Best of Rationality Quotes

105 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:56:46AM Permalink

Personally, I've been hearing all my life about the Serious Philosophical Issues posed by life extension, and my attitude has always been that I'm willing to grapple with those issues for as many centuries as it takes.

-- Patrick Nielsen Hayden

73 points RichardKennaway 02 February 2011 01:07:05AM Permalink

At home there was a game that all the parents played with their children. It was called, What Did You See? Mara was about Dann’s age when she was first called into her father’s room one evening, where he sat in his big carved and coloured chair. He said to her, ‘And now we are going to play a game. What was the thing you liked best today?’

At first she chattered: ‘I played with my cousin . . . I was out with Shera in the garden . . . I made a stone house.’ And then he had said, ‘Tell me about the house.’ And she said, ‘I made a house of the stones that come from the river bed.’ And he said, ‘Now tell me about the stones.’ And she said, ‘They were mostly smooth stones, but some were sharp and had different shapes.’ ‘Tell me what the stones looked like, what colour they were, what did they feel like.’

And by the time the game ended she knew why some stones were smooth and some sharp and why they were different colours, some cracked, some so small they were almost sand. She knew how rivers rolled stones along and how some of them came from far away. She knew that the river had once been twice as wide as it was now. There seemed no end to what she knew, and yet her father had not told her much, but kept asking questions so she found the answers in herself. Like, ‘Why do you think some stones are smooth and round and some still sharp?’ And she thought and replied, ‘Some have been in the water a long time, rubbing against other stones, and some have only just been broken off bigger stones.’ Every evening, either her father or her mother called her in for What Did You See? She loved it. During the day, playing outside or with her toys, alone or with other children, she found herself thinking, Now notice what you are doing, so you can tell them tonight what you saw.

She had thought that the game did not change; but then one evening she was there when her little brother was first asked, What Did You See? and she knew just how much the game had changed for her. Because now it was not just What Did You See? but: What were you thinking? What made you think that? Are you sure that thought is true?

When she became seven, not long ago, and it was time for school, she was in a room with about twenty children – all from her family or from the Big Family – and the teacher, her mother’s sister, said, ‘And now the game: What Did You See?’

Most of the children had played the game since they were tiny; but some had not, and they were pitied by the ones that had, for they did not notice much and were often silent when the others said, ‘I saw . . .’, whatever it was. Mara was at first upset that this game played with so many at once was simpler, more babyish, than when she was with her parents. It was like going right back to the earliest stages of the game: ‘What did you see?’ ‘I saw a bird.’ ‘What kind of a bird?’ ‘It was black and white and had a yellow beak.’ ‘What shape of beak? Why do you think the beak is shaped like that?’

Then she saw what she was supposed to be understanding: Why did one child see this and the other that? Why did it sometimes need several children to see everything about a stone or a bird or a person?

Doris Lessing, "Mara and Dann"

66 points Grognor 02 May 2012 03:42:19AM Permalink

Tags like "stupid," "bad at __", "sloppy," and so on, are ways of saying "You're performing badly and I don't know why." Once you move it to "you're performing badly because you have the wrong fingerings," or "you're performing badly because you don't understand what a limit is," it's no longer a vague personal failing but a causal necessity. Anyone who never understood limits will flunk calculus. It's not you, it's the bug.

-celandine13 (Hat-tip to Frank Adamek. In addition, the linked article is so good that I had trouble picking something to put in rationality quotes; in other words, I recommend it.)

64 points Alicorn 07 April 2011 03:08:53AM Permalink

When confronting something which may be either a windmill or an evil giant, what question should you be asking?

There are some who ask, "If we do nothing, and that is an evil giant, can we afford to be wrong?" These people consider themselves to be brave and vigilant.

Some ask "If we attack it wrongly, can we afford to pay to replace a windmill?" These people consider themselves cautious and pragmatic.

Still others ask, "With the cost of being wrong so high in either case, shouldn't we always definitively answer the 'windmill vs. giant' question before we act?" And those people consider themselves objective and wise.

But only a tiny few will ask, "Isn't the fact that we're giving equal consideration to the existence of evil giants and windmills a warning sign of insanity in ourselves?"

It's hard to find out what these people consider themselves, because they never get invited to parties.

-- PartiallyClips, "Windmill"

63 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:16:33AM Permalink

From a BBC interview with a retiring Oxford Don:

Don: "Up until the age of 25, I believed that 'invective' was a synonym for 'urine'."

BBC: "Why ever would you have thought that?"

Don: "During my childhood, I read many of the Edgar Rice Burroughs 'Tarzan' stories, and in those books, whenever a lion wandered into a clearing, the monkeys would leap into the trees and 'cast streams of invective upon the lion's head.'"

BBC: long pause "But, surely sir, you now know the meaning of the word."

Don: "Yes, but I do wonder under what other misapprehensions I continue to labour."

62 points Solvent 02 February 2012 06:03:59AM Permalink

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn’t matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn’t do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything.

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

60 points MBlume 01 October 2012 07:54:31PM Permalink

Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect

--Teller (source)

60 points fortyeridania 02 November 2012 04:03:56AM Permalink

On the error of failing to appreciate your opponents three-dimensionality:

They had cliche answers but only to their self-created straw-men. To exaggerate only slightly, they had never talked to anyone who really believed, and had thought deeply about, views drastically different from their own. As a result, when they heard real arguments instead of caricatures, they had no answers, only amazement that such views could be expressed by someone who had the external characteristics of being a member of the intellectual community, and that such views could be defended with apparent cogency. Never have I been more impressed with the advice I once received: "You cannot be sure that you are right unless you understand the arguments against your views better than your opponents do."

Source: Milton Friedman, "Schools at Chicago," from The Indispensable Milton Friedman

H/T David Henderson at EconLog

Note: The final sentence of the passage, as presented by Henderson, is missing closing quotation marks. I have added them.

58 points DanielVarga 04 April 2011 09:06:57PM Permalink

It is not really a quote, but a good quip from an otherwise lame recent internet discussion:

Matt: Ok, for all of the people responding above who admit to not having a soul, I think this means that it is morally ok for me to do anything I want to you, just as it is morally ok for me to turn off my computer at the end of the day. Some of us do have souls, though.

Igor: Matt - I agree that people who need a belief in souls to understand the difference between killing a person and turning off a computer should just continue to believe in souls.

58 points arundelo 05 February 2012 08:54:15PM Permalink

You are not the king of your brain. You are the creepy guy standing next to the king going "a most judicious choice, sire".

-- Steven Kaas

57 points michaelkeenan 01 March 2010 11:00:15AM Permalink

"You know what they say the modern version of Pascal's Wager is? Sucking up to as many Transhumanists as possible, just in case one of them turns into God." - Julie from Crystal Nights by Greg Egan

57 points Miller 01 June 2011 11:52:54PM Permalink

The megalomania of the genes does not mean that benevolence and cooperation cannot evolve, any more than the law of gravity proves that flight cannot evolve. It means only that benevolence, like flight, is a special state of affairs in need of an explanation, not something that just happens.

  • Pinker, The Blank Slate
57 points JoshuaZ 03 February 2012 05:33:42AM Permalink

Doctor Slithingly watched the readout on the computer screen and rubbed his hands together. ‘Excellent,’ he muttered, his voice a thin, rasping hiss. ‘Excellent!’ He laughed to himself in a chilling falsetto. ‘Soon my plan will come to fruition. Soon I will destroy them all!’ The room resounded with the sound of his insane giggling. This was the culmination of years of research – years of testing tissue samples and creating unnatural biological hybrids – but now it was over. Now, finally, he would destroy them all – every single type and variation of leukaemia. In doing so, he would render useless the work of thousands of charitable organisations as well as denying medical professionals the world over a source of income. He would prevent the publication of hundreds of inspiring stories of survival and sacrifice which might otherwise have sold millions of copies worldwide. ‘Bwahaha!’ he laughed. ‘So long, you meddling haematological neoplasm, you!’

Joel Stickley, How To Write Badly Well

57 points baiter 02 March 2012 12:52:37PM Permalink

"...I always rejoice to hear of your being still employ'd in experimental Researches into Nature, and of the Success you meet with. The rapid Progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter. We may perhaps learn to deprive large Masses of their Gravity, and give them absolute Levity, for the sake of easy Transport. Agriculture may diminish its Labor and double its Produce; all Diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured, not excepting even that of Old Age, and our Lives lengthened at pleasure even beyond the antediluvian Standard. O that moral Science were in as fair a way of Improvement, that Men would cease to be Wolves to one another, and that human Beings would at length learn what they now improperly call Humanity!"

-- Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Joseph Priestley, 8 Feb 1780

57 points Alejandro1 01 October 2012 08:00:01PM Permalink

This time he covered a lot more ground and was willing to talk about the mundane details of presidential existence. “You have to exercise,” he said, for instance. “Or at some point you’ll just break down.” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

--Michael Lewis profile of Barack Obama

56 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2011 08:20:21AM Permalink

Just because you two are arguing, doesn't mean one of you is right.


56 points RomeoStevens 06 November 2012 11:27:06PM Permalink

If any idiot ever tells you that life would be meaningless without death, Hyperion corporation recommends killing them.

--Borderlands 2

55 points James_Miller 01 September 2011 05:13:46PM Permalink

It is a vast, and pervasive, cognitive mistake to assume that people who agree with you (or disagree) do so on the same criteria that you care about.

Megan McArdle

55 points James_Miller 02 November 2012 05:43:50PM Permalink

A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit

Alex Tabarrok

54 points Yvain 01 September 2012 02:20:44PM Permalink

Do unto others 20% better than you expect them to do unto you, to correct for subjective error.

-- Linus Pauling

53 points gRR 01 May 2012 12:10:20PM Permalink

Once upon a time, there was a man who was riding in a horse drawn carriage and traveling to go take care of some affairs; and in the carriage there was also a very big suitcase. He told the driver to of the carriage to drive non-stop and the horse ran extremely fast.

Along the road, there was an old man who saw them and asked, “Sir, you seem anxious, where do you need to go?”

The man in the carriage then replied in a loud voice, “I need to go to the state of Chu.” The old man heard and laughing he smiled and said, “You are going the wrong way. The state of Chu is in the south, how come you are going to to the north?”

“That’s alright,” The man in the carriage then said, “Can you not see? My horse runs very fast.”

“Your horse is great, but your path is incorrect.”

“It’s no problem, my carriage is new, it was made just last month.”

“Your carriage is brand new, but this is not the road one takes to get to Chu.”

“Old Uncle, you don’t know,” and the man in the carriage pointed to the suitcase in the back and said, “In that suitcase there’s alot of money. No matter how long the road is, I am not afraid.”

“You have lots of money, but do not forget, The direction which you are going is wrong. I can see, you should go back the direction which you came from.”

The man in the carriage heard this and irritated said, “I have already been traveling for ten days, how can you tell me to go back from where I came?” He then pointed at the carriage driver and said, “Take a look, he is very young, and he drives very well, you needn’t worry. Goodbye!”

And then he told the driver to drive forward, and the horse ran even faster.

--Chinese Tale

51 points Ezekiel 01 September 2012 11:27:29AM Permalink

"Wait, Professor... If Sisyphus had to roll the boulder up the hill over and over forever, why didn't he just program robots to roll it for him, and then spend all his time wallowing in hedonism?"

"It's a metaphor for the human struggle."

"I don't see how that changes my point."

50 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:30:42AM Permalink

If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top … that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings.

Buckminster Fuller

50 points GabrielDuquette 01 February 2012 03:34:11PM Permalink

It shouldn't be disrespectful to the complexity of the human condition to say that despair is also, often, just low blood sugar.

Alain de Botton

49 points Delta 03 August 2012 10:41:45AM Permalink

“Ignorance killed the cat; curiosity was framed!” ― C.J. Cherryh

(not sure if that is who said it originally, but that's the first creditation I found)

49 points Kaj_Sotala 01 September 2012 06:08:27PM Permalink

The person who says, as almost everyone does say, that human life is of infinite value, not to be measured in mere material terms, is talking palpable, if popular, nonsense. If he believed that of his own life, he would never cross the street, save to visit his doctor or to earn money for things necessary to physical survival. He would eat the cheapest, most nutritious food he could find and live in one small room, saving his income for frequent visits to the best possible doctors. He would take no risks, consume no luxuries, and live a long life. If you call it living. If a man really believed that other people's lives were infinitely valuable, he would live like an ascetic, earn as much money as possible, and spend everything not absolutely necessary for survival on CARE packets, research into presently incurable diseases, and similar charities.

In fact, people who talk about the infinite value of human life do not live in either of these ways. They consume far more than they need to support life. They may well have cigarettes in their drawer and a sports car in the garage. They recognize in their actions, if not in their words, that physical survival is only one value, albeit a very important one, among many.

-- David D. Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom

48 points MichaelHoward 02 February 2011 11:31:14AM Permalink

I will not procrastinate regarding any ritual granting immortality.

--Evil Overlord List #230

48 points NihilCredo 01 June 2011 03:06:46PM Permalink

A little long, but I don't see the possibility of a good cut:

“Other men were stronger, faster, younger, why was Syrio Forel the best? I will tell you now.” He touched the tip of his little finger lightly to his eyelid. “The seeing, the true seeing, that is the heart of it.

“Hear me. The ships of Braavos sail as far as the winds blow, to lands strange and wonderful, and when they return their captains fetch queer animals to the Sealord’s menagerie. Such animals as you have never seen, striped horses, great spotted things with necks as long as stilts, hairy mouse-pigs as big as cows, stinging manticores, tigers that carry their cubs in a pouch, terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws. Syrio Forel has seen these things.

“On the day I am speaking of, the first sword was newly dead, and the Sealord sent for me. Many bravos had come to him, and as many had been sent away, none could say why. When I came into his presence, he was seated, and in his lap was a fat yellow cat. He told me that one of his captains had brought the beast to him, from an island beyond the sunrise. ‘Have you ever seen her like?’ he asked of me.

“And to him I said, ‘Each night in the alleys of Braavos I see a thousand like him,’ and the Sealord laughed, and that day I was named the first sword.”

Arya screwed up her face. “I don’t understand.”

Syrio clicked his teeth together. “The cat was an ordinary cat, no more. The others expected a fabulous beast, so that is what they saw. How large it was, they said. It was no larger than any other cat, only fat from indolence, for the Sealord fed it from his own table. What curious small ears, they said. Its ears had been chewed away in kitten fights. And it was plainly a tomcat, yet the Sealord said ‘her,’ and that is what the others saw. Are you hearing?”

Arya thought about it. “You saw what was there.”

“Just so. Opening your eyes is all that is needing. The heart lies and the head plays tricks with us, but the eyes see true. Look with your eyes. Hear with your ears. Taste with your mouth. Smell with your nose. Feel with your skin. Then comes the thinking, afterward, and in that way knowing the truth.”

- George R.R. Martin, "A Game of Thrones"

48 points Bugmaster 01 December 2011 03:17:24AM Permalink

Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said, "Are you listening?"

"Yes," said Tiffany.

"Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..."


"...and believe in your dreams..."


"...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on.


"’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye."

-- Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men

47 points Tesseract 03 December 2010 09:21:13AM Permalink

He uses statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost: for support, not for illumination.

G.K. Chesterton

47 points Costanza 01 February 2011 09:31:17PM Permalink

A long one:

. . . once upon a time men lived among the giants, who were like themselves but far more powerful, and these giants always had a supply of bread, fruit, milk, and all that was necessary to sustain life, which they must have acquired in ways that cost them little, for they would always give away their goods to whoever knew how to please them. And the giants would also carry them wherever they wanted to go, provided they asked in the proper way. So it came about that men never thought of working, nor of walking, nor of building wagons or ships; instead they became natural orators, and spent all of their time watching the giants, figuring out what would please or displease them, smiling at them or imploring them with tears in their eyes; or else simply pronouncing the necessary words, which had to be memorized exactly, though they had no understanding of the changes of humor that would come over the giants, their brusque refusals, or their sudden willingness. Now, if some man, in those days, had tried to get something for himself by his own industry, they would have laughed him to scorn; for the results of his labor would have been puny beside the immense provisions the giants had amassed; and besides with one false step the giants could easily have crushed those little beginnings of labor out of existence. That is why all human wisdom came down to knowing how to speak and how to persuade; and, rather than move things about with great effort, men chose to learn what words it would take to get one of the giants to do their moving. In short, their main business, or rather their only business, was to please, and above all not to displease, their incomprehensible masters, who seemed nevertheless to be charged with nourishing them and housing them and transporting them, and who eventually carried out their duties, provided they were prayed to. This kind of existence, in which men never knew whether they were the masters or the slaves, lasted for a long time, so that the habit of asking, of hoping, of counting on those stronger than themselves left indelible traces in human nature. . . . That is why, as if they were still waiting for the return of the giants, men do not forget to pray and make offerings, though no giant has ever shown himself . . .

-- "Alain" (Émile Chartier) The Gods. A meditation on childhood.

46 points Bongo 04 July 2011 04:25:00PM Permalink

The tautological emptiness of a Master's Wisdom is exemplified in the inherent stupidity of proverbs. Let us engage in a mental experiment by way of trying to construct proverbial wisdom out of the relationship between terrestrial life, its pleasures, and its Beyond. If ones says, "Forget about the afterlife, about the Elsewhere, seize the day, enjoy life fully here and now, it's the only life you've got!" it sounds deep. If one says exactly the opposite ("Do not get trapped in the illusory and vain pleasures of earthly life; money, power, and passions are all destined to vanish into thin air - think about eternity!"), it also sounds deep. If one combines the two sides ("Bring Eternity into your everyday life, live your life on this earth as if it is already permeated by Eternity!"), we get another profound thought. Needless to add, the same goes for it's inversion: "Do not try in vain to bring together Eternity and your terrestrial life, accept humbly that you are forever split between Heaven and Earth!" If, finally, one simply gets perplexed by all these reversals and claims: "Life is an enigma, do not try to penetrate its secrets, accept the beauty of its unfathomable mystery!" the result is, again, no less profound than its reversal: "Do not allow yourself to be distracted by false mysteries that just dissimulate the fact that, ultimately, life is very simple - it is what it is, it is simply here without reason and rhyme!" Needless to add that, by uniting mystery and simplicity, one again obtains a wisdom: "The ultimate, unfathomable mystery of life resides in its very simplicity, in the simple fact that there is life."

  • Slavoj Zizek

(I'm not recommending Zizek in general)

46 points Delta 05 September 2012 01:09:15PM Permalink

“A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ‘merely relative,’ is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.” ― Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey

45 points DSimon 03 January 2011 06:20:37PM Permalink

In 1736 I lost one of my Sons, a fine Boy of 4 Years old, by the Smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by Inoculation. This I mention for the Sake of Parents who omit that Operation on the Supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a Child died under it; my Example showing that the Regret may be the same either way, and that therefore the safer should be chosen.

-- Benjamin Franklin

(To provide some context: at the time, the smallpox vaccine used a live virus, and carried a non-trivial risk of death for the recipient. However, it was still safer on the whole than not being immunized.)

45 points Mycroft65536 04 April 2011 02:03:38PM Permalink

Luck is statistics taken personally.

Penn Jellete

44 points Yvain 01 February 2010 12:21:53PM Permalink

On utility:

culturejammer: you know what pennies are AWESOME for?

culturejammer: throwing at cats

culturejammer: it only costs a single penny

culturejammer: and they'll either chase it, or get hit by it and look pissed off

culturejammer: i now use that system to value prices of things

culturejammer: for example, a thirty dollar game has to be at least as awesome as three thousand catpennies

44 points CronoDAS 01 March 2010 09:30:58PM Permalink

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. "I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I'm sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to its day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that's when I first learned about evil. It is built in to the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior."

-- Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

44 points dvasya 02 August 2011 06:39:01PM Permalink

...the discovery of computers and the thinking about computers has turned out to be extremely useful in many branches of human reasoning. For instance, we never really understood how lousy our understanding of languages was, the theory of grammar and all that stuff, until we tried to make a computer which would be able to understand language. We tried to learn a great deal about psychology by trying to understand how computers work. There are interesting philosophical questions about reasoning, and relationship, observation, and measurement and so on, which computers have stimulated us to think about anew, with new types of thinking. And all I was doing was hoping that the computer-type of thinking would give us some new ideas, if any are really needed.

-- Richard P. Feynman, Simulating Physics with Computers, International Journal of Theoretical Physics, Vol 21, Nos. 6/7, 1982

43 points Liron 04 January 2011 12:27:44AM Permalink

It's not renting a house vs. owning a house, it's renting a house vs. renting a bunch of money from the bank.

-- Salman Khan, Khan Academy

43 points Alejandro1 06 December 2011 09:10:10PM Permalink

On the difficulties of correctly fine-tuning your signaling:

I once expressed mild surprise at the presence of a garden gnome in an upper-middle-class garden …. The owner of the garden explained that the gnome was “ironic”. I asked him, with apologies for my ignorance, how one could tell that his garden gnome was supposed to be an ironic statement, as opposed to, you know, just a gnome. He rather sniffily replied that I only had to look at the rest of the garden for it to be obvious that the gnome was a tounge-in-cheek joke.

But surely, I persisted, garden gnomes are always something of a joke, in any garden—I mean, no-one actually takes them seriously or regards them as works of art. His response was rather rambling and confused (not to mention somewhat huffy), but the gist seemed to be that while the lower classes saw gnomes as intrinsically amusing, his gnome was amusing only because of its incongruous appearance in a “smart” garden. In other words, council-house gnomes were a joke, but his gnome was a joke about council-house tastes, effectively a joke about class….

The man’s reaction to my questions clearly defined him as upper-middle, rather than upper class. In fact, his pointing out that the gnome I had noticed was “ironic” had already demoted him by half a class from my original assessment. A genuine member of the upper classes would either have admitted to a passion for garden gnomes … or said something like “Ah yes, my gnome. I’m very fond of my gnome.” and left me to draw my own conclusions.

Kate Fox, Watching the English (quoted here).

43 points Manfred 01 December 2011 12:05:32AM Permalink

“Should we trust models or observations?” In reply we note that if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, but unfortunately observations of the future are not available at this time.

Knutson and Tuleya, Journal of Climate, 2005.

43 points peter_hurford 30 November 2011 09:06:07PM Permalink

Most people don't know the basic scientific facts about happiness—about what brings it and what sustains it—and so they don't know how to use their money to acquire it. It is not surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about wine end up with cellars that aren't that much better stocked than their neighbors', and it should not be surprising when wealthy people who know nothing about happiness end up with lives that aren't that much happier than anyone else's. Money is an opportunity for happiness, but it is an opportunity that people routinely squander because the things they think will make them happy often don't.

From "If money doesn't make you happy, then you probably aren't spending it right" by Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. (

43 points peter_hurford 01 January 2012 11:23:36PM Permalink

"if we offer too much silent assent about mysticism and superstition – even when it seems to be doing a little good – we abet a general climate in which skepticism is considered impolite, science tiresome, and rigorous thinking somehow stuffy and inappropriate. Figuring out a prudent balance takes wisdom.”

– Carl Sagan

43 points tingram 01 January 2012 12:38:52AM Permalink

Everyday words are inherently imprecise. They work well enough in everyday life that you don't notice. Words seem to work, just as Newtonian physics seems to. But you can always make them break if you push them far enough.

--Paul Graham, How to Do Philosophy

[surprisingly not a duplicate]

43 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 April 2012 02:08:01PM Permalink

I understand what an equation means if I have a way of figuring out the characteristics of its solution without actually solving it.

Paul Dirac

43 points alex_zag_al 06 September 2012 07:56:42PM Permalink

There is something about practical things that knocks us off our philosophical high horses. Perhaps Heraclitus really thought he couldn't step in the same river twice. Perhaps he even received tenure for that contribution to philosophy. But suppose some other ancient had claimed to have as much right as Heraclitus did to an ox Heraclitus had bought, on the grounds that since the animal had changed, it wasn't the same one he had bought and so was up for grabs. Heraclitus would have quickly come up with some ersatz, watered-down version of identity of practical value for dealing with property rights, oxen, lyres, vineyards, and the like. And then he might have wondered if that watered-down vulgar sense of identity might be a considerably more valuable concept than a pure and philosophical sort of identity that nothing has.

John Perry, introduction to Identity, Personal Identity, and the Self

43 points AlexSchell 01 October 2012 08:39:25PM Permalink

A lot of outcomes about which we care deeply are not very predictable. For example, it is not comforting to members of a graduate school admissions committee to know that only 23% of the variance in later faculty ratings of a student can be predicted by a unit weighting of the student's undergraduate GPA, his or her GRE score, and a measure of the student's undergraduate institution selectivity -- but that is opposed to 4% based on those committee members' global ratings of the applicant. We want to predict outcomes important to us. It is only rational to conclude that if one method (a linear model) does not predict well, something else may do better. What is not rational -- in fact, it's irrational -- is to conclude that this "something else" necessarily exists and, in the absence of any positive supporting evidence, is intuitive global judgment.

Hastie Dawes, Rational Choice in an Uncertain World, pp. 67-8.

42 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:23:59AM Permalink

It has always appalled me that really bright scientists almost all work in the most competitive fields, the ones in which they are making the least difference. In other words, if they were hit by a truck, the same discovery would be made by somebody else about 10 minutes later.

--Aubrey de Grey

42 points gwern 01 February 2012 03:23:59PM Permalink

"He [H.G. Wells] has abandoned the sensational theory with the same honourable gravity and simplicity with which he adopted it. Then he thought it was true; now he thinks it is not true. He has come to the most dreadful conclusion a literary man can come to, the conclusion that the ordinary view is the right one. It is only the last and wildest kind of courage that can stand on a tower before ten thousand people and tell them that twice two is four."

--Heretics, G. K. Chesterton

41 points knb 03 May 2010 03:06:59AM Permalink

From Thomas Macaulay's 1848 History of England.

[W]e are under a deception similar to that which misleads the traveler in the Arabian desert. Beneath the caravan all is dry and bare; but far in advance, and far in the rear, is the semblance of refreshing waters... A similar illusion seems to haunt nations through every stage of the long progress from poverty and barbarism to the highest degrees of opulence and civilization. But if we resolutely chase the mirage backward, we shall find it recede before us into the regions of fabulous antiquity. It is now the fashion to place the golden age of England in times when noblemen were destitute of comforts the want of which would be intolerable to a modern footman, when farmers and shopkeepers breakfasted on loaves the very sight of which would raise a riot in a modern workhouse, when to have a clean shirt once a week was a privilege reserved for the higher class of gentry, when men died faster in the purest country air than they now die in the most pestilential lanes of our towns, and when men died faster in the lanes of our towns than they now die on the coast of Guiana.


We too shall in our turn be outstripped, and in our turn be envied. It may well be, in the twentieth century, that the peasant of Dorsetshire may think himself miserably paid with twenty shillings a week; that the carpenter at Greenwich may receive ten shillings a day; that laboring men may be as little used to dine without meat as they are now to eat rye bread; that sanitary police and medical discoveries may have added several more years to the average length of human life; that numerous comforts and luxuries which are now unknown, or confined to a few, may be within the reach of every diligent and thrifty workingman. And yet it may then be the mode to assert that the increase of wealth and the progress of science have benefited the few at the expense of the many, and to talk of the reign of Queen Victoria as the time when England was truly merry England, when all classes were bound together by brotherly sympathy, when the rich did not grind the faces of the poor, and when the poor did not envy the splendor of the rich.

41 points benelliott 02 February 2011 09:05:24PM Permalink

Day ends, market closes up or down, reporter looks for good or bad news respectively, and writes that the market was up on news of Intel's earnings, or down on fears of instability in the Middle East. Suppose we could somehow feed these reporters false information about market closes, but give them all the other news intact. Does anyone believe they would notice the anomaly, and not simply write that stocks were up (or down) on whatever good (or bad) news there was that day? That they would say, hey, wait a minute, how can stocks be up with all this unrest in the Middle East?

--Paul Graham

41 points Alejandro1 02 October 2011 03:08:18AM Permalink

Sometimes you hear philosophers bemoaning the fact that philosophers tend not to form consensuses like certain other disciplines do (sciences in particular). But there is no great mystery to this. The sciences reward consensus-forming as long as certain procedures are followed: agreements through experimental verification, processes of peer review, etc. Philosophy has nothing like this. Philosophers are rewarded for coming up with creative reasons not to agree with other people. The whole thrust of professional philosophy is toward inventing ways to regard opposing arguments as failure, as long as those ways don't exhibit any obvious flaws. However much philosophers are interested in the truth, philosophy as a profession is not structured so as to converge on it; it is structured so as to have the maximal possible divergence that can be sustained given common conventions. We are not trained to find ways to come to agree with each other; we are trained to find ways to disagree with each other.

Brandon Watson

41 points Maniakes 02 November 2011 01:12:00AM Permalink

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner

41 points Andy_McKenzie 01 April 2012 10:10:38PM Permalink

A few years into this book, I was diagnosed as diabetic and received a questionnaire in the mail. The insurance carrier stated that diabetics often suffer from depression and it was worried about me. One of the questions was “Do you think about death?” Yes, I do. “How often?” the company wanted to know. “Yearly? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?” And if daily, how many times per day? I dutifully wrote in, “About 70 times per day.” The next time I saw my internist, she told me the insurer had recommended psychotherapy for my severe depression. I explained to her why I thought about death all day—merely an occupational hazard—and she suggested getting therapy nonetheless. I thought, fine, it might help with the research.

The therapist found me tragically undepressed, and I asked her if she could help me design a new life that would maximize the few years that I had left. After all, one should have a different life strategy at sixty than at twenty. She asked why I thought I was going to die and why I had such a great fear of death. I said, I am going to die. It’s not a fear; it’s a reality. There must be some behavior that could be contraindicated for a man my age but other normally dangerous behavior that takes advantage of the fact that I am risking fewer years at sixty or sixty-five years of age than I was at twenty or twenty-five (such as crimes that carry a life sentence, crushing at age twenty but less so at age sixty-five). Surely psychology must have something to say on the topic. Turns out, according to my therapist, it does not. There was therapy for those with terminal illness, for the bereaved, for the about-to-be-bereaved, for professionals who dealt with terminal patients, and so on, but there was nothing for people who were simply aware that their life would come to a natural end. It would seem to me that this is a large, untapped market. The therapist advised me not to think about death.

Dick Teresi, The Undead

40 points Unnamed 15 June 2009 01:06:29AM Permalink

"Sometimes men come by the name of genius in the same way that certain insects come by the name of centipede; not because they have a hundred feet, but because most people cannot count above fourteen."

-- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

related: The Level Above Mine

40 points MinibearRex 02 March 2011 03:37:42PM Permalink

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

40 points bentarm 02 March 2011 01:53:46PM Permalink

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)

40 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2011 11:00:49AM Permalink

If the fossil record shows more dinosaur footprints in one period than another, it does not necessarily mean that there were more dinosaurs -- it may be that there was more mud.

Elise E. Morse-Gagné

39 points GabrielDuquette 02 June 2012 05:40:17AM Permalink

You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings.

Pearl S. Buck


39 points GabrielDuquette 02 November 2012 12:57:17AM Permalink

People say "think outside the box," as if the box wasn't a fucking great idea.

Sean Thomason

38 points gwern 30 November 2009 02:04:43AM Permalink

"When will we realize that the fact that we can become accustomed to anything, however disgusting at first, makes it necessary to examine carefully everything we have become accustomed to?"

--George Bernard Shaw, A Treatise on Parents and Children (1910)

38 points MichaelGR 01 March 2010 10:26:40PM Permalink

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

-Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong

38 points MichaelGR 03 December 2010 05:39:42PM Permalink

The Noah principle: predicting rain doesn’t count, building arks does.

-Warren E. Buffett

38 points Nominull 04 April 2011 01:35:51PM Permalink

On the plus side, bad things happening to you does not mean you are a bad person. On the minus side, bad things will happen to you even if you are a good person. In the end you are just another victim of the motivationless malice of directed acyclic causal graphs.

-Nobilis RPG 3rd edition

38 points anonym 02 October 2011 02:17:17AM Permalink

Although this may seem a paradox, all exact science is dominated by the idea of approximation. When a man tells you that he knows the exact truth about anything, you are safe in inferring that he is an inexact man.

Bertrand Russell

38 points GabrielDuquette 02 February 2012 12:37:31AM Permalink

The point of rigour is not to destroy all intuition; instead, it should be used to destroy bad intuition while clarifying and elevating good intuition.

Terence Tao

38 points summerstay 04 August 2012 02:41:24PM Permalink

Interviewer: How do you answer critics who suggest that your team is playing god here?

Craig Venter: Oh... we're not playing.

38 points NancyLebovitz 06 November 2012 02:59:40PM Permalink

Let me differentiate between scientific method and the neurology of the individual scientist. Scientific method has always depended on feedback [or flip-flopping as the Tsarists call it]; I therefore consider it the highest form of group intelligence thus far evolved on this backward planet. The individual scientist seems a different animal entirely. The ones I've met seem as passionate, and hence as egotistic and prejudiced, as painters, ballerinas or even, God save the mark, novelists. My hope lies in the feedback system itself, not in any alleged saintliness of the individuals in the system.

Robert Anton Wilson

37 points Cyan 01 March 2010 04:14:28PM Permalink

My genes done gone and tricked my brain

By making fucking feel so great

That's how the little creeps attain

Their plan to fuckin' replicate

But brain's got tricks itself, you see

To get the bang but not the bite

I got this here vasectomy

My genes can fuck themselves tonight.

—The r-selectors, Trunclade, quoted in Blindsight by Peter Watts

37 points Kutta 02 July 2010 07:38:00AM Permalink

If anything of the classical supernatural existed, it would be a branch of engineering by now.

-- Steve Gilham

37 points Jayson_Virissimo 04 January 2011 05:46:11AM Permalink

It’s easy to lie with statistics, but it’s easier to lie without them.

-Fred Mosteller

37 points Eugine_Nier 02 February 2011 07:21:19AM Permalink

In the past, also, war was one of the main instruments by which human societies were kept in touch with physical reality.


In philosophy, or religion, or ethics, or politics, two and two might make five, but when one was designing a gun or an aeroplane they had to make four.

-- George Orwell, 1984

37 points Grognor 03 March 2012 08:57:49AM Permalink

“Stupider” for a time might not have been a real word, but it certainly points where it’s supposed to. The other day my sister used the word “deoffensify”. It’s not a real word, but that didn’t make it any less effective. Communication doesn’t care about the “realness” of language, nor does it often care about the exact dictionary definitions. Words change through every possible variable, even time. One of the great challenges of communication has always been making sure words mean the same thing to you and your audience.

