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Language, Color Perception, and Mental Maps 2011-09-10T17:48:05.443Z · score: 7 (7 votes)

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Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2014 · 2014-02-02T22:43:22.267Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

...it just goes to show you that if you write convoluted, dense academic prose nobody will understand it and your ideas will be misinterpreted and then the misinterpreted ideas will be ridiculed even when they weren't your ideas.

Joel Spolsky

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes January 2014 · 2014-01-19T20:23:31.250Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.

Winston Churchill

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes January 2014 · 2014-01-09T23:30:28.649Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW

A remarkable, glorious achievement is just what a long series of unremarkable, unglorious tasks looks like from far away.

— Tim Urban (I think) of Wait But Why on How To Beat Procrastination

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes November 2013 · 2013-11-12T06:46:10.226Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I just read the article, so I guess I was assuming it was new and wouldn't have been quoted.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes November 2013 · 2013-11-11T23:21:12.446Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

snip

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-16T19:07:24.595Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Sometimes I think that I'm surrounded by idiots everywhere. Then I remind myself that that's exactly what an idiot would think.

Abstruse Goose (alt text)

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes October 2013 · 2013-10-03T05:07:22.078Z · score: 25 (31 votes) · LW · GW

Him: We can't go back. We don't understand everything yet.

Her: "Everything" is a little ambitious. We barely understand anything.

Him: Yeah. But that's what the first part of understanding everything looks like.

Randall Munroe - Time

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes September 2013 · 2013-09-15T22:47:47.584Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

A term that means almost anything means almost nothing. Such a term is a convenient device for those who have almost nothing to say.

Richard Mitchell - Less Than Words Can Say

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes September 2013 · 2013-09-14T21:41:19.489Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Reality is one honey badger. It don’t care. About you, about your thoughts, about your needs, about your beliefs. You can reject reality and substitute your own, but reality will roll on, eventually crushing you even as you refuse to dodge it. The best you can hope for is to play by reality’s rules and use them to your benefit.

Mark Crislip - Science-Based Medicine

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes September 2013 · 2013-09-11T06:03:45.642Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW

If you cannot examine your thoughts, you have no choice but to think them, however silly they may be.

Richard Mitchell - Less Than Words Can Say

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes July 2013 · 2013-07-12T04:43:26.778Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

There's something here that doesn't make sense... Let's go and poke it with a stick.

The Doctor - Doctor Who

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes March 2013 · 2013-03-02T04:31:22.124Z · score: 34 (34 votes) · LW · GW

On the presentation of science in the news:

It's not that clean energy will never happen -- it totally will. It's just that it won't come from a wild-haired scientist running out of his basement screaming, "Eureka! I've discovered how to get limitless clean energy from common seawater!" Instead, it will come from thousands of scientists publishing unreadable studies with titles like "Assessing Effectiveness and Costs of Asymmetrical Methods of Beryllium Containment in Gen 4 Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors When Factoring for Cromulence Decay." The world will be saved by a series of boring, incremental advances that chip away at those technical challenges one tedious step at a time.

But nobody wants to read about that in their morning Web browsing. We want to read that while we were sleeping, some unlikely hero saved the world. Or at least cured cancer.

David Wong — 5 Easy Ways to Spot a BS News Story on the Internet

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-18T10:41:00.044Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

From the alt-text in the above-linked comic:

Corollary: The most prolific people in the world suck 99% of the time.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-18T10:40:35.515Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

Linus Pauling

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes September 2012 · 2013-02-18T10:38:47.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From the alt-text in the above-linked comic:

Corollary: The most prolific people in the world suck 99% of the time.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes September 2012 · 2013-02-18T10:37:23.405Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

Linus Pauling

Edit: another one captured by an old thread!

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-13T23:34:58.119Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Every time you read something that mentions brain chemicals or brain scans, rewrite the sentence without the sciencey portions. “Hate makes people happy.” “Women feel closer to people after sex.” “Music makes people happy.” If the argument suddenly seems way less persuasive, or the news story way less ground-breaking… well. Someone’s doing something shady.

Ozy Frantz - Brain Chemicals are not Fucking Magic

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-02T22:57:46.945Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also from the review:

A pacemaker malfunction isn't automatically fatal. In most cases the patient's heart will still beat, although with an abnormal rhythm. The severity of a pacemaker problem depends on the type of malfunction as well as the severity of the patient's condition. EM interference can cause problems, but major problems are rare considering the amount of EM interference pacemaker patients are exposed to. Pacemakers are designed to minimize these problems. It's hard to believe that dozens of pacemaker patients with various heart conditions and different makes and models of pacemakers would simultaneously die from microwave exposure.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-02T03:45:22.350Z · score: 32 (32 votes) · LW · GW

On scientists trying to photograph an atom's shadow:

...the idea sounds stupid. But scientists don't care about sounding stupid, which is what makes them not stupid, and they did it anyway.

