between "system" and "organization"? "Provoked your displeasure" is mealy-mouthed, especially when "hate" is the verb in the original. This type of writing says, I've got a thesaurus and I'm not afraid to use it.

Do you perhaps have a particular problem with semicolons? Or consider the status of urban dictionary authors insufficient to permit them the use of words like 'rebuke' and 'participant'?

Haha, no, but that's some nice assuming you've got there.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-05T12:33:15.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Every "playa" has three options[1]:

  1. To play the game to it's utmost
  2. To play the game just enough to get by.
  3. Not to play.

In most games there is no ethical choice involved. In the type of game Tracy Marrow [2] is playing #3 is the appropriate choice (at least in the early stages of his career). For a real kid born in the lower class ghettos, #2 transitioning to #3 is the appropriate choice. "The Game" Ice-T was talking about was either the Gansta-Rap game, or the urban gang banger game. To succeed in the Gangsta Rap game one has to present a certain type of lifestyle and moral choices as appealing and appropriate. Those sorts of moral choices (drug dealing, prostitution, handling interpersonal differences with extreme violence etc.) are neither successful strategies long term, nor do they increase the amount of rationality. To be a playa in the gang banging game you have to be good at those same things, and be absolutely ruthless. This has possible secondary effects of increasing the level of psychopathy in a population group (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jim_fallon_exploring_the_mind_of_a_killer.html).

Or to shorten it, doing large amounts of crack and running around with automatic weapons, while a fun way to waste a sunday afternoon, is not exactly a rational thing to do.

  1. Unless the game is "thermodynamics".
  2. He took his Nom De Plume from a Pimp.

p.s. I actually like a lot of his music. He was a talented recording artist. It's just a shame he couldn't see how his actions would impact and influence a community that really could have used better role models.

comment by parabarbarian · 2011-03-13T16:37:35.311Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, reading that quote brought to mind this one:

"One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that 'violence begets violence.' I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy." -Jeff Cooper, "Cooper vs. Terrorism", Guns & Ammo Annual, 1975

comment by orthonormal · 2011-03-06T22:59:53.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reminds me: every year, more and more people complain that Burning Man has lost some essential part of its appeal– but of course, that very attitude is part of Burning Man's original appeal, and those who don't wish to be hipsters themselves need to step back one level farther.

That is, don't hate the playa, hate the game.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-02T18:44:17.970Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that this is the more general form:

"Realize that all actions are context-dependent, and all utility functions depend on the context in which they are written. If you want to change either one, think about changing the context as an alternative to more direct means."

However, I've probably managed to maximize the inferential distance between writer and reader here, since many people go from concrete-->abstract more easily than the reverse.

comment by atucker · 2011-03-02T17:55:10.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do not fault the successful participant in a flawed system; try instead to discern and rebuke that aspect of its organization which allows or encourages the behavior that has provoked your displeasure.

Or if you really must dislike said successful participant for what they are willing to do, at least realize that if they weren't doing it, someone else would be and that the more effective intervention is to change the underlying incentives in the system which motivates that behavior.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T12:42:24.269Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a man proves too clearly and convincingly to himself . . . that a tiger is an optical illusion--well, he will find out he is wrong. The tiger will himself intervene in the discussion, in a manner which will be in every sense conclusive.

G. K. Chesterton (unsourced)

Replies from: Dorikka, TobyBartels
comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-02T18:10:47.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If only people believed that this could happen in philosophy.

Replies from: RobinZ, NihilCredo
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-04T04:45:11.304Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People seem to believe it could happen in theology - does it help?

Replies from: sark, orthonormal
comment by sark · 2011-03-04T18:16:07.614Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They don't really. Or if they do, with very much less urgency than when confronted with the possibility of being eaten by a tiger.

I'm reminded of movies where people in impossibly tough situations stick to impossibly idealistic principles. The producers of the movie want to hoodwink you into thinking they would stand by their luxurious morality even when the going gets tough. When the truth is, their adherence to such absurdly costly principles is precisely to signal that, compared to those who cannot afford their morality, they have it easy.

Pascal's wager was a very detached and abstract theological argument. If Pascal's heart rate did increase from considering the argument, it was from being excited about showing off his clever new argument, than from the sense of urgency the expected utility calculation was supposed to convey, and which he insincerely sold the argument with.

Replies from: Isaac, NancyLebovitz, TeMPOraL
comment by Isaac · 2011-03-08T16:19:07.428Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"When the truth is, their adherence to such absurdly costly principles is precisely to signal that, compared to those who cannot afford their morality, they have it easy."

I think the idea that "morality is a form of signalling" is inaccurate. I agree that moral principles have an evolutionary explanation, but I think that standard game theory provides the best explanation. Generally, it's better to cooperate than to defect in the iterated prisoner's dilemma; and the best way to convince others you're a cooperator is to be, truly, madly and deeply, a cooperator.

Cf. Elizier's claim that he wouldn't break a promise, even if the whole of humanity was at stake. It certainly makes him seem more trustworthy, right?

Replies from: sark
comment by sark · 2011-03-08T16:46:48.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah. But it's certainly possible for both to theories to be true. Morality is a pretty big umbrella term anyway. Also, evolution likes to exapt existing adaptations for other functions.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-04T19:56:59.792Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The producers of the movie want to hoodwink you into thinking they would stand by their luxurious morality even when the going gets tough.

I don't think it's the producers trying to hoodwink you. I think the audiences want to identify with people who can afford costly but dramatic morality.

Replies from: sark
comment by sark · 2011-03-04T22:38:47.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even losers buy morality. This is OK since they are usually hypocritical enough not to employ it in important Near mode decisions. Costly morality is a true signal, not playing along with the signaling game signals... you are a loser. None of this is conscious of course, the directors weren't deliberately trying to deceive the audience. But what they subconsciously end up doing benefits those who can afford the costly morality more than those who cannot.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T00:55:14.226Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even losers buy morality.

In fact, losers tend to buy it more literally than most.

comment by TeMPOraL · 2013-07-07T17:56:26.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reminded of movies where people in impossibly tough situations stick to impossibly idealistic principles. The producers of the movie want to hoodwink you into thinking they would stand by their luxurious morality even when the going gets tough.

Strangely, most of the recent movies and TV series I saw pretty much invert this. Protagonists tend to make arguably insanely bad moral choices (like choosing a course of action that will preserve hero's relative at the cost of killing thousands of people). Sometimes this gets unbearable to watch.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-03-07T04:48:01.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Chesterton believed so, but he was an apologist rather than a theologian. Theologians of the older Christian denominations have been increasingly resistant to this sentiment, in general. (Theologians of the newer Protestant denominations are better described as apologists, anyhow.)

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-07T13:37:19.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't aware that there was a clear distinction between theology and apologia - what difference are you highlighting by using different words?

Replies from: orthonormal
comment by orthonormal · 2011-03-08T02:24:09.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apologetics is a subset of theology, concerned strictly with justifying the tenets of the faith to doubters and nonbelievers.

Thomas Aquinas, by contrast, argued for the existence of God only briefly at the very beginning of the Summa Theologica, and devoted the rest to elucidating the properties of God, the other supernatural beings, and humanity. Much of theology is philosophy done with some particular background assumptions; apologetics is argument and rhetoric in defense of those assumptions.

ETA: In the modern world, most of the positive arguments for the existence of God are (of course) fatally flawed. The older "mainline" denominations realize this on some level and have essentially fallen back to the position "You can't know that there's not a God", which is something of a defense against losing one's own faith but not a great opening gambit for winning converts. The newer Protestant denominations aren't generally aware of the flaws in their arguments, and so use them to win converts.

In particular, the mainline denominations (and their theologians) shy away from empirical tests, while the newer denominations (and their apologists) embrace bad empirical tests. This is of course an oversimplification, but it's generally true.

Replies from: FeatherlessBiped, Will_Newsome
comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-30T23:01:01.483Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"ETA: In the modern world, most of the positive arguments for the existence of God are (of course) fatally flawed."

Interesting that you would say "most". Can we assume you mean there are arguments with merit? Thanks.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-12-30T21:01:46.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the modern world, most of the positive arguments for the existence of God are (of course) fatally flawed.

Wha, since when? Both Thomistic metaphysical and Kantian epistemological style arguments have met up against substantial resistance? Where would I go to find such counterarguments? (ETA: Maybe Schopenhauer?)

(ETA: Yo LW, maybe it's just 'cuz it's me, in which case it's fine, but in general it's bad to downvote people who request counterarguments for their pet theories! But it's probably just 'cuz it's me so no big deal.)

Replies from: orthonormal
comment by orthonormal · 2011-12-30T21:29:03.152Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To a large extent, it is just you. If some of the other theists on LW asked, I would bother putting together a good response, but with you I don't think doing so would make any difference. You have not behaved like someone who's genuinely interested in the object-level arguments.

Replies from: Will_Newsome
comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-12-30T21:43:05.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strange, I feel as though I'm one of the only people interested in object-level arguments (ETA: which is why I go out of my way to e.g. read Aquinas). It's very rare that object-level arguments get brought up unfortunately.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-05T03:20:08.985Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If only this happened in philosophy.

Replies from: wnoise, Dorikka
comment by wnoise · 2011-03-07T05:00:05.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It does on rare occasion. And then that particular subfield is no longer called philosophy.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-05T03:51:45.813Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that would result in lots of maimed philosophers -- while it would serve as example for future generations, I'm not sure it would be a net positive. :D

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-05T01:15:24.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless the tiger actually is an optical illusion, in which case it's usually worthwhile to be convinced of this.

comment by James_Miller · 2011-03-02T20:55:46.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is some theoretical amount of honesty that is indistinguishable from mental illness...Imagine if you stopped filtering everything you said...just try to imagine yourself living without self-censorship. Wouldn't you sound crazy?

Dilbert creator Scott Adams discussing Charlie Sheen.

Replies from: austhinker, righteousreason
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:42:47.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people practice "Radical Honesty" which seems much like that. Seems to me you'd need to start young, before you've got too many skeletons in the closet, before you've got too much to lose, and whilst you have time to recover. Probably also need an honesty-proof career.

As for sounding crazy, I'm already crazy and readily admit it.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-14T14:17:39.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, even if you don't have those things (a skeleton-less life, an honesty-proof career, etc.) you might still find that the you value the costs of honesty, however substantial they might be, less than the costs of continued deception.

Of course, I agree with you that the costs are lower when you have less invested in deception.

comment by righteousreason · 2011-03-09T23:49:49.951Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

reminds me of one of my favorites...

"For every type of ignorance there is some theoretical amount of formatting that will make it look brilliant." - Scott Adams, 'The Way of the Weasel'

sorry if repost

comment by Dr_Manhattan · 2011-03-02T14:54:54.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.

Winston Churchill

Replies from: Isaac
comment by Isaac · 2011-03-03T15:26:11.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This interestingly seems to parallel a comment by the current British Prime Minister David Cameron, when he first entered office.

"We're all going to have things thrown back at us. We're looking at the bigger picture. ... And if it means swallowing some humble pie, and if it means eating some of your words, I cannot think of a more excellent diet."

This was in response to a reporter who asked him why he was working with Nick Clegg, a man he had once described as a "joke". At the time I thought it was a spontaneous remark, but after seeing the above, it looks like he may have been quoting.

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-05T03:15:01.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love that evergreen politician's trick of using "we" and "you" to mean "I".

Replies from: Isaac
comment by Isaac · 2011-03-05T17:59:19.321Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be fair, I think he was using "we" to refer to the Conservative party.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-03T22:24:00.775Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What scientists have in common is not that they agree on the same theories, or even that they always agree on the same facts, but that they agree on the procedures to be followed in testing theories and establishing facts.