-Michael Kayin OReilly

37 points Konkvistador 01 May 2012 01:06:48PM Permalink

For example, in many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.

--Mencius Moldbug, on belief as attire and conspicuous wrongness.


37 points wallowinmaya 01 June 2012 09:45:47PM Permalink

The categories and classes we construct are simply the semantic sugar which makes the reality go down easier. They should never get confused for the reality that is, the reality which we perceive but darkly and with biased lenses. The hyper-relativists and subjectivists who are moderately fashionable in some humane studies today are correct to point out that science is a human construction and endeavor. Where they go wrong is that they are often ignorant of the fact that the orderliness of many facets of nature is such that even human ignorance and stupidity can be overcome with adherence to particular methods and institutional checks and balances. The predictive power of modern science, giving rise to modern engineering, is the proof of its validity. No talk or argumentation is needed. Boot up your computer. Drive your car.

Razib Khan

37 points GabrielDuquette 04 November 2012 08:37:22AM Permalink

Diogenes was knee deep in a stream washing vegetables. Coming up to him, Plato said, "My good Diogenes, if you knew how to pay court to kings, you wouldn't have to wash vegetables."

"And," replied Diogenes, "If you knew how to wash vegetables, you wouldn't have to pay court to kings."

Teachings of Diogenes

36 points benelliott 02 March 2011 03:26:27PM Permalink

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

Enrico Bombieri

36 points RichardKennaway 02 March 2011 11:56:33AM Permalink

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.

36 points scav 02 November 2011 03:36:55PM Permalink

I just noticed CVS has started stocking homeopathic pills on the same shelves with--and labeled similarly to--their actual medicine. Telling someone who trusts you that you're giving them medicine, when you know you’re not, because you want their money, isn’t just lying--it’s like an example you’d make up if you had to illustrate for a child why lying is wrong.

-- Randall, XKCD #971

36 points lukeprog 02 February 2012 07:14:13PM Permalink

Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

Dara OBriain

36 points cata 02 November 2012 06:56:18PM Permalink

In which Winnie-the-Pooh tests a hypothesis about the animal tracks that he is following through the woods:

“Wait a moment,” said Winnie-the-Pooh, holding up his paw.

He sat down and thought, in the most thoughtful way he could think. Then he fitted his paw into one of the Tracks…and then he scratched his nose twice, and stood up.

“Yes,” said Winnie-the Pooh.

“I see now,” said Winnie-the-Pooh.

“I have been Foolish and Deluded,” said he, “and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.”

36 points Matt_Caulfield 01 December 2012 08:08:42PM Permalink

Politics, after all, is the art of persuasion; the political is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge this: it may be true that, if I could convince everyone in the world that I was the King of France, I would in fact become the King of France; but it would never work if I were to admit that this was the only basis of my claim.

  • David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years
36 points James_Miller 01 December 2012 08:51:39PM Permalink

politicians and leaders worldwide don’t like to be associated with toilets, even state-of-the-art toilets. This sanitation stigma distorts international and national development agendas.

chairman of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation

The quote was brought to my attention by a student in my Economics of Future Technology course who is writing on sanitation in the developing world.

35 points Kutta 03 January 2011 09:17:20AM Permalink

This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics is hopeless.

-- Hayao Miyazaki

35 points gwern 01 February 2011 06:03:48PM Permalink

"Programmers waste enormous amounts of time thinking about, or worrying about, the speed of noncritical parts of their programs, and these attempts at efficiency actually have a strong negative impact when debugging and maintenance are considered.

We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time; premature optimization is the root of all evil."

--Donald Knuth (see also Amdahls law)

35 points CronoDAS 04 April 2011 11:29:10PM Permalink

From a forum signature:

The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." --Psalm 14:1

It is a fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak. --Neil Gaiman, Sandman 3:3:6

35 points Automaton 02 October 2011 03:00:47AM Permalink

Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality. When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of. The world itself becomes your memory, and if questions arise, you can always point others back to it. You can even reconsider certain facts and honestly change your views. And you can openly discuss your confusion, conflicts, and doubts with all comers. In this way, a commitment to the truth is naturally purifying of error.

Sam Harris, "Lying"

35 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 June 2012 02:31:58PM Permalink

Two very different attitudes toward the technical workings of mathematics are found in the literature. Already in 1761, Leonhard Euler complained about isolated results which "are not based on a systematic method" and therefore whose "inner grounds seem to be hidden." Yet in the 20'th Century, writers as diverse in viewpoint as Feller and de Finetti are agreed in considering computation of a result by direct application of the systematic rules of probability theory as dull and unimaginative, and revel in the finding of some isolated clever trick by which one can see the answer to a problem without any calculation.


Feller's perception was so keen that in virtually every problem he was able to see a clever trick; and then gave only the clever trick. So his readers get the impression that:

  • Probability theory has no systematic methods; it is a collection of isolated, unrelated clever tricks, each of which works on one problem but not on the next one.
  • Feller was possessed of superhuman cleverness.
  • Only a person with such cleverness can hope to find new useful results in probability theory.

Indeed, clever tricks do have an aesthetic quality that we all appreciate at once. But we doubt whether Feller, or anyone else, was able to see those tricks on first looking at the problem. We solve a problem for the first time by that (perhaps dull to some) direct calculation applying our systematic rules. After seeing the solution, we may contemplate it and see a clever trick that would have led us to the answer much more quickly. Then, of course, we have the opportunity for gamesmanship by showing others only the clever trick, scorning to mention the base means by which we first found.

E. T. Jaynes "Probability Theory, The Logic of Science"

34 points cousin_it 22 October 2009 06:04:21PM Permalink

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

-- Winston Churchill

34 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:44:06PM Permalink

I listen to all these complaints about rudeness and intemperateness, and the opinion that I come to is that there is no polite way of asking somebody: have you considered the possibility that your entire life has been devoted to a delusion? But that’s a good question to ask. Of course we should ask that question and of course it’s going to offend people. Tough.

Daniel Dennett, interview for TPM: The Philosophers Magazine

34 points Oscar_Cunningham 02 May 2011 02:02:00PM Permalink

If you think something's supposed to hurt, you're less likely to notice if you're doing it wrong.

Paul Graham

34 points Patrick 03 June 2011 02:13:04PM Permalink

If a process is potentially good, but 90+% of the time smart and well-intentioned people screw it up, then it's a bad process. So they can only say it's the team's fault so many times before it's not really the team's fault.

34 points jaimeastorga2000 01 June 2011 03:58:08PM Permalink

The bulk of political discourse today is purposefully playing telephone with facts in ways that couldn't be done in the Information Age if people just had the know-how to check for themselves. Comprehending complex sentences is something that can be done by first grade, and comprehending complex concepts and issues is without a doubt something better learned in math than in English, where one learns to obfuscate concepts and issues, and to play to baser emotions. Granted, one also learns to recognize and to defend against these tactics, but it still can't hold a candle to the "mental gymnastics" referenced above. Do you realize what the world looks like if you've got a background in math? Imagine signs reading DANGER: KEEP OUT are planted everywhere, but people purposefully and proudly ignore them, treating it as laughably eccentric to have learned more than half the alphabet, approaching en masse and dragging you with them.

From the Math It Just Bugs Me page, TV Tropes

34 points scmbradley 02 February 2012 01:43:12PM Permalink

The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem, in a way that will allow a solution

– Bertrand Russell

34 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 08:59:37AM Permalink

It is the mark of a truly intelligent person to be moved by statistics.

George Bernard Shaw

34 points Konkvistador 01 March 2012 09:09:23PM Permalink

False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing

--Joseph de Maistre, Les soirées de Saint-Pétersbourg, Ch. I

34 points Yvain 02 April 2012 12:55:42PM Permalink

On counter-signaling, how not to do:

US police investigated a parked car with a personalized plate reading "SMUGLER". They found the vehicle, packed with 24 lb (11 kg) of narcotics, parked near the Canadian border at a hotel named "The Smugglers' Inn." Police believed the trafficker thought that being so obvious would deter the authorities.

-- The Irish Independent, "News In Brief"

34 points mindspillage 04 July 2012 06:08:12AM Permalink

The words "I am..." are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you're claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.

--A.L. Kitselman

34 points Alejandro1 02 August 2012 08:52:13PM Permalink

British philosophy is more detailed and piecemeal than that of the Continent; when it allows itself some general principle, it sets to work to prove it inductively by examining its various applications. Thus Hume, after announcing that there is no idea without an antecedent impression, immediately proceeds to consider the following objection: suppose you are seeing two shades of colour which are similar but not identical, and suppose you have never seen a shade of colour intermediate between the two, can you nevertheless imagine such a shade? He does not decide the question, and considers that a decision adverse to his general principle would not be fatal to him, because his principle is not logical but empirical. When--to take a contrast--Leibniz wants to establish his monadology, he argues, roughly, as follows: Whatever is complex must be composed of simple parts; what is simple cannot be extended; therefore everything is composed of parts having no extension. But what is not extended is not matter. Therefore the ultimate constituents of things are not material, and, if not material, then mental. Consequently a table is really a colony of souls.

The difference of method, here, may be characterized as follows: In Locke or Hume, a comparatively modest conclusion is drawn from a broad survey of many facts, whereas in Leibniz a vast edifice of deduction is pyramided upon a pin-point of logical principle. In Leibniz, if the principle is completely true and the deductions are entirely valid, all is well; but the structure is unstable, and the slightest flaw anywhere brings it down in ruins. In Locke or Hume, on the contrary, the base of the pyramid is on the solid ground of observed fact, and the pyramid tapers upward, not downward; consequently the equilibrium is stable, and a flaw here or there can be rectified without total disaster.

--Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy

34 points J_Taylor 03 August 2012 02:09:49AM Permalink

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience.

-- G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

34 points wallowinmaya 02 September 2012 10:30:35PM Permalink

Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time.

Ken Wilber

34 points GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:45:57PM Permalink

"Working in mysterious ways" is the greatest euphemism for failure ever devised.


33 points Kyre 02 September 2010 05:41:48AM Permalink

Comic Quote Minus 37

-- Ryan Armand

Also a favourite.

33 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 01:33:08PM Permalink

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

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

William T. Powers

33 points GabrielDuquette 01 September 2011 02:43:49PM Permalink

If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

-- Paul Graham

33 points Lightwave 01 January 2012 12:24:52PM Permalink

Do not accept any of my words on faith,

Believing them just because I said them.

Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,

And critically examines his product for authenticity.

Only accept what passes the test

By proving useful and beneficial in your life.

-- The Buddha, Jnanasara-samuccaya Sutra

33 points shokwave 03 July 2012 05:09:07AM Permalink

Person: "It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you."

Robot: " ... Paranoia is such a childish emotion. You're an adult. Why aren't all your enemies dead by now?"

-- RStevens

33 points katydee 02 September 2012 09:01:21PM Permalink

Lady Average may not be as good-looking as Lady Luck, but she sure as hell comes around more often.


33 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 September 2012 08:59:50AM Permalink

...beliefs are like clothes. In a harsh environment, we choose our clothes mainly to be functional, i.e., to keep us safe and comfortable. But when the weather is mild, we choose our clothes mainly for their appearance, i.e., to show our figure, our creativity, and our allegiances. Similarly, when the stakes are high we may mainly want accurate beliefs to help us make good decisions. But when a belief has few direct personal consequences, we in effect mainly care about the image it helps to project.

-Robin Hanson, Human Enhancement

32 points MichaelHoward 01 May 2010 10:11:56AM Permalink

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at and repair.

-- Douglas Adams

32 points Lightwave 02 September 2010 10:59:12AM Permalink

When people ask me what philosophy is, I say philosophy is what you do when you don't know what the right questions are yet. Once you get the questions right, then you go answer them, and that's typically not philosophy, that's one science or another. Anywhere in life where you find that people aren't quite sure what the right questions to ask are, what they're doing, then, is philosophy.

-- Daniel Dennett

32 points cousin_it 04 April 2011 12:11:00PM Permalink

People commonly use the word "procrastination" to describe what they do on the Internet. It seems to me too mild to describe what's happening as merely not-doing-work. We don't call it procrastination when someone gets drunk instead of working.

-- Paul Graham

32 points Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:19:04AM Permalink

It was a good answer that was made by one who when they showed him hanging in a temple a picture of those who had paid their vows as having escaped shipwreck, and would have him say whether he did not now acknowledge the power of the gods,—‘Aye,' asked he again, ‘but where are they painted that were drowned after their vows?' And such is the way of all superstition, whether in astrology, dreams, omens, divine judgments, or the like; wherein men, having a delight in such vanities, mark the events where they are fulfilled, but where they fail, though this happens much oftener, neglect and pass them by.

Francis Bacon

32 points Stabilizer 02 December 2011 09:40:22AM Permalink

(Tuco is in a bubble bath. The One Armed Man enters the room)

One Armed Man: I've been looking for you for 8 months. Whenever I should have had a gun in my right hand, I thought of you. Now I find you in exactly the position that suits me. I had lots of time to learn to shoot with my left.

(Tuco kills him with the gun he has hidden in the foam)

Tuco: When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk.

--The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

32 points Grognor 01 December 2011 04:11:53AM Permalink

What is more important in determining an (individual) organism's phenotype, its genes or its environment? Any developmental biologist knows that this is a meaningless question. Every aspect of an organism's phenotype is the joint product of its genes and its environment. To ask which is more important is like asking, Which is more important in determining the area of a rectangle, the length or the width? Which is more important in causing a car to run, the engine or the gasoline? Genes allow the environment to influence the development of phenotypes.

-Tooby and Cosmides, emphasis theirs. It occurred to someone on the Less Wrong IRC channel how good this is an isomorphism of, "You have asked a wrong question."

32 points khafra 03 January 2012 05:02:23AM Permalink

An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.

-- H. L. Mencken, describing halo bias before it was named

32 points Stephanie_Cunnane 04 April 2012 03:27:55AM Permalink

Another learning which cost me much to recognize, can be stated in four words. The facts are friendly.

It has interested me a great deal that most psychotherapists, especially the psychoanalysts, have steadily refused to make any scientific investigation of their therapy, or to permit others to do this. I can understand this reaction because I have felt it. Especially in our early investigations I can well remember the anxiety of waiting to see how the findings came out. Suppose our hypotheses were disproved! Suppose we were mistaken in our views! Suppose our opinions were not justified! At such times, as I look back, it seems to me that I regarded the facts as potential enemies, as possible bearers of disaster. I have perhaps been slow in coming to realize that the facts are always friendly. Every bit of evidence one can acquire, in any area, leads one that much closer to what is true. And being closer to the truth can never be a harmful or dangerous or unsatisfying thing. So while I still hate to readjust my thinking, still hate to give up old ways of perceiving and conceptualizing, yet at some deeper level I have, to a considerable degree, come to realize that these painful reorganizations are what is known as learning, and that though painful they always lead to a more satisfying because somewhat more accurate way of seeing life. Thus at the present time one of the most enticing areas for thought and speculation is an area where several of my pet ideas have not been upheld by the evidence, I feel if I can only puzzle my way through this problem that I will find a much more satisfying approximation to the truth. I feel sure the facts will be my friends.

-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy (1961)

32 points VKS 04 April 2012 10:23:55AM Permalink

Just as there are odors that dogs can smell and we cannot, as well as sounds that dogs can hear and we cannot, so too there are wavelengths of light we cannot see and flavors we cannot taste. Why then, given our brains wired the way they are, does the remark, "Perhaps there are thoughts we cannot think," surprise you?

  • Richard Hamming
32 points chaosmosis 04 May 2012 07:00:21PM Permalink

Being - forgive me - rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.

Albus Dumbledore

32 points paper-machine 01 May 2012 08:27:25AM Permalink

If there is something really cool and you can't understand why somebody hasn't done it before, it's because you haven't done it yourself.

-- Lion Kimbro, "The Anarchist's Principle"

32 points lukeprog 09 September 2012 01:36:00AM Permalink

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.

Charles Kettering

32 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2012 08:25:27AM Permalink

Infallible, adj. Incapable of admitting error.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon: An Updated Abridgment

31 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:17:40AM Permalink

"People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority, of course, adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx."

-- David Stove, What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts

31 points James_Miller 22 October 2009 05:33:12PM Permalink

You want to learn from experience, but you want to learn from other people’s experience when you can.

Warren Buffett

31 points gwern 15 December 2010 08:05:51PM Permalink

'One day when I was a junior medical student, a very important Boston surgeon visited the school and delivered a great treatise on a large number of patients who had undergone successful operations for vascular reconstruction.

At the end of the lecture, a young student at the back of the room timidly asked, “Do you have any controls?” Well, the great surgeon drew himself up to his full height, hit the desk, and said, “Do you mean did I not operate on half the patients?” The hall grew very quiet then. The voice at the back of the room very hesitantly replied, “Yes, that’s what I had in mind.” Then the visitor’s fist really came down as he thundered, “Of course not. That would have doomed half of them to their death.”

God, it was quiet then, and one could scarcely hear the small voice ask, “Which half?”'

Dr. E. E. Peacock, Jr., quoted in Medical World News (September 1, 1972), p. 45, as quoted in Tufte's 1974 book Data Analysis for Politics and Policy;

31 points RobinZ 05 April 2011 05:04:14PM Permalink

Should we then call the original replicator molecules 'living'? Who cares? I might say to you 'Darwin was the greatest man who has ever lived', and you might say 'No, Newton was', but I hope we would not prolong the argument. The point is that no conclusion of substance would be affected whichever way our argument was resolved. The facts of the lives and achievements of Newton and Darwin remain totally unchanged whether we label them 'great' or not. Similarly, the story of the replicator molecules probably happened something like the way I am telling it, regardless of whether we choose to call them 'living'. Human suffering has been caused because too many of us cannot grasp that words are only tools for our use, and that the mere presence in the dictionary of a word like 'living' does not mean it necessarily has to refer to something definite in the real world. Whether we call the early replicators living or not, they were the ancestors of life; they were our founding fathers.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene.

(cf. Disguised Queries.)

31 points Risto_Saarelma 05 April 2011 05:48:11AM Permalink

But, there's another problem, and that is the fact that statistical and probabilistic thinking is a real damper on "intellectual" conversation. By this, I mean that there are many individuals who wish to make inferences about the world based on data which they observe, or offer up general typologies to frame a subsequent analysis. These individuals tend to be intelligent and have college degrees. Their discussion ranges over topics such as politics, culture and philosophy. But, introduction of questions about the moments about the distribution, or skepticism as to the representativeness of their sample, and so on, tends to have a chilling affect on the regular flow of discussion. While the average human being engages mostly in gossip and interpersonal conversation of some sort, the self-consciously intellectual interject a bit of data and abstraction (usually in the form of jargon or pithy quotations) into the mix. But the raison d'etre of the intellectual discussion is basically signaling and cuing; in other words, social display. No one really cares about the details and attempting to generate a rigorous model is really beside the point. Trying to push the N much beyond 2 or 3 (what you would see in a college essay format) will only elicit eye-rolling and irritation.

-- Razib Khan

31 points Risto_Saarelma 04 April 2011 01:03:01PM Permalink

My friend, Tony, does prop work in Hollywood. Before he was big and famous, he would sell jewelry and such at Ren Faires and the like. One day I'm there, shooting the shit with him, when a guy comes up and looks at some of the crystals that Tony is selling. he finally zeroes in on one and gets all gaga over the bit of quartz. He informs Tony that he's never seen such a strong power crystal. Tony tells him it a piece of quartz. The buyer maintains it is an amazing power crystal and demands to know the price. Tony looks him over for a second, then says "If it's just a piece of quartz, it's $15. If it's a power crystal, it's $150. Which is is?" The buyer actually looked a bit sheepish as he said quietly "quartz", gave Tony his money and wandered off. I wonder if he thought he got the better of Tony.

-- genesplicer on Something Awful Forums, via

31 points CharlesR 02 May 2011 04:15:40AM Permalink

The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

-Paul Graham, Keep Your Identity Small

31 points kalla724 03 October 2011 06:50:07PM Permalink

"What do you think the big headlines were in 1666, the year Newton posited gravitation as a universal force, discovered that white light was composed of the colors of the spectrum, and invented differential calculus, or in 1905, the “annus mirabilis” when Einstein confirmed quantum theory by analyzing the photoelectric effect, introduced special relativity, and proposed the formulation that matter and energy are equivalent? The Great Fire of London and the Anglo-Dutch War; The Russian Revolution and the Russo-Japanese War. The posturing and squabbling of politicians and the exchange of gunfire over issues that would be of little interest or significance to anyone alive now. In other words, ephemeral bullshit. These insights and discoveries are the real history of our species, the slow painstaking climb from ignorance to understanding."

  • Tim Kreider
31 points GabrielDuquette 02 October 2011 04:39:44AM Permalink

There is one rule that's very simple, but not easy: observe reality and adjust.

Ran Prieur

31 points wallowinmaya 31 October 2011 07:55:56PM Permalink

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.


31 points Vladimir_M 02 December 2011 05:32:21AM Permalink

Every time that a man who is not an absolute fool presents you with a question he considers very problematic after giving it careful thought, distrust those quick answers that come to the mind of someone who has considered it only briefly or not at all. These answers are usually simplistic views lacking in consistency, which explain nothing, or which do not bear examination.

-- Joseph de Maistre (St. Petersburg Dialogues, No. 7)

31 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2012 07:11:34AM Permalink

Not everything that is more difficult is more meritorious.

-Saint Thomas Aquinas

I wish I would have memorized this quote before attending university.

*This comment was inspired by Will_Newsome's attempt to find rationality quotes in Summa Theologica.

31 points fortyeridania 02 November 2012 05:25:58AM Permalink

Therefore, the first and most important duty of philosophy is to test impressions, choosing between them and only deploying those that have passed the test. You know how, with money--an area where we believe our interest to be at stake--we have developed the art of assaying, and considerable ingenuity has gone into developing a way to test if coins are counterfeit, involving our senses of sight, smell, hearing, and touch. The assayer will let the denarius drop and listen intently to its ring; and he is not satisfied to listen just once: after repeated listenings he practically acquires a musician's subtle ear. It is a measure of the effort we are prepared to expend to guard against deception when accuracy is at a premium.

When it comes to our poor mind, however, we can't be bothered; we are satisfied accepting any and all impressions, because here the loss we suffer is not obvious. If you want to know just how little concerned you are about things good and bad, and how serious about things indifferent, compare your attitude to going blind with your attitude about being mentally in the dark. You will realize, I think, how inappropriate your values really are.

Epictetus, Discourses I.20.7-12 (pages 51-52 of this edition) (original Greek, with alternate translations at the link)

Edited to correct a typo.

30 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 July 2010 05:35:48PM Permalink

Doubt, n. The philosophical device Descartes so cleverly used to prove everything he previously believed.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon

30 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:00:04PM Permalink

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

-- Brahma, Mahabharata

30 points anonym 03 December 2010 08:36:05AM Permalink

Truth is much too complicated to allow anything but approximations.

— John Von Neumann

30 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:21:36AM Permalink

A little learning is not a dangerous thing to one who does not mistake it for a great deal.

-- William A White

30 points Alexandros 02 March 2011 11:15:08AM Permalink

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.

30 points peter_hurford 03 October 2011 06:45:23PM Permalink

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.

André Gide

30 points Grognor 02 February 2012 03:29:36AM Permalink

Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.

It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.

-Voltaire (usually presented as, "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.")

30 points Maniakes 03 April 2012 12:51:28AM Permalink

There are big differences between "a study" and "a good study" and "a published study" and "a study that's been independently confirmed" and "a study that's been independently confirmed a dozen times over." These differences are important; when a scientist says something, it's not the same as the Pope saying it. It's only when dozens and hundreds of scientists start saying the same thing that we should start telling people to guzzle red wine out of a fire hose.

Chris Bucholz

30 points John_Maxwell_IV 07 May 2012 06:09:23PM Permalink

How a game theorist buys a car:

"Hello, my name is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. I plan to buy the following car [list the exact model and features] today at five P.M. I am calling all of the dealerships within a fifty-mile radius of my home and I am telling each of them what I am telling you. I will come in and buy the car today at five P.M. from the dealer who gives me the lowest price. I need to have the all-in price, including taxes, dealer prep [I ask them not to prep the car and not charge me for it, since dealer prep is little more than giving you a washed car with plastic covers and paper floormats removed, usually for hundreds of dollars], everything, because I will make out the check to your dealership before I come and will not have another check with me."

From The Predictioneer's Game, page 7.

Other car-buying tips from Bueno de Mesquita, in case you're about to buy a car:

* Figure out exactly what car you want to buy by searching online before making any contact with dealerships.

* Don't be afraid to purchase a car from a distant dealership--the manufacturer provides the warranty, not the dealer.

* Be sure to tell each dealer you will be sharing the price they quote you with subsequent dealers.

* Don't take shit from dealers who tell you "you can't buy a car over the phone" or do anything other than give you their number. If a dealer is stonewalling, make it quite clear that you're willing to get what you want elsewhere.

* Arrive at the lowest-price dealer just before 5:00 PM to close the deal. In the unlikely event that the dealer changes their terms, go for the next best price.

30 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 08:08:55AM Permalink

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.


30 points peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:19:37PM Permalink

"He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his candle at mine, receives light without darkening me. No one possesses the less of an idea, because every other possesses the whole of it." - Jefferson

29 points JamesAndrix 09 December 2010 07:28:48AM Permalink

A young boy walks into a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

Found on /r/funny

29 points MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:51:58PM Permalink

The Company that needs a new machine tool is already paying for it.

-old Warner Swasey ad

29 points TobyBartels 07 March 2011 02:22:17AM Permalink

Peanuts, 1961 April 2627:

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?

29 points RichardKennaway 03 March 2011 10:24:00PM Permalink

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.

29 points MichaelGR 02 June 2011 06:37:39PM Permalink

"At one of our dinners, Milton recalled traveling to an Asian country in the 1960s and visiting a worksite where a new canal was being built. He was shocked to see that, instead of modern tractors and earth movers, the workers had shovels. He asked why there were so few machines. The government bureaucrat explained: “You don’t understand. This is a jobs program.” To which Milton replied: “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

-Milton Friedman story

29 points abcd_z 03 July 2011 05:15:40AM Permalink

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

John Maynard Keynes

29 points Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:25:27AM Permalink

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it.

Mark Twain

29 points Stabilizer 02 January 2012 05:58:19PM Permalink

The road to wisdom? — Well, it's plain

and simple to express:


and err

and err again

but less

and less

and less.

--Piet Hein


29 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 January 2012 03:53:09PM Permalink

...when you do have a deep understanding, you have solved the problem and it is time to do something else. This makes the total time you spend in life reveling in your mastery of something quite brief. One of the main skills of research scientists of any type is knowing how to work comfortably and productively in a state of confusion.


(emphasis mine)

29 points Grognor 01 May 2012 07:15:47AM Permalink

The Disobedi-Ant

The story of the Disobedi-Ant is very short. It refused to believe that its powerful impulses to play instead of work were anything but unique expressions of its very unique self, and it went its merry way, singing, "What I choose to do has nothing to do with what any-ant else chooses to do! What could be more self-evident?"

Coincidentally enough, so went the reasoning of all its colony-mates. In fact, the same refrain was independently invented by every last ant in the colony, and each ant thought it original. It echoed throughout the colony, even with the same melody.

The colony perished.

-Douglas Hofstadter (posted with gwern's "permission")

29 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 10:01:09AM Permalink

The greatest weariness comes from work not done.

-Eric Hoffer

29 points Mark_Eichenlaub 02 June 2012 11:52:31PM Permalink

And clearly my children will never get any taller, because there is no statistically-significant difference in their height from one day to the next.

Andrew Vickers, What Is A P-Value, Anyway?

29 points tastefullyOffensive 06 July 2012 04:47:33PM Permalink

Just explained the Higgs Boson to my friend even though I don't understand it myself. He was very convinced. I bet this is how religions get started.

-Rob DenBleyker

29 points peter_hurford 03 August 2012 12:17:53AM Permalink

All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.

Carl Sagan

29 points Stabilizer 03 December 2012 02:13:14AM Permalink

Among a great many other things that chess teaches you is to control the initial excitement you feel when you see something that looks good. It trains you to think before grabbing, and to think just as objectively when you're in trouble. When you're making a film you have to make most of your decisions on the run, and there is a tendency to always shoot from the hip. It takes more discipline than you might imagine, to think, even for thirty seconds, in the noisy, confusing, high-pressure atmosphere of a film set. But a few seconds' thought can often prevent a serious mistake being made about something that looks good at first glance. With respect to films, chess is more useful in preventing you from making mistakes than giving you ideas. Ideas come spontaneously and the discipline required to evaluate and put them to use tends to be the real work.

-Stanley Kubrick

28 points SilasBarta 01 September 2009 03:42:39PM Permalink

During the discussion of Pranknet on Slashdot about a month ago, I saw this comment. It reminded me of our discussions about Newcomb's problem and superrationality.

I also disagree that our society is based on mutual trust. Volumes and volumes of laws backed up by lawyers, police, and jails show otherwise.

That's called selection/observation bias. You're looking at only one side of the coin.

I've lived in countries where there's a lot less trust than here. The notion of returning an opened product to a store and getting a full refund is based on trust (yes, there's a profit incentive, and some people do screw the retailers [and the retailers their customers -- SB], but the system works overall). In some countries I've been to, this would be unfeasible: Almost everyone will try to exploit such a retailer.

When a storm knocks out the electricity and the traffic lights stop working, I've always seen everyone obeying the rules. I doubt it's because they're worried about cops. It's about trust that the other drivers will do likewise. Simply unworkable in other places I've lived in.

I've had neighbors whom I don't know receive UPS/FedEx packages for me. Again, trust. I don't think they're afraid of me beating them up.

There are loads of examples. Society, at least in the US, is fairly nice and a lot of that has to do with a common trust.

Which is why someone exploiting that trust is a despised person.

28 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:46:10PM Permalink

The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

-- George Bernard Shaw, writer, Nobel laureate (1856-1950)

Edit: The full citation is to his 1903 play Man and superman: a comedy and a philosophy, where the character John Tanner ("M.I.R.C., Member of the Idle Rich Class") says:

Yes, because to be treated as a boy was to be taken on the old footing. I had become a new person ; and those who knew the old person laughed at me. The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor : he took my measure anew every time he saw me, whilst all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.

28 points sketerpot 02 March 2010 12:43:39AM Permalink

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

-John McCarthy, on mainstream environmentalism.

As someone who regularly gets into arguments about this, I can say that he's definitely right; you wouldn't believe the amount of nonsense that can be disposed of simply by looking up the relevant numbers and doing a minute's worth of easy arithmetic.

For example, I've heard some people recently claiming that a combination of solar photovoltaics, electrolysis to produce hydrogen, and these new Bloom box fuel cells are cheaper than nuclear fission. Look up the costs of solar farms; about $3 per peak watt. Their average power output is less; we can very optimistically assume that they run at 20% of capacity on average. Efficiency losses from electrolysis and fuel cells are about 50%. Putting it all together, this would cost about $30 per watt of average power delivered. Not including the cost of the fuel cells.

A little googling will show that the total cost of building two new AP1000 reactors in Georgia is about $14 billion, and they average at least 93% of their peak power, and transmission line losses bring their average power delivered to about 1000 MW each. So their cost is about $7 per watt of average power delivered, or about 23% the cost of solar.

There's a lot of extremely harmful bullshit out there, and defeating most of it doesn't take any advanced techniques; it just takes a willingness to look up some relevant numbers and do a bit of arithmetic.

28 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:44:53PM Permalink

My dad used to have an expression: "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."

Joe Biden, remarks delivered in Saint Clair Shores, MI, Monday, September 15, 2008

28 points Morendil 01 September 2010 06:55:22AM Permalink

Writing program code is a good way of debugging your thinking.

-- Bill Venables

28 points CronoDAS 03 May 2011 09:43:26PM Permalink

"War, Nobby. Huh! What is it good for?" he said.

"Dunno, sarge. Freeing slaves, maybe?"

"Absol--Well, okay."

"Defending yourself from a totalitarian aggressor?"

"All right, I'll grant you that, but--"

"Saving civilization against a horde of--"

"It doesn't do any good in the long run is what I'm saying, Nobby, if you'd listen for five seconds together," said Fred Colon sharply.

"Yeah, but in the long run what does, sarge?"

-- Terry Pratchett, Thud!

28 points Patrick 01 June 2011 01:47:26PM Permalink

I didn't do the engineering, and I didn't do the math, because I thought I understood what was going on and I thought I made a good rig. But I was wrong. I should have done it.

Jamie Hyneman

28 points Tesseract 03 July 2011 04:42:28AM Permalink

Sometimes, apparently rational self-interested strategies turn out (as in the prisoners' dilemma) to be self-defeating. This may look like a defeat for rationality, but it is not. Rationality is saved by its own open-endedness. If a strategy of following accepted rules of rationality is sometimes self-defeating, this is not the end. We revise the rules to take account of this, so producing a higher-order rationality strategy. This in turn may fail, but again we go up a level. At whatever level we fail, there is always the process of standing back and going up a further level.

Quoted in The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

28 points summerstay 04 August 2011 02:01:49PM Permalink

"A Thinking Machine! Yes, we can now have our thinking done for us by machinery! The Editor of the Common School Advocate says—" On our way to Cincinnati, a few days since, we stopped over night where a gentleman from the city was introducing a machine which he said was designed to supercede the necessity and labor of thinking. It was highly and respectably recommended, by men too in high places, and is designed for a calculator, to save the trouble of all mathematical labor. By turning the machinery it produces correct results in addition, substraction, multiplication, and division, and the operator assured us that it was equally useful in fractions and the higher mathematics." The Editor thinks that such machines, by which the scholar may, by turning a crank, grind out the solution of a problem without the fatigue of mental application, would by its introduction into schools, do incalculable injury, But who knows that such machines when brought to greater perfection, may not think of a plan to remedy all their own defects and then grind out ideas beyond the ken of mortal mind!" --- The Primitive Expounder in 1847

28 points Eugine_Nier 03 September 2011 05:36:08AM Permalink

One day, I was playing with an "express wagon," a little wagon with a railing around it, I noticed something about the way the ball moved. I went to my father and said, "Say, Pop, I noticed something. When I pull the wagon, the ball rolls to the back of the wagon. And when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon. Why is that?"