Luke McKinney - 6 Microscopic Images That Will Blow Your Mind

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-02T03:37:42.621Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

The remark included the following as a footnote:

Even top-notch engineers and scientists will speculate wildly when they're off-the-record. We define on-the-record as those times when their written or oral communications are likely to be taken seriously and directly attributed to the scientist or engineer making them. Surely answering a direct question posed by a general would fall into this category.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes February 2013 · 2013-02-02T03:36:42.501Z · score: 31 (33 votes) · LW · GW

It seems that 32 Bostonians have simultaneously dropped dead in a ten-block radius for no apparent reason, and General Purcell wants to know if it was caused by a covert weapon. Of course, the military has been put in charge of the investigation and everything is hush-hush.

Without examining anything, Keyes takes about five seconds to surmise that the victims all died from malfunctioning pacemakers and the malfunction was definitely not due to a secret weapon. We're supposed to be impressed, but our experience with real scientists and engineers indicates that when they're on-the-record, top-notch scientists and engineers won't even speculate about the color of their socks without looking at their ankles. They have top-notch reputations because they're almost always right. They're almost always right because they keep their mouths shut until they've fully analyzed the data.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics' review of The Core

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes April 2012 · 2012-04-05T01:25:21.138Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks. I didn't wanna post this much, but I was rather too attached to the passage to cut anything else out. Helps to have other eyes.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes April 2012 · 2012-04-03T02:17:07.967Z · score: 12 (18 votes) · LW · GW

But when we have these irrational beliefs, these culturally coded assumptions, running so deep within our community and movement, how do we actually change that? How do we get people to further question themselves when they’ve already become convinced that they’re a rational person, a skeptic, and have moved on from irrationality, cognitive distortion and bias?

Well I think what we need to do is to change the fundamental structure and values of skepticism. We need to build our community and movement around slightly different premises.

As it has stood in the past, skepticism has been predicated on a belief in the power of the empirical and rational. It has been based on the premise that there is an empirical truth, and that it is knowable, and that certain tools and strategies like science and logic will allow us to reach that truth. In short, the “old guard” skepticism was based on a veneration of the rational. But the veneration of certain techniques or certain philosophies creates the problematic possibility of choosing to consider certain conclusions or beliefs to BE empirical and rational and above criticism, particularly beliefs derived from the “right” tools, and even more dangerously, to consider oneself “rational”.

...

I believe that in order to be able to question our own beliefs as well as we question those of others, we need to restructure skepticism around awareness of human limitation, irrationality and flaws. Rather than venerating the rational, and aspiring to become some kind of superhuman fully rational vulcan minds, we need to instead create a more human skepticism, built around understanding how belief operates, how we draw conclusions, and how we can cope with the human limitations. I believe we need to remove the focus from aspiring towards ridding ourselves of the irrational, and instead move the focus towards understanding how this irrationality operates and why we believe all the crazy things we believe. We need to position as our primary aspiration not the achievement of a perfect comprehending mind, but instead an ability to maintain constant hesitation and doubt, to always always ALWAYS second-guess our positions and understand that they’re being created through a flawed mind, from flawed perceptions.

Science and reason are excellent tools to allow us to cope with being crazy, irrational human beings, but it CANNOT allow us to transcend that. The instant we begin to believe that we have become A Skeptic, A Rational Person, that is when we’ve fucked up, that is when we stop practicing skepticism, stop keeping an eye out for our mistakes, and begin to imagine our irrational perceptions as perfect rational conclusions. It’s only by building a skepticism based on the practice of doubt, rather than the state of Skeptic, that we’ll truly be able to be move on from our assumptions.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality quotes January 2012 · 2012-01-01T20:17:36.592Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In every branch of knowledge the progress is proportional to the amount of facts on which to build, and therefore to the facility of obtaining data.

— James Clerk Maxwell

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes December 2011 · 2011-12-02T02:02:32.560Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Clear language engenders clear thought, and clear thought is the most important benefit of education." - Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

Comment by jsbennett86 on Living Metaphorically · 2011-11-30T00:13:23.483Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, you're right. You can defeat the paradox on mathematical grounds, without having to appeal to physics. But Zeno could have defeated it on his own without using any math, simply by realizing that his metaphor was not paying rent.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Living Metaphorically · 2011-11-29T22:02:53.972Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The telling of this paradox I most remember says, "Between point A and point B, there are an infinite number of points through which the arrow must pass. So it must take the arrow an infinite amount of time to pass through those points. How can the arrow get from point A to point B?"