Bruce Gregory "Inventing Reality: Physics as Language" pp.186-187.

Replies from: BillyOblivion, austhinker, Jayson_Virissimo, hamnox
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-05T11:53:29.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately that seems to be changing.

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-05T14:04:28.666Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you have specific examples in mind?

Replies from: BillyOblivion, alethiophile
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-08T08:00:31.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As another poster mentioned the Anthroprogenic Climate Change debate. There is still debate about it, and the more light that is shown into the data, data gathering and processing methods of the primary investigators the more questions there are. Other statisticians and researchers have had to use FOIA (and the British equivalent) to get "raw" data and other information from researchers. If you won't release your raw data, and you won't release methods for processing that data then you really can't agree on anything, now can you?

So-called Alternative and Complementary "Medicine" being taken seriously by journals and organisations who should know better. And this is when the good studies show very, very little real effect these frauds. Especially things like Acupuncture and (for things like pneumonia and cancer) chiropractic care (I will note that spinal adjustments can be very valuable for some spinal problems).

Meaning stuff like this: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=9912 (note that one of the main complaints of the author of that post is not that Chinese Medicine calls stuff by different (and humorous) names, but rather how it classifies and recommends treatment. This is a MAJOR point).

I also know people who've worked inside NASA and other labs and I know how much worldview and localized politics have influenced what got funded, and what was done with the funding. Not enough of the story to recount with any accuracy, but enough to know that there was a hand on the scales as it were.

I have a Popperish view of science, and I'm perfectly willing to accept that humans have some influence on temperature, I'm willing to buy that chemicals compounded by nature have greater effectiveness (or equal effectiveness with few undesirable effects) than chemicals compounded in a laboratory, but science is never settled, and if you want to hide your work you really don't deserve benefit of the doubt.

Replies from: Pavitra
comment by Pavitra · 2011-03-08T20:07:00.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because the parent mostly comes off as a crank, I'll link to an intelligent person making similar arguments: Eric S. Raymond has a series of blog posts on the AGW controversy; the crunchiest posts in my opinion are here, here, here, and maybe here.

comment by alethiophile · 2011-03-06T03:58:25.368Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The whole "science is settled" debacle in climate change? I'm not going to take a position on it, but it certainly seems to have become about that particular theory rather than the scientific method.

Replies from: Desrtopa, RobinZ
comment by Desrtopa · 2011-03-09T02:42:44.918Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scientists in general do not agree on all the same theories, but that doesn't mean that some theories aren't so well supported that nearly all scientists accept them. Anthropogenic climate change is not as well supported as the atomic theory of chemistry, but it's sufficiently well evidenced that there's no reason why it should continue to be controversial among people acquainted with the data. It's in no way a failing of the scientific method if scientists are able to reach strong consensuses.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-06T04:28:24.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see what you mean. Is there some specific evidence you have regarding the breakdown of scientific principles in the context of climatology?

Replies from: BillyOblivion, alethiophile
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-08T08:08:31.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is plenty of evidence.

Someone released a bunch of code, data and emails from the East Anglica CRU which showed that they had attempted to hide data from the british equivalent of a FOIA request, that their data processing code was of very questionable quality, that they had attempted to and were at least marginally successful at suborning the process of getting papers peer reviewed in several journals.

The whole issue is rather murky with both sides slinging a lot of mud, but it's clear that what most of us consider "good science" was not being done.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-08T20:20:10.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's the email hacking case? I don't believe that constitutes good evidence of bad behavior on the part of the scientists involved - most of the allegations were invented by taking bits of the emails out of context.

comment by alethiophile · 2011-03-06T20:36:09.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have any specific evidence--but even "scientific" debate on the topic, between scientists, tends to largely ignore the merits of the science and become a political affair a la Green Vs. Blue, centered entirely on whether or not the participants accept the prevailing theory.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-07T02:49:50.295Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't under the impression that climate science journals had degraded to that level - could you elaborate on what convinced you of this?

Replies from: alethiophile
comment by alethiophile · 2011-03-09T01:57:26.116Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've not read the science journals, and so cannot comment on them. I'm referring to informal debate (as in blogs and so forth) by climate scientists.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-09T03:13:31.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think informal discussions are a good barometer for the health of a scientific field.

Replies from: alethiophile
comment by alethiophile · 2011-03-10T02:04:52.826Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not really referring to the health of the scientific field, per se. For all I know, there are plenty of brilliantly scintillating papers being published in climate journals, that would dazzle me with their astounding respect for methodology. Some anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that this is not, in fact, the case, but it is not of sufficient strength that I would make that claim. The area in which discussion of climate science seems devoid of actual science is in the realm where climate science is meant to inform governmental policy, which, of course, has obvious pressures for politicization of the science in either direction.

comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:21:28.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might be more accurate to substitute "rules" for "procedures".

Unfortunately in Medicine at least, there seems to be a substantial degree of sloppiness in applying the rules, particularly in the use of metastudies.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-03-06T22:27:50.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...but that they agree on the procedures to be followed in testing theories and establishing facts.

I'm having trouble thinking of even a single decade in which all or even most scientists have agreed on what procedures should be followed in theory testing (let alone throughout the history of science). Can you?

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-06T23:16:33.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That depends on the distance you view them from. Look at any two things closely enough, and you will see differences. Look at them from far enough away, and they will seem identical.

One major difference in evidential standards I can think of is the use of statistics. No-one collects statistics on how often an unsupported body will fall. I doubt the early chemists, at the stage when they didn't really know what substances they were working with, would have benefitted from statistical analyses of their results. Instead, they worked to find experiments that produced the same result every single time. In other areas, especially psychology, people gather statistics that are sometimes completely meaningless.

That's the only substantial variation I have thought of so far. What counterexamples are you thinking of?

comment by hamnox · 2011-03-06T22:21:53.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would give this five votes up if I could.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-08T00:17:29.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On noticing confusion:

"Holmes," I cried, "this is impossible."

"Admirable!" he said. "A most illuminating remark. It is impossible as I state it, and therefore I must in some respect have stated it wrong.

Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Priory School

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:50:29.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most practical thing in the world is a good theory.


comment by aausch · 2011-03-07T19:28:04.995Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You'll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.

-- David Foster Wallace

Replies from: NihilCredo
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-08T17:36:38.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reminds me of the first two panels here.

Replies from: Document
comment by Document · 2011-07-10T22:36:13.244Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Associating the quote with webcomics made me think of this, although it's fictional evidence.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-03-11T04:43:52.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If the wonder's gone when the truth is known, there never was any wonder." — Gregory House, M.D. ("House" Season 4, Episode 8 "You Don't Want to Know," written by Sara Hess)

Replies from: ata, Mass_Driver
comment by ata · 2011-03-15T06:44:08.001Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That made me notice that the whole "persistent failure to understand some phenomenon makes it awesome" idea is baked directly into words like "wonder" and "wonderful". What do you do when you don't understand something? You wonder about it. And so if something is wonderful, then clearly you can't allow yourself to understand it, because then there'd be nothing to wonder about. (In that sense, of course "wonder" is gone when the truth is known!) I know the dictionary would likely consider those to be separate senses of the words, but the connotations probably leak over.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-03-14T06:33:38.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not?

Replies from: Dreaded_Anomaly
comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-03-14T08:29:27.283Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The context of the quote is available here.

Replies from: Mass_Driver
comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-03-14T17:08:40.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. I watched the episode and remember the context, but I still want to know why wonder that depends on ignorance is literally illusory.

Is this quote just a motivational tool designed to help us seek truth, or is there some true propositional content to it? If the latter, what are some situations where there was in fact some wonder? Also, what is or might be the causal mechanism by which dependence on ignorance leads to the no-wonder state?

I ask because when I am amazed by a magic trick or by a feat of practical engineering whose exact principles are unknown to me, and say "Wow!" and experience what I usually describe as "wonder," and then someone explains it and it seems relatively less wondrous, I do not usually retroactively downgrade my (temporary) experience of wonder -- rather, I note that at the time it seemed particularly wonderful and that now it seems less so.

For all that, I value truth much higher than wonder, and people are perfectly welcome to explain things to me -- but I doubt that House's quote is literally correct.

Replies from: Dreaded_Anomaly, TheOtherDave
comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-03-14T19:58:29.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

and then someone explains it and it seems relatively less wondrous

Things should not seem more wonderful when you don't understand them. Rationalists take joy in the merely real.

Replies from: Mass_Driver
comment by Mass_Driver · 2011-03-15T06:12:18.089Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I went back and re-read that article, and I still think that House's claim is (a) much stronger, and (b) wrong.

It's certainly important to allow yourself to gape in wonder at things that follow orderly rules; most likely all things do that, and I agree that it's foolish to give up wonder just because we live in an orderly universe.

But, for me, the sense of wonder is not about worshiping ignorance; it's about humility and curiosity. Here, I say to myself when I see a rainbow, is something worth knowing about and yet I do not understand it at all. The wonder is the fuel that leads to curiosity, which leads to knowledge. Or, at the very least, the wonder helps me keep up a grateful, open attitude toward my environment.

If you explained exactly how the rainbow worked, it would be an object of somewhat less wonder -- I would still find it pretty, but I wouldn't get quite the same emotional high. I might be able to find a similar sense of wonder in, e.g., the composition of the atmosphere (this usually works for me), or the behavior of photons (this usually does not work for me), and so there might be no net loss of wonder, and yet, nevertheless, explaining how the rainbow works tends to diminish the wondrousness of the rainbow without thereby providing any support for the conclusion that there was never any wonder there in the first place.

Basically, I disagree with you and with House. I take joy in the merely real, and things seem more wonderful to me when I don't (yet) understand them.

Replies from: Dreaded_Anomaly
comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-03-15T06:22:59.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here, I say to myself when I see a rainbow, is something worth knowing about and yet I do not understand it at all. The wonder is the fuel that leads to curiosity, which leads to knowledge.

If you look at the context of the quote, the magician's previous line is:

"People come to my show because they want a sense of wonder. They want to experience something that they can't explain." (emphasis added)

That doesn't seem to be the same sentiment as the one you're describing.

The mindset in which something only has wonder when you think it's unexplainable (not just unexplained) is not a rational or scientific one.

Replies from: DavidAgain
comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-15T08:50:30.906Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm quite uncomfortable with these sorts of statements. Rationalism and science are ways of approaching and analysing the world, not modes of aesthetic appreciation. This smacks a little to me of the idea that the scientifically aware realise that there is 'more beauty' in nature than in art.

If I met someone who was clear-minded, analytical and empirical I wouldn't call them irrational and unscientific just because they experience wonder at unexplained magic tricks rather than great scientific theories, or because they found the poetry of Eliot more beautiful than the structure of the universe (I know you haven't claimed the latter, just addressing a more widespread 'scientific people appreciate X' claim).

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-15T09:01:19.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't think this would fit into the top level of the quotes thread, but in this context it might actually serve pretty well:

The perception of truth is almost as simple a feeling as the perception of beauty, and the genius of Newton, of Shakespeare, of Michelangelo, and of Handel are not very remote in character from each other. Imagination, as well as the reason, is necessary to perfection in the philosophic mind. A rapidity of combination, a power of perceiving analogies, and of comparing them by facts, is the creative source of discovery.