"That, nobody knows," he said. "The general principle is that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called 'inertia,' but nobody knows why it's true." Now, that's a deep understanding. He didn't just give me the name.

-Richard Feynman

28 points Stabilizer 03 February 2012 10:42:15PM Permalink

"The truth is whatever you can get away with."

"No, that’s journalism. The truth is whatever you can’t escape."

-Greg Egan, Distress

28 points wallowinmaya 01 February 2012 06:54:38PM Permalink

It is easy to be certain....One has only to be sufficiently vague.

Charles S. Peirce

28 points DSimon 02 March 2012 05:50:57AM Permalink

T-Rex: Our bodies are amazing things! Check it, everyone!

We use our mouths to talk. We invent, remember and teach entire languages with which to do the talking! And if that fails, we can talk with our hands. We build planes and boats and cars and spaceships, all by either using our bodies directly, or by using instruments invented by our bodies. We compose beautiful music and tell amazing stories, all with our bodies, these fleshy bags with spooky skeletons inside.

And yet, if we have a severe enough peanut allergy, we can be killed in seconds by a friggin' legume. And hey, 70% of our planet is water, but what happens if we spend too much time in it? We drown. Game over, man!

I used to make fun of Green Lantern for being vulnerable to the color yellow. Then I choked on my orange juice one morning and nearly suffocated.

-- Dinosaur Comics

28 points peter_hurford 01 March 2012 05:19:45PM Permalink

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

-- Neil DeGrasse Tyson

28 points Grognor 01 May 2012 07:13:26AM Permalink

Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson, probably not apocryphal (at first, this comment said "possibly apocryphal since I can't find it anywhere except collections of quotes")

28 points Oligopsony 06 June 2012 07:06:56PM Permalink

So, let's say some bros of mine and I have some hand-signals for, you know, bro stuff. And one of the signals means, "Oh, shit. Here comes that girl! You know. That girl. She's coming." That signal has a particular context. Eventually, one of my bros gets tired of sloppy use of the signal, and sets about laying out specifically what situations make a girl that girl. If I used the signal in a close-but-not-quite context, he'd handle it and then pull me aside and say, "I know she and I had that thing that one time, but we never... well, it wasn't quite THAT. You know? So that signal, it freaked me out, because I thought it had to be someone else. Make sure you're using it properly, okay?" And I'd be like, "Bro. Got it."

Another friend of mine, he recognizes the sorts of situations we use the signal in have a common thread, so he begins using the hand signal for other situations, any situation that has the potential for both danger and excitement. So if someone invites us to this real sketchy bar, he'll give me the signal - "This could be bad. But what if it's not?" And I'd respond, "I see what you did there."

Maybe you see where this is going. We're hanging out one day, and some guy suggests we crash some party. Bro #2 signals, and bro #1 freaks out, looking around. And then he's like, "OH FUCK I HAVE TO CALL HER." And #2 says, "No, dude, there's no one coming. I just meant, this is like one of those situations, you know?" And they're pissed at each other because they're using the same signal to mean different things. I'm not mad, because I generally know what they each mean, but I have more context than they do.

The same thing probably happens with analytics and Continentals.

Philosophy Bro

28 points Ezekiel 02 September 2012 01:16:02AM Permalink

My brain technically-not-a-lies to me far more than it actually lies to me.

-- Aristosophy (again)

28 points Stabilizer 02 October 2012 06:46:48AM Permalink

Curiosity was framed. Avoid it at your peril. The cat's not even sick. If you don't know how it works, find out. If you're not sure if it will work, try it. If it doesn't make sense, play with it until it does. If it's not broken, break it. If it might not be true, find out. And most of all, if someone says it is none of your business, prove them wrong.

-Seth Godin

28 points James_Miller 01 December 2012 08:19:55PM Permalink

You might expect that, having learned of the existence of immortal life, man would dedicate colossal resources to learning how the immortal jellyfish performs its trick. You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology.

NYT article titled Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?

The next line of the article after the above quote is "But none of this happened."

27 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:28:35AM Permalink

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing 'look over there'.

-- Randall Munroe

27 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:07:14PM Permalink

There is no real me! Don't try to find the real me! Don't try to find someone inside of me who isn't me!

-- Princess Waltz

Commentary: What's odd is not how many people think they contain other people. What's odd is how many of those people think the other person is the real one.

27 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:26AM Permalink

Nature draws no line between living and nonliving.

-- K. Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation

27 points Rain 03 September 2010 12:15:26PM Permalink

Robot: "With all your modern science, are you any closer to understanding the mystery of how a robot walks or talks?"

Farnsworth: "Yes you idiot! The circuit diagram is right in the inside of your case."

Robot: "I choose to believe what I was programmed to believe!"

-- Futurama, The Honking

27 points Alexandros 11 December 2010 11:03:27AM Permalink

if you're the smartest person in the room, go look for a room with smarter people in it.

kevinpet at Hacker News

27 points James_Miller 02 March 2011 08:55:46PM Permalink

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.

27 points RichardKennaway 02 March 2011 12:42:24PM Permalink

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)

27 points jasonmcdowell 01 June 2011 09:23:48PM Permalink

I wish there was no illness, I don't care if an old doctor starves.

Loā Hô, a Taiwanese physician and poet.

27 points Unnamed 01 June 2011 07:11:09PM Permalink

Violence is not a way of getting where you want to go, only more quickly. Its existence changes your destination. If you use it, you had better be prepared to find yourself in the kind of place it takes you to.


27 points Oligopsony 31 October 2011 07:38:26PM Permalink

On precision in aesthetics, metaethics:

RS: Butt-Head, I have a question for you. I noticed that you often say, "I like stuff that's cool." But isn't that circular logic? I mean, what is the definition of "cool," other than an adjective denoting something the speaker likes?

BH: Huh-huh. Uh, did you, like, go to college?

RS: You don't have to go to college to know the definition of "redundant." What I'm saying is that essentially what you're saying is "I like stuff that I like."

B: Yeah. Huh-huh. Me, too.

BH: Also, I don't like stuff that sucks, either.

RS: But nobody likes stuff that sucks!

BH: Then why does so much stuff suck?

B: Yeah. College boy! Huh-huh, huh-huh.

-Rolling Stone, Interview with Beavis and Butt-Head

27 points gwern 02 December 2011 08:16:46PM Permalink

Economists essentially have a sophisticated lack of understanding of economics, especially macroeconomics. I know it sounds ridiculous. But the reason why I tell people they should study economics is not so they’ll know something at the end—because I don’t think we know much—but because we’re good at thinking. Economics teaches you to think things through. What you see a lot of times in economics is disdain for other's lack of thinking. You have to think about the ramifications of policies in the short run, the medium run, and the long run. Economists think they’re good at doing that, but they’re good at doing that in the sense that they can write down a model that will help them think about it—not in terms of empirically knowing what the answers are. And we have gotten so enamored of thinking things through that the fact that we don’t know anything needs to bother us more. So, yes, it’s true that the average guy on the street doesn’t understand economics, and it’s also true that we don’t understand economics. We just have a more sophisticated lack of understanding than the guy on the street.

---Culture in Economics and the Culture of Economics: Raquel Fernández in Conversation with The Straddler

27 points J_Taylor 01 January 2012 08:35:29AM Permalink

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche
27 points NancyLebovitz 02 February 2012 10:15:50AM Permalink

“I was just doing my job” or “I don’t make the rules” is not a defense if you have a history of deciding what your job actually is, and selectively breaking or bending rules.

"Heads I Win, Tails You Lose" by Venkat Rao

27 points arundelo 01 February 2012 09:46:04PM Permalink

Robert Morris has a very unusual quality: he's never wrong. It might seem this would require you to be omniscient, but actually it's surprisingly easy. Don't say anything unless you're fairly sure of it. If you're not omniscient, you just don't end up saying much.

[....] He's not just generally correct, but also correct about how correct he is.

-- Paul Graham

27 points GabrielDuquette 01 February 2012 02:18:49PM Permalink

It is the most common way of trying to cope with novelty: by means of metaphors and analogies we try to link the new to the old, the novel to the familiar. Under sufficiently slow and gradual change, it works reasonably well; in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we may glorify it with the name 'common sense', our past experience is no longer relevant, the analogies become too shallow, and the metaphors become more misleading than illuminating.

E. W. Dijkstra

27 points Alicorn 11 June 2012 07:09:59PM Permalink

Do you ever get the feeling that God has a plan?

And you're the only one who can stop it?

27 points Will_Newsome 03 July 2012 05:06:21AM Permalink

I often tried plays that looked recklessly daring, maybe even silly. But I never tried anything foolish when a game was at stake, only when we were far ahead or far behind. I did it to study how the other team reacted, filing away in my mind any observations for future use.

— Ty Cobb

27 points RolfAndreassen 03 July 2012 06:17:44PM Permalink

We find it difficult and disturbing to hold in our minds arguments of the form ‘On the one hand, on the other.’ If we are for capital punishment we want it to be good in all respects, with no serious drawbacks; if we are against it, we want it to be bad in all respects, with no serious advantages. We want the world of facts to dictate to us, virtually, how to act; but this it will never do. We always have to make a choice.

-- Theodore Dalrymple, article in "Library of Law and Liberty".

27 points NancyLebovitz 08 August 2012 04:43:07PM Permalink

But I came to realize that I was not a wizard, that "will-power" was not mana, and I was not so much a ghost in the machine, as a machine in the machine.

Ta-nehisi Coates

27 points palladias 02 October 2012 07:52:35PM Permalink

“You’re saying I’ll get used to being a warlock, or whatever it is that I am.”

“You’ve always been what you are. That’s not new. What you’ll get used to is knowing it.”

Jem and Tessa, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

27 points Alejandro1 07 November 2012 06:20:08AM Permalink

Breaking: To surprise of pundits, numbers continue to be best system for determining which of two things is larger.


27 points Nominull 02 December 2012 05:03:11AM Permalink

Molten variables hiss and roar. On my mind-forge, I hammer them into the greatsword Epistemology. Many are my foes this night.

--Nate Silver Parody Twitter Account @fivethirtynate, on the night of the presidential election

26 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:14:44PM Permalink

When I was young, I thought the act of getting older meant, year by year, getting more sophisticated, more hard, cool, and unpitying. Less innocent.

Maybe that was a childish idea of what getting older was about. Maybe adults, mature adults, get more innocent with time, not less. Because the word "innocent" does not mean "naive," it means "not guilty."

Children do small evils to each other, schoolyard fights and insults, not because their hearts are pure, but because their powers are small. Grown-ups have more power. Some of them do great evils with that power. But what about the ones who don't? Aren't they more innocent than children, not less?

-- John C. Wright, Fugitives of Chaos

26 points Unnamed 08 January 2010 12:48:32AM Permalink

"Most haystacks do not even have a needle."

-- Lorenzo

26 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:39:22PM Permalink

In the wake of such suffering, there is no way to adequately explain the tragedy. Yet the seemingly random nature of the mass deaths has made them even harder for the survivors to understand.

"In a situation like this, it's only natural to want to assign blame," said Dr. Frederick MacDougal of the National Center for Infectious Diseases, who recently lost a third cousin to a degenerative nerve disorder. "But the disturbing thing about this case is that no one factor is at fault. People are dying for such a wide range of reasons--gunshot wounds, black-lung disease, falls down elevator shafts--that we have been unable to isolate any single element as the cause."

"No one simple explanation can encompass the enormous scope of this problem," MacDougal added. "And that's very difficult for most people to process psychologically."


Meanwhile, as the world continues to grapple with this seemingly unstoppable threat, the deaths--and the sorrow, fear and pain they have wrought--continue.

As Margaret Heller, a volunteer at a clinic in Baltimore put it, "We do everything we can. But for most of the people we try to help, the sad truth is it's only a matter of time."

-- The Onion, Millions and Millions Dead

Related: World Death Rate Holding Steady At 100 Percent

26 points Kutta 01 February 2010 02:40:35PM Permalink

Many people equate tolerance with the attitude that every belief is equally true, and that we should all simply accept this fact and go our separate ways. But I view tolerance as the willingness to come together, to face one another in the same room and hack at each other with claw hammers until the truth finally trickles out from the blood and the tears.

-- Raving Atheist, found via the Black Belt Bayesian blog (props to Steven)

26 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 11:53:30AM Permalink

"Intuition only works in situations where neurology and evolution has pre-equipped us with a good set of basic-level categories. That works for dealing with other humans, and for throwing things, and for a bunch of other things that do not, unfortunately, include constructing viable philosophies."

-- Eric S. Raymond

26 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:53:17AM Permalink

Education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at. Children don't have to go to school to learn how to walk, talk, recognize objects, or remember the personalities of their friends, even though these tasks are much harder than reading, adding, or remembering dates in history. They do have to go to school to learn written language, arithmetic, and science, because those bodies of knowledge and skill were invented too recently for any species-wide knack for them to have evolved.

Steven Pinker -- The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

26 points DSimon 03 August 2010 03:27:01AM Permalink

My hotel doesn't have a 13th floor because of superstition, but people on the 14th floor, you should know what floor you're really on. If you jump out the window, you will die sooner than you expect.

-- Mitch Hedberg (Quoted from memory)

26 points sketerpot 03 December 2010 10:25:21PM Permalink

Mitch Hedberg on the distinction between labels and the things to which they are applied:

I just bought a 2-bedroom house, but it's up to me, isn't it, how many bedrooms there are? Fuck you, real estate lady! This bedroom has a oven in it! This bedroom’s got a lot of people sitting around watching TV. This bedroom is A.K.A. a hallway.

26 points DSimon 02 February 2011 06:20:47PM Permalink

Kräht der Hahn am Mist, ändert sich's Wetter oder es bleibt wie's ist.

-- Common German folk saying

Translates as "If the rooster crows on the manure pile, the weather will change or stay as it is." In other words, P(W|R) = P(W) when W is uncorrelated with R.

26 points AlexMennen 08 March 2011 01:49:27AM Permalink

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

-Irwin Edman

26 points Dr_Manhattan 02 March 2011 02:54:54PM Permalink

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

26 points Dreaded_Anomaly 06 April 2011 03:27:01AM Permalink

Complex problems have simple, easy to understand wrong answers.

— Grossman's Law

26 points Tom_Talbot 03 August 2011 12:08:43AM Permalink

A writer on structuralism in the Times Literary Supplement has suggested that thoughts which are confused and tortuous by reason of their profundity are most appropriately expressed in prose that is deliberately unclear. What a preposterously silly idea! I am reminded of an air-raid warden in wartime Oxford who, when bright moonlight seemed to be defeating the spirit of the blackout, exhorted us to wear dark glasses. He, however, was being funny on purpose.

Peter Medawar

26 points Manfred 02 August 2011 11:08:49PM Permalink

It is so easy to hide our ignorance under such expressions as the "plan of creation" or "unity of design," etc., and to think that we give an explanation when we only restate a fact.

-- Charles Darwin

26 points brazzy 03 September 2011 10:47:19PM Permalink

She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it)

-- Lewis Carrol, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Hard to believe that it hasn't show up here before...

26 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2011 04:40:38PM Permalink

The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes primitive again.

-Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

In other words, politics is the mind killer.

26 points ciphergoth 13 October 2011 09:32:09PM Permalink

News flash, dearies: there’s lots of areas of life that aren’t ‘science’ where people do tend to get a mite hung up on particulars of what is and is not, in fact, true. Like in bookkeeping. Like in criminal investigations. Like when they’re trying to establish where their spouse was last night.

Like, in fact, in most facets of life, hundreds of times a day, even if accounting isn’t your field and you’re not the accused at a criminal trial, and you’re not even married. Getting the facts right isn’t a concern of ‘science’, specifically. It’s a general concern of human beings. Getting reality right is, frequently, indeed, rather important if you wish to stay alive. It’s not a particularly academic question whether the car is or is not coming, when you cross the road. It’s the sort of thing one likes to get right. And we don’t generally call this ‘science’, either. We call it ‘looking’.

-- AJ Milne

26 points J_Taylor 04 December 2011 08:23:34AM Permalink

Nobody panics when things go "according to plan"… even if the plan is horrifying.

  • The Joker
26 points A4FB53AC 01 April 2012 03:48:12PM Permalink

A faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.

Arthur C. Clarke

26 points Alicorn 01 April 2012 06:09:23PM Permalink

Westerners are fond of the saying ‘Life isn’t fair.’ Then, they end in snide triumphant: ‘So get used to it!’

What a cruel, sadistic notion to revel in! What a terrible, patriarchal response to a child’s budding sense of ethics. Announce to an Iroquois, ‘Life isn’t fair,’ and her response will be: ‘Then make it fair!’

Barbara Alice Mann

26 points Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:34:28AM Permalink

Asked today if the Titanic II could sink, Mr Palmer told reporters: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it."

26 points rocurley 03 May 2012 11:42:32PM Permalink

Inspired by maia's post:

“When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons, what the hell am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!”

---Cave Johnson, Portal 2

26 points Will_Newsome 03 July 2012 05:24:54AM Permalink

Here is a hand. How do I know? Look closely, asshole, it's clearly a hand.

Look, if you really insist on doubting that here is a hand, or anything else, there's nothing really I can say to convince you otherwise. What the tits would the world even look like if this weren't a hand? What sort of system is your doubt endorsing? After all, you can't just say "It's not true that here is a hand." You have to be endorsing some other picture of the world. [...]

So it turns out when I say things like "Here is a hand" I'm not really making a claim about the world, I'm laying down some rules for discussion. If you doubt there's a hand here, then fuck you and that's all there is to it. We can't really talk about anything now, because we can't even agree on something as simple as a goddamn hand. When we all agree here is a hand, then we can go about discussing our world in meaningful ways. Skepticism just undermines a foundation and replaces it with nothing; it[']s paralyzing. The grounds for such radical skepticism don't exist; it presupposes and relies on the very certainty it tries to undermine.

This is more practical than you realize. There are people who actually believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. What the fuck, right? But if you've ever talked with one of them, you know that they're fucking impossible to have what you consider a 'reasonable' discussion with. It's not like they don't have answers for everything, it[']s just that those answers don't make any fucking sense to you. It[']s the sort of gibberish that makes you want to scream. The problem is that you don't even play the game by the same goddamn rules. You're both certain of your positions, because those positions are logically derived from the worldview each of you endorses as your starting point, and you both look at each other's foundations and say, "Seriously, what the fuck are you talking about?" You don't even know how you would go about convincing them that you're right and they're wrong; you don't even agree on a method by which to do that.

If you flew to some part of the world where they'd never heard of an airplane or even a bird, how the fuck could you convince them you flew? They don't even know what that means. They would have all sorts of questions, and would consider your answers nonsensical or magical. When a non-believer is told that God exists, he reacts in the same way; also, a believer when he is told there is no God.

So everything we believe about the world is built on some sort of foundation. Sure, that foundation can change, but there is always something there at the base, and it is that base that enables us to talk about the world. Not everyone has the same base you do, and that has to be okay. Just know that some of your beliefs are just as unsupported as everyone else's. It's just the way it is, bro.

Philosophy Bro summarizing Wittgensteins On Certainty. (I'm not sure the summary is very true to the original but it's interesting nonetheless.)

26 points roland 03 August 2012 08:56:07AM Permalink

Yes -- and to me, that's a perfect illustration of why experiments are relevant in the first place! More often than not, the only reason we need experiments is that we're not smart enough. After the experiment has been done, if we've learned anything worth knowing at all, then hopefully we've learned why the experiment wasn't necessary to begin with -- why it wouldn't have made sense for the world to be any other way. But we're too dumb to figure it out ourselves! --Scott Aaronson

26 points frostgiant 08 August 2012 02:13:24AM Permalink

The problem with Internet quotes and statistics is that often times, they’re wrongfully believed to be real.

— Abraham Lincoln

26 points katydee 07 September 2012 02:15:02AM Permalink

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?


26 points Jay_Schweikert 02 September 2012 05:48:43PM Permalink

Qhorin Halfhand: The Watch has given you a great gift. And you only have one thing to give in return: your life.

Jon Snow: I'd gladly give my life.

Qhorin Halfhand: I don’t want you to be glad about it! I want you to curse and fight until your heart’s done pumping.

--Game of Thrones, Season 2.

26 points Eugine_Nier 02 December 2012 02:52:14AM Permalink

Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle’s question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same.


Even if they don’t read Aristotle (that would be undemocratic) you would have thought the French Revolution would have taught them that the behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour that preserves aristocracy. They might then have applied the same principle to all forms of government.

-- Screwtape, from "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" by C. S. Lewis.

25 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:39:02PM Permalink

Just a few centuries ago, the smartest humans alive were dead wrong about damn near everything. They were wrong about gods. Wrong about astronomy. Wrong about disease. Wrong about heredity. Wrong about physics. Wrong about racism, sexism, nationalism, governance, and many other moral issues. Wrong about geology. Wrong about cosmology. Wrong about chemistry. Wrong about evolution. Wrong about nearly every subject imaginable.

-- Luke Muehlhauser

25 points Nic_Smith 01 February 2010 07:43:17AM Permalink

If you can't feel secure - and teach your children to feel secure - about 1-in-610,000 nightmare scenarios - the problem isn't the world. It's you.

-- Bryan Caplan

25 points Randaly 03 August 2010 04:45:58AM Permalink

"Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from SCIENCE!"

~Girl Genius

25 points Hariant 09 October 2010 01:42:32AM Permalink

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

Engineer: Yep.

Philosopher: How?

Engineer: Lookin'.

Scrollover of SMBC #1879

25 points MichaelGR 03 December 2010 05:40:15PM Permalink

A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake.


25 points wiresnips 03 January 2011 08:40:04PM Permalink

Whatever elaborate, and grotesquely counter-intuitive, underpinnings there might be to familiar reality, it stubbornly continues to be familiar. When Rutherford showed that atoms were mostly empty space, did the ground become any less solid? The truth itself changes nothing.

-- Greg Egan, Quarantine

25 points Psy-Kosh 03 February 2011 11:38:09PM Permalink

Just saw on reddit a perfect accidental metaphor: jakeredfield posted this in r/gaming:

For the people that have no played Portal yet, be warned, there may be spoilers up ahead for you.

So anyway, I am a huge fan of Portal, I love everything about the game. I bought it upon release and have played through it multiple times. My friends aren't as big of gamers as me so it took them some time to get their hands on Portal. My one friend didn't have a computer capable of running Portal so I let him play on mine.

I pulled up a chair besides him and eagerly watched him play then entire time. He loved the game. I expected him to. It's an awesome game. But here comes the WTF part...(SPOILERS AHEAD)

He go to the part at the last puzzle, right before GlaDOS tries to kill you in the fire. So then, my friend is like, "Oh, so it's one of those games where you die at the end. Haha, it was a good game." And then he immediately shuts it down. I just sat there. Shocked. In awe. I couldn't believe what I just saw. He turns to me and goes, "Good game, I'd play that again."

This is the part where I just hit him and yell, "IT WASN'T OVER YET!" He was so confused. He loaded it back up to that part and couldn't figure it out. I then pointed it out to him what he needed to do from there. He eventually fully finished the game.

Imagine what would have happened if I wasn't there? How many other people do you think only experienced the game up to this part, because they didn't have someone tell them?

What makes it even more perfect is this reply by Aleitheo:

So rather than try to see if he could live or even just die in the fire he turned off the game before he even saw the "ending"?

25 points RichardKennaway 02 May 2011 09:11:54PM Permalink

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

XKCD (the mouseover text)

For "success" and "successful" one might substitute "rationality" and "rational".

25 points wedrifid 01 June 2011 09:58:59AM Permalink

If you want to beat the market, you have to do something different from what everyone else is doing, and you have to be right.

David Bennett

25 points Thomas 04 July 2011 07:57:13PM Permalink

A scholar is just a library’s way of making another library.

Daniel Dennett

25 points DSimon 02 October 2011 05:51:50AM Permalink

T-Rex: If I lived in the past I'd have different beliefs, because I'd have nobody modern around to teach me anything else!


And I find it really unlikely that I would come up with all our modern good stuff on my own, running around saying "You guys! Democracy is pretty okay. Also, women are equal to men, and racism? Kind of a dick move." If I was raised by racist and sexist parents in the middle of a racist and sexist society, I'm pretty certain I'd be racist and sexist! I'm only as enlightened as I am today because I've stood on the shoulders of giants.

Right. So that raises the question: Is everyone from that period in Hell, or is Heaven overwhelmingly populated by racists?

-- T-Rex, Dinosaur Comics

25 points torekp 02 January 2012 12:50:30AM Permalink

"Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake." -- Napoleon Bonaparte

(This has been mentioned before on LW but not in a quote thread. I figured it was fair game.)

25 points Tesseract 01 February 2012 07:53:34PM Permalink

What is the aim of philosophy? To be clear-headed rather than confused; lucid rather than obscure; rational rather than otherwise; and to be neither more, nor less, sure of things than is justifiable by argument or evidence. That is worth trying for.

Geoffrey Warnock

25 points gwern 01 March 2012 05:58:00PM Permalink

"It's easy to think of yourself as being quite a nice person so long as you live on your own and are the only witness to yourself."

--Alain de Botton

25 points Ghatanathoah 02 May 2012 04:42:39PM Permalink

"It is indeed true that he [Hume] claims that 'reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.' But a slave, it should not be forgotten, does virtually all the work."

-Alan Carter, Pluralism and Projectivism

25 points Incorrect 02 August 2012 11:13:29PM Permalink

It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.

-- Oscar Wilde

25 points VincentYu 11 November 2012 01:45:03PM Permalink

Often a person uses some folk proverb to explain a behavioral event even though, on an earlier occasion, this same person used a directly contradictory folk proverb to explain the same type of event. For example, most of us have heard or said, “look before you leap.” Now there’s a useful, straightforward bit of behavioral advice—except that I vaguely remember admonishing on occasion, “he who hesitates is lost.” And “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is a pretty clear prediction of an emotional reaction to environmental events. But then what about “out of sight, out of mind”? And if “haste makes waste,” why do we sometimes hear that “time waits for no man”? How could the saying “two heads are better than one” not be true? Except that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” If I think “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” why do I also believe “nothing ventured, nothing gained”? And if “opposites attract,” why do “birds of a feather flock together”? I have counseled many students to “never to put off until tomorrow what you can do today.” But I hope my last advisee has never heard me say this, because I just told him, “cross that bridge when you come to it.”

The enormous appeal of clichés like these is that, taken together as implicit “explanations” of behavior, they cannot be refuted. No matter what happens, one of these explanations will be cited to cover it. No wonder we all think we are such excellent judges of human behavior and personality. We have an explanation for anything and everything that happens. Folk wisdom is cowardly in the sense that it takes no risk that it might be refuted.

Keith E. Stanovich, How to Think Straight About Psychology, 10th ed. (2013), 14.

ETA: Should have included the subsequent paragraph:

That folk wisdom is “after the fact” wisdom, and that it actually is useless in a truly predictive sense, is why sociologist Duncan Watts titled one of his books: Everything Is Obvious—Once You Know the Answer (2011). Watts discusses a classic paper by Lazarsfeld (1949) in which, over 60 years ago, he was dealing with the common criticism that “social science doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know.” Lazarsfeld listed a series of findings from a massive survey of 600,000 soldiers who had served during World War II; for example, that men from rural backgrounds were in better spirits during their time of service than soldiers from city backgrounds. People tend to find all of the survey results to be pretty obvious. In this example, for instance, people tend to think it obvious that rural men would have been used to harsher physical conditions and thus would have adapted better to the conditions of military life. It is likewise with all of the other findings—people find them pretty obvious. Lazarsfeld then reveals his punchline: All of the findings were the opposite of what was originally stated. For example, it was actually the case that men from city backgrounds were in better spirits during their time of service than soldiers from rural backgrounds. The last part of the learning exercise is for people to realize how easily they would have explained just the opposite finding. In the case of the actual outcome, people tend to explain it (when told of it first) by saying that they expected it because city men are used to working in crowded conditions and under hierarchical authority. They never realize how easily they would have concocted an explanation for exactly the opposite finding.

25 points TeMPOraL 02 December 2012 07:02:50PM Permalink

It has been said that the past is a foreign country. Well, it is certainly inhabited by foreigners, people whose mindset was shaped by circumstances we shy from remembering. The mother of three children who gave birth eight times. The father of four children, the last of whom cost him his wife. Our minds are largely free of such horrors, and not inured to that kind of suffering. That is the progress of technology. That is what is improving the human race.

It is a long, long ladder, and sometimes we slip, but we've never actually fallen. That is our progress.

24 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 05:32:08AM Permalink

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite."

Bertrand Russell, Free Thought and Official Propaganda, in "Sceptical Essays".

24 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 June 2009 01:12:22AM Permalink

"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot. They amount to fourteen."

-- Abd Er-Rahman III of Spain, 960 AD.

24 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:44:32PM Permalink

[I]n my opinion nothing occurs contrary to nature except the impossible, and that never occurs.

-- Sagredo, "Two New Sciences" (1914 translation), Galileo Galilei

24 points Theist 04 June 2010 11:27:54PM Permalink

"I accidentally changed my mind."

my four-year-old

24 points Tesseract 03 January 2011 09:26:36PM Permalink

The mere fact that it is possible to frame a question does not make it legitimate or sensible to do so. There are many things about which you can ask, "What is its temperature?" or "What color is it?" but you may not ask the temperature question or the color question of, say, jealousy or prayer. Similarly, you are right to ask the "Why" question of a bicycle's mudguards or the Kariba Dam, but at the very least you have no right to assume that the "Why" question deserves an answer when posed about a boulder, a misfortune, Mt. Everest, or the universe. Questions can be simply inappropriate, however heartfelt their framing.

Richard Dawkins, Gods Utility Function

24 points billswift 02 March 2011 07:50:29PM Permalink

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


24 points CronoDAS 05 April 2011 06:25:31PM Permalink

A fable:

In Persia many centuries ago, the Sufi mullah or holy man Nasruddin was arrested after preaching in the great square in front of the Shah's palace. The local clerics had objected to Mullah Nasruddin's unorthodox teachings, and had demanded his arrest and execution as a heretic. Dragged by palace guards to the Shah's throne room, he was sentenced immediately to death.

As he was being taken away, however, Nasruddin cried out to the Shah: "O great Shah, if you spare me, I promise that within a year I will teach your favourite horse to sing!"

The Shah knew that Sufis often told the most outrageous fables, which sounded blasphemous to many Muslims but which were nevertheless intended as lessons to those who would learn. Thus he had been tempted to be merciful, anyway, despite the demands of his own religious advisors. Now, admiring the audacity of the old man, and being a gambler at heart, he accepted his proposal.

The next morning, Nasruddin was in the royal stable, singing hymns to the Shah's horse, a magnificent white stallion. The animal, however, was more interested in his oats and hay, and ignored him. The grooms and stablehands all shook their heads and laughed at him. "You old fool", said one. "What have you accomplished by promising to teach the Shah's horse to sing? You are bound to fail, and when you do, the Shah will not only have you killed - you'll be tortured as well, for mocking him!"

Nasruddin turned to the groom and replied: "On the contrary, I have indeed accomplished much. Remember, I have been granted another year of life, which is precious in itself. Furthermore, in that time, many things can happen. I might escape. Or I might die anyway. Or the Shah might die, and his successor will likely release all prisoners to celebrate his accession to the throne".

"Or...". Suddenly, Nasruddin smiled. "Or, perhaps, the horse will learn to sing".

The original source of this fable seems to be lost to time. This version was written by Idries Shah.

24 points AndrewM 04 April 2011 07:20:13PM Permalink

We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones.

-Robert Wright, The Moral Animal

24 points HonoreDB 04 April 2011 05:26:20PM Permalink

Part of the potential of things is how they break.

Vi Hart, How To Snakes

24 points Dreaded_Anomaly 02 June 2011 09:27:21PM Permalink

If you want to know the way nature works, we looked at it, carefully... that's the way it looks! You don't like it... go somewhere else! To another universe! Where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy. I can't help it! OK! If I'm going to tell you honestly what the world looks like to the human beings who have struggled as hard as they can to understand it, I can only tell you what it looks like. And I cannot make it any simpler, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to simplify it, and I'm not going to fake it. I'm not going to tell you it's something like a ball bearing inside a spring, it isn't. So I'm going to tell you what it really is like, and if you don't like it, that's too bad.

— Richard Feynman, the QED Lectures at the University of Auckland

24 points GabrielDuquette 01 June 2011 01:25:20PM Permalink

I cannot see that such inward convictions and feelings are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.

Charles Darwin

24 points jimmy 04 July 2011 05:13:21AM Permalink

I had a scheme, which I still use today when somebody is explaining something that I'm trying to understand: I keep making up examples. For instance, the mathematicians would come in with a terrific theorem, and they're all excited. As they're telling me the conditions of the theorem, I construct something which fits all the conditions. You know, you have a set (one ball) – disjoint (two balls). Then the balls turn colors, grow hairs, or whatever, in my head as they put more conditions on. Finally they state the theorem, which is some dumb thing about the ball which isn't true for my hairy green ball thing, so I say, 'False!'

-Richard Feynman

24 points Maniakes 02 September 2011 08:52:25PM Permalink

The church is near, but the road is icy. The bar is far away, but I will walk carefully.

-- Russian proverb

24 points MinibearRex 01 September 2011 10:01:10PM Permalink

The proposition here is that the human brain is, in large part, a machine for winning arguments, a machine for convincing others that its owner is in the right - and thus a machine for convincing its owner of the same thing. The brain is like a good lawyer: given any set of interests to defend, it sets about convincing the world of their moral and logical worth, regardless of whether they in fact have any of either. Like a lawyer, the human brain wants victory, not truth; and, like a lawyer, it is sometimes more admirable for skill than for virtue.

Robert Wright, The Moral Animal

24 points anonym 02 October 2011 01:54:31AM Permalink

The most valuable acquisitions in a scientific or technical education are the general-purpose mental tools which remain serviceable for a lifetime. I rate natural language and mathematics as the most important of these tools, and computer science as a third.

George E. Forsythe

24 points Maniakes 03 December 2011 12:26:40AM Permalink

We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do.

-- Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning

24 points djcb 02 December 2011 06:48:20AM Permalink

If you hit this sign, you will hit that bridge.

-- Road sign in Griffin, Georgia, showing that sometimes it's good to have some distance between map and area.