This is the problem with mapping a mathematical metaphor onto reality: it doesn't always work. If the metaphor disagrees with the observation that the arrow does get from point A to point B, then it's not doing useful work.

In fact, modern physics tells us there is a smallest possible length, the Planck length, which means there is not an infinite number of points through which the arrow must pass. Still, you don't need modern physics to defeat this paradox; you only need the ability to observe that the arrow does get from point A to point B.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Rationality Quotes November 2011 · 2011-11-01T00:53:29.558Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Who first called Reason sweet, I don't know. I suspect that he was a man with very few responsibilities, no children to rear, and no payroll to meet. An anchorite with heretical tendencies, maybe, or the idle youngest son of a wealthy Athenian. The dictates of Reason are often difficult to figure out, rarely to my liking, and profitable only by what seems a happy but remarkably unusual accident. Mostly, Reason brings bad news, and bad news of the worst sort, for, if it is truly the word of Reason, there is no denying it or weaseling out of its demands without simply deciding to be irrational. Thus it is that I have discovered, and many others, I notice, have also discovered, all sorts of clever ways to convince myself that Reason is "mere" Reason, powerful and right, of course, but infinitely outnumbered by reasons, my reasons.

Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire

Comment by jsbennett86 on Language, Color Perception, and Mental Maps · 2011-09-10T21:00:22.476Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good point, and I didn't think of that when I said I couldn't see making your beliefs pay rent was of any use here. Of course, a Himba scientist and a Western scientist might still say, "We know the wavelength of the light diffracting off the sky. But is it blue or black?" This may just be a result of how an algorithm feels from inside.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Language, Color Perception, and Mental Maps · 2011-09-10T20:44:46.274Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I was sure that I had picked out the different square, only to find I was wrong. Looking back, I can't see any difference, really (and I suspect the original one I saw was due to a shadow on the screen). Nevertheless, the scientists do say that there is a difference between the square the Himba picked and the others. Some people can see weird things, like the polarization of light, so it's not a stretch to imagine they are more sensitive to different aspects of light than we are, and less sensitive to things like hue. I really wish the clip explained what the difference they were seeing was.

If the Himba were to design a color wheel, I wonder what it would look like.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Language, Color Perception, and Mental Maps · 2011-09-10T20:25:57.261Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

While I was writing this post, I changed where I was going with the map/territory thing, and that led to me confusing myself. I'm not sure what I was thinking originally, other than that it seemed quite significant at the time.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Language, Color Perception, and Mental Maps · 2011-09-10T20:19:50.346Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

True. New words help to highlight new distinctions, but you have to have a distinction for the word to apply to before it is useful. Otherwise, it either refers to nothing at all or the same distinction that another word illustrates.

Asking what color the sky is may show cultural differences (for example, many many cultures use the same words for blue and green, though they're perfectly capable of pointing out the difference between the two), but the demonstration with the colored squares suggests something different is going on with the Himba.

So the Himba can make some distinctions that we cannot (as opposed to do not), and vice versa. We each have words to describe those distinctions (and I'm sure the Himba could explain why, with their own vocabulary, why that one green square is different from the other ones that look exactly the same to us). The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that brain patterns change the language than vice versa.

Why did the scientists in this program seem to think it was the other way around, I wonder?

Comment by jsbennett86 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-08-15T05:58:04.895Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There was an atheist picnic at the park where I work. They were celebrating the rapture that was supposed to take place back in May (needless to say, they weren't too surprised when the rapture was called off). I got to speak with a few people, but most of the meetup groups were rather far for me to drive to on a regular basis.

Thanks for the links. I'm located in the DFW metroplex, but I could make a drive to a meetup elsewhere once in a while.

Comment by jsbennett86 on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) · 2011-08-15T05:17:51.939Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My name's Joshua Bennett, and I also came here after reading the Harry Potter fanfiction. I made a commitment to pursuing rationality after reading Richard Mitchell's book The Gift of Fire, and seeing even a fictional example of applied rational thinking got me excited. I know that, despite my best efforts, I am a terribly irrational person; I want to fix that.

In the past year or so I've thrown off (among other things) my fundamentalist Christian beliefs in pursuit of truth, and I now call myself an atheist and anti-theist. When people ask how I lost my faith, I tell them I didn't lose it so much as cut it out and throw it away as one would a cancer. I know there are many other cancerous irrationalities lodged into my mind, and I hope that, by studying and conversing with the community here, I will begin to excise as much unreason as I can.

(By the way, I'm glad to see this community is atheist-friendly; I live in Texas and there don't seem to be very many non-religious folk around.)