-- Humphry Davy

Replies from: DavidAgain
comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-15T09:04:37.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess the question is whether this is perception of truth or 'truthiness'. On the one hand, people can have a deep sense that something is inevitably true that then turns out to be false. On the other, some individuals, such as Einstein, seem to be good at recognising the sort of aesthetic elegance that suggests a true theory

On the whole, I'm sceptical about the 'direct perception of truth' idea: it tends to suggest that all we need to do is clear away a certain level of obvious biases and then we can trust our gut. And that others who demand evidence for things we consider obvious are nit-pickers and nay-sayers. Not sure that's very good for rationality.

Replies from: Nornagest
comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-15T09:15:43.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair points, but rather different from what I took home from that quote. I saw Davy as saying more that the wonder inherent in hypothesis-generation is closely identified with the aesthetic wonder of art of music -- and presumably of unexplained magic tricks. I wouldn't be too terribly surprised to discover that they all engage the same reward pathways on a biological level.

We do need filters, but that's where the imagination/reason distinction comes in. However wonderful it is to generate ideas, it's only by checking them that we free up space for the next wonderful idea.

Replies from: DavidAgain
comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-15T09:22:31.453Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It can certainly be read that way: and I'd agree that this is often the 'creative source of discovery'. My problem is the line about 'perception of truth', which I think appeals to a too-common idea that we have a natural 'truth-sensing' apparatus and we just need to clear stuff out of the way. It's dangerous for science and other human discovery if we assume that the first satisfaying, consistent explanation of something is true.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-14T18:57:49.679Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If "wonder" is being used to denote a reaction in an observer's mind, then you're of course right... there was wonder, and now there isn't, and House is simply wrong.

If "wonder" is being used metonomicly to refer to something in the world that merits being reacted to in that way -- the way people use it, for example, in phrases like "the seven wonders of the ancient world" -- then it's not so clearcut.

Replies from: Nisan
comment by Nisan · 2011-03-30T22:17:40.262Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the quote because I interpret it as a weapon against the mind projection fallacy: If something is no longer intrinsically wondrous when the truth is known, then it wasn't intrinsically wondrous to begin with.

Replies from: JoshuaZ
comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-03-14T02:19:28.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would seem to me that even to think that being wondrous was an intrinsic property would be some sort of mind projection fallacy by itself.

Replies from: Nisan
comment by Nisan · 2012-03-14T15:35:25.147Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's probably what I meant.

comment by Nominull · 2011-03-04T05:08:06.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's terrible not being able to be happy even though you're not wrong.

-Kaname Madoka, Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Baughn
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-07-18T08:27:36.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Episode #7 of Madoka, and I'm thinking, "It's amazing how many anime problems can be solved by polyamory and the pattern theory of identity."

Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-07-22T05:18:01.935Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Neither Google nor LW search is giving me much on "pattern theory of identity". What is it?

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-09-30T20:45:56.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-10-01T18:42:50.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gracias. Will take a look.

comment by Baughn · 2011-03-04T11:05:09.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If you ever want to save the universe, call me anytime."

  • QB, Puella Magi Madoka Magica
comment by scav · 2011-03-03T10:28:44.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit
of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

Wm. Shakspere King Lear

comment by Nominull · 2011-03-03T04:00:43.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The classical theorists resemble Euclidean geometers in a non-Euclidean world who, discovering that in experience straight lines apparently parallel often meet, rebuke the lines for not keeping straight as the only remedy for the unfortunate collisions which are occurring. Yet, in truth, there is no remedy except to throw over the axiom of parallels and to work out a non-Euclidean geometry.

-John Maynard Keynes, on models of unemployment that seemed nice on paper but did not measure up to the real world.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-02T23:37:49.266Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"An accumulation of facts, however large, is no more science than a pile of bricks is a house."

-Clyde Kluckhohn

Replies from: bentarm
comment by bentarm · 2011-03-03T12:00:24.313Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Slightly harsher on the fact-collecting disciplines than Ernest Rutherford: "All science is either physics or stamp-collecting"

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-05T04:00:15.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think we can consider chemistry a branch of physics as far as this quote is concerned...

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:57:01.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thinking allows us to anticipate ill consequences without suffering them.

Roger Peters, Practical Intelligence

Replies from: sfb, simplyeric, sketerpot
comment by sfb · 2011-03-06T17:38:19.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also allows us to anticipate ill consequences which don't happen, and suffer them in advance. Sometimes repeatedly.

(And by "allows us to", I also mean "it often does so automatically").

comment by simplyeric · 2011-03-03T16:59:32.650Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also allows us to weight the consequences in order to, in fact, suffer them by choice, with the notion that suffering of certain consequences has other payoffs.

comment by sketerpot · 2011-03-02T22:36:20.895Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It also lets us take enormous inferential leaps to good consequences, without needing to muddle through intermediate steps empirically. Without such great leaps of prediction, what are the odds that we would discover, say, controlled nuclear fission? Or the precise sequence of burns needed to take a rocket to the moon?

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:46:33.831Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"controlled nuclear fission"? try telling that to the Japanese at the moment, as they struggle to prevent a meltdown!

Replies from: sketerpot, Manfred
comment by sketerpot · 2011-03-15T17:11:10.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You realize, I hope, that the following are true?

  1. The fission reaction was stopped long before things got dodgy. The problem was the decay heat of fission products still left in the fuel.

  2. Containment is still in place. The worst radiation releases have been some very short-lived isotopes in steam, at low concentrations.

  3. Radiation exposure to the workers is well within safe limits, as measured by their dosimeters, and they're the ones closest to the reactors.

  4. Japan has been hit by a huge earthquake, with a death toll of more than a thousand people. To fixate on a (nuclear, and therefore scary) power plant accident that hasn't endangered the public , when there are so many worse things to be worrying about, is exactly the kind of irrational double standard that Less Wrong readers should endeavor to recognize and avoid.

If you want to improve safety, focus on the things that are actually dangerous.

comment by Manfred · 2011-03-14T14:00:23.542Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And succeed, if the worst that's released is irradiated steam. Failing non-catastrophically is also a part of control.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-05T01:50:12.780Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the middle of every silver lining there is a big black cloud.

-- Alonzo Fyfe

Replies from: Bongo
comment by Bongo · 2011-03-17T12:55:09.501Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I upvoted this at first but... What about silver clouds?

comment by Louie · 2011-03-09T11:42:52.948Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Anything you can do, I can do meta" -Rudolf Carnap

Replies from: Normal_Anomaly, Jayson_Virissimo, fortyeridania
comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-03-10T02:20:48.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that should be Terry Prachett's slogan. Or Hofstadter's.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2014-04-09T17:44:13.743Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Daniel Dennett leads the reader to believe he coined this phrase in a conversation with Douglas Hofstadter.

comment by fortyeridania · 2014-02-01T07:12:05.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Where did you find this? Via Google I have only managed to trace it to a certain Samuel Hahn in 1991.

comment by Cyan · 2011-03-07T16:17:55.293Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What exactly qualifies some physical systems to play the role of 'measurer'? Was the wavefunction of the world waiting to jump for thousands of millions of years until a single-celled living creature appeared? Or did it have to wait a little longer, for some better qualified system... with a PhD?

John Stewart Bell, "Against Measurement" in Physics World, 1990.

Replies from: grendelkhan, Manfred
comment by grendelkhan · 2013-04-25T14:26:53.422Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's pretty much the plot of Quarantine, isn't it?

Replies from: MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-25T16:15:33.627Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having trouble googling that. Could you provide a link? Or an explanation, I guess.

ETA: actually, I think I found it).

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-04-25T18:11:46.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google suggestions: "quarantine fiction", "quarantine wavefunction".

Replies from: MugaSofer, MugaSofer
comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-26T11:48:46.523Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This comment led to my discovery that the Google settings on this computer were screwy. I think I found it now. Thank you!

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2013-04-26T22:08:05.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? I'm kinda curious, how can Google settings be screwy in such a way that would stop you from finding the top hits?

Replies from: arundelo, None, MugaSofer, shminux
comment by [deleted] · 2013-04-27T10:27:29.843Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is probably not the same issue as MugaSofer and arundelo report, but sometimes when I'm on my phone Google notices that I'm in Italy, switches the interface to Italian even though I repeatedly told it that I want it in English, and starts to privilege pages in Italian in the search results by a ginormous amount even when searching for a term in English. (Switching the interface back to English fixes this.)

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-29T09:00:56.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Google will sometimes offer to return pages from the country you're in, which, while useful if you're looking for tourism or whatever, is less helpful if you live in Ireland and the thing you're looking for ... doesn't. I've never used it; this is what I get for using a shared computer.

comment by shminux · 2013-04-27T01:24:52.307Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A search-redirecting toolbar, perhaps.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-04-26T11:42:31.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are many, many works of fiction titled "Quarantine". And your second suggestion throws up all sorts of unrelated stuff.

comment by Manfred · 2011-03-12T10:28:58.183Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This quote does not argue against some major position of modern physicists, but is instead arguing (probably ineffectively) against self-help woo.

Replies from: Cyan
comment by Cyan · 2011-03-12T20:54:00.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bell made the comment in an article that examined major position of modern phycisists -- or at least, positions of some authors of physics textbooks. Woo was not his topic.

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-12T23:09:09.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

None of the physics textbooks I have ever read have required any special qualifications for a system to play the role of measurer, and in many cases use elementary particles as the measurers. There are only three places I recall hearing that claim: Werner Heisenberg, confused non-physicists, and advertising for quantum woo.

Replies from: Cyan
comment by Cyan · 2011-03-12T23:33:03.762Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you like, PM me an email address and I'll send the article there.

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-13T04:57:09.521Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Too late, I went and found it online elsewhere :P

In context, the quote is not directed at anyone, and is just a rhetorical question leading straight to "no of course not." Out of context it quite naturally looks like it's directed at some group, changing the meaning a bit.

The quotes from Landau and Lifshitz definitely made me "what," but so did the solutions Bell proposed. 1990 is 20 years ago, I guess.

Replies from: Cyan, austhinker
comment by Cyan · 2011-03-14T01:20:10.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point -- pulling the quote out of context does change the way it comes across. To me, the out-of-context quote seems to target pop sci accounts of QM that talk in a misleading way about observation causing collapse. (The woo account of QM takes this misapprehension and runs with it, so I can see how your original rejoinder came about.)

comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T07:06:31.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just remember, 2011 will be 20 years ago in 2031! ;-)

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-14T07:47:55.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's as it is said: we learn new things all the time, so everything we know now is wrong.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-04T07:46:53.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Running into a pole is a drag, but never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster. Pain is part of the price of freedom.

Daniel Kish (Human Echolocation researcher, advocate and instructor).

Replies from: Dorikka, NihilCredo
comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-05T04:20:20.253Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would rather see the pole coming so that I wouldn't run into it. I'm not sure this metaphor succeeded.

Replies from: wedrifid, BillyOblivion
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T05:07:01.007Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would rather see the pole coming so that I wouldn't run into it. I'm not sure this metaphor succeeded.

I rather suspect you miss the point of the metaphor. Perhaps you also missed the entirely literal meaning as well. Seeing the pole coming is not an option you have available if, as is the case with Kish and many of the people he works with, you do not have retinas.

Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-05T05:14:02.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I definitely missed the literal meaning -- thanks.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-05T11:51:18.801Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Start watching about 6:55 in.

Sometimes the there are bigger problems you have to get through, and then the pole is just there.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-05T02:57:57.865Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A truly elegant argument in favour of getting hit with a baseball bat every week.

Replies from: wedrifid, jschulter, benelliott
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:03:24.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A truly elegant argument in favour of getting hit with a baseball bat every week.

It seems to be an argument against restrictive paternalism, enforced dependence and misguided risk aversion.