24 points Tesseract 01 December 2011 05:40:37PM Permalink

One of the toughest things in any science... is to weed out the ideas that are really pleasing but unencumbered by truth.

Thomas Carew

24 points Mark_Eichenlaub 02 April 2012 12:03:19AM Permalink

Gene Hofstadt: You people. You think money is the answer to every problem.

Don Draper: No, just this particular problem.

Mad Men, "My Old Kentucky Home"

24 points Daniel_Burfoot 01 September 2012 03:57:48PM Permalink

It is now clear to us what, in the year 1812, was the cause of the destruction of the French army. No one will dispute that the cause of the destruction of Napoleon's French forces was, on the one hand, their advance late in the year, without preparations for a winter march, into the depths of Russia, and, on the other hand, the character that the war took on with the burning of Russian towns and the hatred of the foe aroused in the Russian people. But then not only did no one foresee (what now seems obvious) that this was the only way that could lead to the destruction of an army of eight hundred thousand men, the best in the world and led by the best generals, in conflict with a twice weaker Russian army, inexperienced and led by inexperienced generals; not only did no one foresee this, but all efforts on the part of the Russians were constantly aimed at hindering the one thing that could save Russia, and, on the part of the French, despite Napoleon's experience and so-called military genius, all efforts were aimed at extending as far as Moscow by the end of summer, that is, at doing the very thing that was to destroy them.

  • Leo Tolstoy, "War and Peace", trans. Pevear and Volokhonsky
24 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 September 2012 08:41:56AM Permalink

The following quotes were heavily upvoted, but then turned out to be made by a Will Newsome sockpuppet who edited the quote afterward. The original comments have been banned. The quotes are as follows:

If dying after a billion years doesn't sound sad to you, it's because you lack a thousand-year-old brain that can make trillion-year plans.

— Aristosophy

One wish can achieve as much as you want. What the genie is really offering is three rounds of feedback.

— Aristosophy

If anyone objects to this policy response, please PM me so as to not feed the troll.

24 points Alejandro1 02 October 2012 03:24:10PM Permalink

And who shows greater reverence for mystery, the scientist who devotes himself to discovering it step by step, always ready to submit to facts, and always aware that even his boldest achievement will never be more than a stepping-stone for those who come after him, or the mystic who is free to maintain anything because he need not fear any test?

Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies

24 points Nominull 02 November 2012 04:08:43PM Permalink

A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.

-John Maynard Keynes

23 points Yvain 15 June 2009 09:57:40AM Permalink

"Voting in a democracy makes you feel powerful, much as playing the lottery makes you feel rich." -- Mencius Moldbug

23 points Vlad 15 June 2009 08:09:13AM Permalink

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence." Christopher Hitchens

23 points wuwei 15 June 2009 04:39:02AM Permalink

"Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It's shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson."

-- Frank Herbert, Dune

23 points arundelo 03 July 2009 01:32:56AM Permalink

Numerical arithmetic should look to children like a simpler and faster way of doing things that they know how to do already, not a set of mysterious recipes for getting right answers to meaningless questions.

John Holt, How Children Fail, p. 101

See also Paul Lockhart.

23 points DaveInNYC 24 October 2009 06:53:52PM Permalink

I have met people who exaggerate the differences [between the morality of different cultures], because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, "Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?" But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.

-C.S. Lewis

23 points CSmith 02 July 2010 04:53:11AM Permalink

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."

--Friedrich Nietzsche

23 points Apprentice 03 August 2010 01:15:30PM Permalink

Upon his death man must leave everything behind ... and depart forever from the world he has known. He must of necessity go to that foul land of death, a fact which makes death the most sorrowful of all events. ... Some foreign doctrines, however, teach that death should not be regarded as profoundly sorrowful. ... These are all gross deceptions contrary to human sentiment and fundamental truths. Not to be happy over happy events, not to be saddened by sorrowful events, not to show surprise at astonishing events, in a word, to consider it proper not to be moved by whatever happens, are all foreign types of deception and falsehood. They are contrary to human nature and extremely repugnant to me.

-- Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801) - quoted from Blocker, Japanese Philosophy, p. 109

Motoori was as far as you can get from being a rationalist but this quote was so Yudkowskian that I felt it belonged here.

23 points Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:13:16AM Permalink

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

-- Jack T. Chick

23 points Tesseract 05 November 2010 08:34:18PM Permalink

Kołakowski's Law, or The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia:

For any given doctrine that one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which to support it.

Leszek Kołakowski

23 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:52:53AM Permalink

Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics.

Dean Schlicter

23 points Tetronian 03 December 2010 05:39:17AM Permalink

The question I ask myself like almost everyday is 'Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?'

Mark Zuckerberg

23 points billswift 01 February 2011 07:45:56PM Permalink

Speed is not attained by hurrying; it is an unsought by-product of intelligent and continuous work.

-- Frederick Giesecke, et al, Technical Drawing, 8th ed

23 points MinibearRex 08 March 2011 12:17:29AM Permalink

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

23 points aausch 07 March 2011 07:28:04PM Permalink

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

-- David Foster Wallace

23 points Nominull 06 April 2011 03:40:18AM Permalink

using the word “science” in the same way you’d use the word “alakazam” doesn’t count as being smarter

-Kris Straub, Chainsawsuit artist commentary

23 points nhamann 05 April 2011 09:22:48PM Permalink

True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer.

— David Foster Wallace, The Pale King

23 points RichardKennaway 04 April 2011 10:45:00AM Permalink

I recently posted these in another thread, but I think they're worth putting here to stand on their own:

"Magic is just a way of saying 'I don't know.'"

Terry Pratchett, "Nation"

The essence of magic is to do away with underlying mechanisms. ... What makes the elephant disappear is the movement of the wand and the intent of the magician, directly. If there were any intervening processes, it would not be magic but just engineering. As soon as you know how the magician made the elephant disappear, the magic disappears and -- if you started by believing in magic -- the disappointment sets in.

William T. Powers (CSGNET mailing list, April 2005)

23 points Tesseract 01 September 2011 08:48:19PM Permalink

If you want to live in a nicer world, you need good, unbiased science to tell you about the actual wellsprings of human behavior. You do not need a viewpoint that sounds comforting but is wrong, because that could lead you to create ineffective interventions. The question is not what sounds good to us but what actually causes humans to do the things they do.

Douglas Kenrick

23 points Vaniver 05 November 2011 10:30:09PM Permalink

The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.

Gloria Steinem

23 points Nominull 31 October 2011 03:31:51PM Permalink

Opening your eyes doesn't make a bad picture worse.

23 points gwern 04 December 2011 01:47:19PM Permalink

In the autumn of 1939, Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend Norman Malcolm were walking along the river when they saw a newspaper vendor's sign announcing that the Germans had accused the British government of instigating a recent attempt to assassinate Hitler. When Wittgenstein remarked that it wouldn't surprise him at all if it were true, Malcolm retorted that it was impossible because "the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhand, and . . . such an act was incompatible with the British 'national character'." Wittgenstein was furious. Some five years later, he wrote to Malcolm:

"Whenever I thought of you I couldn't help thinking of a particular incident which seemed to me very important. . . . you made a remark about 'national character' that shocked me by its primitiveness. I then thought: what is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic, etc., if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life, if it does not make you more conscientious than any . . . journalist in the use of the DANGEROUS phrases such people use for their own ends."

--Marjorie Perloff, Wittgensteins Ladder; apparently of the many attempts, the one referred to did not actually have British backing, although some did eg. the Oster Conspiracy or Operation Foxley.

(This is the full and original quote; the emphasis is on the section which is usually paraphrased as, "What is the use of studying philosophy if all that it does for you is to enable you to talk with some plausibility about some abstruse questions of logic...if it does not improve your thinking about the important questions of everyday life?")

23 points [deleted] 03 December 2011 03:05:16PM Permalink

Fujiwara no Yoshitake (954-974), a handsome nobleman, tragically died of smallpox at age 21. He left a love poem full of pathos:

Kige ga tame


Inochi sae

Nagaku mo gana to

Omoikeru kana

For your precious sake, once I thought

I could die.

Now, I wish to live with you

a long, long time.

--Hokusai and Hiroshige

23 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2012 07:53:20AM Permalink

Already I had learned from thee that because a thing is eloquently expressed it should not be taken to be as necessarily true; nor because it is uttered with stammering lips should it be supposed false. Nor, again, is it necessarily true because rudely uttered, nor untrue because the language is brilliant. Wisdom and folly both are like meats that are wholesome and unwholesome, and courtly or simple words are like town-made or rustic vessels — both kinds of food may be served in either kind of dish.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

23 points William_Kasper 06 May 2012 08:10:15PM Permalink

[Political "gaffe" stories] are completely information-free news events, and they absolutely dominate political news coverage and analysis. It's like asking your doctor if the X-rays show a tumor, and all he'll talk about is how stupid the radiologist's haircut looks. . . . ["Blast"] stories are. . . just as content-free as the "gaffe" stories. But they are popular for the same reason: There's a petty, tribal satisfaction in seeing a member of our team really put the other team in their place. And there's a rush of outrage adrenaline when the other team says something mean about us. So, instead of covering pending legislation or the impact it could have on your life, the news media covers the dick-measuring contest.

-David Wong, 5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 10 Seconds

23 points Alejandro1 05 June 2012 03:26:47PM Permalink

When I was 11, I was fascinated with a flame and I didn't know what it was. I went to a teacher and said, "What's a flame? What's going on in there?" And she said "It's oxidation." And that's all she said. And I never heard that word before, so that was like, calling it by another name.

--Alan Alda, in an interview at The Colbert Report, telling the story that gave rise to The Flame Challenge. It has been mentioned on LW before, but I thought it was worth posting it here as a perfect illustration of a Teacher's Password.

23 points [deleted] 09 July 2012 11:30:38PM Permalink

Suppose we find a society which lacks our understanding of human physiology, and that speaks a language just like English, except for one curious family of idioms. When they are tired they talk of being beset by fatigues, of having mental fatigues, muscular fatigues, fatigues in the eyes and fatigues of the the spirit. Their sports lore contains such maxims as 'too many fatigues spoils your aim' and 'five fatigues in the legs are worth ten in the arms'. When we encounter them and tell them of our science, they want to know what fatigues are. They have been puzzling over such questions as whether numerically the same fatigue can come and go and return, whether fatigues have a definite location in matter and space and time, whether fatigues are identical with some physical states or processes or events in their bodies, or are made of some sort of stuff. We can see that they are off to a bad start with these questions, but what should we tell them? One thing we can tell them is that there simply are no such things as fatigues - they have a confused ontology. We can expect them to retort: 'You don't think there are fatigues? Run around the block a few times and you'll know better! There are many things your science might teach us, but the non-existence of fatigues isn't one of them!

--Dan Dennett, Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology

23 points Konkvistador 04 July 2012 05:43:39AM Permalink

We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

--- Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7. Activity recorded M.Y. 2302.22467. (TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED)

From Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

23 points Scottbert 08 August 2012 02:34:31AM Permalink

reinventing the wheel is exactly what allows us to travel 80mph without even feeling it. the original wheel fell apart at about 5mph after 100 yards. now they're rubber, self-healing, last 4000 times longer. whoever intended the phrase "you're reinventing the wheel" to be an insult was an idiot.

--rickest on IRC

23 points lukeprog 09 September 2012 11:56:38PM Permalink

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t easily be measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t easily be measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

Charles Handy describing the Vietnam-era measurement policies of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara

23 points ChrisHallquist 03 September 2012 06:22:54AM Permalink

“Why do you read so much?”

Tyrion looked up at the sound of the voice. Jon Snow was standing a few feet away, regarding him curiously. He closed the book on a finger and said, “Look at me and tell me what you see.”

The boy looked at him suspiciously. “Is this some kind of trick? I see you. Tyrion Lannister.”

Tyrion sighed. “You are remarkably polite for a bastard, Snow. What you see is a dwarf. You are what, twelve?”

“Fourteen,” the boy said.

“Fourteen, and you’re taller than I will ever be. My legs are short and twisted, and I walk with difficulty. I require a special saddle to keep from falling off my horse. A saddle of my own design, you may be interested to know. It was either that or ride a pony. My arms are strong enough, but again, too short. I will never make a swordsman. Had I been born a peasant, they might have left me out to die, or sold me to some slaver’s grotesquerie. Alas, I was born a Lannister of Casterly Rock, and the grotesqueries are all the poorer. Things are expected of me. My father was the Hand of the King for twenty years. My brother later killed that very same king, as it turns out, but life is full of these little ironies. My sister married the new king and my repulsive nephew will be king after him. I must do my part for the honor of my House, wouldn’t you agree? Yet how? Well, my legs may be too small for my body, but my head is too large, although I prefer to think it is just large enough for my mind. I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind… and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” Tyrion tapped the leather cover of the book. “That’s why I read so much, Jon Snow.”

--George R. R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

23 points gwern 18 October 2012 05:33:06PM Permalink

The late F.W.H. Myers used to tell how he asked a man at a dinner table what he thought would happen to him when he died. The man tried to ignore the question, but on being pressed, replied: "Oh well, I suppose I shall inherit eternal bliss, but I wish you wouldn't talk about such unpleasant subjects."

--Bertrand Russell (Google Books attributes this to In praise of idleness and other essays, pg 133)

23 points AspiringRationalist 04 October 2012 06:59:56PM Permalink

To succeed in a domain that violates your intuitions, you need to be able to turn them off the way a pilot does when flying through clouds. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.

-- Paul Graham

23 points Jayson_Virissimo 05 November 2012 11:56:48AM Permalink

After all, the essential point in running a risk is that the returns justify it.

-Sennett Forell, Foundation and Empire

23 points MTGandP 02 November 2012 02:11:36AM Permalink

You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational and believing things that are true. If you want to set yourself apart from other people you have to do things that are arbitrary and believe things that are false.

Paul Graham

23 points Alejandro1 05 December 2012 02:03:14PM Permalink

I was once, years and years ago, falsely accused by someone of egregious dishonesty, and after I put forward evidence that the accusation was false, was told, "Let's just agree to disagree." At which, of course, I exploded; I would not be agreeing to disagree about whether I had been completely dishonest, thank you very much. And every time someone uses the phrase I am tempted to say, "We don't need to agree to disagree because we already are disagreeing." I think what gets me is that it's such an unbelievably low standard that almost anything would be more intellectually robust; why not agree to something more ambitiously intellectual, like swapping book recommendations, or having a temporary cooling-off period, or going to a third party for arbitration or advice, or anything else, really?

23 points Konkvistador 09 December 2012 07:33:05PM Permalink

In December of each year, the New York Times film critics, like film critics everywhere, write Deep Think pieces about what patterns in the movies released in the current year tell us about Trends in the Big Issues. The annual answer ought to be: Virtually nothing, because what gets released in a single year is a close to a random sample of projects that had been in the works for years and happened to come to fruition now. But that never stops the critics from pontificating on 2012: The Meaning of It All.

--Steve Sailer, here

22 points Rune 18 April 2009 09:00:18PM Permalink

Sheldon: "More wrong?" Wrong is an absolute state and not subject to gradation.

Stuart: Of course it is. It's a little wrong to call a tomato a vegetable; it's very wrong to say it's a suspension bridge.

-- The Big Bang Theory

22 points ata 07 August 2009 04:50:43AM Permalink

"A witty saying proves nothing." -- Voltaire

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

22 points RobinZ 30 November 2009 12:05:58AM Permalink

It helps to stop worrying about what you are and concentrate on what you do. If you think of a poet as a person with some special qualifications that come by nature (or divine favor), you are likely to make one of two mistakes about yourself. If you think you've got what it takes, you may fail to learn what you need to know in order to use whatever qualities you may have. On the other hand, if you think you do not have what it takes, you may give up too easily, thinking it is useless to try. A poet is someone - you, me, anyone - who writes poems. That question out of the way, now we can learn to write poems better.

Judson Jerome, The Poet's Handbook, Chap. 1 ("From Sighs and Groans to Art")

22 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:53:48PM Permalink

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.

-- Isaac Asimov

22 points Yvain 02 April 2010 12:46:16AM Permalink

"Everyone thinks they've won the Magical Belief Lottery. Everyone thinks they more or less have a handle on things, that they, as opposed to the billions who disagree with them, have somehow lucked into the one true belief system."

-- R Scott Bakker, Neuropath

22 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:06:51AM Permalink

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.

-- Bertrand Russell

22 points Kutta 01 May 2010 06:36:57AM Permalink

Forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

22 points BenAlbahari 01 June 2010 10:28:12PM Permalink

I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.

— Leo Tolstoy, 1896 (excerpt from "What Is Art?")

22 points gwern 01 February 2011 06:00:54PM Permalink

"After solving a problem, humanity imagines that it finds in analogous solutions the key to all problems.

Every authentic solution brings in its wake a train of grotesque solutions."

--Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito: Selección, p. 430

22 points endoself 04 April 2011 06:44:35PM Permalink

Most people would rather die than think; many do.

– Bertrand Russell

22 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 June 2011 12:34:21AM Permalink

In the study of reliable processes for arriving at belief, philosophers will become technologically obsolescent. They will be replaced by cognitive and computer scientists, workers in artificial intelligence, and others.

Robert Nozick, The Nature of Rationality

If you haven't read this book yet, do so. It is basically LessWrongism circa 1993.

22 points gwern 05 August 2011 05:55:09PM Permalink

"Lottery tickets should not be free. In such purely random and independent events as the lottery, the probability of having a winning number depends directly on the number of tickets you have purchased. When one evaluates the outcome of a scientific work, attention must be given not only to the potential interest of the ‘significant’ outcomes but also to the number of ‘lottery tickets’ the authors have ‘bought’. Those having many have a much higher chance of ‘winning a lottery prize’ than of getting a meaningful scientific result. It would be unfair not to distinguish between significant results of well-planned, powerful, sharply focused studies, and those from ‘fishing expeditions’ with a much higher probability of catching an old truck tyre than of a really big fish."

Stan Young, 28-Jul-07; quoted in Everything is Dangerous: A Controversy, a paper discussing epidemiology's failure to use things like the Bonferroni correction which has led to things like 80% of observed correlations failing to replicate (or only 1 out of 20 NIH randomized-trials replicating the original claim).

22 points AlexSchell 08 September 2011 08:13:09PM Permalink

It's one thing to make lemonade out of lemons, another to proclaim that lemons are what you'd hope for in the first place.

Gary Marcus, Kluge

Relevant to deathism and many other things

22 points anonym 02 October 2011 02:27:50AM Permalink

It would be an error to suppose that the great discoverer seizes at once upon the truth, or has any unerring method of divining it. In all probability the errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one. Fertility of imagination and abundance of guesses at truth are among the first requisites of discovery; but the erroneous guesses must be many times as numerous as those that prove well founded. The weakest analogies, the most whimsical notions, the most apparently absurd theories, may pass through the teeming brain, and no record remain of more than the hundredth part….

W. Stanley Jevons

22 points lukeprog 03 November 2011 07:45:04AM Permalink

It is better to destroy one's own errors than those of others.


22 points gwern 08 December 2011 03:59:31AM Permalink

'Tell me one last thing,' said Harry. 'Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?'

Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry's ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.

'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

22 points NancyLebovitz 01 February 2012 04:50:16PM Permalink

I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.

— from *The South Pole* by Roald Amundsen
22 points Kyre 02 February 2012 05:11:44AM Permalink

“I choose not to believe in any gods as an act of charity,” Marcus said.

“Charity toward whom?”

“Toward the gods. Seems rude to think they couldn’t make a world better than this,”

Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path

22 points GabrielDuquette 01 March 2012 04:56:33PM Permalink

“Anne!” Anne was seated on the springboard; she turned her head. Jubal called out, “That new house on the far hilltop — can you see what color they’ve painted it?”

Anne looked in the direction in which Jubal was pointing and answered, “It’s white on this side.”

Robert Heinlein, Stranger In A Strange Land

22 points Yobi 03 March 2012 03:25:48PM Permalink

Of a milk bottle:

It is of interest that when the [milk] bottle is half filled with milk it is more often described as half empty, but when it is half filled with water it tends to be described as half full. This probably happens because in the case of the milk one is working downward from a full bottle but in the case of the water one is working upward from an empty milk bottle. The history of a situation has much effect on the way it is looked at.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

22 points Elithrion 03 April 2012 01:38:31AM Permalink

"What really is the point of trying to teach anything to anybody?" This question seemed to provoke a murmur of sympathetic approval from up and down the table. Richard continued, "What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else. That forces you to sort it out in your mind. And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas. And that's really the essence of programming. By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've learned something about it yourself."

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

22 points Spurlock 02 April 2012 04:45:14AM Permalink

"Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad‘Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson"

Frank Herbert, Dune

22 points RichardKennaway 09 May 2012 07:48:11AM Permalink

Saying "what kind of an idiot doesn't know about the Yellowstone supervolcano" is so much more boring than telling someone about the Yellowstone supervolcano for the first time.


22 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 June 2012 10:11:44AM Permalink

Errors using inadequate data are much less than those using no data at all.

-Charles Babbage

22 points ChristianKl 02 June 2012 05:25:23PM Permalink

[About the challenge of skeptics to spread their ideas in society] In times of war we need warriors, but this isn't war. You might try to say it is, but it's not a war. We aren't trying to kill an enemy. We are trying to persuade other humans. And in times like that we don't need warriors. What we need are diplomats.

Phil Plait, Dont Be A Dick (around 23:30)

22 points VKS 04 September 2012 11:51:02PM Permalink

After I spoke at the 2005 "Mathematics and Narrative" conference in Mykonos, a suggestion was made that proofs by contradiction are the mathematician's version of irony. I'm not sure I agree with that: when we give a proof by contradiction, we make it very clear that we are discussing a counterfactual, so our words are intended to be taken at face value. But perhaps this is not necessary. Consider the following passage.

There are those who would believe that every polynomial equation with integer coefficients has a rational solution, a view that leads to some intriguing new ideas. For example, take the equation x² - 2 = 0. Let p/q be a rational solution. Then (p/q)² - 2 = 0, from which it follows that p² = 2q². The highest power of 2 that divides p² is obviously an even power, since if 2^k is the highest power of 2 that divides p, then 2^2k is the highest power of 2 that divides p². Similarly, the highest power of 2 that divides 2q² is an odd power, since it is greater by 1 than the highest power that divides q². Since p² and 2q² are equal, there must exist a positive integer that is both even and odd. Integers with this remarkable property are quite unlike the integers we are familiar with: as such, they are surely worthy of further study.

I find that it conveys the irrationality of √2 rather forcefully. But could mathematicians afford to use this literary device? How would a reader be able to tell the difference in intent between what I have just written and the following superficially similar passage?

There are those who would believe that every polynomial equation has a solution, a view that leads to some intriguing new ideas. For example, take the equation x² + 1 = 0. Let i be a solution of this equation. Then i² + 1 = 0, from which it follows that i² = -1. We know that i cannot be positive, since then i² would be positive. Similarly, i cannot be negative, since i² would again be positive (because the product of two negative numbers is always positive). And i cannot be 0, since 0² = 0. It follows that we have found a number that is not positive, not negative, and not zero. Numbers with this remarkable property are quite unlike the numbers we are familiar with: as such, they are surely worthy of further study.

  • Timothy Gowers, Vividness in Mathematics and Narrative, in Circles Disturbed: The Interplay of Mathematics and Narrative
22 points imaxwell 03 September 2012 10:01:52PM Permalink

The only road to doing good shows, is doing bad shows.

  • Louis C.K., on Reddit
22 points AlexMennen 04 September 2012 02:11:40AM Permalink

Discovery is the privilege of the child, the child who has no fear of being once again wrong, of looking like an idiot, of not being serious, of not doing things like everyone else.

Alexander Grothendieck

22 points CronoDAS 06 September 2012 11:05:03AM Permalink

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.” This may sound like the pronouncement of some bong-smoking anarchist, but it was actually Arthur C. Clarke, who found time between scuba diving and pinball games to write “Childhood’s End” and think up communications satellites. My old colleague Ted Rall recently wrote a column proposing that we divorce income from work and give each citizen a guaranteed paycheck, which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays. The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment.

-- Tim Kreider

The interesting part is the phrase "which sounds like the kind of lunatic notion that’ll be considered a basic human right in about a century, like abolition, universal suffrage and eight-hour workdays." If we can anticipate what the morality of the future would be, should we try to live by it now?

22 points RichardKennaway 12 October 2012 08:51:49AM Permalink

“But can’t you just wave your hand and make all the dirt fly away, then?”

“The trouble is getting the magic to understand what dirt is,” said Tiffany, scrubbing hard at a stain. “I heard of a witch over in Escrow who got it wrong and ended up losing the entire floor and her sandals and nearly a toe.”

Mrs. Aching backed away. “I thought you just had to wave your hands about,” she mumbled nervously.

“That works,” said Tiffany, “but only if you wave them about on the floor with a scrubbing brush.”

Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith

22 points [deleted] 02 October 2012 03:37:26AM Permalink

Understanding an idea meant entangling it so thoroughly with all the other symbols in your mind that it changed the way you thought about everything.

Greg Egan, Diaspora

22 points Alejandro1 03 November 2012 02:54:30AM Permalink

In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias.

--Bertrand Russell, "Philosophy's Ulterior Motives". (The context is Descartes' philosophy and the obviously fallacious proofs he offers of the existence of God and the external world.)

22 points Konkvistador 09 December 2012 07:24:52PM Permalink

Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. ... [M]ost of the bizarre and depressing research findings [about cognitive biases] make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find the truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people.

I'm not saying we should all stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings. Gut feelings are sometimes better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgments, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law. Rather, what I'm saying is that we must be wary of any /individual/'s ability to reason. We should see each individual as being limited, like a neuron. A neuron is really good at one thing: summing up the stimulation coming into its dendrites to 'decide' whether to fire a pulse along its axon. A neuron by itself isn't very smart. But if you put neurons together in the right way you get a brain; you get an emergent system that is much smarter and more flexible than a single neuron.

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth.

--Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

22 points Macaulay 01 December 2012 04:52:32PM Permalink

A person is said to exhibit rational irrationality when it is instrumentally rational for him to be epistemically irrational. An instrumentally rational person chooses the best strategies to achieve his goals. An epistemically irrational person ignores and evades evidence against his beliefs, holds his beliefs without evidence or with only weak evidence, has contradictions in his thinking, employs logical fallacies in belief formation, and exhibits characteristic epistemic vices such as closed-mindedness. Epistemically irrational political beliefs can reinforce one’s self-image; boost one’s self-esteem; make one feel noble, smart, superior, safe, or comfortable; and can help achieve conformity with the group and thus facilitate social acceptance. Thus, epistemic irrationality can be instrumentally rational.

If I falsely believe the road I am crossing is free of cars, I might die. So I have a strong incentive to form beliefs about the road in a rational way. However, if I falsely believe that import quotas are good for the economy, this has no directly harmful effects. (On the contrary, the belief can have significant instrumental value. It might make me feel patriotic; serve my xenophobia; serve as an outlet to rationalize, sublimate, or redirect racist attitudes; or help me pretend to have solidarity with union workers.) … Epistemic rationality is hard and takes self-discipline.

When it comes to politics, individuals have every incentive to indulge their irrational impulses. Demand for irrational beliefs is like demand for most other goods. The lower the cost, the more will be demanded. The cost to the typical voter of voting in epistemically irrational ways is nearly zero. The cost of overcoming bias and epistemic irrationality is high. The psychological benefit of this irrationality is significant. Thus, voters demand a high amount of epistemic irrationality.

Jason Brennan, The Ethics of Voting, p.173-74

21 points gjm 19 April 2009 12:59:34AM Permalink

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.


21 points arundelo 03 July 2009 01:36:57AM Permalink

On some pitch black mornings, hearing what I knew was a cold wind howling outside, I might think, "Well, it is certainly comfortable in this bed, and maybe it wouldn't hurt if I just skipped practicing to-day." But my response to this was not to draw on something called will power, to insult or threaten myself, but to take a longer look at my life, to extend my vision, to think about the whole of my experience, to reconnect present and future, and quite specifically, to ask myself, "Do you like playing the cello or not? Would you like to play it better or not?" When I put the matter this way I could see that I enjoyed playing the cello more than I enjoyed staying in bed. So I got up. If, as sometimes happened or happens, I do stay in bed, not sleeping, not really thinking, but just not getting up, it is not because will power is weak but because I have temporarily become disconnected, so to speak, from the wholeness of my life. I am living in that Now that some people pursue so frantically, that gets harder to find the harder we look for it.

John Holt, Freedom and Beyond, p. 119

See also this comment by Z_M_Davis.

21 points Rune 06 August 2009 03:43:35AM Permalink

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

-- M. Cartmill

21 points Vladimir_Nesov 23 October 2009 08:55:32AM Permalink

When things are hard to understand, people who suspect they're nonsense generally keep quiet.

-- Paul Graham

21 points anonym 04 April 2010 01:43:41AM Permalink

Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.

Bertrand Russell

21 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:48:19PM Permalink

The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.

-- George Eliot

21 points komponisto 02 July 2010 12:07:04AM Permalink

Hunches are not bad, they just need to be allowed to die a natural death when evidence proves them wrong.

-- Steve Moore, former FBI agent

21 points Yvain 01 September 2010 06:53:36PM Permalink

We have not solved all your problems. Each answer only led to new questions. We are still confused - but perhaps we are confused on a higher level, and about more important things.

-- seen on a hotel bulletin board

21 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:04:21PM Permalink

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

— Marcus Aurelius

21 points [deleted] 06 October 2010 01:48:49PM Permalink

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

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

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

Then he should have no time to believe.

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

21 points billswift 03 January 2011 07:48:43PM Permalink

To stay young requires unceasing cultivation of the ability to unlearn old falsehoods.

-- Robert A Heinlein, Notebooks of Lazarus Long

21 points atucker 02 February 2011 01:51:35AM Permalink

Things are only impossible until they're not.

-- Jean-Luc Picard

21 points KenChen 05 April 2011 01:58:17PM Permalink

Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

– Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

21 points Tesseract 02 May 2011 04:49:11AM Permalink

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

21 points Nick_Roy 01 June 2011 06:25:51PM Permalink

The whole universe sat there, open to the man who could make the right decisions.

Frank Herbert, "Dune"

21 points MichaelGR 03 July 2011 04:39:12AM Permalink

One of the most serious problems with modern "management" is that the incentives are all wrong. Imagine that I hire a programmer and pay him by the line of code. This idea has been so thoroughly debunked that it is nearly impossible to write out the consequences without sounding cliché. Yet it happens all the time: Companies promote "Architects" who are evaluated by the weight of their "architecture." The result is stultifying and demoralizing. The architect does not work to facilitate the programmer's work, he works to produce evidence of his contribution in the form of frameworks, standards, and software process.

So, how are most managers evaluated? By the amount of "managing" they do, as measured by the amount of process they impose on their team. Evaluating a manager by the amount of managing they do is exactly the same thing as evaluating a programmer by the amount of code they write. And it produces results like you describe, where the manager works to produce evidence of their management in the form of processes and decisions from the top down, rather than facilitating the work actually being done.

-raganwald, HN,

21 points Yvain 22 October 2011 05:18:58PM Permalink

Don't you feel in your heart that these contradictions do not really contradict: that there is a cosmos that contains them all? The soul goes round upon a wheel of stars and all things return; perhaps Strake and I have striven in many shapes, beast against beast and bird against bird, and perhaps we shall strive for ever. But since we seek and need each other, even that eternal hatred is an eternal love. Good and evil go round in a wheel that is one thing and not many. Do you not realize in your heart, do you not believe behind all your beliefs, that there is but one reality and we are its shadows; and that all things are but aspects of one thing: a centre where men melt into Man and Man into God?'

'No,' said Father Brown.

-- G.K. Chesterton

21 points JenniferRM 02 November 2011 12:19:56AM Permalink

People can learn to look you in the eyes even when they're lying to you. But it's kind of like a fake smile; there are involuntary muscles up there. If you know what you're looking for, you can still tell. But what does it mean if they're looking you in the eyes and they mean it? It means that, at least in that moment, they're doing what they really believe is right. That's the definition of integrity.

That part is easy. That's not the surprising thing.

The surprising thing, to me, was that someone can have integrity and still be completely evil. It's kind of obvious in retrospect; the super-villain in an action movie can always look the hero in the eye, and he always does, just to prove it. He has integrity. Evil with integrity is more respectable, somehow, than plain evil. All it takes to have integrity is to do what you think is right, no matter how stupid that may be.

Beware of people with integrity.

-Avery Pennarun

21 points PhilGoetz 06 December 2011 04:19:12AM Permalink

"I did not think; I investigated."

Wilhelm Roentgen, when asked by an interviewer what he thought on noticing some kind of light (X-ray-induced fluorescence) apparently passing through a solid opaque object. Quoted in de Solla Price, Science Since Babylon, expanded edition, p. 146.

21 points J_Taylor 04 December 2011 08:10:29AM Permalink

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."

-Probably not Henry Ford

21 points HonoreDB 10 January 2012 07:48:23PM Permalink

...some people requested that I be prohibited from studying. One time they achieved it through a very holy and simple mother superior who believed that studying would get me in trouble with the Inquisition and ordered me not to do it. I obeyed her for the three months that she was in office in as far as I did not touch a book, but as far as absolutely not studying, this was not in my power. [...] Even the people I spoke to, and what they said to me, gave rise to thousands of reflections. What was the source of all the variety of personality and talent I found among them, since they were all one species? [...] Sometimes I would pace in front of the fireplace in one of our large dormitories and notice that, though the lines of two sides were parallel and its ceiling level, to our vision it appears as though the lines are inclined toward each other and the ceiling is lower in the distance than it is nearby. From this it can be inferred that the lines of our vision run straight, but not parallel, to form the figure of a pyramid. And I wondered if that was the reason that the ancients questioned whether the earth was a sphere or not. Because although it seemed so, their vision might have deceived them, showing concave shapes where there were none. [...] Once I saw two girls playing with a top, and hardly had I seen the movement and the shape when I began, in my insane way, to consider the easy movement of the spherical shape and how long the momentum, once established, remained independent of its original cause, the distant hand of the girl. Not content with this I had flour brought and sprinkled on the floor in order to discover whether the spinning top would describe perfect circles or not. It turned out that they were not perfect circles but spirals that lost their circular shape to the degree that the top lost momentum.

Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1691 (tr. Pamela Kirk Rappaport)

21 points taelor 01 February 2012 06:05:49PM Permalink

I am a physical object sitting in a physical world. Some of the forces of this physical world impinge on my surfaces. Light rays strike my retinas; molecules bombard my eardrums and fingertips. I strike back, emanating concentic air waves. These waves take the form of torrents of discourses about tables, people, molecules, light rays, retinas, air waves, prime numbers, infinite classes, joy and sorrow, good and evil.

--W. V. O. Quine

21 points gwern 01 March 2012 05:57:07PM Permalink

"All logic texts are divided into two parts. In the first part, on deductive logic, the fallacies are explained; in the second part, on inductive logic, they are committed."

--Morris Raphael Cohen, quoted by Cohen in The Earth Is Round (p 0.05)

21 points HonoreDB 01 March 2012 04:58:22PM Permalink

"Are you trying to tell me that there are sixteen million practicing wizards on Earth?" "Sixteen million four hundred and--" Dairine paused to consider the condition the world was in. "Well it's not anywhere near enough! Make them all wizards."

--Diane Duane, High Wizardry

21 points Alejandro1 02 April 2012 07:08:33PM Permalink

On politics as the mind-killer:

We’re at the point where people are morally certain about the empirical facts of what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman on the basis of their general political worldviews. This isn’t exactly surprising—we are tribal creatures who like master narratives—but it feels as though it’s gotten more pronounced recently, and it’s almost certainly making us all stupider.

-- Julian Sanchez (the whole post is worth reading)

21 points NancyLebovitz 02 May 2012 03:49:35PM Permalink

The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.

Wikiquotes: Huston Smith Wikipedia: Ralph Washinton Sockman

21 points MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:33:52PM Permalink

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea...

  • Antoine de Saint Exupery
21 points RobertLumley 02 July 2012 03:15:03PM Permalink

Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary, but competition for limited resources remains a constant.

– CEO Nwabudike Morgan in Alpha Centauri

21 points bungula 03 August 2012 07:28:59AM Permalink

“I drive an Infiniti. That’s really evil. There are people who just starve to death – that’s all they ever did. There’s people who are like, born and they go ‘Uh, I’m hungry’ then they just die, and that’s all they ever got to do. Meanwhile I’m driving in my car having a great time, and I sleep like a baby.

It’s totally my fault, ’cause I could trade my Infiniti for a [less luxurious] car… and I’d get back like $20,000. And I could save hundreds of people from dying of starvation with that money. And everyday I don’t do it. Everyday I make them die with my car.”

Louis C.K.

21 points J_Taylor 03 October 2012 03:43:31AM Permalink

Will Smith don't gotta cuss in his raps to sell his records;

well I do, so fuck him and fuck you too!

--Eminem, "The Real Slim Shady"

Eminem seeks his comparative advantage and avoids self-handicapping.

20 points Yvain 18 April 2009 01:26:56PM Permalink

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world, and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

-- E. B. White

20 points billswift 20 May 2009 12:32:56AM Permalink

And when someone makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means.

-- H Beam Piper, "Space Viking"

20 points Marcello 02 July 2009 10:16:22PM Permalink

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

-- Voltaire

20 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 10:05:51PM Permalink

"Experiment and theory often show remarkable agreement when performed in the same laboratory."

-- Daniel Bershader

20 points Yvain 22 October 2009 08:53:47PM Permalink

A great many years ago, a couple of Jehovah Witnesses bit off more than they could chew with my grandmother. During the unsolicited conversation one of them remarked, "Only God can make a rainbow". To which my grandmother-who was watering her plants at the time-said, "Nonsense!", and created her own rainbow with a spray of water from the hose. Family lore has it that was the end of the conversation.

-- seen on Livejournal

20 points gwern 30 November 2009 02:05:28AM Permalink

CAESAR [recovering his self-possession]: "Pardon him. Theodotus, he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."

--George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra (1898)

20 points Tyrrell_McAllister 01 May 2010 08:01:08PM Permalink

The light dove, cleaving the air in her free flight, and feeling its resistance, might imagine that its flight would be still easier in empty space. It was thus that Plato left the world of the senses, as setting too narrow limits to the understanding, and ventured out beyond it on the wings of the ideas, in the empty space of the pure understanding. He did not observe that with all his efforts he made no advance—meeting no resistance that might, as it were, serve as a support upon which he could take a stand, to which he could apply his powers, and so set his understanding in motion.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Norman Kemp Smith), p. A5/B8.

20 points MichaelGR 06 July 2010 02:49:03PM Permalink

From the Wikipedia article about perverse incentives:

In Hanoi, under French colonial rule, a program paying people a bounty for each rat pelt handed in was intended to exterminate rats. Instead, it led to the farming of rats.


19th century palaeontologists traveling to China used to pay peasants for each fragment of dinosaur bone (dinosaur fossils) that they produced. They later discovered that peasants dug up the bones and then smashed them into multiple pieces to maximise their payments.

20 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 August 2010 02:38:38AM Permalink

The fact that you are giving money to charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not.

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

20 points thomascolthurst 03 September 2010 11:28:42PM Permalink

Someone once quoted Shakespeare to the philosopher W. V. O. Quine: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." To which Quine is said to have responded: "Possibly, but my concern is that there not be more things in my philosophy than are in heaven and earth."

Reported by Chet Raymo

20 points Rain 05 October 2010 05:37:38PM Permalink

The singularity is my retirement plan.

-- tocomment, in a Hacker News post

20 points DSimon 04 November 2010 08:06:19PM Permalink

Man, I'm amazing! I'm a machine that turns FOOD into IDEAS!

-- T-Rex, Dinosaur Comics #539

20 points PeterS 03 November 2010 05:22:17AM Permalink

Rule I

We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.

To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.

Rule II

Therefore to the same natural effects we must, as far as possible, assign the same causes.

As to respiration in a man and in a beast; the descent of stones in Europe and in America; the light of our culinary fire and of the sun; the reflection of light in the earth, and in the planets.

Rule III

The qualities of bodies, which admit neither intensification nor remission of degrees, and which are found to belong to all bodies within the reach of our experiments, are to be esteemed the universal qualities of all bodies whatsoever.

For since the qualities of bodies are only known to us by experiments, we are to hold for universal all such as universally agree with experiments; and such as are not liable to diminution can never be quite taken away. We are certainly not to relinquish the evidence for the sake of dreams and vain fictions of our own devising; nor are we to recede from the analogy of Nature, which is wont to be simple, and always consonant to itself. . .

Rule IV

In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions inferred by general induction from phenomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phenomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.

This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses.

Isaac Newton, Philosophiae naturalis: Rules of Reasoning in Philosophy

20 points RichardKennaway 02 November 2010 09:43:19PM Permalink

The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.

H.L. Mencken, Minority Report.

20 points jaimeastorga2000 02 November 2010 08:49:16PM Permalink

From desert cliff and mountaintop we trace the wide design,

Strike-slip fault and overthrust and syn and anticline...

We gaze upon creation where erosion makes it known,

And count the countless aeons in the banding of the stone.

Odd, long-vanished creatures and their tracks shells are found;

Where truth has left its sketches on the slate below the ground.

The patient stone can speak, if we but listen when it talks.

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks.

There are those who name the stars, who watch the sky by night,

Seeking out the darkest place, to better see the light.

Long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will,

Galileo recanted, but the Earth is moving still.

High above the mountaintops, where only distance bars,

The truth has left its footprints in the dust between the stars.

We may watch and study or may shudder and deny,

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the sky.

By stem and root and branch we trace, by feather, fang and fur,

How the living things that are descend from things that were.

The moss, the kelp, the zebrafish, the very mice and flies,

These tiny, humble, wordless things--how shall they tell us lies?

We are kin to beasts; no other answer can we bring.

The truth has left its fingerprints on every living thing.

Remember, should you have to choose between them in the strife,

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote life.

And we who listen to the stars, or walk the dusty grade,

Or break the very atoms down to see how they are made,

Or study cells, or living things, seek truth with open hand.

The profoundest act of worship is to try to understand.

Deep in flower and in flesh, in star and soil and seed,

The truth has left its living word for anyone to read.

So turn and look where best you think the story is unfurled.

Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the world.

~Catherine Faber, The Word of God

20 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:16:54AM Permalink

In the Information Age, the first step to sanity is FILTERING. Filter the information; extract the knowledge.

Filter first for substance. Filter second for significance. These filters protect against advertising.

Filter third for reliability. This filter protects against politicians.

Filter fourth for completeness. This filter protects from the media.

-- Marc Stielger, David's Sling

20 points DSimon 04 January 2011 05:24:29PM Permalink

The Three Virtues of a Programmer:

  • Laziness - The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don't have to answer so many questions about it.

  • Impatience - The anger you feel when the computer is being lazy. This makes you write programs that don't just react to your needs, but actually anticipate them. Or at least pretend to.

  • Hubris - Excessive pride, the sort of thing Zeus zaps you for. Also the quality that makes you write (and maintain) programs that other people won't want to say bad things about.

-- Larry Wall (Programming Perl, 2nd edition), quote somewhat abridged

20 points mjcurzi 02 March 2011 11:37:49PM Permalink

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

-Clyde Kluckhohn

20 points orthonormal 07 July 2011 04:04:14PM Permalink

Suppose I think, after doing my accounts, that I have a large balance at the bank. And suppose you want to find out whether this belief of mine is "wishful thinking." You can never come to any conclusion by examining my psychological condition. Your only chance of finding out is to sit down and work through the sum yourself. When you have checked my figures, then, and then only, will you know whether I have that balance or not. If you find my arithmetic correct, then no amount of vapouring about my psychological condition can be anything but a waste of time. If you find my arithmetic wrong, then it may be relevant to explain psychologically how I came to be so bad at my arithmetic, and the doctrine of the concealed wish will become relevant — but only after you have yourself done the sum and discovered me to be wrong on purely arithmetical grounds. It is the same with all thinking and all systems of thought. If you try to find out which are tainted by speculating about the wishes of the thinkers, you are merely making a fool of yourself. You must first find out on purely logical grounds which of them do, in fact, break down as arguments. Afterwards, if you like, go on and discover the psychological causes of the error.

C.S. Lewis, "Bulverism"

(It's not exactly correct- evidence of bias is some evidence against a belief- but not always as strong of evidence as it's assumed to be.)

20 points innailana 04 July 2011 03:10:57AM Permalink

"When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it."

--Lois McMaster Bujold

20 points gwern 11 September 2011 02:53:32PM Permalink

Again and again, I’ve undergone the humbling experience of first lamenting how badly something sucks, then only much later having the crucial insight that its not sucking wouldn’t have been a Nash equilibrium.

--Scott Aaronson

20 points scav 03 October 2011 11:55:04AM Permalink

I honestly don't know. Let's see what happens.

-- Hans. The Troll Hunter

20 points Alejandro1 02 October 2011 02:01:37AM Permalink

Like every writer, he measured the virtues of other writers by their performance, and asked that they measure him by what he conjectured or planned.

Jorge Luis Borges, "The Secret Miracle".

20 points GabrielDuquette 01 January 2012 02:51:00AM Permalink

AUGUSTUS: I've had premonitions. Premonitions of death.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: We all have them.

AUGUSTUS: No, no, no. This is serious. Listen, old friend, let me tell you. Two weeks after we came back from you know where, I was in Mars Field giving a libation. A little ceremony. You remember?

FABIUS MAXIMUS: I remember, but I wasn't there.

AUGUSTUS: No? Well. nearby, there's a temple built in memory of Marcus Agrippa.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Yes, I know it.

AUGUSTUS: An eagle circled me five times, then flew off and settled on the "A" of Agrippa's name.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Well. Caesar...

AUGUSTUS: No, don't lie to me. It's clear what it means. It was telling me that my time had come and that I must give way to someone by the name of Agrippa.


AUGUSTUS: Who else?

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Did you consult an augur?

AUGUSTUS: No. I don't need an augur.

FABIUS MAXIMUS: Well. you're not an expert on the interpretation of signs.

AUGUSTUS: Then listen to this. The following day, lightning melted the "C" on my name on a statue nearby. It struck the "C" off "Caesar". Do you follow? What does "C" mean?


AUGUSTUS: A hundred. Exactly! Livia saw it. She went to an augur to find out what it meant. She wouldn't tell me, but I forced it out of her. It means that I have only a hundred days to live. I shall die in a hundred days.

(long pause)



FABIUS MAXIMUS: Why shouldn't it be weeks? Or months? Why shouldn't it mean that you'll live to be a hundred?

--I, Claudius, Poison Is Queen

20 points Alejandro1 02 February 2012 05:40:03PM Permalink

... People usually don't know why they vote for the candidates they choose to vote for, and are not particularly good at assessing how something influenced that vote -- let alone how some hypothetical future event would influence them.

...if you ask voters, it turns out that some will tell you that they would be more likely, and a somewhat larger number will tell you that they'll be less likely, to vote for someone with a Trump endorsement. Hey, reporters: don't believe those polls! You can take it as a measure of what respondents think about Trump, if you care about such things, but there's no reason to believe that this kind of self-reporting about vote choice is meaningful at all, and it shouldn't be included in stories about a Trump endorsement as if it was meaningful.

...The bottom line here is that polling is a really good tool for reporters to use in many cases, but remember: what polling tells you for sure is only what people will say if they're asked a question by a pollster.

Jonathan Bernstein

20 points Maniakes 02 February 2012 12:41:11AM Permalink

"Today we will be dragoons, until we are told otherwise"

"Where are our horses, then?"

"We must imagine them."

"Imaginary horses are much slower than the other kind."

Neal Stephenson, The Confusion

20 points Cthulhoo 01 March 2012 10:18:27AM Permalink

When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.

Ayn Rand

20 points lsparrish 04 April 2012 03:19:15AM Permalink

What really matters is:–

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn't mean anything else.

  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.

  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."

  4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, "Please will you do my job for me."

  5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

-- C. S. Lewis

20 points Emile 04 June 2012 09:50:15PM Permalink

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time someting like that happened in politics or religion.

-- Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP Keynote Address

20 points GLaDOS 06 August 2012 10:04:20AM Permalink

The findings reveal that 20.7% of the studied articles in behavioral economics propose paternalist policy action and that 95.5% of these do not contain any analysis of the cognitive ability of policymakers.

-- Niclas Berggren, source and HT to Tyler Cowen

20 points JQuinton 11 September 2012 02:01:34PM Permalink

"If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years educate children" - Confucius

20 points simplicio 01 September 2012 04:06:40PM Permalink

...a good way of thinking about minimalism [about truth] and its attractions is to see it as substituting the particular for the general. It mistrusts anything abstract or windy. Both the relativist and the absolutist are impressed by Pilate's notorious question 'What is Truth?', and each tries to say something useful at the same high and vertiginous level of generality. The minimalist can be thought of turning his back on this abstraction, and then in any particular case he prefaces his answer with the prior injunction: you tell me. This does not mean, 'You tell me what truth is.' It means, 'You tell me what the issue is, and I will tell you (although you will already know, by then) what the truth about the issue consists in.' If the issue is whether high tide is at midday, then truth consists in high tide being at midday... We can tell you what truth amounts to, if you first tell us what the issue is.

There is a very powerful argument for minimalism about truth, due to the great logician Gottlob Frege. First, we should notice the transparency property of truth. This is the fact that it makes no difference whether you say that it is raining, or it is true that it is raining, or true that it is true that it is raining, and so on forever. But if 'it is true that' introduced some substantial, robust property of a judgment, how could this be so? Consider, for example, a pragmatism that attempts some equation between truth and utility. Then next to the judgment 'it is raining' we might have 'it is useful to believe that it is raining.' But these are entirely different things! To assess the first we direct our attention to the weather. To assess the second we direct our attention to the results of believing something about the weather - a very different investigation.

Let us return to Pilate. Where does minimalism about truth leave him? It suggests that when he asked this question, he was distracting himself and his audience from his real job, which was to find out whether to uphold certain specific historical charges against a defendant. Thus, if I am innocent, and I come before a judge, I don't want airy generalities about the nature of truth. I want him to find that I did not steal the watch if I did not steal the watch. I want him to rub his nose in the issue. I want a local judgment about a local or specific event, supposed to have happened in a particular region of time and space.

(Simon Blackburn, Truth)

20 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 September 2012 07:56:47PM Permalink

"Nontrivial measure or it didn't happen." -- Aristosophy

(Who's Kate Evans? Do we know her? Aristosophy seems to have rather a lot of good quotes.)

20 points peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:18:48PM Permalink

"In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, the shift to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realize. In comparison with the needs of people starving in Somalia, the desire to sample the wines of the leading French vineyards pales into insignificance. Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine, but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into buying fashionable clothes, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the astonishing additional expense that marks out the prestige car market in cars from the market in cars for people who just want a reliable means to getting from A to B, all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to take themselves, at least for a time, out of the spotlight. If a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will utterly change the society in which we live." -- Peter Singer

20 points Athrelon 02 October 2012 05:58:56PM Permalink

It is easier to love humanity than to love one's neighbor.

--Eric Hoffer, on Near/Far

20 points gwern 04 November 2012 03:26:33AM Permalink

"The boundary between these 2 classes [the Eloi Morlocks] is more porous than I've made it sound. I'm always running into regular dudes - construction workers, auto mechanics, taxi drivers, galoots in general - who were largely aliterate until something made it necessary for them to become readers and start actually thinking about things. Perhaps they had to come to grips with alcoholism, perhaps they got sent to jail, or came down with a disease, or suffered a crisis in religious faith, or simply got bored. Such people can get up to speed on particular subjects quite rapidly. Sometimes their lack of a broad education makes them over-apt to go off on intellectual wild goose chases, but, hey, at least a wild goose chase gives you some exercise."

--Neal Stephenson, In the Beginning Was... the Commandline

The last project that I worked on with [Richard Feynman] was in simulated evolution. I had written a program that simulated the evolution of populations of sexually reproducing creatures over hundreds of thousands of generations. The results were surprising in that the fitness of the population made progress in sudden leaps rather than by the expected steady improvement. The fossil record shows some evidence that real biological evolution might also exhibit such "punctuated equilibrium," so Richard and I decided to look more closely at why it happened. He was feeling ill by that time, so I went out and spent the week with him in Pasadena, and we worked out a model of evolution of finite populations based on the Fokker Planck equations. When I got back to Boston I went to the library and discovered a book by Kimura on the subject, and much to my disappointment, all of our "discoveries" were covered in the first few pages. When I called back and told Richard what I had found, he was elated. "Hey, we got it right!" he said. "Not bad for amateurs."

From Richard Feynman and The Connection Machine

20 points Alejandro1 05 December 2012 03:57:39AM Permalink

One in four Americans has an opinion about an imaginary debt plan

A new poll from Public Policy Polling found that an impressive 39 percent of Americans have an opinion about the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan.

Before you start celebrating the new, sweeping reach of the 2010 commission’s work, consider this: Twenty-five percent of Americans also took a stance on the Panetta-Burns plan.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with Panetta-Burns? That’s probably because its “a mythical Clinton Chief of Staff/former western Republican Senator combo” that PPP dreamed up to test how many Americans would profess to have an opinion about a policy that did not exist. They found one in four voters to do just that.

Panetta-Burns’ nonexistent policy proposals were supported by 8 percent and opposed by 17 percent of the voters surveyed. Simpson-Bowles’ real policy proposals had stronger favorables, with 23 percent support and 16 percent opposition.

20 points GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:46:47PM Permalink

how are opinions like assholes? I've trained mine to be uncommonly elastic and accepting of new things


19 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 April 2009 01:27:08AM Permalink

You cannot improve the world just by being right.

-- Confusion, Why functional programming doesnt catch on

19 points Rune 21 May 2009 02:24:57AM Permalink

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

-- H. L. Mencken

19 points wuwei 15 June 2009 04:15:12AM Permalink

"Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is everything else we do. ... Science advances whenever an Art becomes a Science. And the state of the Art advances too because people always leap into new territory once they have understood more about the old."

-- Donald Knuth

19 points RobinZ 06 August 2009 01:05:22PM Permalink

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

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

19 points RobinZ 06 August 2009 01:04:15PM Permalink

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

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

19 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 04:05:53AM Permalink

Better our hypotheses die for our errors than ourselves.

-- Karl Popper

19 points djcb 30 November 2009 07:07:05PM Permalink

Today, safe flight inside clouds is possible using gyroscopic instruments that report the airplane’s orientation without being misled by centrifugal effects. But the pilot’s spatial intuition is still active, and often contradicts the instruments. Pilots are explicitly, emphatically trained to trust the instruments and ignore intuition—precisely the opposite of the Star Wars advice—and those who fail to do so often perish.

-- Gary Drescher "Good and Real"

(I really like this quote as a counterweight to the ubiquitous cliche-advise to follow you intuition. Often, your intuition may be fooled. And, it cannot be repeated often enough, Good and Real is a must-read for LW-minded folks)

19 points anonym 30 November 2009 01:40:26AM Permalink

In general, we are least aware of what our minds do best.

— Marvin Minsky

19 points saliency 30 November 2009 01:26:44AM Permalink

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." --Woody Allen

19 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:44:08PM Permalink

One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

If my advisors ask "Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?", I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

I will see a competent psychiatrist and get cured of all extremely unusual phobias and bizarre compulsive habits which could prove to be a disadvantage.

I will never build a sentient computer smarter than I am.

-- Peters Evil Overlord List on how to be a less wrong fictional villain

19 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:41:11PM Permalink

As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things

We know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don't know

We don't know.

-- Donald Rumsfeld, Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

19 points MichaelGR 01 March 2010 10:27:23PM Permalink

Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn’t change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.

--Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline (2009), p 216

19 points RobinZ 05 April 2010 03:16:59PM Permalink

You don't have to believe everything you think.

Seen on bumper sticker, via ^zhurnaly.

19 points Kaj_Sotala 01 May 2010 08:51:41PM Permalink

(In a thread where people were asked whether or not they had a religious experience of "feeling God"):

I had something similar to feeling God, I suppose, except it was in essence the exact opposite. I was in a forest one summer, and I looked up at the sunlight shining through the leaves, and suddenly it felt like I could see each and every individual leaf in the forest and trace the path of each photon that poured through them, and I remember thinking over and over, in stunned amazement, "the world is sufficient. The world is sufficient."

I'd never thought much about religion before that, but that experience made me realize that the material world was entire orders of magnitude more beautiful than any of the tawdry religious fantasies people came up with, and it felt unspeakably tragic that anyone would ever reject this, our most incredible universe, for spiritual pipe-dreams. In a way, you might say I felt the lack of god, and it felt like glory.

-- Axiomatic

19 points Kaj_Sotala 02 July 2010 12:36:22AM Permalink

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."

-- Isaac Asimov

19 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:56:20AM Permalink

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

-- William James

19 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:37:58PM Permalink

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

Rene Descartes.

19 points Nisan 10 November 2010 08:02:18PM Permalink

Know the hair you have to get the hair you want.

-Pantene Pro-V hair care bottle

19 points billswift 02 March 2011 07:57:01PM Permalink

Thinking allows us to anticipate ill consequences without suffering them.

Roger Peters, Practical Intelligence

19 points GabrielDuquette 02 May 2011 03:19:18AM Permalink

The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.

-Richard Feynman

Quoting Feynman might be obvious for y'all, but I was living by this tidy little maxim for years and years before I found anybody to talk to about it.

19 points CSalmon 04 June 2011 01:26:27AM Permalink

Rin: What are clouds? I always thought they were thoughts of the sky or something like that. Because you can't touch them.

[ . . . ]

Hisao: Clouds are water. Evaporated water. You know they say that almost all of the water in the world will at some point of its existence be a part of a cloud. Every drop of tears and blood and sweat that comes out of you, it'll be a cloud. All the water inside your body too, it goes up there some time after you die. It might take a while though.

Rin: Your explanation is better than any of mine.

Hisao: Because it's true.

Rin: That must be it.

Katawa Shoujo

19 points MinibearRex 03 July 2011 07:37:40PM Permalink

"When someone pulls a gun on you, what are your options?"

"Do what they say or get shot."

Wrong. You take their gun, or pull out a bigger gun, or call their bluff, or do any one of 146 other things."

-Suits (TV show)

19 points Nic_Smith 03 July 2011 03:01:50PM Permalink

"Death is the termination of life, not a creature with a scythe who has a just claim to the lives he takes. (Death hates to be anthropomorphized.)" -- Ben Best, Cryonics − Frequently Asked Questions

19 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 August 2011 10:23:50PM Permalink

A student study at the University of Cambridge concluded that it takes 3,481 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.[7] Another study by Purdue University concluded that it takes an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop using a "licking machine", while it takes an average of 252 licks when tried by 20 volunteers. Yet another study by the University of Michigan concluded that it takes 411 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. A 1996 study by undergraduate students at Swarthmore College concluded that it takes a median of 144 licks (range 70-222) to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.[8] Harvard Grad students created a rotating mechanical tongue and concluded 317 licks.

-- Wikipedia, on the reproducibility of scientific results

19 points Tesseract 02 August 2011 10:35:26PM Permalink

If we want to know where the truth lies in particular cases, we have to look.

Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

19 points Guswut 05 October 2011 05:17:00PM Permalink

Being right too soon is socially unacceptable.

Robert A. Heinlein

19 points Swimmy 04 October 2011 06:33:58AM Permalink

The god we seek must rule the world according to our own will.

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker 2

19 points gaffa 31 October 2011 06:41:50PM Permalink

You can't make a movie and say 'It was all a big accident' - no, it has to be a conspiracy, people plotting together. Because in a story, a story is about intention. A story is not about spontaneous order or complex human institutions which are the product of human action but not of human design - no, a story is about evil people plotting together.

19 points Bugmaster 06 December 2011 07:17:46PM Permalink

-- You can look at the stars and say "they sure are pretty" without having to calculate how many light-years away each one is.

-- Not if you want to get to them someday.

-- Questionable Content #2072

19 points DSimon 05 December 2011 02:04:14AM Permalink

Unlike programs, computers must obey the laws of physics.

-- Alan J. Perlis, in the foreword to Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

19 points Maniakes 03 December 2011 12:30:14AM Permalink

If you're tempted to respond, "But I love school, and so do all my friends. Ah, the life of the mind, what could be better?" let me gently remind you that readers of economics blogs are not a random sample of the population. Most people would hate reading this blog; you read it just for fun!

-- Bryan Caplan

19 points gwern 01 December 2011 08:48:36PM Permalink

"The older we become, the more important it is to use what we know rather than learn more."

--I.J. Good (as quoted in "The Problem of Thinking Too Much" by Persi Diaconis)

19 points Ezekiel 30 November 2011 11:03:32PM Permalink

I had a dream that I met a girl in a dying world. [...] I knew we didn't have long together. She grabbed me and spoke a stream of numbers into my ear. Then it all went away.

I woke up. The memory of the apocalypse faded to mere fancy, but the numbers burned bright in my mind. I wrote them down immediately. They were coordinates. A place and a time, neither one too far away.

What else could I do? When the day came, I went to the spot and waited.


It turns out wanting something doesn't make it real.

~ Randall Munroe, xkcd #240: Dream Girl

19 points Konkvistador 05 February 2012 04:29:03PM Permalink

The tendency toward generalization doesn’t bother me in an of itself, rather, I’m focused on whether the proposition is true. But the hypocrisy gets tiresome sometimes, as people will fluidly switch from a cognitive style which accepts generalization to one which rejects it. A stereotype is often a generalization whose robustness you don’t want to accept. Negative generalities need context when they’re unpalatable, but no qualification is necessary when their truth is congenial.

--Razib Khan, here

19 points Woodbun 04 March 2012 12:02:38PM Permalink

"One of the great commandments of science is, 'Mistrust arguments from authority'. (Scientists, being primates, and thus given to dominance hierarchies, of course do not always follow this commandment.)"

-Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

19 points Stabilizer 04 March 2012 05:50:49AM Permalink

Society changes when we change what we're embarrassed about.

In just fifty years, we've made it shameful to be publicly racist.

In just ten years, someone who professes to not know how to use the internet is seen as a fool.

The question, then, is how long before we will be ashamed at being uninformed, at spouting pseudoscience, at believing thin propaganda? How long before it's unacceptable to take something at face value? How long before you can do your job without understanding the state of the art?

Does access to information change the expectation that if you can know, you will know?

We can argue that this will never happen, that it's human nature to be easily led in the wrong direction and to be willfully ignorant. The thing is, there are lots of things that used to be human nature, but due to culture and technology, no longer are.

-Seth Godin

19 points Random832 13 April 2012 08:41:37PM Permalink

The other day I was thinking about Discworld, and then I remembered this and figured it would make a good rationality quote...

[Vimes] distrusted the kind of person who'd take one look at another man and say in a lordly voice to his companion, "Ah, my dear sir, I can tell you nothing except that he is a left-handed stonemason who has spent some years in the merchant navy and has recently fell on hard times," and then unroll a lot of supercilious commentary about calluses and stance and the state of a man's boots, when exactly the same comments could apply to a man who was wearing his old clothes because he'd been doing a spot of home bricklaying for a new barbecue pit, and had been tattooed once when he was drunk and seventeen and in fact got seasick on a wet pavement. What arrogance! What an insult to the rich and chaotic variety of the human experience!

-- Terry Pratchett, Feet of Clay

19 points Pavitra 13 June 2012 02:20:58AM Permalink

Every creative act is open war against The Way It Is. What you are saying when you make something is that the universe is not sufficient, and what it really needs is more you. And it does, actually; it does. Go look outside. You can’t tell me that we are done making the world.


19 points VKS 08 June 2012 11:13:33AM Permalink

I am reminded of a commentary on logic puzzles of a certain kind; it was perhaps in a letter to Martin Gardner, reprinted in one of his books. The puzzles are those about getting about on an island where each native either always tells the truth or always lies. You reach a fork in the road, for example, and a native is standing there, and you want to learn from him, with one question, which way leads to the village. The “correct” question is “If I asked you if the left way led to the village, would you say yes?” But why should the native’s concept of lying conform to our own logical ideas? If the native is a liar, it means he wants to fool you, and your logical trickery will not work. The best you can do is say something like “Did you hear they are giving away free beer in the village today?” and see which way the native runs. You follow him, even if he says something like “Ugh, I hate beer!” since then he probably really is lying.

  • Alexandre Borovik, quoting an unidentified colleague, paraphrasing another unidentified source, possibly Martin Gardner quoting a letter he got.
19 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 October 2012 01:22:57AM Permalink

The truth is out there, but so are the lies.

-Dana Scully, The X-Files, Season 1, Episode 17

19 points Eugine_Nier 02 October 2012 12:44:21AM Permalink

Lastly, there is an attitude not unknown in the crisis against which I should particularly like to protest. I should address my protest especially to those lovers and pursuers of Peace who, very short-sightedly, have occasionally adopted it. I mean the attitude which is impatient of these preliminary details about who did this or that, and whether it was right or wrong. They are satisfied with saying that an enormous calamity, called War, has been begun by some or all of us; and should be ended by some or all of us. To these people this preliminary chapter about the precise happenings must appear not only dry (and it must of necessity be the driest part of the task) but essentially needless and barren. I wish to tell these people that they are wrong; that they are wrong upon all principles of human justice and historic continuity: but that they are specially and supremely wrong upon their own principles of arbitration and international peace.

These sincere and high-minded peace-lovers are always telling us that citizens no longer settle their quarrels by private violence; and that nations should no longer settle theirs by public violence. They are always telling us that we no longer fight duels; and need no longer wage wars. In short, they perpetually base their peace proposals on the fact that an ordinary citizen no longer avenges himself with an axe. But how is he prevented from revenging himself with an axe? If he hits his neighbour on the head with the kitchen chopper, what do we do? Do we all join hands, like children playing Mulberry Bush, and say "We are all responsible for this; but let us hope it will not spread. Let us hope for the happy day when he shall leave off chopping at the man's head; and when nobody shall ever chop anything for ever and ever." Do we say "Let byegones be byegones; why go back to all the dull details with which the business began; who can tell with what sinister motives the man was standing there within reach of the hatchet?" We do not. We keep the peace in private life by asking for the facts of provocation, and the proper object of punishment. We do go into the dull details; we do enquire into the origins; we do emphatically enquire who it was that hit first. In short we do what I have done very briefly in this place.

-- G. K. Chesterton, "The Appetite of Tyranny", arguing against pretending to be wise

19 points arborealhominid 19 November 2012 01:49:02AM Permalink

If I have a Grand Unified Theory Of Everything, it's this: I believe that people always do things that make sense to them. Hard as it is to believe with all the hurting out there, almost nobody hurts others just to be a jerk. So if you want to change human behavior on a grand scale, you can't tell people "stop being a jerk." You have to dissect and then recreate their models of the world until being a jerk doesn't make sense.

Cliff Pervocracy

19 points Raemon 04 November 2012 07:21:06PM Permalink

"Oh, sorry, I have this condition where I don't see or hear anything I disagree with."

"I had no idea that being human was a disease."

"A bad one! Everyone who contracts it eventually dies!"

Something Positive

19 points Wrongnesslessness 05 November 2012 09:53:16AM Permalink

The inhabitants of Florence in 1494 or Athens in 404 BCE could be forgiven for concluding that optimism just isn't factually true. For they knew nothing of such things as the reach of explanations or the power of science or even laws of nature as we understand them, let alone the moral and technological progress that was to follow when the Enlightenment got under way. At the moment of defeat, it must have seemed at least plausible to the formerly optimistic Athenians that the Spartans might be right, and to the formerly optimistic Florentines that Savonarola might be. Like every other destruction of optimism, whether in a whole civilization or in a single individual, these must have been unspeakable catastrophes for those who had dared to expect progress. But we should feel more than sympathy for those people. We should take it personally. For if any of those earlier experiments in optimism had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

19 points Posterity 13 December 2012 05:25:11AM Permalink

If you were taught that elves caused rain, every time it rained, you'd see the proof of elves.


18 points Furcas 18 April 2009 10:11:19PM Permalink

When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them. It is possible for one side to be simply wrong.

-- Richard Dawkins

18 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:48:39PM Permalink

"There is a superstition in avoiding superstition, when men think to do best if they go furthest from the superstition formerly received."

-- Francis Bacon

18 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:44:45PM Permalink

Your calendar never lies. All we have is our time. The way we spend our time is our priorities, is our "strategy." Your calendar knows what you really care about. Do you?

-- Tom Peters, HT Ben Casnocha

18 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:51:49AM Permalink

Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically--without learning how, or without practicing.... People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists.