The implied game analysis is something along the lines of the following:

  • Running into a pole is a drag (negative -100 utilons).
  • Living a life dependent on caretakers and restricted from most of human experience gives 50 utilons per day and results in 1 pole hit per 100 days.
  • Living a completely independent life open to most possible lifestyles and experiences is worth 1,000 utilons per day and, if you are blind, may result in running into a pole once every two days.

Within that framework he would consider anyone who limits themselves unnecessarily to be crazy (irrationally risk averse or suffering from learned helplessness) and anyone who restricts the options available to blind people under their control to be perpetrating a serious harm (through misguided but possibly well meaning paternalism).

Consider the following similar declaration:

Falling off a bike is a drag. When learning to ride children will inevitably fall off their bikes. A child never being allowing to ride is far worse than falling off a bike sometimes. Pain is part of the price of freedom.

Most people can acknowledge the deleterious effects of too much coddling of that kind and Kish emphasises that it applies in exactly the same way to blind people as well. And not just because they are deprived of the experience of mountain biking by echolocation but more importantly because it trains the coddlee to rely on caretakers rather than themselves, stifling initiative and capability in a way similar to that which Eliezer recently discussed.

comment by jschulter · 2011-03-05T03:35:28.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I saw it more as opposing restrictions on one's ability to hit oneself in the head with a baseball bat every week. I'm not saying anyone should do it, but if they really want to I don't feel I have the right to stop them.

comment by benelliott · 2011-03-05T13:25:05.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is an important distinction between 'not being allowed to run into a pole' and just 'not running into poles because you look where you're going'.

comment by ata · 2011-03-04T22:25:22.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse.

— Wolof proverb

comment by djcb · 2011-03-03T06:23:18.649Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

while enthusiasm may be necessary for great accomplishments elsewhere, on Wall Street it almost invariably leads to disaster.

  • Benjamin Graham (The Intelligent Investor)

[ In The Intelligent Investor, Benjamin Graham, who was Warren Buffett's mentor, shares his views on investing for a wider audience. I like the rationalist, no-nonsense approach he takes (as seen in this quote) esp. in a field like this ]

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-03T02:54:27.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stupid is as stupid does.

This is an old saying, which I learnt from the 1994 movie Forrest Gump (not otherwise a bastion of rationalism).

While we may judge people as irrational ("stupid") based on what they know (epistemic rationality, roughly), it's instrumental rationality that matters in the end.

Replies from: BillyOblivion
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-05T11:59:29.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If it's stupid, but it works, it ain't stupid.

Replies from: benelliott, CuSithBell, TobyBartels, austhinker
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-05T12:08:00.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or alternatively, there's something intelligent that works much better.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-15T17:35:22.369Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While there are predictable (and accurate) objections to this quote as such, at heart it's good sense. On the one hand, it can mean the same thing as "the rational thing is the thing that wins", and on the other it can mean something like "if you predict that it has a low probability of working, but it works, then that is evidence that should raise your estimate of its likelihood of working," both of which are, I'd imagine, lesswrong-approved sentiments.

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-05T21:24:30.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do we have a source for that? (It's all over the Internet, with varied phrasing.)

Replies from: BillyOblivion
comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-08T08:11:28.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I looked and couldn't find a definitive source, and really only posted it as sort of a neuron-jerk response.

I first heard it from some old Cajun sounding general talking about something to do with (IIRC) the Katrina response.

No, that was a different stupidity quote. "Don't get stuck on stupid".

comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:32:58.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who are you quoting?

I seem to recall having read/heard this before.

Mind you, it depends on the reliability of it working. If something has a (real) 90% chance of making the problem twice as bad, but just happens to fix it, then it's still stupid.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-15T18:25:02.267Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's better to be lucky than smart, but it's easier to be smart twice than lucky twice

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-15T19:10:55.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who are you quoting?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-15T22:52:03.090Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I couldn't find a source, but the line has been around for a while.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-03-03T03:37:38.767Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The majority of people in this world are ataxic: they cannot coordinate their mental muscles to make a purposed movement. They have no real Will, only a set of wishes, many of which contradict others. The victim wobbles from one to the other (and it is no less wobbling because the movements may occasionally be very violent), and at the end of life the movements cancel each other out. Nothing has been achieved, except the one thing of which the victim is not conscious: the destruction of his own character, the confirming of indecision.

-- Aleister Crowley, Liber ABA

Crowley's writings are an odd mixture of utter raving, self-conscious mysticism, and surprising introspective clarity. The above refers to his concept of True Will, which reads at times like an occultist's parameterization of epistemic rationality; some of his writings on meditation, too, wouldn't look too far out of place as top-level posts here.

Replies from: Dorikka
comment by Dorikka · 2011-03-03T19:31:04.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am wary of the fact that this quote feels like something that one might enjoy reading, but find that when he lays the book down (if he's being properly cautious in believing claims), he's learned nothing, at best. At worst, he may be on his way to becoming a sort of Randroid.

I could be wrong, but I think that people would start reading this sort of thing out of an expectation of mixed catharsis/usefulness, only to find that they've just wasted their time.

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T13:31:11.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the potential usefulness is to shock some people out of their mental ataxia and into prioritizing their wishes in order to focus their will.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-02T22:20:08.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's a long one:

"When humanity lay grovelling in all men's sight, crushed to the earth under the dead weight of superstition whose grim features loured menacingly upon mortals from the four quarters of the sky, a man of Greece was first to raise mortal eyes in defiance, first to stand erect and brave the challenge. Fables of the gods did not crush him, nor the lightning flash and the growling menace of the sky. Rather, they quickened his manhood, so that he, first of all men, longed to smash the constraining locks of nature's doors. The vital vigour of his mind prevailed. He ventured far out beyond the flaming ramparts of the world and voyaged in mind throughout infinity. Returning victorious, he proclaimed to us what can be and what cannot: how a limit is fixed to the power of everything and an immovable frontier post. Therefore superstition in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet, and we by his triumph are lifted level with the skies."

-Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe

Replies from: Isaac, Daniel_Burfoot
comment by Isaac · 2011-03-03T15:28:19.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't sure who this was referring to (I thought it was about Socrates), so I looked it up. It's about Epicurus.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-04T10:22:03.548Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whoa, great call! Didn't know that.

This guy was really not a fan of superstition. In the next paragraph he mentions the case of a girl that the people forced to be sacrificed by her father:

"It was her fate in the very hour of marriage to fall a sinless victim to a sinful rite, slaughtered to her greater grief by a father’s hand, so that a fleet might sail under happy auspices. Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by superstition."

Replies from: NihilCredo, Costanza
comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-05T03:10:45.513Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is hardly a coincidence that Epicureans (with Lucretius as their most prestigious Latin representative) became the subjects of a massive smear campaign by the early Christian Church.

Replies from: Psy-Kosh
comment by Psy-Kosh · 2011-03-05T17:42:33.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Religious Jews are apparently not too fond of the Epicureans too. At least, if the origin of the term Apikorus = Epicurus.

comment by Costanza · 2011-03-04T14:36:17.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's either Iphigenia or just possibly some poor nameless girl who was killed so that a local fishing fleet would have a good catch.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-03-03T00:29:55.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

herefore superstition in its turn lies crushed beneath his feet

Sadly superstition isn't quite dead yet; it's just taken on a different form.

comment by Threedee · 2011-03-05T08:28:20.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on another planet with a different reality system.

William James

Replies from: RichardKennaway, wedrifid, Snowyowl
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-06T23:28:47.201Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Outrage is fine if it leads to effective action. If it doesn't, it's just a hobby.

William T. Powers

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:40:56.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Like the spirit. Technically disagree with respect to future events. :)

comment by Snowyowl · 2011-03-13T11:10:17.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possible corollary: I can change my reality system by moving to another planet.

comment by Costanza · 2011-03-04T14:41:33.492Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An irrationality quote from Samuel Johnson via Boswell:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

Replies from: mkehrt
comment by mkehrt · 2011-03-05T08:12:08.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've always been a huge fan of this story.

comment by atucker · 2011-03-02T17:38:28.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe in using words, not fists. I believe in my outrage knowing people are living in boxes on the street. I believe in honesty. I believe in a good time. I believe in good food. I believe in sex.

Bertrand Russell

Replies from: DSimon
comment by DSimon · 2011-03-02T17:51:32.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In order of decreasing priority?

Replies from: atucker
comment by atucker · 2011-03-02T17:53:07.318Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I honestly don't know.

If I had to guess though, I'd say he was responding to a question in a larger discussion about what he believed in, and moving from expected (or at least inferentially closer) answers to more unexpected ones.

comment by radical_negative_one · 2011-03-07T20:56:08.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am taking a first-aid class at my local community college. Our instructor, a paramedic, after telling us about the importance of blood flow to the brain, and the poor prognosis for someone who is left comatose from oxygen deprivation, says:

"There are some people who say, 'But miracles can happen!' Yeah, miracles are one in a million. What number are you?"

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-12T12:33:39.798Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First aid classes are generally quite down to earth. On one question on triaging in catastrophic situations people asked "But isn't it wrong to decide on who gets no help?", where the answer was, quite simply (from memory, and badly translated) "Deciding that everybody gets the same attention means deciding that everybody gets no attention." Very pointed, but good to keep in mind.

Strangely enough, if not framed as question within a philosophical and/or political discussion, such answers are actually accepted. However, I doubt it is because of a sudden outbreak of common sense.

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-12T14:47:01.252Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The reason it's a social and political question is that if you aren't in an emergency situation, it's much harder to tell what your capacity for help is. It isn't infinite, but it could probably be more than you're unthinkingly willing to allocate. It's plausible that people are being neglected for no good reason.

I'm not saying it makes sense to plan as though resources are infinite, but but it can also be a good heuristic to ask "what would we be doing if we cared more"?

Replies from: austhinker
comment by austhinker · 2011-03-14T07:02:32.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right or Wrong (by who's definition) is more in how you base your decisions, not in whether you make the decisions.

If you can only save one person, and all other things being equal, is it wrong to save the more attractive person because they are more attractive. If so, should you NOT save the more attractive person, just in case their attractiveness may be biasing your decision?

What if $4000 is spent on equipment to save one premature infant per year, who will probably be permanently impaired anyway, when the same money could have saved two or more adults per year?

Replies from: NancyLebovitz
comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-14T08:23:05.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you can only save one person, and all other things being equal, is it wrong to save the more attractive person because they are more attractive. If so, should you NOT save the more attractive person, just in case their attractiveness may be biasing your decision?

The larger context is that if that sort of decision is common (and note that "attractive" is shaped by who you've been trained to like, it isn't an absolute), people will put substantial resources into being attractive and/or will be irrationally excluded from opportunities to contribute for being unattractive.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-07T11:23:30.845Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dr. Cuddy: "And you're always right. And I don't mean you always think you're right. But y--you are actually always right, because that's all that matters."

House: "That doesn't even make sense. What, you want me to be wrong?"

Replies from: Document
comment by lukeprog · 2011-03-06T20:23:32.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I got your Friendly AI problem right here...

"To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."

Theodore Roosevelt

Replies from: a363
comment by a363 · 2011-03-08T09:12:19.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can't help but twist that into "To educate a society in morals and not in mind is to educate a menace to humanity..."

Replies from: Document
comment by Document · 2011-06-01T23:07:08.871Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To educate a man in "morals" and not in morals etcetera etcetera.

Edit: alternatively: something something wild and wasted virtues.

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:22:47.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is discipline, the rigorous attention to detail, that distinguishes the work of a scholar from that of a dilettante.

Unfortunately I lost the source for this - anybody recognize it? It was from a book I read 12 to 15 years ago, I can't remember any more than that.