Alfred Mander -- Logic for the Millions

18 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:54:29PM Permalink

In an universe full of inanimate material, sentient beings are gods.

-- spire3661, in a Slashdot post

18 points Thomas 02 April 2010 04:52:20PM Permalink

Wandering in a vast forest at night, I have only a faint light to guide me. A stranger appears and says to me: 'My friend, you should blow out your candle in order to find your way more clearly.' The stranger is a theologian.

  • Denis Diderot
18 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:04:50PM Permalink

When I look around and think that everything's completely and utterly fucked up and hopeless, my first thought is "Am I wearing completely and utterly fucked up and hopeless-colored glasses?"

Crap Mariner (Lawrence Simon)

18 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:48:00PM Permalink

Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.

-- Bruce Lee

18 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:22:03PM Permalink

We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life's meaning.

-- Carl Sagan

18 points MarcTheEngineer 02 July 2010 03:41:55PM Permalink

"I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do."

Robert A. Heinlein

18 points Kazuo_Thow 03 August 2010 03:56:18AM Permalink

... the history of mathematics is a history of horrendously difficult problems being solved by young people too ignorant to know that they were impossible.

-- Freeman Dyson, Birds and Frogs

18 points teageegeepea 02 September 2010 02:13:29AM Permalink

I've linked to a quote from Daniel Ellsberg at Overcoming Bias, but it seemed relevant enough here to excerpt the bits that caught my eye:

First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all — so much! incredible! — suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess


you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't....and that all those other people are fools


you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information [...] But that takes a while to learn. In the meantime it will have become very hard for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening.


You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

18 points cata 06 October 2010 07:25:11PM Permalink

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

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

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

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

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

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

edw519, Hacker News, on debugging.

I always need that list, too.

18 points MBlume 11 November 2010 02:12:02AM Permalink

When I was halfway through my Ph.D. I formulated a hypothesis: The proximate challenge that keeps you from graduating is that you have to write a thesis. But the ultimate challenge to getting your Ph.D. is this: You somehow have to learn to understand, deep down, that all your romantic notions about the Ph.D. are bunk, that you will be exactly the same person on the day after you get it that you were the day before, and that you need to stop waiting for the day when you feel like a god and just write something down and get on with life.

It may take you years to accept this, and it may drive you to drink, but after you get to that point you can graduate.

Only then will you be able to live with the fact that your thesis looks like crap to you. Your thesis will always look like crap to you. Either you will have figured out absolutely everything and your thesis will look incredibly boring to you, because you've moved on, or -- vastly more likely -- your thesis will look woefully incomplete because, geez, there is so much that you couldn't figure out, and you're just so stupid!

Or, most likely of all, you will think both of these things at the same time.

Similarly: Being the world's foremost expert on a particular scientific problem is a lot less exciting in real life than it seems in the movies. In fact, being on the frontier of science feels like being totally, hopelessly lost and confused. Why this came as a surprise to me I'll never know.

--mechanical_fish on Hacker News. Emphasis mine. source

18 points anonym 03 November 2010 06:46:09AM Permalink

If you haven’t found something strange during the day, it hasn’t been much of a day.

John Archibald Wheeler

18 points MichaelGR 03 January 2011 09:31:43PM Permalink

The person you are most afraid to contradict is yourself.

-Nassim Nicholas Taleb

18 points DSimon 10 February 2011 08:20:54PM Permalink

You know in those stories where there's this immortal guy and they talk about how bored they are and how boring life is after 5000 years or whatever? I am going to call something.

I am going to call SHENANIGANS.

You know who writes those stories? MORTALS. Folks using some of their PRECIOUS, FINITE LIFE to write a made-up story in which an imaginary person keeps going on about how being immortal is actually sucky and how they're totes jealous that others get to die someday!


And kinda sad!

-- Todays Dinosaur Comic

18 points Kutta 04 April 2011 05:29:14PM Permalink

The correct question to ask about functions is not „What is a rule?” or „What is an association?” but „What does one have to know about a function in order to know all about it?” The answer to the last question is easy – for each number x one needs to know the number f(x) (…)

– M. Spivak: Calculus

18 points Thomas 18 June 2011 08:46:31AM Permalink

Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them.

  • Laurence J. Peter
18 points advancedatheist 01 June 2011 08:13:16PM Permalink

From Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper:

"Young man," Harkaman reproved, "the conversation was between Lord Trask and myself. And when somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means. What do you mean, Lord Trask?"


18 points Dreaded_Anomaly 06 July 2011 02:33:34AM Permalink

"Aaron, you always criticize religious people for adhering to their beliefs... but the beliefs you have about evolution, global warming, or the lack of god are just as passionate as any fundamentalist. How are you any better?"

"There's one big difference. I know what it would take for me to change my mind."

— Raymond and Aaron, Calamities of Nature

18 points Daniel_Burfoot 03 August 2011 03:30:15AM Permalink

It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.

-Czeslaw Milosz, "The Captive Mind" (first sentence)

18 points lukeprog 01 September 2011 12:04:59PM Permalink

The rule that human beings seem to follow is to engage the brain only when all else fails - and usually not even then.

David Hull, Science and Selection: Essays on Biological Evolution and the Philosophy of Science

18 points James_Miller 02 October 2011 03:09:21AM Permalink

Three proposed derogatory labels from Dilbert creator Scott Adams:

Labelass: A special kind of idiot who uses labels as a substitute for comprehension.

Binarian: A special kind of idiot who believes that all people who hold a different view from oneself have the same views as each other.

Masturdebator: One who takes pleasure in furiously debating viewpoints that only exist in the imagination.

18 points Xom 01 November 2011 08:14:06PM Permalink

In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations.

~ Orwell

18 points Alejandro1 01 November 2011 01:25:25AM Permalink

Consider an instance close to hand: arguments on the Internet. Whether the discussion is about abortion or the definition of atheism or the advisability of tax cuts, one might think that the longer the debate continues, the more ideas would emerge. In fact, the reverse is the case. A couple of scientists discussing the proper taxonomy of flesh flies will entertain many options, but thousands of people talking about God will endlessly repeat the same rhetorical moves.

Jim Harrison

18 points peter_hurford 31 October 2011 04:20:46PM Permalink

Expert estimates of probability are often off by factors of hundreds or thousands. [...] I used to be annoyed when the margin of error was high in a forecasting model that I might put together. Now I view it as perhaps the single most important piece of information that a forecaster provides. When we publish a forecast on FiveThirtyEight, I go to great lengths to document the uncertainty attached to it, even if the uncertainty is sufficiently large that the forecast won’t make for punchy headlines.

Nate Silver

18 points Daniel_Burfoot 04 December 2011 12:23:32AM Permalink

In the early 1970's it cost $7 to buy a share in [Warren Buffett's] company, and that same share is worth $4,900 today... That makes Buffett a wonderful investor. What makes him the greatest investor of all time is that during a certain period when he thought stocks were grossly overpriced, he sold everything and returned all the money to his partners at a sizable profit to them. The voluntary returning of money that others would gladly pay you to continue to manage is, in my experience, unique in the history of finance.

  • Peter Lynch, "One Up on Wall Street"
18 points baiter 01 December 2011 10:34:19PM Permalink

God created the Earth, but the Dutch created the Netherlands.

-- Dutch proverb

18 points NancyLebovitz 04 January 2012 10:04:36PM Permalink

Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule.

Francis Bacon

18 points cousin_it 09 January 2012 04:32:27PM Permalink

Chu-p’ing Man studied the art of killing dragons under Crippled Yi. It cost him all the thousand pieces of gold he had in his house, and after three years he'd mastered the art, but there was no one who could use his services. - Chuang Tzu

So he decided to teach others the art of kiling dragons. - René Thom

18 points quinox 01 January 2012 01:46:52AM Permalink

"Is it hard?"

"Not if you have the right attitudes. It’s having the right attitudes that’s hard."

-- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

18 points GLaDOS 06 January 2012 09:42:21AM Permalink

In questions of this appalling magnitude, I find the best way to "overcome bias" is often to find perspectives which seem to make each answer obvious. Once we recognize that both A and B are obviously true, and A is inconsistent with B, we are in the right mindset for actual thought.

--Mencius Moldbug

18 points gwern 01 January 2012 01:28:47AM Permalink

"When picking fruit, an excellent first choice is the low-hanging ladderfruit. It is especially delicious."

--Frank Adamek

18 points tingram 01 January 2012 12:39:11AM Permalink

Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.

--Bruce Lee

18 points Alejandro1 05 February 2012 05:41:50AM Permalink

Any time we find that “math” disagrees with reality, the problem is never with “math”—it’s with us, for using the wrong math!

Scott Aaronson

18 points Stephanie_Cunnane 10 March 2012 10:32:20PM Permalink

Some environments are worse than irregular. Robin Hogarth described "wicked" environments, in which professionals are likely to learn the wrong lessons from experience. He borrows from Lewis Thomas the example of a physician in the early twentieth century who often had intuitions about patients who were about to develop typhoid. Unfortunately, he tested his hunch by palpating the patient's tongue, without washing his hands between patients. When patient after patient became ill, the physician developed a sense of clinical infallibility. His predictions were accurate--but not because he was exercising professional intuition!

--Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow

18 points ShardPhoenix 06 March 2012 09:55:47AM Permalink

Past me is always so terrible, even when I literally just finished being him.

18 points Alejandro1 02 March 2012 01:36:55AM Permalink

The reason you can't rigidly separate positive from normative economics is that you can't rigidly separate claims of fact from claims of value in general. Human language is too laden with thick concepts that mix the two. The claim that someone is a "slut" or a "bitch", for example, melds together factual claims about a woman's behavior with a lot of deeply embedded normative concepts about what constitutes appropriate behavior for a woman. The claim that financial markets are "efficient" is both an effort to describe their operation and a way of valorizing them. The idea of a "recession" or "full employment" or "potential output" all embed certain ideas about what would constitute a normal arrangement of human economic activity (...) You could try to rigorously purge your descriptions of the economy of anything that vaguely smells of a thick moral concept, but you'd find yourself operating with an impoverished vocubulary unable to describe human affairs in any kind of reasonable way.

--Matt Yglesias

18 points gwern 01 March 2012 05:58:13PM Permalink

"Hope always feels like it's made up of a set of reasons: when it's just sufficient sleep and a few auspicious hormones."

--Alain de Botton

18 points VKS 03 April 2012 07:51:55AM Permalink

Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. ... To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.

  • George Pólya, How to Solve It
18 points Multiheaded 06 April 2012 08:20:31PM Permalink

[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades.

However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.

(George Orwell's review of Mein Kampf)

(well, we have videogames now, yet... we gotta make them better! more vicseral!)

18 points cousin_it 16 May 2012 11:51:40PM Permalink

The Patrician steepled his hands and looked at Vimes over the top of them.

"Let me give you some advice, Captain," he said.

"Yes, sir?"

"It may help you make some sense of the world."


"I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people," said the man. "You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides. "

He waved his thin hand towards the city and walked over to the window.

"A great rolling sea of evil," he said, almost proprietorially. "Shallower in some places, of course, but deeper, oh, so much deeper in others. But people like you put together little rafts of rules and vaguely good intentions and say, this is the opposite, this will triumph in the end. Amazing!" He slapped Vimes good-naturedly on the back.

"Down there," he said, "are people who will follow any dragon, worship any god, ignore any iniquity. All out of a kind of humdrum, everyday badness. Not the really high, creative loathesomeness of the great sinners, but a sort of mass-produced darkness of the soul. Sin, you might say, without a trace of originality. They accept evil not because they say yes, but because they don't say no. I'm sorry if this offends you,'' he added, patting the captain's shoulder, "but you fellows really need us."

"Yes, sir?" said Vimes quietly.

"Oh, yes. We're the only ones who know how to make things work. You see, the only thing the good people are good at is overthrowing the bad people. And you're good at that, I'll grant you. But the trouble is that it's the only thing you're good at. One day it's the ringing of the bells and the casting down of the evil tyrant, and the next it's everyone sitting around complaining that ever since the tyrant was overthrown no-one's been taking out the trash. Because the bad people know how to plan. It's part of the specification, you might say. Every evil tyrant has a plan to rule the world. The good people don't seem to have the knack."

"Maybe. But you're wrong about the rest!" said Vimes. "It's just because people are afraid, and alone-" He paused. It sounded pretty hollow, even to him.

He shrugged. "They're just people," he said. "They're just doing what people do. Sir."

Lord Vetinari gave him a friendly smile. "Of course, of course," he said. "You have to believe that, I appreciate. Otherwise you'd go quite mad. Otherwise you'd think you're standing on a feather-thin bridge over the vaults of Hell. Otherwise existence would be a dark agony and the only hope would be that there is no life after death. I quite understand."


After a while he made a few pencil annotations to the paper in front of him and looked up.

"I said," he said, "that you may go."

Vimes paused at the door.

"Do you believe all that, sir?" he said. "About the endless evil and the sheer blackness?"

"Indeed, indeed," said the Patrician, turning over the page. "It is the only logical conclusion."

"But you get out of bed every morning, sir?"

"Hmm? Yes? What is your point?"

"I'd just like to know why, sir."

"Oh, do go away, Vimes. There's a good fellow."

-- Terry Pratchett, "Guards! Guards!"

I really like the character of Lord Vetinari. He's like a more successful version of Quirrell from HPMOR who decided that it's okay to have cynical beliefs but idealistic aims.

18 points maia 03 May 2012 09:12:09PM Permalink

"If God gives you lemons, you find a new God."

-- Powerthirst 2: Re-Domination

18 points Stabilizer 05 July 2012 08:53:15AM Permalink

A computer is like a violin. You can imagine a novice trying first a phonograph and then a violin. The latter, he says, sounds terrible. That is the argument we have heard from our humanists and most of our computer scientists. Computer programs are good, they say, for particular purposes, but they aren't flexible. Neither is a violin, or a typewriter, until you learn how to use it.

-Marvin Minsky

Thinking of your brain (and yourself) like an instrument to played might be useful for instrumental rationality.

18 points katydee 03 August 2012 08:35:20AM Permalink

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business.

-- Benjamin Franklin

18 points army1987 11 September 2012 10:07:40AM Permalink

To use an analogy, if you attend a rock concert and take a box to stand on then you will get a better view. If others do the same, you will be in exactly the same position as before. Worse, even, as it may be easier to loose your balance and come crashing down in a heap (and, perhaps, bringing others with you).

-- Iain McKay et al., An Anarchist FAQ, section C.7.3

18 points taelor 14 September 2012 07:16:44AM Permalink

Oh, right, Senjōgahara. I've got a great story to tell you. It's about that man who tried to rape you way back when. He was hit by a car and died in a place with no connection to you, in an event with no connection to you. Without any drama at all. [...] That's the lesson for you here: You shouldn't expect your life to be like the theater.

-- Kaiki Deishū, Episode 7 of Nisemonogatari.

18 points mrglwrf 11 September 2012 07:00:03PM Permalink

You know those people who say "you can use numbers to show anything" and "numbers lie" and "I don't trust numbers, don't give me numbers, God, anything but numbers"? These are the very same people who use numbers in the wrong way.


18 points RichardKennaway 01 September 2012 04:03:28PM Permalink

Nothing can be soundly understood

If daylight itself needs proof.

Imām al-Ḥaddād (trans. Moṣṭafā al-Badawī), "The Sublime Treasures: Answers to Sufi Questions"

18 points GabrielDuquette 03 October 2012 04:07:44PM Permalink

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man misunderstand correlation versus causation.


18 points Eugine_Nier 15 November 2012 02:14:07AM Permalink

As the philosopher David Schmidtz says, if your main goal is to show that your heart is in the right place, then your heart is not in the right place.

Jason Brennan, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know

18 points Fyrius 07 December 2012 02:10:09PM Permalink

Long quote to make a simple point, but relevant. (Context: this is from a Star Wars novel, so it's fiction.)

A death hollow is a low point where the heavier-than-air toxic gases that roll downslope from the volcanoes can pool.

The corpse of a hundred-kilo tusker lay just within its rim, its snout only a meter below the clear air that could have saved it. Other corpses littered the ground around it: rot crows and jacunas and other small scavengers I didn't recognize, lured to their deaths by the jungle's false promise of an easy meal.

I said something along these lines to Nick. He laughed and called me a Balawai fool.

"There's no false promise," he'd said. "There's no promise at all. The jungle doesn't promise. It exists. That's all. What killed those little ruskakks wasn't a trap. It was just the way things are."

Nick says that to talk of the jungle as a person-to give it the metaphoric aspect of a creature, any creature-that's a Balawai thing. That's part of what gets them killed out here.

It's a metaphor that shades the way you think: talk of the jungle as a creature, and you start treating it like a creature. You start thinking you can outsmart the jungle, or trust it, overpower it or befriend it, deceive it or bargain with it.

And then you die.

"Not because the jungle kills you. You get it? Just because it is what it is." These are Nick's words. "The jungle doesn't do anything. It's just a place. It's a place where many, many things live... and all of them die. Fantasizing about it - pretending it's something it's not - is fatal. That's your free life lesson for the day," he told me. "Keep it in mind."

I will.

  • Mace Windu, in Shatterpoint by Matthew Stover
18 points almkglor 07 December 2012 09:29:17AM Permalink

"It's frightening to think that you might not know something, but more frightening to think that, by and large, the world is run by people who have faith that they know exactly what is going on." - Amos Tversky

18 points SaidAchmiz 02 December 2012 08:34:25PM Permalink

It is very difficult to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if the cat is not there.

— Confucius, allegedly (quoted in The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed)

Edit: The rationality relevance might need some explanation. The way I've seen this aphorism used is this: it's sometimes hard to distinguish between a task that's achievable but very difficult (and that it therefore might make sense to spend time/effort on), and a task that is impossible (and thus is a complete waste of time/effort).

If you spend some time searching for the cat in the dark room, you might not find it. Is that because finding it is difficult (after all, this is what you might quite plausibly expect, if you assume that the cat is there), or because the cat is not there and you're wasting your time?

17 points CronoDAS 20 May 2009 04:22:05AM Permalink

"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." - Peter Drucker

17 points wuwei 15 June 2009 05:59:42AM Permalink

"One can measure the importance of a scientific work by the number of earlier publications rendered superfluous by it."

-- David Hilbert

17 points Patrick 23 October 2009 12:33:43AM Permalink

"Thus Aristotle laid it down that a heavy object falls faster than a light one does. The important thing about this idea is not that he was wrong, but that it never occurred to Aristotle to check it." Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

17 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 October 2009 04:16:51PM Permalink

Moral language persuades best when opinions are not yet formed, which is why writers of children’s literature can get away with saying things like, “Mr. Billings was an awful, horrible man with a heart of stone.” This sounds like a line from a children’s book because it employs persuasive methods that, though appropriate for children, would insult the intelligence of most adult readers.

Most moral discourse is the conversational equivalent of children’s literature. Disputants speak to one another—or, rather, at one another—as if their interlocutors failed to pay adequate attention on the day elementary morality was explained. Unaware of the projective nature of value, they marvel at their opponents’ blindness, their utter failure to see what is so perfectly obvious. Not knowing what else to do, they scold their opponents as if they were children, and scold them as if they were belligerent children when they fail to respond the first time.

What to do about this? Take a cue from good writers. Stick to the facts. Keep evaluative language to a minimum, and get rid of the most overtly judgmental, moralistic language.

-- Joshua Greene, The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality And What To Do About It

17 points MichaelGR 07 January 2010 09:52:09PM Permalink

If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the axe. - Abraham Lincoln

17 points Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2010 06:28:11PM Permalink

(posted in the right thread this time)

People constantly ignore my good advice by contributing to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, CARE, and public radio all in the same year--as if they were thinking, "OK, I think I've pretty much wrapped up the problem of heart disease; now let's see what I can do about cancer."

--- Steven Landsburg (original link by dclayh)

17 points MichaelGR 05 April 2010 06:35:25AM Permalink

"Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."

-- Clay Shirky

17 points Nic_Smith 03 April 2010 02:55:18AM Permalink

I recall, for example, suggesting to a regular loser at a weekly poker game that he keep a record of his winnings and losses. His response was that he used to do so but had given up because it proved to be unlucky. - Ken Binmore, Rational Decisions

A side note: All three of the quotes I've posted are from Binmore's Rational Decisions, which I'm about a third of the way through and have found very interesting. It makes a great companion to Less Wrong -- and it's also quite quotable in spots.

17 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:47:41PM Permalink

The word agnostic is actually used with the two distinct meanings of personal ignorance and intrinsic unknowability in the same context. They are distinguished when necessary with a qualifier.

WEAK agnosticism: I have no fucking idea who fucked this shit up.

STRONG agnosticism: Nobody has any fucking idea who fucked this shit up.

There is a certain confusion with weak atheism which could (and frequently does) arise, but that is properly reserved for the category of theological noncognitivists,

WEAK atheism: What the fuck do you mean with this God shit?

STRONG atheism: Didn't take any God to fuck this shit up.

which is different again from weak theism.

WEAK theism: Somebody fucked this shit up.

STRONG theism: God fucked this shit up.

An interesting cross-categorical theological belief not easily represented above is

DEISM: God set this shit up and it fucked itself.

-- Snocone, in a Slashdot post

17 points Rain 01 April 2010 08:47:27PM Permalink

If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.

-- Jack Handey's Deep Thoughts

17 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:21:41PM Permalink

I've always believed that the mind is the best weapon.

-- John Rambo, Rambo: First Blood Part II

17 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:05:14AM Permalink

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

-- Plutarch

17 points Kyre 02 September 2010 05:40:12AM Permalink

Comic Quote Minus 13

-- Ryan Armand

Sometimes I see something that just seems to hit the bullseye deeply in the centre, and sticks there, quivering.

17 points RichardKennaway 01 September 2010 07:30:30AM Permalink

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.

Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

17 points gwern 06 October 2010 12:23:32AM Permalink

'One day, Korzybski was giving a lecture to a group of students, and he interrupted the lesson suddenly in order to retrieve a packet of biscuits, wrapped in white paper, from his briefcase. He muttered that he just had to eat something, and he asked the students on the seats in the front row, if they would also like a biscuit. A few students took a biscuit.

"Nice biscuit, don't you think," said Korzybski, while he took a 2nd one. The students were chewing vigorously. Then he tore the white paper from the biscuits, in order to reveal the original packaging. On it was a big picture of a dog's head and the words "Dog Cookies."

The students looked at the package, and were shocked. Two of them wanted to vomit, put their hands in front of their mouths, and ran out of the lecture hall to the toilet.

"You see," Korzybski remarked, "I have just demonstrated that people don't just eat food, but also words, and that the taste of the former is often outdone by the taste of the latter."'

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

17 points RichardKennaway 05 October 2010 12:41:05PM Permalink

On the same theme as the previous one:

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

George Carlin

17 points Alicorn 12 December 2010 03:31:23AM Permalink

"Look! Can your fortunetelling explain that?!"

"Ha! Can your science explain why it rains?"

"YES! Yes, it can!"

  • Avatar: the Last Airbender
17 points DSimon 03 January 2011 06:18:39PM Permalink

All Wars are Follies, very expensive, and very mischievous ones. When will Mankind be convinced of this, and agree to settle their Differences by Arbitration? Were they to do it, even by the Cast of a Dye, it would be better than by Fighting and destroying each other.

-- Benjamin Franklin

17 points Kutta 03 January 2011 09:18:45AM Permalink

It’s neither our economy or our multimedia that I’m most concerned about, but whether the kids are lively and in good shape. I mean, as long as the people are doing fine it doesn’t matter if the nation is in poverty.

-- Hayao Miyazaki

17 points aausch 07 February 2011 04:25:37PM Permalink

As they say in Discworld, we are trying to unravel the Mighty Infinite using a language which was designed to tell one another where the fresh fruit was.

-- Terry Pratchett

17 points purpleposeidon 04 February 2011 08:50:11AM Permalink

The following reminded me of Arguments as Soldiers:

Statistics for the enemy. Anecdotes for the friend. -- Zach Weiner

I'm sorry to have not found his blog sooner.

17 points Kazuo_Thow 02 February 2011 06:05:08AM Permalink

Apathy on the individual level translates into insanity at the mass level.

-- Douglas Hofstadter

17 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 February 2011 12:10:49AM Permalink

Statistics is applied philosophy of science.

A. P. Dawid

17 points Thomas 01 February 2011 10:45:33PM Permalink

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and he'll sell it for a fish.

  • ???
17 points gwern 01 February 2011 05:52:07PM Permalink

"I submit that claims about God are of this latter sort. There’s simply no reason to take them more seriously than one does claims about witches or ghosts. The idea that one needs powerful philosophical theories to settle such issues I like to call the “philosophy fallacy.”

We will see that people are particularly prey to it in religious discussions, both theist and atheist alike; indeed, atheists often get trapped into doing far more, far riskier philosophy than they need."

--Georges Rey, Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-deception (2009)

(First version seen on but quote from an expanded paper.)

17 points Nominull 04 March 2011 05:08:06AM Permalink

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

-Kaname Madoka, Puella Magi Madoka Magica

17 points scav 03 March 2011 10:28:44AM Permalink


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

17 points Nominull 03 March 2011 04:00:43AM Permalink

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.

17 points phaedrus 02 June 2011 12:26:26AM Permalink

‎"We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself." --Chris Mooney

17 points sketerpot 14 August 2011 09:22:20PM Permalink

Our headlines are splashed with crime, yet for every criminal there are 10,000 honest decent kindly men. If it were not so, no child would live to grow up, business could not go on from day to day. Decency is not news; it is buried in the obituaries -- but it is a force stronger than crime.

-- Robert Heinlein, on selection bias. From this big list of quotes.

17 points Konkvistador 03 September 2011 09:07:47PM Permalink

"The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust."

— John Derbyshire

17 points Konkvistador 23 October 2011 10:59:30AM Permalink

A decision was wise, even though it led to disastrous consequences, if the evidence at hand indicated it was the best one to make; and a decision was foolish, even though it led to the happiest possible consequences, if it was unreasonable to expect those consequences.

-- Herodotus

17 points gwern 10 October 2011 05:00:42PM Permalink
"We know this much
Death is an evil;
we have the gods'
word for it; they too
would die if death
were a good thing"

--Sappho #7; trans. Barnard (seen on )

17 points grendelkhan 07 October 2011 03:29:50PM Permalink

The least evil is still evil. The least monstrous is still monstrous

When, as will happen, you are yourself forced to choose between two bad things, then choose the lesser of the evils and choose it boldly. That will be the right choice and, if circumstances are truly as circumscribed as you believe them to be, that will be the right thing to do in that situation.

But it still won't be a good thing. It isn't a good thing and cannot be made good.

Fred Clarke, August 9

17 points RobertLumley 03 October 2011 03:47:41PM Permalink

What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.

Adolph Hitler

17 points ShardPhoenix 03 October 2011 08:33:20AM Permalink

He wanted to find fault with the idea but couldn't quite do it on the spur of the moment. He filed it away for later discrediting

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

17 points ArisKatsaris 01 November 2011 11:01:13PM Permalink

If I let go of a hammer on a planet that has a positive gravity, I need not see it fall to know that it has in fact fallen. [...] Gentlemen, human beings have characteristics just as inanimate objects do.

-Spock, Court Martial, Star Trek: The Original Series

17 points Dr_Manhattan 02 December 2011 03:09:16PM Permalink

Mind is a machine for jumping to conclusions - Daniel Kahneman

17 points gwern 01 January 2012 01:28:20AM Permalink

"Don't ask whether predictions are made, ask whether predictions are implied."

--Steven Kaas

17 points gwern 01 January 2012 07:58:04PM Permalink

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death"

--1 Corinthians 15:26

(I wonder what Eliezer would've made of it - as far as I know, he never read Deathly Hallows and so never read about the tombstone.)

17 points RobinZ 04 February 2012 12:17:40AM Permalink

I’ve very often made mistakes in my physics by thinking the theory isn’t as good as it really is, thinking that there are lots of complications that are going to spoil it — an attitude that anything can happen, in spite of what you’re pretty sure should happen.

Richard Feynman, in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, chapter entitled "Mixing Paints".

17 points scmbradley 02 February 2012 01:41:43PM Permalink

Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which isn't there

-E.H. Gombrich

17 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 February 2012 09:51:09PM Permalink

Paradoxes, like optical illusions, are often used by psychologists to reveal the inner workings of the mind, for paradoxes stem from (and amplify) dormant clashes among implicit sets of assumptions.

Judea Pearl (Causality)

17 points daenerys 05 February 2012 02:52:23AM Permalink

This is why science and mathematics are so much fun; You discover things that seem impossible to be true, and then get to figure out why it's impossible for them NOT to be.

-Vi Hart, Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant- Part 3 of 3

17 points NexH 06 March 2012 02:19:52PM Permalink

When it comes to rare probabilities, our mind is not designed to get things quite right. For the residents of a planet that may be exposed to events no one has yet experienced, that is not good news.

 --Daniel Kahneman, *Thinking, fast and slow*
17 points Stabilizer 01 March 2012 09:29:18AM Permalink

To be a good diagnostician, a physician needs to acquire a large set of labels for diseases, each of which binds an idea of the illness and its symptoms, possible antecedents and causes, possible developments and consequences, and possible interventions to cure or mitigate the illness. Learning medicine consists in part of learning the language of medicine. A deeper understanding of judgments and choices also requires a richer vocabulary than is available in everyday language. The availability of a diagnostic label for [the] bias... makes it easier to anticipate, recognize and understand.

-Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

17 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 March 2012 02:15:31AM Permalink

"I don't know if we've sufficiently analyzed the situation if we're thinking storming Azkaban is a solution."

17 points Will_Newsome 02 March 2012 09:55:32AM Permalink

If you want to know how decent people can support evil, find a mirror.

Mencius Moldbug, A gentle introduction to Unqualified Reservations (part 2) (yay reflection!)

17 points Stephanie_Cunnane 05 April 2012 04:09:46AM Permalink

I believe I am accurate in saying that educators too are interested in learnings which make a difference. Simple knowledge of facts has its value. To know who won the battle of Poltava, or when the umpteenth opus of Mozart was first performed, may win $64,000 or some other sum for the possessor of this information, but I believe educators in general are a little embarrassed by the assumption that the acquisition of such knowledge constitutes education. Speaking of this reminds me of a forceful statement made by a professor of agronomy in my freshman year in college. Whatever knowledge I gained in his course has departed completely, but I remember how, with World War I as his background, he was comparing factual knowledge with ammunition. He wound up his little discourse with the exhortation, "Don't be a damned ammunition wagon; be a rifle!"

-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy (1961)

17 points EditedToAdd 02 April 2012 04:51:17PM Permalink

But, the hard part comes after you conquer the world. What kind of world are you thinking of creating?

Johan Liebert, Monster

17 points Rhwawn 06 April 2012 07:54:30PM Permalink

By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and, in effect, increases the mental power of the race.

Alfred North Whitehead, “An Introduction to Mathematics” (thanks to Terence Tao)

17 points dvasya 01 April 2012 04:01:25PM Permalink

Our minds contain processes that enable us to solve problems we consider difficult. "Intelligence" is our name for whichever of those processes we don't yet understand.

Some people dislike this "definition" because its meaning is doomed to keep changing as we learn more about psychology. But in my view that's exactly how it ought to be, because the very concept of intelligence is like a stage magician's trick. Like the concept of "the unexplored regions of Africa," it disappears as soon as we discover it.

-- Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind

17 points Eugine_Nier 01 April 2012 07:40:33PM Permalink

Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.

G. K. Chesterton

17 points john_ku 05 May 2012 12:48:46PM Permalink

If the difficulty of a physiological problem is mathematical in essence, ten physiologists ignorant of mathematics will get precisely as far as one physiologist ignorant of mathematics and no further.

Norbert Wiener

17 points MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:32:32PM Permalink

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”

― Brandon Mull, Fablehaven

17 points Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:29:43AM Permalink

I don't think we can get much more specific without starting to be mistaken.

Paul Graham, "Is It Worth Being Wise?"

17 points James_Miller 01 June 2012 04:34:51PM Permalink

“My other piece of advice, Copperfield,” said Mr. Micawber, “you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (HT Cafe Hayek.)

17 points Nominull 08 July 2012 08:01:12PM Permalink

I never felt I was studying the stupidity of mankind in the third person. I always felt I was studying my own mistakes.

-Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

17 points Alicorn 06 August 2012 04:40:11AM Permalink

Since Mischa died, I've comforted myself by inventing reasons why it happened. I've been explaining it away ... But that's all bull. There was no reason. It happened and it didn't need to.

-- Erika Moen

17 points Stabilizer 05 August 2012 11:19:45PM Permalink

I don't think winners beat the competition because they work harder. And it's not even clear that they win because they have more creativity. The secret, I think, is in understanding what matters.

It's not obvious, and it changes. It changes by culture, by buyer, by product and even by the day of the week. But those that manage to capture the imagination, make sales and grow are doing it by perfecting the things that matter and ignoring the rest.

Both parts are difficult, particularly when you are surrounded by people who insist on fretting about and working on the stuff that makes no difference at all.

-Seth Godin

17 points Alicorn 05 August 2012 07:18:30PM Permalink

My knee had a slight itch. I reached out my hand and scratched the knee in question. The itch was relieved and I was able to continue with my activities.

-- The dullest blog in the world

17 points Zvi 01 September 2012 09:10:38PM Permalink

Subway ad: "146 people were hit by trains in 2011. 47 were killed."

Guy on Subway: "That tells me getting hit by a train ain't that dangerous."

  • Nate Silver, on his Twitter feed @fivethirtyeight
17 points Konkvistador 04 September 2012 08:39:45AM Permalink

Neither side of the road is inherently superior to the other, so we should all choose for ourselves on which side to drive. #enlightenment

--Kate Evans on Twitter

17 points Jay_Schweikert 01 October 2012 08:27:21PM Permalink

Frodo: Those that claim to oppose the Enemy would do well not to hinder us.

Faramir: The Enemy? (turns over body of an enemy soldier) His sense of duty was no less than yours, I deem. You wonder what his name is, where he came from, and if he was really evil at heart. What lies or threats led him on this long march from home, and if he'd not rather have stayed there... in peace. War will make corpses of us all.

-- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (extended edition)

17 points Nick_Tarleton 07 November 2012 07:56:04AM Permalink

"Because they were hypocrites," Finkle-McGraw said, after igniting his calabash and shooting a few tremendous fountains of smoke into the air, "the Victorians were despised in the late twentieth century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefandous conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves-they took no moral stances and lived by none."

"So they were morally superior to the Victorians-" Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under. "-even though-in fact, because-they had no morals at all." There was a moment of silent, bewildered head-shaking around the copper table.

"We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy," Finkle-McGraw continued. "In the late-twentieth-century Weltanschauung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception-he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course, most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it's a spirit-is-willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing."

"That we occasionally violate our own stated moral code," Major Napier said, working it through, "does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code."

"Of course not," Finkle-McGraw said. "It's perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said that it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved-the missteps we make along the way are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle, between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power."

— Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

17 points VKS 03 December 2012 06:50:16AM Permalink

Truth comes out of error more easily than out of confusion.

-Francis Bacon

16 points benthamite 18 April 2009 10:00:18PM Permalink

I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.

Bertrand Russell, ‘Introduction’, in Sceptical Essays, London, 1928

16 points Henrik_Jonsson 15 June 2009 05:14:57AM Permalink

Once again, we are saddled with a Stone Age moral psychology that is appropriate to life in small, homogeneous communities in which all members share roughly the same moral outlook. Our minds trick us into thinking that we are absolutely right and that they are absolutely wrong because, once upon a time, this was a useful way to think. It is no more, though it remains natural as ever. We love our respective moral senses. They are as much a part of us as anything. But if we are to live together in the world we have created for ourselves, so unlike the one in which our ancestors evolved, we must know when to trust our moral senses and when to ignore them.

--Joshua Greene

16 points Kaj_Sotala 10 August 2009 07:22:53PM Permalink

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

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

16 points hegemonicon 06 August 2009 05:30:25AM Permalink

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

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

16 points RichardKennaway 22 October 2009 11:51:02PM Permalink

"Everything is open to questioning. That does not mean all answers are equally valid."

-- Kelvin Throop

16 points roland 22 October 2009 07:12:43PM Permalink

People often lack the discipline to adhere to a superior strategy that doesn't "feel" right. Reasoning in a way that sometimes "feels" wrong takes discipline.

-- Michael Bishop, Epistemology and the psychology of human judgement

16 points Kaj_Sotala 01 December 2009 01:50:04PM Permalink

As a rule, people judged themselves according to their intentions and others according to results. In study after study, individuals ranked themselves as more charitable, more compassionate, more conscientious than others, not because they in fact were - but because they wanted to be these things and were almost entirely blind to the fact that others wanted the same. Intentions were all important when it came to self-judgement, and pretty much irrelevant when it came to judging others. The only exceptions, it turned out, were loved ones.

That was what it meant to be a 'significant' other: to be included in the circle of delusions that everyone used to exempt themselves.

-- Scott Bakker, Neuropath

16 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:21:53AM Permalink

Politicians compete to bribe voters with their own money.

--Adapted from something in The Economist (sorry, they don't have bylines)

16 points Cyan 07 January 2010 09:17:15PM Permalink

This conception of debate as combat is, in fact, probably the main reason why the Social Text editors fell for my parody. Acting not as intellectuals seeking the truth, but as self-appointed generals in the "Science Wars'', they apparently leapt at the chance to get a "real'' scientist on their "side''. Now, ruing their blunder, they must surely feel a kinship with the Trojans.

But the military metaphor is a mistake; the Social Text editors are not my enemies.

- Alan Sokal (hat tip)

16 points Sniffnoy 14 February 2010 07:15:51AM Permalink

On parsimony:

If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.

--John von Neumann, at the first national meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery

16 points Warrigal 13 February 2010 01:32:32AM Permalink

"You don't use science to show that you're right, you use science to become right." --Randall Munroe, in the alt-text of xkcd 701

16 points Shalmanese 02 February 2010 09:47:05AM Permalink

"In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it." GK Chesterton

16 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 12:40:01AM Permalink

The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to close it again on something solid.

-- G.K. Chesterton

16 points gaffa 01 March 2010 05:20:03PM Permalink

…it is fatally easy to read a pattern into stochastically generated data.

-- John Maynard Smith (The Causes of Extinction, 1989)

16 points CaptainOblivious2 03 April 2010 02:23:54AM Permalink

"All things end badly - or else they wouldn't end"

  • Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), Cocktail, 1988. He was referring to relationships, but it's actually a surprisingly general rule.
16 points torekp 03 July 2010 11:36:36AM Permalink

Idealists of all schools, aristocrats and bourgeois, theologians and physicians, politicians and moralists, religionists, philosophers, or poets, not forgetting the liberal economists - unbounded worshippers of the ideal, as we know - are much offended when told that man, with his magnificent intelligence, his sublime ideas, and his boundless aspirations, is, like all else existing in the world, nothing but matter, only a product of vile matter.

We may answer that the matter of which materialists speak, matter spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive, matter chemically or organically determined and manifested by the properties or forces, mechanical, physical, animal, and intelligent, which necessarily belong to it - that this matter has nothing in common with the vile matter of the idealists. The latter, a product of their false abstraction, is indeed a stupid, inanimate, immobile thing, incapable of giving birth to the smallest product, a caput mortuum, an ugly fancy in contrast to the beautiful fancy which they call God; as the opposite of this supreme being, matter, their matter, stripped by that constitutes its real nature, necessarily represents supreme nothingness.

--Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State

Reminded me of some posts here by Academician.

16 points sketerpot 04 August 2010 07:10:17PM Permalink

If you do experiments and you're always right, then you aren't getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.

-- Peter Norvig, in an interview about being wrong. When I saw this, I thought it sounded a lot like entropy pruning in decision trees, where you don't even bother asking questions that won't make you update your probability estimates significantly. Then I remembered that Norvig was the co-author of the AI textbook that I had learned about decision trees from. Interesting interview.

16 points James_Miller 01 September 2010 02:52:25PM Permalink

Like all dreamers, I confused disenchantment with truth. (Jean-Paul Sartre)

16 points scav 05 January 2011 09:25:10AM Permalink

If you show me

That, say, homeopathy works,

Then I will change my mind

I’ll spin on a fucking dime

I’ll be embarrassed as hell,

But I will run through the streets yelling

It’s a miracle! Take physics and bin it!

Water has memory!

And while its memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite

It somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it!

You show me that it works and how it works

And when I’ve recovered from the shock

I will take a compass and carve Fancy That on the side of my cock.

Tim Minchin, Storm

Dammit, how do you get line-breaks? It's a poem, but the stanzas get flowed into paragraphs.

16 points steven0461 06 February 2011 09:16:23PM Permalink

Some in their discourse desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgment, in discerning what is true; as if it were a praise to know what might be said, and not what should be thought.

Francis Bacon

16 points ata 04 March 2011 10:25:22PM Permalink

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

— Wolof proverb

16 points taserian 04 April 2011 07:47:05PM Permalink

On perseverance:

It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired, you quit when the gorilla is tired.

-- Robert Strauss

(Although the reference I found doesn't say which Robert Strauss it was)

I think it goes well with the article Make an Extraordinary Effort.

16 points Thomas 02 May 2011 07:36:46PM Permalink

Nature is fucked up, and anyone who argues otherwise has not actually seen nature in action.

Michael Anissimov

16 points MarkusRamikin 08 June 2011 03:26:07PM Permalink

"Attack and absorb the data that attack produces!"

-Tylwyth Waff in Heretics of Dune

(Hi. I'm new.)

16 points servumtuum 06 June 2011 09:37:47PM Permalink

The essence of wisdom is to remain suspicious of what you want to be true.

-Jon K. Hart

16 points Jonathan_Graehl 05 June 2011 02:40:05AM Permalink

No man has wit enough to reason with a fool.

Proyas (fictional character - author: R. Scott Bakker)

16 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2011 11:08:54AM Permalink

If you have ten minutes unscheduled and the phone isn't ringing, what do you do? What do you start?

Seth Godin

16 points sketerpot 14 August 2011 08:38:14PM Permalink

From Wintersmith, on the ability to notice confusion rather than rationalizing:

"And now I shall tell you something vitally important. It is the secret of my long life.”

Ah, thought Tiffany, and she leaned forward.

“The important thing,” said Miss Treason, “is to stay the passage of the wind. You should avoid rumbustious fruits and vegetables. Beans are the worst, take it from me.”

“I don’t think I understand—” Tiffany began.

“Try not to fart, in a nutshell.”

“In a nutshell I imagine it would be pretty unpleasant!” said Tiffany nervously. She couldn’t believe she was being told this.

“This is no joking matter,” said Miss Treason. “The human body only has so much air in it. You have to make it last. One plate of beans can take a year off your life. I have avoided rumbustiousness all my days. I am an old person and that means what I say is wisdom!” She gave the bewildered Tiffany a stern look. “Do you understand, child?”

Tiffany’s mind raced. Everything is a test! “No,” she said. “I’m not a child and that’s nonsense, not wisdom!”

The stern look cracked into a smile. “Yes,” said Miss Treason. “Total gibberish. But you’ve got to admit it’s a corker, all the same, right? You definitely believed it, just for a moment? The villagers did last year. You should have seen the way they walked about for a few weeks! The strained looks on their faces quite cheered me up!"

16 points SilasBarta 03 August 2011 02:27:52AM Permalink

About the intersection of math and politics through the mind of a child, Bob Murphy relates this story about his six-year-old son Clark:

Clark: Daddy why can’t there be a biggest number?

Bob: Because no matter how big a number is, there is always a bigger number.

Clark (puzzled): Why?

Bob: OK, let’s say a guy comes up to me and says, “Hey, I know the biggest number!” Then I would say, “Oh yeah, what is it?” And the guy would tell me, “It’s a billion billion.” But then I would just add 1 to it, and say, “A ha, a billion billion and 1 is a bigger number. So you made a mistake when you said you thought of the biggest number.”

Clark (after a pause): What guy are you talking about?

Bob: Just any guy. I’m saying, if anybody tries to think of the biggest number, I’ll always be able to do that trick–where I add 1 to it–so they can’t do it. They’ll always lose.

Clark: What if a girl asks you?

[I ran through the same thing with a girl asking me...]

Clark: OK I want to tell the story!

Bob: Sure go ahead.

Clark: So what if a guy came up to me and said, “Hey Clark, I know the biggest number! It’s 100 billion!” Then I would say, “No, 100 billion and 1 is bigger! You’re wrong!”

Bob: Right, good job. So he didn’t really think of the biggest number after all, did he?

Clark: No.

Bob: And you can always do that.

Clark: OK let me tell it again with Sam [name possibly changed--a kid from his class].

Bob: OK.

Clark: So what if Sam came up to me and said, “Hey Clark, I know the biggest number. It’s 50 googol.” But I would say, “No Sam you’re wrong! 50 googol and 1 is bigger!” But Sam gets mad so he would start shouting and say, “I DID TOO THINK OF THE BIGGEST NUMBER CLARK!!”

And I know we're not supposed to quote ourselves, but you rarely get an opportunity to use a line like this:

I guess you already tried explaining to Clark that the cardinality of the natural numbers is invariant under transformations of largest number proponent?

16 points crazy88 04 September 2011 07:29:46AM Permalink

Ralph Hull made a reasonable living as a magician milking a card trick he called "The Tuned Deck"...Hull enjoyed subjecting himself to the scrutiny of colleagues who attempted to eliminate, one by one, various explanations by depriving him of the ability to perform a particular sleight of hand. But the real trick was over before it had even begun, for the magic was not in clever fingers but in a clever name. The blatantly singular referent cried out for a blatantly singular explanation, when in reality The Tuned Deck was not one trick but many. The search for a single explanation is what kept this multiply determined illusion so long a mystery.

--Nicholas Epley, "Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making"

16 points gwern 03 September 2011 06:28:06PM Permalink

"Asking a question is embarrassing for a moment, but not asking is embarrassing for a lifetime. "

--Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2006, p. 255

16 points Vladimir_Nesov 06 October 2011 12:05:04AM Permalink

Truths were carved from the identical wood as were lies — words — and so sank or floated with equal ease. But since truths were carved by the World, they rarely appeased Men and their innumerable vanities.

-- Drusas Achamian, in "The White-Luck Warrior" by R. Scott Bakker

16 points kalla724 02 November 2011 08:34:16PM Permalink

The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it.

-Alan Saporta

16 points Nominull 31 October 2011 05:29:21PM Permalink

Writers of all stripes enjoy engaging in the most cynical readings of human behavior because they think it makes them appear hyper-rational. But in fact here is a perfect example of how trying to achieve that makes you irrational. Human emotion is real. It is an observable phenomenon. It observably influences behavior. Therefore to fail to account for it when discussing coupling and relationships is the opposite of cold rationality; it is in fact a failure of empiricism.

-L'Hote on Kate Bolick's "All the Single Ladies"

16 points CharlieSheen 25 January 2012 11:55:12PM Permalink

It’s not a good idea for members of the faith-based community like Hitchens to proclaim things like: Science proves we’re all genetically equal, so therefore you shouldn’t be beastly toward people of other races. The obvious flaw in this strategy is that eventually people will figure out that you are lying about what the science of genetics says, and therefore, by your own logic, that discredits the perfectly valid second half of your assertion.

--Steve Sailer

16 points Konkvistador 08 January 2012 05:03:52PM Permalink

... if anyone thinks they can get an accurate picture of anyplace on the planet by reading news reports, they're sadly mistaken.

--Bruce Schneier

16 points HonoreDB 18 February 2012 09:45:08PM Permalink

Luck is opportunity plus preparation plus luck.

--Jane Espenson

16 points arundelo 11 February 2012 06:22:39PM Permalink

Any time you say something is "more likely" than something else, that an explanation is "improbable," or "almost certainly true," or "implausible," and so on, you are making mathematical statements. Any time something is "more" than something else, that's math.

-- Richard Carrier

16 points kalla724 01 February 2012 09:38:43PM Permalink

Probably a duplicate, but I can't find a previous version:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

16 points ArisKatsaris 07 March 2012 11:08:18PM Permalink

-So what do you think happens after we die?

-The acids and lifeforms living inside your body eat their way out, while local detritivores eat their way in. Why?

-No, no, no, what happens to you?

-Oh, you guys mean the soul.


-Is that in the body?


-The acids and lifeforms eat their way out, while local detritivores eat their way in.

--SMBC Theater - Death

16 points Vaniver 01 April 2012 11:20:25PM Permalink

For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible.

-George Orwell

16 points Alejandro1 03 April 2012 05:01:58PM Permalink

‘I’m exactly in the position of the man who said, ‘I can believe the impossible, but not the improbable.’’

‘That’s what you call a paradox, isn’t it?’ asked the other.

‘It’s what I call common sense, properly understood,’ replied Father Brown. ’It really is more natural to believe a preternatural story, that deals with things we don’t understand, than a natural story that contradicts things we do understand. Tell me that the great Mr Gladstone, in his last hours, was haunted by the ghost of Parnell, and I will be agnostic about it. But tell me that Mr Gladstone, when first presented to Queen Victoria, wore his hat in her drawing-room and slapped her on the back and offered her a cigar, and I am not agnostic at all. That is not impossible; it’s only incredible.

-G. K. Chesterton, The Curse of the Golden Cross

16 points Alejandro1 02 May 2012 07:33:52PM Permalink

The word problem may be an insidious form of question-begging. To speak of the Jewish problem is to postulate that the Jews are a problem; it is to predict (and recommend) persecution, plunder, shooting, beheading, rape, and the reading of Dr. Rosenberg's prose. Another disadvantage of fallacious problems is that they bring about solutions that are equally fallacious. Pliny (Book VIII of Natural History) is not satisfied with the observation that dragons attack elephants in the summer; he ventures the hypothesis that they do it in order to drink the elephants' blood, which, as everyone knows, is very cold.

-- Jorge Luis Borges, "Dr. Américo Castro is Alarmed"

16 points baiter 01 May 2012 01:07:24PM Permalink

My function is to raise the possibility, 'Hey, you know, some of this stuff might be bullshit.'

-- Robert Anton Wilson

16 points CaveJohnson 13 June 2012 03:00:40PM Permalink

In general, nothing is more difficult than not pretending to understand.

--Nicolás Gómez Dávila, source

16 points pkkm 02 June 2012 07:04:03AM Permalink

People who do great things look at the same world everyone else does, but notice some odd detail that's compellingly mysterious.

Paul Graham, What Youll Wish Youd Known

16 points lukeprog 22 September 2012 01:28:25PM Permalink

The problem with any ideology is that it gives the answer before you look at the evidence.

Bill Clinton

16 points Matt_Caulfield 03 September 2012 03:55:04PM Permalink

It may be of course that savages put food on a dead man because they think that a dead man can eat, or weapons with a dead man because they think a dead man can fight. But personally I do not believe that they think anything of the kind. I believe they put food or weapons on the dead for the same reason that we put flowers, because it is an exceedingly natural and obvious thing to do. We do not understand, it is true, the emotion that makes us think it is obvious and natural; but that is because, like all the important emotions of human existence it is essentially irrational.

  • G. K. Chesterton
16 points DanielVarga 10 October 2012 10:49:46PM Permalink

I love uncertainty. In many situations I'd rather try something just to see what happens. I'm the character that gets killed first in every horror movie, but that's fine with me, since life is not generally like a horror movie.

Noah Smith

16 points Alejandro1 06 October 2012 03:35:52PM Permalink

I prefer this sort of distant, reductionist, structural approach to analysing the race because there's little reason to believe in the validity of the implicit theories or "models" lurking behind pundits' gut judgments. When I heard Mr Romney's 47% comments, I thought "Oooh, he's toast!" and then I stopped myself and acknowledged that I actually have no rational basis for believing that his remarks would in the final analysis hurt Mr Romney at all. What percentage of undecided or weakly-decided swing-state voters ever caught wind of Mr Romney's embarrassing chat? I didn't know! Of those who became aware of it, how many cared? I didn't know! So why did I think "Oooh, he's toast!" Because I am human, and I make most judgments and decisions on the basis of crackpot hunches, the underlying logic of which is almost completely inscrutable to me.

--Will Wilkinson

16 points gwern 06 October 2012 12:49:25AM Permalink

Despite the difficulty of exact Bayesian inference in complex mathematical models, the essence of Bayesian reasoning is frequently used in everyday life. One example has been immortalized in the words of Sherlock Holmes to his friend Dr. Watson: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four, 1890, Ch. 6). This reasoning is actually a consequence of Bayesian belief updating, as expressed in Equation 4.4. Let me re-state it this way: “How often have I said to you that when p(D|θ_i ) = 0 for all i!=j, then, no matter how small the prior p(θ_j ) 0 is, the posterior p(θ_j |D) must equal one.” Somehow it sounds better the way Holmes said it.

--Kruschke 2010, Doing Bayesian Data Analysis, pg56-57

16 points arundelo 02 October 2012 01:58:29AM Permalink

My wife and I, since we'd been in lock-down with each other, oh, these past nine years, have developed a bit of shorthand. If one of us says something the other has heard so many times before that tears of boredom flow, the victim has a right to protest. The victim says, "That's on the tape." As in, that's on your tape -- the list of stories and obsessions you've rewound so often I could sing along with them in my sleep.

-- Mark Schone

16 points roland 16 November 2012 06:08:58PM Permalink

In the way that skepticism is sometimes applied to issues of public concern, there is a tendency to belittle, to condescend, to ignore the fact that, deluded or not, supporters of superstition and pseudoscience are human beings with real feelings, who, like the skeptics, are trying to figure out how the world works and what our role in it might be. Their motives are in many ways consonant with science. If their culture has not given them all the tools they need to pursue this great quest, let us temper our criticism with kindness. None of us comes fully equipped.

--Carl Sagan

16 points Stabilizer 04 November 2012 07:09:05AM Permalink

"Look,” [Deutsch] went on, “I can’t stop you from writing an article about a weird English guy who thinks there are parallel universes. But I think that style of thinking is kind of a put-down to the reader. It’s almost like saying, If you’re not weird in these ways, you’ve got no hope as a creative thinker. That’s not true. The weirdness is only superficial."

New Yorker article on David Deutsch

(I saw this on Scott Aaronsons blog)

16 points Nisan 03 November 2012 06:34:57AM Permalink

And then she said, "Ha ha ha, I figured out how to remove the closing quotation mark! From now on, the whole future is my story!

-Aristosophy. I like to think this is about the Robots Rebellion.

16 points GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 05:29:20PM Permalink

Nobody likes to face the more painful question, What Made the Dogs Want to Leave?


15 points Steve_Rayhawk 15 June 2009 12:21:54AM Permalink

Practically anything can go faster than Disc light, which is lazy and tame, unlike ordinary light. The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles—kingons, or possibly queons—that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expounded because, at that point, the bar closed.

-- Terry Pratchett, Mort, on mind-projection fallacy intuitions (and/or on Jack Sarfatti's theories of superluminal signaling)

15 points MBlume 04 July 2009 10:30:45PM Permalink

"I'm writing a book on magic," I explain, and I'm asked, "Real magic?" By real magic people mean miracles, thaumaturgical acts, and supernatural powers. "No," I answer. "Conjuring tricks, not real magic."

Real magic, in other words, refers to the magic that is not real, while the magic that is real, that can actually be done, is not real magic.

-from Net of Magic, by Lee Siegel

15 points wuwei 04 July 2009 02:33:44AM Permalink

There is a mathematical style in which proofs are presented as strings of unmotivated tricks that miraculously do the job, but we found greater intellectual satisfaction in showing how each next step in the argument, if not actually forced, is at least something sweetly reasonable to try. Another reason for avoiding [pulling] rabbits [out of the magicians's hat] as much as possible was that we did not want to teach proofs, we wanted to teach proof design. Eventually, expelling rabbits became another joy of my professional life.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

Edit: Added context to "rabbits" in brackets.

15 points KatjaGrace 03 July 2009 07:03:33AM Permalink

"Philosophy triumphs easily over past and future evils; but present evils triumph over it."

-- Francois de La Rochefoucauld

15 points JohannesDahlstrom 02 July 2009 10:02:28PM Permalink

The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.

-- Terry Pratchett, 'Hogfather'

15 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 04:07:44AM Permalink

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

-- David Hill

15 points loqi 22 October 2009 05:31:07PM Permalink

Perfecting oneself is as much unlearning as it is learning.

-- Edsger Dijkstra

15 points ABranco 01 December 2009 03:52:12AM Permalink

I will repeat this point again until I get hoarse: a mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in the light of the information until that point. —Nicholas Nassim Taleb

15 points RobinZ 29 November 2009 11:57:11PM Permalink

"My style" sure makes a great crutch for putting off learning how to draw better, doesn't it?

Egypt "peganthyrus" Urnash, comment thread, a quick drawing lesson, July 17, 2008

15 points dclayh 01 February 2010 10:50:42PM Permalink

That is not dead which can eternal lie,/ And with strange aeons even Death may die.

—H.P. Lovecraft, clearly talking about cryonic preservation

15 points Kevin 01 February 2010 08:38:40PM Permalink

Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.

-- Isaac Asimov via Salvor Hardin, Foundation

15 points Tom_Talbot 01 February 2010 07:11:06PM Permalink

"If the tool you have is a hammer, make the problem look like a nail."

Steven W. Smith, The Scientist and Engineers Guide to Digital Signal Processing

15 points gregconen 01 February 2010 05:50:19PM Permalink

More people are killed every year by pigs than by sharks, which shows you how good people are at evaluating risk.

Bruce Schneier

15 points roland 03 March 2010 05:43:15AM Permalink an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

-- Herbert Simon 1971

15 points Matt_Duing 02 March 2010 03:47:45AM Permalink

"It is said that those who appreciate legislation and sausages should not see them being made. The same is true for human emotions." -- Steven Pinker

15 points Seth_Goldin 03 June 2010 03:40:44AM Permalink

There is no such thing as absolute certainty, but there is assurance sufficient for the purposes of human life.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

He seems to have understood that 0 and 1 are not probabilities.

15 points Matt_Duing 02 June 2010 04:03:17AM Permalink

"It's wonderful how much we suck compared to us ten years from now!"

-- Michael Blume

15 points josht 08 July 2010 09:30:39AM Permalink

A recent one from Linux Weekly News that gives insight into rationality:

Side note: when a respected information source covers something where you have on-the-ground experience, the result is often to make you wonder how much fecal matter you've swallowed in areas outside your own expertise. -- Rusty Russell

15 points Randaly 04 September 2010 03:01:09AM Permalink

"Test Your God.... Test[s] cannot harm a God of Truth, but will destroy fakes. Fake gods refuse test[s]."

~ Dr. Gene Ray

15 points Hariant 03 November 2010 05:21:09AM Permalink

Getting caught up in style and throwing away victory is something for the lower ranks to do. Captains can't even think about doing such a carefree thing. Don't try to be a good guy. It doesn't matter who owes who. From the instant they enter into a war, both sides are evil.

Related to: Politics, Protection

15 points Perplexed 03 November 2010 02:54:38AM Permalink

David Hume was right to predict that superstition would survive for hundreds of years after his death, but how could he have anticipated that his own work would inspire Kant to invent a whole new package of superstitions? Or that the incoherent system of Marx would move vast populations to engineer their own ruin? Or that the infantile rantings of the author of Mein Kampf would be capable of bringing the whole world to war?

Perhaps we will one day succeed in immunizing our societies against such bouts of collective idiocy by establishing a social contract in which each child is systematically instructed in Humean skepticism. Such a new Emile would learn about the psychological weaknesses to which Homo sapiens is prey, and so would understand the wisdom of treating all authorities - political leaders and social role-models, academics and teachers, philosophers and prophets, poets and pop stars - as so many potential rogues and knoves, each out to exploit the universal human hunger for social status. He would therefore appreciate the necessity of doing all of his own thinking for himself. He would understand why and when to trust his neighbors. Above all, he would waste no time yearning for utopias that are incompatible with human nature.

-- Ken Binmore, in Natural Justice, p56

15 points gwern 24 December 2010 06:08:58PM Permalink

"Claude Shannon once told me that as a kid, he remembered being stuck on a jigsaw puzzle. His brother, who was passing by, said to him: "You know: I could tell you something."

That's all his brother said.

Yet that was enough hint to help Claude solve the puzzle. The great thing about this hint... is that you can always give it to yourself."

--Manuel Blum, Advice to a Beginning Graduate Student

15 points Automaton 03 December 2010 07:42:32AM Permalink

“On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.”


15 points RichardKennaway 06 January 2011 08:27:38PM Permalink

Let us be certain of a fact before being concerned with its cause. It is true that this method is too lengthy for most people who naturally run to the cause and overlook the certitude about facts; but at last we will avoid the ridicule of finding the cause of what does not exist.

Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle

Recently quoted on the web in relation to acupuncture studies.

15 points RichardKennaway 02 February 2011 01:41:35AM Permalink

People who have been living with serious problems for a long time find it hard to imagine that there's been a solution within their reach all along. For the short term, it's easier to go on putting up with the problem than it is to change one's expectations.

paulwl (quoted here)

ETA: I thought this had the smell of Usenet about it, and on Google Groups I found the original, written by one Alex Clark here. paulwl is actually the person he was replying to.

BTW, there's quite a bit of rationality (and irrationality) on that newsgroup on the subject of people looking for relationships (mostly men looking for women), from way back when. I don't know if 1996 predates the sort of PUA that has been talked about on LW.

15 points NancyLebovitz 15 March 2011 06:25:02PM Permalink

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

15 points CronoDAS 05 March 2011 01:50:12AM Permalink

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

-- Alonzo Fyfe

15 points djcb 03 March 2011 06:23:18AM Permalink

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 ]

15 points Matt_Duing 05 April 2011 02:13:41AM Permalink

The most important relic of early humans is the modern mind.

-Steven Pinker

15 points Risto_Saarelma 12 June 2011 05:30:47PM Permalink

The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke remarked that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Clarke was referring to the fantastic inventions we might discover in the future or in our travels to advanced civilizations. However, the insight also applies to self-perception. When we turn our attention to our own minds, we are faced with trying to understand an unimaginably advanced technology. We can't possibly know (let alone keep track of) the tremendous number of mechanical influences on our behavior because we inhabit an extraordinarily complicated machine. So we develop a shorthand, a belief in the causal efficacy of our conscious thoughts. We believe in the magic of our own causal agency.

  • Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will
15 points NancyLebovitz 08 June 2011 10:00:01PM Permalink

"Three-fourths of philosophy and literature is the talk of people trying to convince themselves that they really like the cage they were tricked into entering."

-- Gary Snyder (bOING bOING #9, 1992)

I don't have a strong feeling about the accuracy of the percentage, but the general point sounds plausible.

15 points NancyLebovitz 06 June 2011 01:21:30PM Permalink

If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin. - Ivan Turgenev

15 points MichaelGR 02 June 2011 06:36:26PM Permalink

"The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war."

--WSJ article about Navy SEALs

15 points loqi 01 June 2011 06:54:15PM Permalink

If you can't think intuitively, you may be able to verify specific factual claims, but you certainly can't think about history.

Well, maybe we can't think about history. Intuition is unreliable. Just because you want to think intelligently about something doesn't mean it's possible to do so.

Jewish Atheist, in reply to Mencius Moldbug

15 points Nominull 04 August 2011 04:14:24PM Permalink

Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it's the truth. It won't go away because we cover our eyes.

-Bruce Sterling, cyberpunk author

15 points CronoDAS 24 September 2011 10:55:38PM Permalink

No matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, turn back.

-- Turkish proverb

15 points Thomas 05 September 2011 01:25:02PM Permalink

The investor who finds a way to make soap from peanuts has more genuine imagination than the revolutionary with a bayonet, because he has cultivated the faculty of imagining the hidden potentiality of the real. This is much harder than imagining the unreal, which may be why there are so many more utopians than inventors

  • Joe Sobran
15 points GabrielDuquette 01 September 2011 02:38:27PM Permalink

On practical questions of urgent importance we must make up our minds one way or the other even when we know that the evidence is incomplete. To refuse to make up our minds is equivalent to deciding to leave things as they are (which is just as likely as any other to be the wrong solution).

-- Robert H. Thouless

15 points Thomas 02 October 2011 09:38:21AM Permalink

If the Coyote orders all those gizmos then why doesn't he just order food?

  • Unknown
15 points Nisan 22 November 2011 03:02:18AM Permalink

Some years ago I was trying to decide whether or not to move to Harvard from Stanford. I had bored my friends silly with endless discussion. Finally, one of them said, “You’re one of our leading decision theorists. Maybe you should make a list of the costs and benefits and try to roughly calculate your expected utility.” Without thinking, I blurted out, “Come on, Sandy, this is serious.”

-Persi Diaconis

By the way, Diaconis stayed at Stanford. He's giving a public lecture on Nov. 30.

15 points CaveJohnson 18 January 2012 07:36:34PM Permalink

Most people are theists not because they were "reasoned into" believing in God, but because they applied Occam's razor at too early an age. Their simplest explanation for the reason that their parents, not to mention everyone else in the world, believed in God, was that God actually existed. The same could be said for, say, Australia.

--Mencius Moldbug

15 points gwern 01 January 2012 01:24:02AM Permalink

“The general method that Wittgenstein does suggest is that of ’shewing that a man has supplied no meaning for certain signs in his sentences’.

I can illustrate the method from Wittgenstein’s later way of discussing problems. He once greeted me with the question: ‘Why do people say that it was natural to think that the sun went round the earth rather than that the earth turned on its axis? I replied: ‘I suppose, because it looked as if the sun went round the earth.’ ‘Well,’ he asked, ‘what would it have looked like if it had looked as if the earth turned on its axis?’

This question brought it out that I had hitherto given no relevant meaning to ‘it looks as if’ in ‘it looks as if the sun goes round the earth’.

My reply was to hold out my hands with the palms upward, and raise them from my knees in a circular sweep, at the same time leaning backwards and assuming a dizzy expression. ‘Exactly!’ he said.”

–Elizabeth Anscombe, An Introduction To Wittgenstein’s Tractatus (1959); apropos of a recent Scot Sumner blog post

15 points wilder 01 February 2012 10:34:36PM Permalink

Wishing for something that is logically impossible is a sign that there is something better to wish for.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

15 points gyokuro 02 March 2012 04:39:18AM Permalink

"I've never ever felt wise," Derk said frankly. "But I suppose it is a tempation, to stare into distance and make people think you are."

"It's humbug," said the dragon. "It's also stupid. It stops you learning more."

Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Lord of Derkholm

15 points Alejandro1 01 March 2012 06:23:41PM Permalink

The demons told me that there is a hell for the sentimental and the pedantic. They are abandoned in an endless palace, more empty than full, and windowless. The condemned walk about as if searching for something, and, as we might expect, they soon begin to say that the greatest torment consists in not participating in the vision of God, that moral suffering is worse than physical suffering, and so on. Then the demons hurl them into the sea of fire, from where no one will ever take them out.

Adolfo Bioy Casares (my translation)

15 points FiftyTwo 03 April 2012 09:31:53PM Permalink

I know a lot of scientists as well as laymen are scornful of philosophy - perhaps understandably so. Reading academic philosophy journals often makes my heart sink too. But without exception, we all share philosophical background assumptions and presuppositions. The penalty of _not _ doing philosophy isn't to transcend it, but simply to give bad philosophical arguments a free pass.

David Pearce

15 points Oscar_Cunningham 01 April 2012 02:07:43PM Permalink

You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way.

Marvin Minsky

15 points Spurlock 02 April 2012 04:44:28AM Permalink

“The mind commands the body and it obeys. The mind orders itself and meets resistance. ”

-St Augustine of Hippo

15 points komponisto 01 May 2012 03:05:58PM Permalink

[S]top whining and start hacking.

-- Paul Graham

(Arguably a decent philosophy of life, if a bit harshly expressed for my taste.)

15 points Mark_Eichenlaub 02 May 2012 05:33:38AM Permalink

If you're trying to choose between two theories and one gives you an excuse for being lazy, the other one is probably right.

Paul Graham “What You’ll Wish You’d Known”

15 points GabrielDuquette 02 June 2012 05:26:51AM Permalink

Problem solving is hunting; it is savage pleasure and we are born to it.

Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs

15 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 July 2012 08:45:06PM Permalink

"Buddhism IS different. It's the followers who aren’t."

-- A Dust Over India.

Commentary: Reading this made me realize that many religions genuinely are different from each other. Christianity is genuinely different from Judaism, Islam is genuinely different from Christianity, Hinduism is genuinely different from all three. It's religious people who are the same everywhere; not the same as each other, obviously, but drawn from the same distribution. Is this true of atheistic humanists? Of transhumanists? Could you devise an experiment to test whether it was so, would you bet on the results of that experiment? Will they say the same of LessWrongers, someday? And if so, what's the point?