Replies from: avalot
comment by avalot · 2011-03-02T23:46:29.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the irony!

Replies from: sark
comment by sark · 2011-03-03T00:27:51.612Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is nothing to be disciplined or rigorous about when doing such a quote. What you see here is all there is to it. However, scholars might want you to think otherwise, by obfuscating their work, they can make it seem more impressive.

Replies from: jmmcd
comment by jmmcd · 2011-03-03T01:29:05.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The alleged ironic lack of discipline or rigour occurred when reading the book, not when posting the quote. But also, it looks like it was just a joke.

comment by MichaelGR · 2011-03-08T18:41:38.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

  • Mark Twain
comment by dearleader · 2011-03-07T06:08:41.235Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If you want truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind's worst disease." — Sent-ts'an

comment by Alexandros · 2011-03-13T10:27:15.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is no thing easier than to fool oneself. For, what we desire, we willingly believe. Reality, however, is often different.

Demosthenes (384–322 BCE)

comment by Costanza · 2011-03-09T15:16:15.236Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I look at my Caltech classmates and conclude that math whizzes do not take over the world. The true geniuses—the artists of the scientific world—may be unlocking the mysteries of the universe, but the run-of-the-mill really smart overachievers like me? They’re likely to end up in high-class drone work, perfecting new types of crossword-puzzle-oriented screen savers or perhaps (really) tweaking the computer system that controls the flow in beer guns at Applebee’s.

Sandra Tsing Loh

Not a rationality quote as such, but maybe an anti-hubris caveat for those of us that were never child prodigies.

comment by AlexMennen · 2011-03-08T01:53:32.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ethics is ... the art of recommending to others the sacrifices for cooperation with oneself.

-Bertrand Russell

Replies from: CytokineStorm
comment by CytokineStorm · 2011-03-08T16:48:25.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ethics is ... the art of recommending to others the sacrifices for cooperation with oneself.

The great ethicists of history share essentially the same goal: get strangers to always pick D. ...

Replies from: wedrifid, endoself
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-10T00:17:23.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That would sound strange if I didn't remember the reference. Not 'D' for defect. 'D' for zero based alphabetized listing of boolean 11 where 1 is 'C'. :)

comment by endoself · 2011-03-13T05:56:25.134Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I didn't like that comic because `D' can be achieved through a combination of egoism and UDT just as easily as through altruism. I assume that Weiner would not judge an egoist to be ethically perfect in the least convenient world, one where they were always forced to cooperate in prisoner's dilemma-type situations but could be entirely egoistic whenever they could get away with it, without even acausal consequences.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-04T16:15:25.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Homer: Why'd they build this ghost town so far away?

Lisa: Because they discovered gold right over there!

Homer: It's because they're stupid, that's why. That's why everybody does everything.

The Simpsons, "Kidney Trouble"

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T11:59:23.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless the group is 'taking in', learning from life, then it really has nothing to work with, and nothing real to offer other people, except the memory of something. And there are so many groups around trying to make it on the memory of something - something Jesus said once, or Carl Jung. We are actually living witnesses, celebrating the life we are sharing now, or we are trying to live in the past, which no longer exists anyway.

David Templer

comment by ata · 2011-03-18T04:04:29.043Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.

— Randall Munroe, today's xkcd alt text

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-03-22T22:51:48.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So don't save the world if doing so is boring?

Replies from: JGWeissman
comment by JGWeissman · 2011-03-22T23:01:31.864Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read it as comparing enthusiasm for the general concept of success to wanting to achieve a specific goal. So it is good to save the world because you want the world to be saved, and it is bad to publish a blog post instead of saving the world because you like success and it is easier to succeed at publishing a blog post.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-03-12T07:04:17.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy."

Joseph Campbell

Replies from: Alexandros
comment by Alexandros · 2011-03-13T10:22:44.458Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...at least the rules are consistent and correspond to reality...

Replies from: Snowyowl
comment by Snowyowl · 2011-03-13T11:12:51.543Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not all of them. Which applies to Old Testament gods too, I guess: the Bible is pretty consistent with that "no killing" thing.

Replies from: moshez, wedrifid
comment by moshez · 2011-03-15T18:57:45.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The bible doesn't say "don't kill". In KJV times, "kill" meant what we mean by "murder", and "slay" was the neutral form (what we now mean by "kill"). (This, by the way, actually corresponds to the Hebrew version)

This post brought to you by the vast inferential distance you have from the people who wrote KJV

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-13T11:46:07.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the Bible is pretty consistent with that "no killing" thing.

Except for the countless times when killing is outright mandated on, well, pain of death.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-13T14:27:11.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And the times when killing is praised, and the times when killing is completely unremarked upon.

The Bible approaches consistency much more closely with "no murder." That said, if "murder" roughly boils down to unendorsed killing, that's not too surprising.

Replies from: DavidAgain
comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-13T14:47:00.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even then it's more than a little odd. God's reaction to the first murder is rather mysterious. I've always felt the Cain and Abel story is the shortened version of something which really should have had a wider context.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-13T15:24:25.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, there's a lot of that in the Bible.

I've heard the Cain/Abel story explained as a metaphorical account of the conflict between hunter-gatherer and agricultural economies. (The initial conflict between the brothers stems from God's differential approval of their hunter and farmer lifestyles.) I have no idea whether there's real evidence for that or whether it's a just-so story, but if it's true it also provides a perspective on an equally puzzling account later on, where Jacob sells a mess of pottage to his hunter brother, Esov, in exchange for the primogeniture. (A contract he later enforces by outright deceiving their elderly father, which makes me suspect the later story came first and the earlier one backformed to justify what would otherwise be outright fraud, rather than mere coercion. But I digress.)

comment by Zvi · 2011-03-09T15:52:19.922Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The only thing I'm addicted to right now is winning." - Charlie Sheen

comment by Threedee · 2011-03-05T08:53:28.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pragmatic rationality, perhaps? :

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is. Yogi Berra

Replies from: ata, wedrifid
comment by ata · 2011-03-09T17:43:54.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reminds me of Sidney Morgenbesser's response when he was asked his opinion of pragmatism: "It's all very well in theory, but it doesn't work in practice."

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:38:13.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Grrr... At least with normal 'theory vs practice' quotes they stick to one (slightly broken) definition of theory in which 'theory' is (evidently) limited to oversimplified theories that don't fully account for specific details of practical execution. In this quote it conflates an encompassing definition of theory with the limited, specific caricature of the more typical theory/practice dichotomy presentations. Which is just all sorts of wrong.

Stick to your colloquialisms Yogi Berra! Don't get stuck half way to technical clarity. It's just an insult to all sides!

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-09T11:46:06.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've heard it said differently.

The difference between theory and practice is that, in theory, there is no difference.

comment by ata · 2011-03-04T18:53:40.499Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What we need is more people who specialize in the impossible.

— Theodore Roethke

Replies from: TheOtherDave, sketerpot
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-04T20:37:29.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure how I would distinguish people who specialize in the impossible from people who simply don't accomplish much of anything at all.

Replies from: JGWeissman, gwern
comment by JGWeissman · 2011-03-04T21:04:11.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You would have to notice when they acheive the impossible.

Or that they make visible progress towards the impossible.

Or that they acheive interesting side projects in their down time from working on the impossible.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-04T21:52:56.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or that they acheive interesting side projects in their down time from working on the impossible.

That is a good one (that applies even under strict definitions of 'the impossible'). Closely related is if they make valuable tangential contributions to the non-impossible while working on the impossible.

comment by gwern · 2011-03-05T00:02:41.258Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd look for the explosions.

comment by sketerpot · 2011-03-04T20:12:11.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a tricky thing to specialize in. Got any ideas about how someone would go about it?

If you interpret "impossible" as meaning "things a lot of people call impossible", then the obvious method would be to make a list of such things, research them to see if there are any where you have a plausible chance of making a difference, and figure out which of them you'd prefer to specialize in.

comment by SRStarin · 2011-03-03T17:47:57.089Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The hell of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the hell where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the hell and become such a part of it that you can never see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the hell, are not hell, then make them endure, give them space." -- Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

This is the last paragraph of the book. I should note that I changed the translation here from the Harcourt & Brace translation I have, substituting "hell" for "inferno." I recommend the book to any rationalist with a taste for fables.

Replies from: Tyrrell_McAllister
comment by Tyrrell_McAllister · 2011-03-04T00:19:47.835Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should note that I changed the translation here from the Harcourt & Brace translation I have, substituting "hell" for "inferno."

Out of curiosity, why did you make that change?

Replies from: SRStarin
comment by SRStarin · 2011-03-04T01:47:09.961Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Italian word for "hell" is "inferno." (I don't know Italian, but I knew that word.) That's also the Italian word for "inferno," and that was the choice of the translator in 1974. I suspect that was prudishness about the word "hell" for an American audience, but I don't know. Anyway, the passage is otherwise very much in keeping with the tradition of the French Existentialists. For example, Sartre famously wrote "L'enfer, c'est les autres," which translates as "Hell is other people." The book has other existentialist themes in some of its fables, so I conclude that Calvino was thinking about the existentialists that wrote before he, and that he meant "hell" when he wrote "inferno" in Italian. I could be wrong, but that's why I pointed it out.

Replies from: komponisto
comment by komponisto · 2011-03-04T02:57:56.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Hell" is the default translation, and definitely the correct one here, in my opinion (just as it is, for example, in Dante).

"Inferno" in English should just be a fancy Italianate way of saying "hell", but seems to have acquired a connotation of literal heat and flames. (That is, it's as if people have forgotten that "the blazing inferno of a burning building" is a metaphor.) In any case, neither cultured fanciness nor literal flames are intended by Calvino in that passage, as far as I can tell.

I'm not sure prudishness is necessarily to blame; it may just be a case of that all-too-common translator syndrome of reaching for a word that looks like the original word, rather than the word that the author would have used if he or she were actually a native speaker of the language you're translating into.

Here's the passage in the original, for those interested (source):

L'inferno dei viventi non è qualcosa che sarà; se ce n'è uno, è quello che è già qui, l'inferno che abitiamo tutti i giorni, che formiamo stando insieme. Due modi ci sono per non soffrirne. Il primo riesce facile a molti: accettare l'inferno e diventarne parte fino al punto di non vederlo più. Il secondo è rischioso ed esige attenzione e apprendimento continui: cercare e saper riconoscere chi e cosa, in mezzo all'inferno, non è inferno, e farlo durare, e dargli spazio.

comment by Morendil · 2011-03-03T09:55:19.122Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence; and where it is presumption to doubt and to investigate, there it is worse than presumption to believe.

-- Clifford, The Ethics of Belief

comment by DSimon · 2011-03-02T14:53:04.747Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I've learned from my mistakes

This time I will escape

I'm too young to die

We're all too young to die!

Agent Orange - Too Young To Die

comment by Nominull · 2011-03-03T04:01:46.366Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The golden goose is a great thing for everybody until down the road you discover you are that guy wringing the bird's neck screaming at it to lay you some more goddamn eggs you honking piece of shit.

-Andrew Hussie

Replies from: Alicorn
comment by Alicorn · 2011-03-03T04:49:13.843Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In what sense does this represent or touch on rationality?

Replies from: Nominull, NancyLebovitz
comment by Nominull · 2011-03-03T05:03:25.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps it will help to know that Andrew Hussie is a webcomic artist, and his webcomic is the golden egg in question?

It's a newcomb-like problem faced by anyone who wants to enjoy anyone else's creative output. People fear creating good things for fear that they will be expected to go on creating them.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-03-03T06:17:11.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More generally, it's an extension of the original moral-- have respect for how things actually work instead of trying to force them to be what you want.

comment by NihilCredo · 2011-03-15T06:28:31.158Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

HABIT, n.: A shackle for the free.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:52:19.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The word real does not seem to be a descriptive term. It seems to be an honorific term that we bestow on our most cherished beliefs - our most treasured ways of thinking.

Bruce Gregory, Inventing Reality: Physics as Language, p.184

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-02T20:19:40.357Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This quote seems logically impossible, among other things.

Replies from: gwern, PhilGoetz
comment by gwern · 2011-03-02T21:29:42.722Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's hard to define 'real'; it's not clear that it's doing any work. If you're curious, Gary Drescher in Good and Real (who is on good terms with logic) argues in the last chapter that the real/unreal distinction is not meaningful.

Replies from: fubarobfusco, ata, sark, Manfred
comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-03-02T23:25:09.408Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This point was made long ago by J.L. Austin in (I believe) Sense and Sensibilia. Austin points out several things about "real", among them that "real" is substantive-hungry: You can't answer "Is such-and-so real?" without asking first, "Is it a real what?"

A decoy duck is not a real duck, but it is a real decoy -- whereas a rubber duck is not a real decoy; and a decoy coot might be mistaken for a decoy duck if you know little of waterfowl, but isn't a real decoy duck.

There is no sense of "real" that applies to all substantives that we would describe as real. The word makes sense only in contrast to specific ways of being unreal: being a forgery, a toy, an hallucination, a fictional character, an exaggeration, a case of mistaken identity, a doctored picture, etc. It is these negative concepts, and not the concept of "real", that actually do all the explanatory work. "Real" is both ambiguous and negative.

comment by ata · 2011-03-02T23:03:56.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's hard to define 'real'; it's not clear that it's doing any work.

"Hard to define" and "not clearly doing any work" are distinct properties; I'd agree about the former and not the latter. I do find it difficult to give a definition of "real" that isn't going to break when dealing with unusual border cases; but nevertheless, if I consider the question "Is Harry Potter real?", or "Is Barack Obama real?", or "Are atoms real?", then the two possible answers I could give for each will imply distinct models of reality that anticipate different experiences, and furthermore the word "real" can transfer such a model into someone else's mind pretty successfully. It doesn't particularly seem to have any of the characteristics of a non-descriptive term.

comment by sark · 2011-03-03T00:35:00.844Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Err no! He says that 'real' means something like causally accessible from where we are. It's something like "from my perspective I am real, but from the perspective of a fictional-me in a fictional-universe, I am not, while the fictional me is real". Except this is not a very helpful way to define 'real'. There is no meta-realness, but relativistic-realness is quite as useless. Drescher dissolves the issue, by reducing 'real' to something like "whatever we can possibly get at from where we are in this universe".

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2011-03-03T01:09:25.956Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Err no! He says that 'real' means something like causally accessible from where we are.

Yes. He has several paragraphs where he points out that the usual understandings of 'real' are incoherent in his 'equations' framework, and only then goes on to suggest a new and entirely different sort of 'real', which isn't quite causally accessible (since remember, he's previously arguing for a Parmenidean 4D block-universe) but more one of definition:

Most importantly, they would think and say so for the same sort of reag son as we do, a reason that must be rooted in the equations themselves (because the equations themselves ultimately specify every detail of those thoughts and words), without recourse to any spark of existence. And even if we did not carry out the computation of what the alternative equa- tions specify—even if those equations were left out in the cold, unnoticed and unexamined—those equations would still be specifying a universe in which intelligent beings perceived and spoke of what they thought is a spark of existence, just as we do, and for the same reasons.

As with the gravity hypothesis in the mirror-asymmetry paradox back in section 1.2.3, it becomes superfluous to hypothesize a spark of existence, that is, some kind of grounding that distinguishes a real universe from an unrealized set of equations. It is superfluous because the ungrounded equa- tions must already specify organisms who perceive their universe as real (i.e., who perceive the apparent spark), just as we do, and for the same rea- sons that we do. Those perceptions are already inherent in the equations themselves.

comment by Manfred · 2011-03-02T22:48:13.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If "real" is an honorific, then it can also be used as a descriptive term.

If "Gary Drescher is not real" is false, then clearly we mean something by the word, which makes it a bit tricky to show that it's not meaningful. Maybe you could show that real and unreal things have identical properties, aside from their "honorific?" Monsters under the bed refute that one though...

Replies from: PhilGoetz
comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-03-24T23:12:45.941Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should use a more charitable interpretation. E.g., "A common usage of the world 'real'". Obviously you're going to find some cases where real is used more technically.

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-24T23:57:46.726Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Past a small amount of charity it stops being a notable quote and starts being a demonstration of our charity skills, so I'm more reluctant to be nice here than in an argument.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-03-24T23:11:12.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How so?

Replies from: Manfred
comment by Manfred · 2011-03-24T23:50:09.796Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As in my reply to gwern, I was thinking "If "real" is an honorific, then it can also be used as a descriptive term."

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-02T11:56:02.249Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Man's spontaneous tendency is to give credence to assertions and reproduce them, without even distinguishing them clearly from his own observations. In everyday life, do we not accept indiscriminately, without any sort of verification, rumors, anonymous and unverified reports, all sorts of "documents" of little or no worth? We need a special reason to take the trouble to examine the provenance and value of a document about what happened yesterday; otherwise, if it is not unlikely to the point of scandal, and as long as no one contradicts it, we take it in and hold on to it, we peddle it ourselves, embellishing it if need be. Every honest man will admit that a violent effort is necessary to shake off ignavia critica [critical laziness], that so widespread form of intellectual cowardice; that this effort must be constantly repeated, and that it is often accompanied by real suffering.

Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos, "Introduction aux études historiques" (1898), via LanguageHat (http://www.languagehat.com/archives/001685.php).

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2011-03-02T19:40:58.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And is that laziness so bad? If extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, presumably ordinary claims require merely ordinary evidence...

Replies from: Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Eliezer_Yudkowsky, Thomas
comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-03-02T20:58:24.325Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Ordinary claims require merely ordinary evidence" is an overlooked and tremendously important corollary.

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2011-03-02T21:17:22.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have you to thank for that insight, actually.

If I hadn't read "Conservation of Expected Evidence" , it would never have occurred to me to think of truth-seeking as a zero-sum game and ask, if we have something extraordinary over here, then what is forced to be ordinary to compensate?

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2011-03-14T20:21:53.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to quote you on this in the rationality book. Email me with who you want credited if it's not "gwern on LessWrong.com".

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2011-03-15T17:19:29.200Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Email sent. (Gosh, I think this will be the second book I'll be mentioned in. How thrilling.)

comment by Thomas · 2011-03-06T16:49:23.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As extraordinary evidences require some extraordinary claims as well.

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T17:23:31.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may sound clever but it simply isn't true. It is perfectly possible to find extraordinary evidence for a merely ordinary claim.

I'm sure I could find huge amounts of evidence for the claim the high speed car crashes are frequently fatal, but this doesn't mean the claim "slamming into a large metal object at 70mph may kill you" ever deserved a low prior.

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2011-03-06T17:36:15.118Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is not en extraordinary evidence for me, if it can be explained by some ordinary claims.

Replies from: Pavitra, benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T17:42:32.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The intended meaning of "extraordinary evidence" in the original quote is simply "very strong evidence" or for a more Bayesian way of putting it "evidence which would be phenomenally unlikely if the claim in question was incorrect".

Replies from: Thomas, Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2011-03-07T07:37:03.367Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The intended meaning of "extraordinary evidence" in the original quote is simply "very strong evidence"

Not at all! For many ordinary claims like "the Sun will rise tomorrow" we have quite strong evidences, while we lack that strong evidences about some more extraordinary claims.

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-07T08:04:42.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The whole point of the quote is that if we lack extraordinary (which means extraordinarily strong) evidence about an extraordinary claim we shouldn't believe it. I stand by that idea. Therefore I suspect all of your counterexamples are bogus.

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2011-03-07T08:36:38.595Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"You can't travel faster than light" is quite an extraordinary claim, which has not as strong evidences, as the ordinary "an apple falls down if you drop it" has.

You misunderstood.

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-07T08:59:08.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"You can't travel faster than light" has lots of strong evidence for it, or at any rate it is a very high-probability consequence of a theory which has lots of strong evidence for it. Its not even that extraordinary, it doesn't contradict anything else we know to be true and it refers to a domain which we have no experience of (travelling at a speed measured in millions of meters per second) so the fact that its non-intuitive shouldn't be so significant. Compare that with a genuinely extraordinary claim like "homoeopathy works" which is made extraordinary by dint of the fact that if its true we have to throw out the whole of physics, which has plenty of evidence for it.

It doesn't have as much evidence as "an apple falls down if you drop it" but this fact is irrelevant. Bayesian probability is not a competition, just because we have more evidence for B than for A doesn't mean we can't have enough evidence for both of them. The situation would be different if A and B were mutually contradictory, but since they clearly aren't in this case the fact that one has stronger evidence does not contradict the fact that the other still has strong evidence.

Its simple Bayesian logic, if a claim is extraordinary (meaning implausible/very low prior) then to confirm it you need extraordinary evidence (meaning extraordinarily strong). Any such evidence is unlikely by definition, but it does not have to be weird in the sense of being non-intuitive.

This is the last post I'll make in this discussion because frankly this argument has become stupid. I seem to recall other discussions with you that went the same way so we obviously bring out the worst in each other.

Replies from: Thomas
comment by Thomas · 2011-03-07T09:55:22.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I understand you correctly, extraordinary claims have better evidence on average than more ordinary claims, since they need such.

It is not the case.

comment by Thomas · 2011-03-06T17:50:10.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Michelson Morley experiment produced some extraordinary evidence. We needed some Einstein's extraordinary claims to deal with that evidence.

Just one example from hundreds and more.

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T18:41:42.568Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the purposes of the original quote extraordinary evidence did not mean weird, it meant very strong, as I just explained. Extraordinary claims certainly don't require weird evidence to confirm them.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-03-09T19:05:01.100Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agents who correctly record information from their observations, and industriously draw correct conclusions from their evidence, may be rational in some Olympian sense. But they are still cold-blooded recording devices. But knowledge is scarce, and rationality does not reside in always being cautious, and continual correctness. Its peak moments occur with warm-blooded agents, who are opinionated, make mistakes, but who subsequently correct themselves. Thus, rationality is about the dynamics of being wrong just as much as about that of being right: through belief revision, i.e., learning by giving up old beliefs. Or maybe better, rationality is about a balance between two abilities: jumping to conclusions, and subsequent correction if the jump was over-ambitious.

Johan van Benthem - in "Logical Dynamics of Information and interaction"(draft .pdf)

comment by M88 · 2011-03-05T02:52:22.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Scepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of scepticism. To be content with what we at present know, is, for the most part, to shut our ears against conviction; since, from the very gradual character of our education, we must continually forget, and emancipate ourselves from, knowledge previously acquired; we must set aside old notions and embrace fresh ones; and, as we learn, we must be daily unlearning something which it has cost us no small labour and anxiety to acquire.

Alexander Pope

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-30T20:25:06.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"It’s fascinating to me that we live in a world where some intelligent people think we need to put more effort into sophisticated artificial intelligence, while others think tractors powered by methane from manure are more important, and each thinks the other is being unrealistic."

John Baez

Replies from: JGWeissman
comment by JGWeissman · 2011-03-30T20:48:31.336Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very amusing, but what I find really silly here is that "tractors powered by methane from manure" is easy, and if that is helpful we should just do it already, and move on to hard important problems like FAI.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-30T20:51:49.256Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suppose the counterargument is "put the large rocks in first"... that is, that there is a large enough supply of easy problems that the "if it's easy, do it now" strategy means you never get to the hard important problems.

Replies from: JGWeissman, Swimmer963
comment by JGWeissman · 2011-03-30T20:57:42.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In this case, the easy problem is still easy without using any resources currently being applied to the hard problem. There should not be a trade off here.

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-03-30T20:56:35.623Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"put the large rocks in first"

Do you happen to know where that quote is from? My dad uses it a lot and I had the vague impression it was from a self-help book.

Replies from: TheOtherDave
comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-03-30T21:27:21.701Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't; it's been floating around the ether for as long as I can recall. Most recently, a friend of mine insisted that this was a Zen koan, which I find very unlikely.

comment by Kevin · 2011-03-15T23:37:43.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have asked dozens of bicycle riders how they turn to the left. I have never found a single person who stated all the facts correctly when first asked. They almost invariably said that to turn to the left, they turned the handlebar to the left and as a result made a turn to the left. But on further questioning them, some would agree that they first turned the handlebar a little to the right, and then as the machine inclined to the left, they turned the handlebar to the left and as a result made the circle, inclining inward.

-Wilbur Wright

comment by Perplexed · 2011-03-13T01:32:17.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any fool can tell the truth, but it requires a man of some sense to know how to lie well.

Samuel Butler

Quoted in the chapter on bounded rationality and the Revelation Principle in "Computational Aspects of Preference Aggregation" (.pdf) - an award winning 2006 PhD. Dissertation in AI by Vincent Conitzer.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:27:39.811Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a man can beat you, walk him.

Satchel Paige

Replies from: benelliott, Zvi
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T14:43:29.724Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does this mean?

Replies from: Sideways, CuSithBell
comment by Sideways · 2011-03-06T17:28:08.604Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Baseball pitchers have the option to 'walk' a batter, giving the other team a slight advantage but denying them the chance to gain a large advantage. Barry Bonds, a batter who holds the Major League Baseball record for home runs (a home run is a coup for the batter's team), also holds the record for intentional walks. By walking Barry Bonds, the pitcher denies him a shot at a home run. In other words, Paige is advising other pitchers to walk a batter when it minimizes expected risk to do so.

Since this denies the batter the opportunity to even try to get a hit, some consider it to be unsportsmanlike, and when overused it makes a baseball game less interesting. A culture of good sportsmanship and interesting games are communal goods in baseball-- the former keeps a spirit of goodwill, and the latter increases profitability-- so at a stretch, you might say Paige advises defecting in Prisoner's Dilemma type problems.

Replies from: wedrifid, benelliott
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-06T22:02:18.432Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since this denies the batter the opportunity to even try to get a hit, some consider it to be unsportsmanlike, and when overused it makes a baseball game less interesting.

... to some. There are others who enjoy watching games being played strategically. I don't, for example, take basketball seriously unless the teams are using a full court press.

What do you do, for example, if all the bases are loaded and the good hitter comes in? Do you give away the run? It may depend on the score and it would involve some complex mathematical reasoning. That single decision would be more memorable to me than the rest of the entire game of baseball!

A culture of good sportsmanship and interesting games are communal goods in baseball-- the former keeps a spirit of goodwill, and the latter increases profitability-- so at a stretch, you might say Paige advises defecting in Prisoner's Dilemma type problems.

The latter wouldn't be a reasonable claim to make, even taking your premises regarding what sportsmanship is and what is good for the game for granted. For Paige to be claimed to be advising defection in the Prisoner's Dilemma Paige would have to be asserting or at least believe that the payoffs are PDlike. Since Paige doesn't give this indication he instead seems to be advocating thinking strategically instead of following your pride.

Curiously, assuming another set of credible beliefs Paige could consider walking the batter to be the cooperation move in the game theoretic situation. Specifically, when there is another pitcher known to walk who cannot be directly influenced. If all the other pitchers publicly declare that the game's rules should be changed in such a way that free walking is less desirable and then free walk hitters whenever it is is strategic to do so they may force the rule-makers' hands. If just one pitcher tried this strategy of influence then he would lose utility, sacrificing his 'good guy' image without even getting all the benefits that the original free-walker got for being the 'lone bad boy strategic prick pitcher'. If all the pitchers except one cooperate then the one pitcher who lets himself be hit out of the park cleans up on the approval-by-simplistic-folks stakes by being the 'boy scout only true sportsman' guy while everyone else does the hard work of looking bad in order to improve the rules, the game in the long term and the ability of pitchers not to be competitively disadvantaged for being 'sportsmanlike'. (All of this is again assuming that no-free-walking is intrinsically good.)

I use an analogous strategy when playing the 500. I like to arrange house rules that put a suitable restriction (or incentive modification) for misere calls. If the opponents have their egos particularly attached to standard misere rules I allow their rules to be used and then bid open misere whenever it is rational to do so. Which is a lot.

The above is not exactly a threat simply for the purpose of enforcing my will. It is to a significant extent a simple warning. Some people sulk if they rarely get the kitty when they have the joker and 4 jacks. At least this way they are forewarned.

comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T17:44:38.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sorry but I'm not very familiar with baseball. Does walking a batter mean something like intentionally throwing the ball to third or fourth base so he doesn't get caught out but can't do a home run?

If this is the case then it seems like the advice is more about knowing when to lose.

Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-06T17:56:52.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Basically, when you throw the pitch, there's a "strike zone" in front of the batter where any pitch that isn't hit counts as a strike, but where the batter is most able to hit the ball. If you throw the ball outside the strike zone, it's harder to hit, but if the batter doesn't swing, it doesn't count as a strike - it's a "ball". Four balls means the batter goes to first base.

Thus, if you don't want to risk a home run, just throw the ball where it can't possibly be hit a few times, and give up one base instead of several points.

It's sorta about knowing when to lose, but it's more like the old Sun Tzu chestnut: "In war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak."

Replies from: benelliott
comment by benelliott · 2011-03-06T18:40:45.595Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: CuSithBell
comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-07T01:22:57.750Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're welcome :)

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-03-06T17:26:48.256Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a baseball thing, I'd assume. It's saying, if you're a pitcher, don't try to strike out a batter who's going to hit a home run - just give up a base and strike out the next guy.

comment by Zvi · 2011-03-09T15:50:21.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would consider this an anti-rationality quote because he's refusing to actually Shut Up and Multiply. If a guy can beat you, you give him a free pass?

EDIT: I claimed that it was obvious that the math indicated that there were too many intentional walks in Major League Baseball. This is clearly non-obvious, I have lowered my estimate for its likelihood to .9, and I apologize for the claim. However, I still dislike the quote strongly.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-09T22:59:18.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would consider this an anti-rationality quote because he's refusing to actually Shut Up and Multiply. If a guy can beat you, you give him a free pass?

And on this you are simply mistaken. Many people refuse to shut up and multiply. They are unable to admit that they do have limits and that sometimes losing is the best thing to do.

It is quite easy for those doing math on the situation to see that intentional walks that aren't considered automatic are usually a massive error.

Apart from not being math, your "math" is just wrong. You ought to be able to see why if you read the surrounding conversation here. You can potentially save multiple runs if you correctly evaluate your ability with regard to one particular conflict and concede.

This isn't "anti-rationality". It is anti conventional wisdom and common enforced exhortation.

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2011-03-10T00:24:01.851Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I apologize, for I spoke far too strongly. I should not have made such a claim. Nor do I on reflection think this is the place to start actually doing said math, and your belief being so strong made me call up a friend to go over the problem. I would however strongly dispute that this thread makes it clear that this should run the other way, and continue to believe with p~.9 that there are in fact too many intentional walks (I would have said p~.99 before this thread, my friend after consideration said .95).

This thread seems to be saying as evidence for there being too few: There exists a cognitive bias that, all things being equal, will cause managers to be reluctant to walk a batter intentionally.

I agree that this bias exists. However, I think there's a directly opposite bias that says "don't lose to their best guy" regardless of whether it's right to do so and a bias much stronger than either that says "do the thing that won't get me hammered in the press if I lose." I would guess there's also Overconfidence Bias at work here: Managers think that better matchups are more distinct from worse matchups than they actually are. There are a lot of biases surrounding this decision, they run in both directions and only a small (if growing) number of teams are willing to sit down, do math and try and figure out the right answer.

The only way to actually know which way this runs is to observe what managers actually do and compare that to a well developed model that evaluates the chances of each team winning given each potential decision.

My observations over the years is that these are the categories of situations involving possible intentional walks: 1) Conventional wisdom automatic walks. You need to walk him, and you do. 2) Conventional wisdom "free" walks. CV says that the run doesn't matter so put the guy on. Given the option value of being able to walk a guy, I think managers use this far too often; they essentially use it as long as the next guy is worse. 3) Getting to the pitcher. This is done at least as much as is reasonable given the lineup effects of doing this. 4) Walking the obviously more dangerous guy because there are men on base. This is the situation where it is possible they walk too rarely; I am willing to accept that some managers do this too rarely. Some clearly do it too often. 5) Walking the dangerous guy because you flat out won't pitch to him. This requires such a strong hitter to be right due to the value of an out. I'd have a very hard time believing this is substantially underused. 6) Walking one guy to get to another somewhat similar guy. This is done way too often, many times in places that boggles the mind.

I suspect that what happened is that the quote comes from a time when the conventional wisdom was different and managers did in fact walk batters too rarely, especially due to issues of sportsmanlike conduct, but such considerations seem to be almost entirely gone.

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-10T00:47:00.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"If a man can beat you, walk him" does not mean "walk people more than you do currently".

Replies from: HonoreDB
comment by HonoreDB · 2011-03-10T01:09:54.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So what does "can beat you" mean? I still don't understand this either in the context of baseball or rationality.

If "can beat you" means "could, theoretically, beat you" then you walk everybody. If "can beat you" means "is p>.5 to beat you" then you never intentionally walk anybody--if a pitcher is so tired he thinks the next batter is p>.5 to get a hit, he should ask to be relieved. If "can beat you" means "is p>k to beat you" where k is some threshold, then Paige does seem to be saying "walk people more than you do currently".

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-10T01:56:05.450Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

if a pitcher is so tired he thinks the next batter is p>.5 to get a hit

It isn't about tiredness or general competence.

The other replies here explain the quote well. I must affirm the rational decision making principle that is illustrated.

comment by Miller · 2011-03-04T22:05:10.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Once we are all working in the slave-pits together, I will try to put in a good word for you all. I will be like the old Barnard Hughes character in Tron, who remembers the Master Control Program when it was just accounting software."

-- Ken Jennings

Replies from: Nic_Smith
comment by Nic_Smith · 2011-03-05T04:51:08.264Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Read straight, I'd say it's a contender 'or ultimate irrationality quote about the future of AI. Ya got your generalizing from fictional evidence there, a bit o' inappropriate anthropomorphizing, a dash o' failure to recognize the absurdity of the future...

comment by lukeprog · 2011-03-28T01:39:11.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is necessary to know the power and the infirmity of our nature, before we can determine what reason can do in restraining the emotions, and what is beyond her power.


comment by lukeprog · 2011-03-28T01:30:25.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your brain has only a thin veneer of relatively modern, analytical circuits that are often no match for the blunt emotional power of the most ancient parts of your mind.

Jason Zweig

comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-12T12:22:45.836Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not, sadly, their own facts."

By Ben Goldacre

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-03-12T12:24:16.358Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The "sadly" somehow sounds wrong...

Replies from: Oscar_Cunningham
comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-03-12T14:20:40.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ben Goldacre keeps up a façade of being sympathetic to the Dark Side so that they look worse when they argue with him. Of course, taking it literally, it would be nice if I could decide what was true.

comment by roland · 2011-03-05T15:26:00.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians. But the map-maker's distortion is a technical necessity for a common purpose shared by all people who need maps. The historian's distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.


Replies from: Nominull
comment by Nominull · 2011-03-05T16:36:01.364Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be more interested to hear how he intends to solve the problem. Hopefully not the same way T-Rex did.

Replies from: Vaniver, JoshuaZ, roland
comment by Vaniver · 2011-03-06T06:12:00.328Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The book is propaganda. Wikipedia's collection of critical views.

Replies from: MinibearRex
comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-06T06:28:54.421Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The book is quite clearly propaganda. It sets out to advance a specific thesis, and there is literally no evidence provided against that idea. The bottom line was written at the beginning of the book, and he spent the rest of the book providing arguments for it. That doesn't mean, however, that his positions are necessarily wrong (see the addendum on the link above). Certainly, Zinn's positions have some flaws, but he does raise some issues that haven't been raised with other history texts.

Replies from: RichardKennaway
comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-03-06T13:21:56.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The bottom line was written at the beginning of the book, and he spent the rest of the book providing arguments for it.

It seems to me that the original quote is an explicit statement that that is what he is going to to. As is, even more explicitly, the mission statement on the top page of that website. An extract:

History isn't what happened, but the stories of what happened and the lessons these stories include. ... We cannot simply be passive. We must choose whose interests are best: those who want to keep things going as they are or those who want to work to make a better world. If we choose the latter, we must seek out the tools we will need. History is just one tool to shape our understanding of our world. And every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-03-05T22:47:49.303Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a whole cottage industry arguing over whether Zinn did solve it the way the T-Rex did or not. Although speaking as someone who agrees with some but not most of Zinn's politics, he did in some ways do a decent job focusing on areas of history that had not gotten a lot of attention due to ideological issues.

Replies from: alethiophile
comment by alethiophile · 2011-03-06T04:41:13.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is some value in criticizing that which has been improperly popularly lionized, but this introduces its own skew. Zinn managed to truly piss me off because in his chapter on WWII he either did not mention or mentioned only in passing the rape of Nanking and similar Japanese atrocities, spent a few paragraphs on the Holocaust, surprisingly didn't particularly mention the firebombings of Dresden or Tokyo, but harped for several pages on the atomic bombs. Perhaps they needed examination, but incessantly and loudly examining them at the expense of everything else leaves the reader with a distinct impression of Zinn's own political beliefs.

I think this might be behind much of (American) conservatives' anger with liberals in the foreign policy domain, as exemplified by the insult "blame-America-first". Liberals are questioning America's policies, which is well and good, while leaving it as read that the actions of their adversaries (since the dynamic evolved, usually USSR or terrorists) are much worse. Conservatives see that apparent bias and gain the impression that all liberals hate America in particular. The situation is not improved by much political mind-death on all sides. This is probably going off on a bit of a tangent, but it's at least marginally relevant.

Replies from: Mercy
comment by Mercy · 2011-03-08T15:06:00.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Zinn assumed familiarity with those though! He didn't have anything novel to say about them, why simply regurgitate what's known so idiots won't misinterpret you?

Replies from: Pavitra
comment by Pavitra · 2011-03-08T20:30:21.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't believe that that's what was really going on.

comment by roland · 2011-03-06T22:15:52.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sigh. Let me quote a part again:

My argument cannot be against selection, simplification, emphasis, which are inevitable for both cartographers and historians.

Did you even read that sentence? There is no problem and no attempt at solution, he is just pointing out an important fact that had escaped me(and I guess lots of other folks) until I read the quote.

comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-16T22:44:25.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought" Henri Bergson

When I first read this, I thought it was just applause lights. But I actually think it's highly applicable to rationalist standards of belief and practice.

comment by Threedee · 2011-03-05T08:39:09.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps this precedes subsequent rationality:

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. John Dewey

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-29T21:47:41.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions

Context: The main character has been talking about the wonderful mysteriousness that makes another character so interesting. His companion (a self described humanist), tries to correct him, saying:

"You should know that I have an equal dislike of seeing you in hot pursuit of mystery. By turning personality into an enigma, you run the danger of idol-worship. You are venerating a mask. You see something mystical where there is only mystification."

-Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

comment by TobyBartels · 2011-03-19T07:59:06.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm afraid that this isn't a quote, but it seems like the best place to put it.

Earlier today, I had a discussion with my girlfriend about Santa Claus etc. She opined that it was worthwhile to believe in ‘impossible things’ (her words) because belief is in itself valuable. I didn't know where to begin disagreeing with that. (There was also something about the ‘magic of childhood’.)

This evening, we saw Rango. She squeezed my hand when the characters started talking about how it was important to have something to believe in, it gives people hope, etc. I wasn't even inclined to disagree, only to point out that one should find something true to serve as the basis for one's hopes (not that we actually got into a discussion in the movie theatre).

But then I was delighted to find that the character most pushing this point of view jnf gur znva ivyynva. And not just that; by the lights of this movie, that attitude (belief without regard to truth) is simply wrong.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-19T01:21:18.892Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.

-- Randall Munroe

comment by Threedee · 2011-03-05T08:35:47.929Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Knowing the risk, I quote this (given that I am a utilitarian pragmatist):

Truth is what works. William James

Replies from: Normal_Anomaly
comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-03-05T18:12:22.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why is there a risk? Is it because of William James' reputation?

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:29:58.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Language is what we build with, the tool that builds the tools.

Diane Duane, The Wounded Sky

Replies from: wedrifid, PhilGoetz
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-02T21:21:27.029Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds pretty. But not especially accurate. You can build tools with opposable thumbs, a long stick and the optional ability to say "Oook!"

Replies from: sketerpot, BillyOblivion
comment by sketerpot · 2011-03-02T22:37:45.284Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It becomes accurate if you change one word and say that language is a tool that builds the tools.

comment by BillyOblivion · 2011-03-05T12:41:08.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heck, you could wind up a librarian in a university.

Replies from: MartinB
comment by MartinB · 2011-03-05T13:15:56.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Regarding tools (for building tools)* check out the flying sorcerers by Nieven and Pournelle.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-03-24T23:19:23.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Emacs is the tool that builds the tools.

comment by ata · 2011-03-26T04:06:02.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference, which is an elegant name for ignorance.

— G. K. Chesterson

Replies from: wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-26T06:13:25.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wrong on both counts. Impartiality is a necessary and desirable trait for umpires (and similar roles). I want umpires, judges and escrow agents to be impartial even when they care about one of the parties.

Indifference is a valid preference to have for events that don't concern you. I'm indifferent to who wins the Super Bowl. That doesn't mean I know nothing about it. I simply have no reason whatsoever to care.

The Chesterson's quote is a pompous and elegant way of whining that people don't want to help you.

comment by TrE · 2011-03-14T06:24:44.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien:

"He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom."

Although I think breaking things actually can be pretty useful if there are more things of that kind. If you're breaking something unique, well, then...

Replies from: DavidAgain
comment by DavidAgain · 2011-03-14T12:39:50.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure if 'although' is meant to reject this as a rationality quote or deny it entirely. I think the latter might be wise, though. It's essentially an anti-reductionist, anti-analytic quote on similar grounds to Keats' lines on unweaving rainbows. It's also part of a semi-mystical 'magical combat by philosophical debate' sequence, which I really enjoy as literature but which essentially boils down to a series of Mysterious Old Wizard 'insights'. Although, ironically, in LOTR the quote is objecting to Saruman breaking white light into its constituent 'many colours', whereas Keats is objecting to explaining the 'many colours' back to a division of white light. So it seems that the 'holistic' view is objecting to analysis in either direction on this one!

comment by billswift · 2011-03-02T19:37:01.077Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Intelligence is your primary means of survival.

People who keep secrets are your enemies.

Keeping secrets is a waste of time.

from a review of T Leary, The Intelligence Agents in Michael Marotta, The Code Book, 3rd ed

comment by ata · 2011-03-24T03:54:15.625Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People just have no clue about their genuine nature. I have countless friends who describe themselves as "cynical," and they're all wrong. True cynics would never classify themselves as such, because it would mean that they know their view of the world is unjustly negative; despite their best efforts at being grumpy, a self-described cynic is secretly optimistic about normal human nature. Individuals who are truly cynical will always insist they're pragmatic. The same goes for anyone who claims to be "creative." If you define your personality as creative, it only means you understand what is perceived to be creative by the world at large, so you're really just following a rote creative template. That's the opposite of creativity. Everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time.

— Chuck Klosterman

Replies from: rabidchicken
comment by rabidchicken · 2011-03-24T03:59:50.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can know you are unjustly negative without being able to change your disposition. Why do you think people choose to take counselling and antidepressants?

I know I am cynical

Replies from: ata
comment by ata · 2011-03-26T04:09:30.759Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read the quote as referring more to people who take pride in their self-image as cynics. I meant no offense to those who correctly and non-paradoxically believe themselves to have unjustly negative aliefs), I know what that's like.

comment by Threedee · 2011-03-05T08:58:18.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this too cryptic? :

Throw strikes. Home plate don't move. Satchel Paige

Replies from: wedrifid, wedrifid
comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:48:24.254Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Additional note)

It would have seemed less cryptic to me if the quote was formatted in a way that distinguished between your commentary, the quote itself and the quote author. I hadn't read your other contributions at the time so didn't realise that you didn't use a standard form. I did not realise that "Throw strikes. Home plate don't move." was the actual literal quote, as opposed to a cryptic reference in your own words to a quote that I was supposed to be familiar with.


Using formatting like this for quoting stuff just looks cooler.

-- wedrifid

comment by wedrifid · 2011-03-05T09:23:51.116Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this too cryptic?

Yes. I'm familiar enough with the rules of baseball that I can infer the sport and affirm that throwing strikes is a Good Thing for a pitcher to do and acknowledge that the home plate does, in fact, stay put. I am not sufficiently familiar with Satchel Paige or enamoured of the sport that I can guess why I am supposed to be inspired.

Google helped to clarify. It gave the full quote and put it in the context of what seems to be, shall we say, a KISS philosophy.

Just take the ball and throw it where you want to. Throw strikes. Home plate don't move.

-- Satchel Paige

(Google also gives a Paige quote that is a real gem of a rationality insight. Thanks for the indirect link!)

comment by ata · 2011-03-16T17:14:04.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Winning is never an accident.

— law firm ad on the back of the Yellow Pages

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-03-09T12:35:14.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[I]f the world weren’t going to hell, it would be a great place.

-- Paul Krugman

(Not that this is necessarily a rationality quote, I just think it's cute.)

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-09T15:14:33.187Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Should we open alternative Quotes Theeads for quotes which aren't Rationality Quotes, but which we want to share anyway?

Replies from: David_Gerard, Costanza
comment by David_Gerard · 2011-03-09T15:51:42.162Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Put 'em in the Open Thread and see who goes for it.

Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-10T03:04:52.128Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds good to me.

Edit: Ah, I see that there is disagreement. I think this calls for a poll - I'll make one in the Open Thread.

Edit 2: Poll

comment by Costanza · 2011-03-09T15:17:40.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: RobinZ
comment by RobinZ · 2011-03-10T03:13:24.347Z · LW(p) · GW(p)