Now that I think on it, though, there might be a case for scientists being drawn from a different distribution, or computer programmers, or for that matter science fiction fans (are those all the same distributions as each other, I wonder?). It's not really hopeless.

15 points cousin_it 16 August 2012 05:35:13PM Permalink

If cats looked like frogs we’d realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are.

-- Terry Pratchett, "Lords and Ladies"

15 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 August 2012 05:04:58PM Permalink

"Silver linings are like finding change in your couch. It's there, but it never amounts to much."


15 points aausch 05 August 2012 07:52:35PM Permalink

Did you teach him wisdom as well as valor, Ned? she wondered. Did you teach him how to kneel? The graveyards of the Seven Kingdoms were full of brave men who had never learned that lesson

-- Catelyn Stark, A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin

15 points cata 03 September 2012 11:10:45PM Permalink

Does the order of the two terminal conditions matter? / Think about it.

Does the order of the two terminal conditions matter? / Try it out!

Does the order of the two previous answers matter? / Yes. Think first, then try.

  • Friedman and Felleisen, The Little Schemer
15 points katydee 02 September 2012 06:51:54PM Permalink

When we were first drawn together as a society, it had pleased God to enlighten our minds so far as to see that some doctrines, which we once esteemed truths, were errors; and that others, which we had esteemed errors, were real truths. From time to time He has been pleased to afford us farther light, and our principles have been improving, and our errors diminishing.

Now we are not sure that we are arrived at the end of this progression, and at the perfection of spiritual or theological knowledge; and we fear that, if we should once print our confession of faith, we should feel ourselves as if bound and confin'd by it, and perhaps be unwilling to receive farther improvement, and our successors still more so, as conceiving what we their elders and founders had done, to be something sacred, never to be departed from.

Michael Welfare, quoted in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

15 points katydee 13 September 2012 05:07:40AM Permalink

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

Ernest Hemingway

15 points peter_hurford 01 September 2012 06:16:01PM Permalink

"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Sagan

15 points MBlume 01 October 2012 07:56:20PM Permalink

I can pick up a mole (animal) and throw it. Anything I can throw weighs one pound. One pound is one kilogram.

--Randal Munroe, A Mole of Moles

15 points beoShaffer 12 November 2012 05:17:09AM Permalink

I've never heard more different explanations for anything parents tell kids than why they shouldn't swear. Every parent I know forbids their children to swear, and yet no two of them have the same justification. It's clear most start with not wanting kids to swear, then make up the reason afterward.

-Paul Graham in The Lies We Tell Kids

15 points lukeprog 12 November 2012 03:39:32AM Permalink

Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.

Nick Cooney, Change of Heart

15 points BerryPick6 06 November 2012 03:08:10PM Permalink

Recognizing the startling resurgence in realism, Don Philahue (of The Don Philahue Show) invited a member of Realists Anonymous to bare his soul on television. After a brief introduction documenting the spread of realism, Philahue turned to his guest:

DP: What kinds of realism were you into, Hilary?

H: The whole bag, Don. I was a realist about logical terms, abstract entities, theoretical postulates - you name it.

DP: And causality, what about causality?

H: That too, Don. (Audience gasps.)

DP: I'm going to press you here, Hilary. Did you at any time accept moral realism?

H: (staring at feet): Yes.

DP: What effect did all this realism have on your life?

H: I would spend hours aimlessly wandering the streets, kicking large stones and shouting, "I refute you thus!" It's embarrassing to recall.

DP: There was worse, wasn't there Hilary?

H: I can't deny it, don. (Audience gasps.) Instead of going to work I would sit at home fondling ashtrays and reading voraciously about converging scientific theories. I kept a copy of "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny" hidden in the icebox, and when no one was around I would take it our and chant "The Nazis were bad. The Nazis were really bad."

-- A dialogue by Philip Gasper

15 points katydee 02 December 2012 08:15:19AM Permalink

Do not read written works and think, "This is the Way." Written works are like the gate to approach the Way. Thus, there are people who remain ignorant of the Way regardless of how much they have learned and how many Chinese characters they know. Though they face the pages and read as skillfully as though they were annotating the ancients, they are ignorant of the truth and so do not make the Way their own.

— Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

15 points GabrielDuquette 01 December 2012 03:44:40PM Permalink

Keep your solutions close, and your problems closer.


15 points Will_Newsome 01 December 2012 05:13:57PM Permalink

When you have run the length of various practices and none of those practices remain in your mind, that very lack of mind itself is the heart of "all things." When you have exhaustively learned the various practices and techniques and made great effort in disciplined training, there will be action in your arms, legs, and body but none in your mind; you will have distanced yourself from training, but will not be in opposition to it, and you will have freedom in whatever techniques you perform. You yourself will be unaware of where your mind is, and neither demons nor heresies will be able to find it.

— Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

14 points gjm 19 April 2009 01:07:40AM Permalink

Most things are, in fact, slippery slopes. And if you start backing off from one thing because it's a slippery slope, who knows where you'll stop?

Sean M Burke

14 points dreeves 18 April 2009 08:12:26PM Permalink

"Faced with the choice of changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." -- John Kenneth Galbraith

14 points sparrowsfall 20 May 2009 03:11:31PM Permalink

"From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense."

--John Quiggin

14 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 12:06:21PM Permalink

"Your superior intellects are no match for our puny weapons!"

(Variously attributed. TV Tropes says the Simpsons.)

Also variously interpreted. I take it as a caution against forgetting to actually win with one's towering genius.

14 points RichardKennaway 15 June 2009 05:48:24AM Permalink

"The seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."

-- Alhazen (Abū Alī al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haitham)

14 points Lightwave 14 June 2009 11:18:30PM Permalink

"The lottery is a tax on those incapable of basic math."

-- Ambrose Bierce

14 points ajayjetti 11 August 2009 11:17:10PM Permalink

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

14 points Rain 01 September 2009 11:52:15PM Permalink

I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

-Helen Keller

14 points bogus 01 February 2010 03:58:08PM Permalink

If [Ayn] Rand really wanted to build an individualist sub-culture, she would have done so in an evolutionarily informed way. If people naturally care about the opinions of others, jumping on people is a good way to get dishonest conformity, but a bad way to get an honest exchange of ideas. Instead, an individualist sub-culture must be built upon tolerance and honesty. I'd suggest three key norms:

  1. Don't think less of people who sincerely disagree.
  2. Do think less of people who insincerely agree.
  3. Do think less of people who think less of people who sincerely disagree.

--Bryan Caplan

Reference: Guardians of Ayn Rand

14 points Rain 01 February 2010 12:42:53PM Permalink

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it -- for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

-- Mark Twain, excerpt from The War Prayer

14 points Yvain 01 February 2010 12:24:51PM Permalink

In our public medical personas, we often act as though morality consisted only in following society's conventions: we do this not so much out of laziness but because we recognize that it is better that the public think of doctors as old-fashioned or stupid, than that they should think us evil.

-- The Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine

14 points anonym 01 February 2010 06:50:31AM Permalink

Million-to-one odds happen eight times a day in New York.

Penn Jillette

14 points steven0461 02 March 2010 11:51:17PM Permalink

The man who lies to others has merely hidden away the truth, but the man who lies to himself has forgotten where he put it.

old Arab proverb, according to this page, which is itself interesting

14 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:56:57PM Permalink

"There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you."

-- J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address.

14 points RobinZ 01 April 2010 11:33:04PM Permalink

Blind alley, though. If someone's ungrateful and you tell him he's ungrateful, okay, you've called him a name. You haven't solved anything.

Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

14 points komponisto 01 April 2010 09:39:48PM Permalink

What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

-- Christopher Hitchens

14 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 08:45:00PM Permalink

A certain mother habitually rewards her small son with ice cream after he eats his spinach. What additional information would you need to be able to predict whether the child will: a. Come to love or hate spinach, b. Love or hate ice cream, or c. Love or hate Mother?

-- Gregory Bateson, "Steps to an Ecology of Mind"

14 points Houshalter 01 June 2010 08:29:38PM Permalink

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Another Twain quote.

14 points JoshuaZ 01 June 2010 07:42:42PM Permalink

Were it possible to trace the succession of ideas in the mind of Sir Isaac Newton, during the time that he made his greatest discoveries, I make no doubt but our amazement at the extent of his genius would a little subside. But if, when a man publishes his discoveries, he either through a design, or through habit, omit the intermediary steps by which he himself arrived at them, it is no wonder that his speculations confound them, and that the generality of mankind stand amazed at his reach of thought. If a man ascend to the top of a building by the help of a common ladder, but cut away most of the steps after he has done with them, leaving only every ninth of tenth step, the view of the ladder, in the condition which he has pleased to exhibit it, gives us a prodigious, but unjust view of the man who could have made use of it. But if he had intended that any body should follow him, he should have left the ladder as he constructed it, or perhaps as he found it, for it might have been a mere accident that threw it in his way... I think that the interests of science have suffered by the excessive admiration and wonder with which several first rate philosophers are considered, and that an opinion of the greater equality of mankind, in point of genius, and power of understanding, would be of real service in the present age." - Joseph Priestly, The History and present State of Electricity

The section where I've added an ellipsis is a section where he discusses Newton in more detail. That entire part of the text is worth reading. Priestly wrote the book before he did his work on the composition of air. The book is, as far as I am aware, the first attempt at actual history of science. (I'm meaning to read the whole thing at some point, but the occasionally archaic grammar makes for slow reading.)

14 points roland 01 June 2010 06:30:07PM Permalink

Conscious thought leads people to put disproportionate weight on attributes that are accessible, plausible and easy to verbalize, and therefore too little weight on other attributes. -- Ap Dijksterhuis

14 points Alan 05 July 2010 04:22:00AM Permalink

What frightens us most in a madman is his sane conversation.

--Anatole France

14 points Rain 02 July 2010 12:06:30AM Permalink

A superstition is a premature explanation that overstays its time.

-- George Iles

14 points ata 05 September 2010 03:29:48AM Permalink

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with the indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

— Stanley Kubrick

14 points MichaelGR 06 November 2010 05:09:59PM Permalink

A horse that can count to ten is a remarkable horse, not a remarkable mathematician.

--Samuel Johnson

14 points XiXiDu 04 November 2010 12:37:19PM Permalink

This is a bit long for a rationality quote and isn't really a quote but short enough and worth the read: The most poetic and convincing argument for striving for posthumanity (via

14 points aausch 04 November 2010 03:17:11AM Permalink

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn."

— T.H. White (The Once and Future King)

14 points jaimeastorga2000 02 November 2010 08:42:37PM Permalink

For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations; and those who travel very slowly may yet make far greater progress, provided they keep always to the straight road, than those who, while they run, forsake it.

~René Descartes, Discourse on the Method

14 points Lightwave 03 December 2010 09:09:36AM Permalink

"Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin."

-- Charles Darwin

14 points Kutta 03 January 2011 09:20:55AM Permalink

I definitely think there is great art out there that was solely designed to give people what they want; in film, someone like Chaplin comes to mind. I mean, giving people what they want is an art unto itself, but I think the real challenge in that method is finding a way to give them what they want while giving them more.

-- Jonathan Henderson

14 points MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:52:24PM Permalink

Life is tough, but it's tougher if you're stupid.

-John Wayne, Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

14 points MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:50:58PM Permalink

History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

-Mark Twain

14 points billswift 01 February 2011 07:55:18PM Permalink

Too broad a viewpoint, too philosophical an outlook paralyzes the will.

-- Robert A Heinlein, Lost Legacy

14 points Dreaded_Anomaly 11 March 2011 04:43:52AM Permalink

"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)

14 points Louie 09 March 2011 11:42:52AM Permalink

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

14 points Cyan 07 March 2011 04:17:55PM Permalink

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.

14 points Costanza 04 March 2011 02:41:33PM Permalink

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."

14 points mispy 05 April 2011 03:08:38AM Permalink

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

-- Richard Feynman

(I don't think he originally meant this in the context of overcoming cognitive bias, but it seems to apply well to that too.)

14 points Apprentice 04 April 2011 03:17:38PM Permalink

Virtually everything in science is ultimately circular, so the main thing is just to make the circles as big as possible.

Richard D. Janda and Brian D. Joseph, 2003, The Handbook of Historical Linguistics, p. 111.

14 points scav 03 August 2011 10:08:20AM Permalink

I confess, for my part, that I have been taken in, over and over again. I have been taken in by acquaintances, and I have been taken in (of course) by friends; far oftener by friends than by any other class of persons. How came I to be so deceived? Had I quite misread their faces? No. Believe me, my first impression of those people, founded on face and manner alone, was invariably true. My mistake was in suffering them to come nearer to me and explain themselves away.

--Hunted Down: the detective stories of Charles Dickens (Charles Dickens)

14 points AngryParsley 03 August 2011 05:00:10AM Permalink

"You could trifle with your mind, using activators and redactors from your own thought-shop, and put yourself back into the state of mind you were in before the Curia forced you to experience your victims' lives."

"Is this some sort of test or quiz? You know I shall not do that."

"Why not?"

Ironjoy started to turn away, but then stopped, turned, and answered the question. “If I were now as I was then, I would gladly change my self to remain as I was then; but I am now as I am now. The me that I am now has no desire to be any other me. Isn’t that the fundamental nature of the self?”

-- The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright

14 points Nic_Smith 02 August 2011 08:05:28PM Permalink

I think that people use a rule of thumb when deciding what things in life are worth learning. Most people seek knowledge in one of the following three categories:

  • What many other people learn (calculus, C++, and so on)
  • What is easy to learn (hula-hooping, Ruby, and so on)
  • What has value that is easy to appreciate (thermonuclear physics, for example, or that ridiculously loud whistle where you stick your fingers in your mouth) -- Land of Lisp. Conrad Barski.
14 points MichaelGR 11 September 2011 04:37:05AM Permalink

“When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.”

-Steve Jobs, [Wired, February 1996]

14 points Normal_Anomaly 03 September 2011 01:08:18AM Permalink

From the day we arrive on the planet

and blinking, step into the sun

there's more to see than can ever be seen

more to do than can ever be done

--The Lion King opening song

14 points p4wnc6 04 October 2011 04:06:03AM Permalink

Most people who quote Einstein’s declaration that “God does not play dice” seem not to realize that a dice-playing God would be an improvement over the actual situation

-Scott Aaronson, from here

14 points JenniferRM 02 November 2011 12:17:36AM Permalink

All scientists despise the ideology of 'breakthroughs' --- I mean the belief that science proceeds from one revelation to another, each one opening up a new world of understanding and advancing still farther a sharp line of demarcation between what is true and what is false. Everyone actually engaged in scientific research knows that this way of looking at things is altogether misleading, and that the frontier between understanding and bewilderment is rather like the plasma membrane of a cell as it creeps over its substratum, a pushing forward here, a retraction there --- an exploratory probing that will eventually move forward the whole body of the cell... in real life, science does not prance from one mountain top to the next.

-Peter Medawar in Does Ethology Throw Any Light on Human Behavior?

14 points RobinZ 02 December 2011 03:18:52AM Permalink

Il est dans la nature humaine de penser sagement et d'agir d'une façon absurde.

English translation: It is human nature to think wisely and to act in an absurd fashion.

Anatole France, Le livre de mon ami (1885)

14 points paper-machine 05 January 2012 03:51:50AM Permalink

A critical analysis of the present global constellation -- one which offers no clear solution, no "practical" advice on what to do, and provides no light at the end of the tunnel, since one is well aware that this light might belong to a train crashing towards us -- usually meets with reproach: "Do you mean we should do nothing? Just sit and wait?" One should gather the courage to answer: "YES, precisely that!" There are situations when the only truly "practical" thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to "wait and see" by means of a patient, critical analysis.

Slavoj Žižek, Violence, emphasis added. Admittedly not the most clear elucidation of the subject of how urgency (fabricated or otherwise) should affect ethical deliberation, but see also his essay "Jack Bauer and the Ethics of Urgency" -- if you're into that sort of thing.

14 points CaveJohnson 08 February 2012 05:51:26PM Permalink

When people talk about the importance of democracy, it is never democracy as it has ever actually functioned, with the politicians that have actually been elected, and the policies that have actually been implemented. It is always democracy as people imagine it will operate once they succeed in electing "the right people" — by which they mean, people who agree almost completely with their own views, and who are consistent and incorruptible in their implementation of the resulting policies.

--Ben O'Neill, here

Considering the above quote can be used to criticize nearly any popular political position I don't think it is inherently mind-killing. Also since we all agree democracy is a good thing this isn't even very political. The original article and context obviously does make it somewhat political.

14 points Alejandro1 01 February 2012 04:55:17PM Permalink

"Stay, 'tis just a figure!" Root laughed rather winningly, reaching out to touch Locke's shoulder.

"A faulty one," Daniel said, "for you are an alchemist."

"I am called an Alchemist. Within living memory, Daniel, everyone who studied what I—and you—study was called by that name. And most persons even today observe no distinction between Alchemy and the younger and more vigorous order of knowledge that is associated with your club."

"I am too exhausted to harry you through all of your evasions. Out of respect for your friends Mr. Locke, and for Leibniz, I shall give you the benefit of the doubt, and wish you well," Daniel said.

"God save you, Mr. Waterhouse."

"And you, Mr. Root. But I say this to you—and you as well, Mr. Locke. As I came in here I saw a map, lately taken from this house, burning in the fire. The map was empty, for it depicted the ocean—most likely, a part of it where no man has ever been. A few lines of latitude were ruled across that vellum void, and some legendary isles drawn in, with great authority, and where the map-maker could not restrain himself he drew phantastickal monsters. That map, to me, is Alchemy. It is good that it burnt, and fitting that it burnt tonight, the eve of a Revolution that I will be so bold as to call my life's work. In a few years Mr. Hooke will learn to make a proper chronometer, finishing what Mr. Huygens began thirty years ago, and then the Royal Society will draw maps with lines of longitude as well as latitude, giving us a grid— what we call a Cartesian grid, though 'twas not his idea—and where there be islands, we will rightly draw them. Where there are none, we will draw none, nor dragons, nor sea-monsters—and that will be the end of Alchemy."

Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver.

14 points NancyLebovitz 06 March 2012 12:15:36PM Permalink

Carefully observe those good qualities wherein our enemies excel us

Plutarch, found here

14 points James_Miller 01 March 2012 03:22:58PM Permalink

Had no idea so much strategy was possible in Rock, Paper, Scissors? The rules of the game itself may be simple, but the human mind is not.

Natalie Wolchover

14 points Konkvistador 12 April 2012 07:39:12AM Permalink

The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place


14 points Ezekiel 04 May 2012 10:52:03PM Permalink

When scientists discuss papers:

"I don't think this inference is entirely reasonable. If you're using several non-independent variables you're liable to accumulate more error than your model accounts for."

When scientists discuss grants:

"A guy who worked at the NSF once told me if we light a candle inside this jackal skull, the funders will smile upon our hopes."

"I'll get the altar!"

~ Zach Weiner, SMBC #2559

14 points Old_Rationality 02 May 2012 11:44:04AM Permalink

The atmosphere of political parties, whether in France or England, is not congenial to the formation of an impartial judgment. A Minister, who is in the thick of a tough parliamentary struggle, must use whatever arguments he can to defend his cause without inquiring too closely whether they are good, bad, or indifferent. However good they may be, they will probably not convince his political opponents, and they can scarcely be so bad as not to carry some sort of conviction to the minds of those who are predisposed to support him.

Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt

14 points Nominull 02 May 2012 01:39:17AM Permalink

Plato says that the unexamined life is not worth living. But what if the examined life turns out to be a clunker as well?

-Kurt Vonnegut

14 points MichaelGR 03 May 2012 05:31:34PM Permalink

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”

  • Confucius
14 points AlexMennen 06 June 2012 04:31:12PM Permalink

The present impossibility of giving a scientific explanation is no proof that there is no scientific explanation. The unexplained is not to be identified with the unexplainable, and the strange and extraordinary nature of a fact is not a justification for attributing it to powers above nature.

-The Catholic Encyclopedia

14 points shminux 05 June 2012 06:05:55PM Permalink

If you pay nothing for expert advise you will value it at epsilon more than nothing, if you pay five figures for it you will clear your schedule and implement recommendations within the day. In addition to this being one of consulting’s worst-kept secrets, it suggests persuasive reasons why you should probably extract a commitment out of software customers prior to giving them access for the software. Doing this will automatically make people value your software more

Patrick McKenzie, the guy who gets instrumental rationality on the gut level.

More from the same source:

I always thought I really hated getting email. It turns out that I was not a good reporter of my own actual behavior, which is something you’ll hear quite a bit if you follow psychological research. (For example, something like 75% of Americans will report they voted for President Obama, which disagrees quite a bit with the ballot box. They do this partially because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they like to been seen as the type of person who voted for the winner. 99% of geeks will report never having bought anything as a result of an email. They do this because they misremember their own behavior and partially because they believe that buying stuff from “spam” is something that people with AOL email addresses do, and hence admitting that they, too, can be marketed to will cause them to lose status. The AppSumo sumo would be a good deal skinnier if that were actually the case, but geeks were all people before they were geeks, and people are statistically speaking terrible at introspection.)

14 points Alejandro1 04 July 2012 08:11:35AM Permalink

Religion begins by being taken for granted; after a time, it is elaborately proved; at last comes a time (the present) when the whole effort is to induce people to let it alone.

--John Stuart Mill (1854).

14 points peter_hurford 02 July 2012 07:35:13PM Permalink

I begin with the assumption that suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical care are bad. I think most people will agree about this, although one may reach the same view by different routes. I shall not argue for this view. People can hold all sorts of eccentric positions, and perhaps from some of them it would not follow that death by starvation is in itself bad. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to refute such positions, and so for brevity I will henceforth take this assumption as accepted. Those who disagree need read no further.

Peter Singer

14 points baiter 02 July 2012 11:27:14PM Permalink

"New rule: If you handle snakes to prove they won't bite you because God is real, and then they bite you -- do the math."

– Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 6/8/2012


14 points lukeprog 22 August 2012 07:03:40PM Permalink

M. Mitchell Waldrop on a meeting between physicists and economists at the Santa Fe Institute: the axioms and theorems and proofs marched across the overhead projection screen, the physicists could only be awestruck at [the economists'] mathematical prowess — awestruck and appalled. They had the same objection that [Brian] Arthur and many other economists had been voicing from within the field for years. "They were almost too good," says one young physicist, who remembers shaking his head in disbelief. "lt seemed as though they were dazzling themselves with fancy mathematics, until they really couldn't see the forest for the trees. So much time was being spent on trying to absorb the mathematics that I thought they often weren't looking at what the models were for, and what they did, and whether the underlying assumptions were any good. In a lot of cases, what was required was just some common sense. Maybe if they all had lower IQs, they'd have been making some better models.”

14 points D_Malik 04 August 2012 04:15:04AM Permalink

Only the ideas that we actually live are of any value.

-- Hermann Hesse, Demian

14 points lukeprog 09 September 2012 11:47:06PM Permalink

...the 2008 financial crisis showed that some [mathematical finance] models were flawed. But those flaws were based on flawed assumptions about the distribution of price changes... Nassim Taleb, a popular author and critic of the financial industry, points out many such flaws but does not include the use of Monte Carlo simulations among them. He himself is a strong proponent of these simulations. Monte Carlo simulations are simply the way we do the math with uncertain quantities. Abandoning Monte Carlos because of the failures of the financial markets makes as much sense as giving up on addition and subtraction because of the failure of accounting at Enron or AIG’s overexposure in credit default swaps.

Douglas Hubbard, How to Measure Anything

14 points Alicorn 17 September 2012 05:43:03PM Permalink

I've always thought of the SkiFree monster as a metaphor for the inevitability of death.

"SkiFree, huh? You know, you can press 'F' to go faster than the monster and escape."

-- xkcd 667

14 points [deleted] 04 September 2012 06:55:38AM Permalink

"If at first you don't succeed, switch to power tools." -- The Red Green Show

14 points BlazeOrangeDeer 02 October 2012 08:04:52AM Permalink

From the stories I expected the world to be sad

And it was.

And I expected it to be wonderful.

It was.

I just didn't expect it to be so big.

-- xkcd: Click and Drag

14 points lukeprog 05 November 2012 08:08:07PM Permalink

I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything... but I don't see my way to your conclusion.

Thomas Huxley

14 points DSimon 02 November 2012 05:55:00AM Permalink

Remember, kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down.

-- Adam Savage

14 points NancyLebovitz 13 December 2012 07:11:36AM Permalink

It’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking; and it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about.

John Cleese


13 points Rune 18 April 2009 06:42:02PM Permalink

"Science is interesting and if you don't agree, you can fuck off."

-- Richard Dawkins quoting a former editor of New Scientist magazine.

13 points badger 18 April 2009 04:43:33AM Permalink

The greatest enemy of truth is very often not the lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, pervasive, and unrealistic.

-- John F. Kennedy

(For those interested, I'm pulling most of these quotes from Rational Choice in an Uncertain World by Robyn Dawes, which I just began)

13 points Yvain 15 June 2009 09:24:40AM Permalink

"Imagine a world where everything changes to match the state of your mind, where evidence never pushes back against your theories, where your every thought is correct simply because you think it so. Can there be any better definition of hell for a man of learning? "

-- Bradeline, Fall From Heaven

13 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2009 10:45:38PM Permalink

The Mathemagician nodded knowingly and stroked his chin several times. "You'll find," he remarked gently, "that the only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort."

-- Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2009 10:08:21PM Permalink

I don't know how many people I've met who hold beliefs like "in three card stud a four is more likely to come up after an eight than a six." What the fuck? Is the concept of random that hard to grasp?

-- Alphadominance

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 03:50:52AM Permalink

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

-- DanielLC

13 points Kaj_Sotala 02 September 2009 05:59:39PM Permalink

"You can safely say that you have made God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -- Reverend Robert Cromey

13 points thomblake 01 September 2009 07:55:37PM Permalink

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

-Bertrand Russell

13 points RichardKennaway 09 January 2010 09:39:30AM Permalink

"You cannot understand what a person is saying unless you understand who they are arguing with."

-- Don Symons, quoted by Tooby and Cosmides.

13 points Zack_M_Davis 07 January 2010 09:50:16AM Permalink

2 + 3 = 5, 3 + 2 = 5, 5 - 2 =3, and 5 - 3 = 2 are not four facts, but four different ways of looking at one fact. Furthermore, that fact is not a fact of arithmetic, to be taken on faith and memorized like nonsense syllables. It is a fact of nature, which children can discover for themselves, and rediscover or verify for themselves as many times as they need or want to.

The fact is this:

***** -- *** **

If you have before you a group of objects--coins or stones, for example---that looks like the group on the left, then you can make it into two groups that look like the ones on the right. Or--and this is what the two-way arrow means---if you have two groups that look like the ones on the right, you can make them into a group that looks like the one on the left.

This is not a fact of arithmetic, but a fact of nature. It did not become true only when human beings invented arithmetic. It has nothing to do with human beings. It is true all over the universe. One doesn't have to know any arithmetic to discover or verify it. An infant playing with blocks or a dog pawing at sticks might do that operation, though probably neither of them would notice that he had done it; for them, the difference between ***** and *** ** would be a difference that didn't make any difference. Arithmetic began (and begins) when human beings began to notice and think about this and other numerical facts of nature.

----John Holt, Learning All the Time

13 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:13:36AM Permalink

"We can get very confused, because we think that words must have some secret meaning that we have to figure out. They don't. They are just noises or marks, and they mean whatever experience you have learned to mean by them. People tend to use similar words in similar situations, but unless you have specifically agreed on what the words will mean, in terms of underlying experiences, there's no way to know what another person understands when you use them. The experience you attach to a word when you say it isn't automatically the same as the experience another person attaches to the same word when hearing it."

William T. Powers

13 points Seth_Goldin 20 March 2010 05:45:56PM Permalink

"As one shocked 42-year-old manager exclaimed in the middle of a self-reflective career planning exercise, 'Oh, no! I just realized I let a 20-year-old choose my wife and my career!'"

-- Douglas T. Hall, Protean Careers of the 21st Century

13 points RichardKennaway 01 April 2010 10:03:17PM Permalink

It is always advisable to perceive clearly our ignorance.

Charles Darwin, "The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals", ch.3.

13 points utilitymonster 08 May 2010 04:18:43PM Permalink

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey..., without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

--Samuel Johnson

13 points sketerpot 03 May 2010 07:52:24PM Permalink

"I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to misattribute it to Voltaire."


(The phrase was written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall as a summary of Voltaire's attitude toward free speech. Since then, people started attributing it to Voltaire himself, and the myth has spread far and wide, as nobody really checks to see if he actually said that. Hearing something somewhere is plenty of evidence for most people, most of the time, and the conviction gets more solid over time. Which brings me to my second rationality quote, from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.")

13 points NancyLebovitz 02 May 2010 11:02:28AM Permalink

Discussion of how not to get lost in the woods

Arg, this post is bringing back memories of all kinds of backcountry stupidity (including a fair amount of my own stupidity), so I can't resist adding a comment about GPS devices. Any navigation tool -- GPS device, map, compass, sextant, whatever -- only works if you are using the navigation tool to relate yourself to the surrounding landscape. And you should never trust maps, GPS devices, compasses, or any tool if it contradicts what you're seeing in the surrounding landscape. I own a top-notch brand of GPS device, I got a top-quality map to go inside it, and when I checked the map against a landscape I knew well, I found error after error (which is true with all maps, by the way; one of the reasons I like paper maps is that I can make notations on it when I find errors).

13 points RobinZ 01 May 2010 01:21:51PM Permalink


"Then the one called Raltariki is really a demon?" asked Tak.

"Yes—and no," said Yama. "If by 'demon' you mean a malefic, supernatural creature, possessed of great powers, life span, and the ability to temporarily assume virtually any shape—then the answer is no. This is the generally accepted definition, but it is untrue in one respect."

"Oh? And what may that be?"

"It is not a supernatural creature."

"But it is all those other things?"


"Then I fail to see what difference it makes whether it be supernatural or not—so long as it is malefic, possesses great powers and life span and has the ability to change its shape at will."

"Ah, but it makes a great deal of difference, you see. It is the difference between the unknown and the unknowable, between science and fantasy—it is a matter of essence. The four points of the compass be logic, knowledge, wisdom and the unknown. Some bow in that final direction. Others advance upon it. To bow before the one is to lose sight of the three. I may submit to the unknown, but never to the unknowable. The man who bows in that final direction is either a saint or a fool. I have no use for either."

Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light. (h/t zhurnaly)

13 points DanielVarga 06 June 2010 05:55:56AM Permalink

I imagine that if my friend finally came to the conclusion that he were a machine, he would be infinitely crestfallen. I think he would think: "My God! How Horrible! I am only a machine!" But if I should find out I were a machine, my attitude would be totally different. I would say: "How amazing! I never before realized that machines could be so marvelous!"

(Raymond Smullyan)

I have found it in an OB comment by Zubon, but it was never posted as a rationality quote.

13 points mattnewport 03 June 2010 06:43:52PM Permalink

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again. Then quit. There's no use in being a damn fool about it.

-- W. C. Fields

13 points DSimon 02 July 2010 10:25:36PM Permalink

When I was 14, my father was stationed in Japan. I went rock climbing with this kid from school. He fell and got injured, and I had to bring him to the hospital. We came in through the wrong entrance, and passed this guy in the hall. He was a janitor. My friend came down with an infection, and the doctors didn't know what to do. So they brought in the janitor. He was a doctor. And a Buraku - one of Japan's untouchables. His ancestors had been slaughterers, gravediggers. And this guy knew that he wasn't accepted by the staff, didn't even try. He didn't dress well. He didn't pretend to be one of them. People around that place didn't think he had anything they wanted, except when they needed him - because he was right, which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him.

-- Dr. Greg House

13 points brazzy 02 July 2010 09:37:53AM Permalink

The necessity for marking our classes has brought with it a bias for false and excessive contrast, and we never invent a term but we are at once cramming it with implications beyond its legitimate content. There is no feat of irrelevance that people will not perform quite easily in this way; there is no class, however accidental, to which they will not at once ascribe deeply distinctive qualities. The seventh sons of seventh sons have remarkable powers of insight; people with a certain sort of ear commit crimes of violence; people with red hair have souls of fire; all democratic socialists are trustworthy persons; all people born in Ireland have vivid imaginations and all Englishmen are clods; all Hindoos are cowardly liars; all curly-haired people are good-natured; all hunch-backs are energetic and wicked, and all Frenchmen eat frogs. Such stupid generalisations have been believed with the utmost readiness, and acted upon by great numbers of sane, respectable people. And when the class is one's own class, when it expresses one of the aggregations to which one refers one's own activities, then the disposition to divide all qualities between this class and its converse, and to cram one's own class with every desirable distinction, becomes overwhelming.

-- H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia

13 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:50:00AM Permalink

Silas will like this one:

Menahem sighed. 'How can one explain colours to a blind man?'

'One says', snapped Rek, 'that red is like silk, blue is like cool water, and yellow is like sunshine on the face.'

-- David Gemmell "Legend"

13 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:48:51AM Permalink

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.

-- Mark Twain, Old Times on the Mississippi

13 points simplicio 04 August 2010 05:32:50AM Permalink

On rationalization, aka the giant sucking cognitive black hole.

Though [Ben Franklin] had been a vegetarian on principle, on one long sea crossing the men were grilling fish, and his mouth started watering:

I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollectd that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "if you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet.

Franklin concluded: "So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do."

-Jonathan Haidt, "The Happiness Hypothesis"

13 points Rain 03 August 2010 12:48:23PM Permalink

Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to be always part of unanimity.

-- Christopher Morley

13 points RichardKennaway 03 August 2010 07:54:49AM Permalink

When I was a young man about to go out into the world, my father says to me a very valuable thing. He says to me like this... "Son," the old guy says, "I am sorry that I am not able to bank roll you to a very large start, but not having any potatoes which to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice. One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of the deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, do not bet this man, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider."

-- Sky Masterson, a character in Guys and Dolls

13 points sark 07 September 2010 03:52:55AM Permalink

House: There's never any proof. Five different doctors come up with five different diagnoses based on the same evidence.

Cuddy: You don't have any evidence. And nobody knows anything, huh? How is it you always think you're right?

House: I don't. I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.

13 points Craig_Heldreth 02 September 2010 05:59:17PM Permalink

It is often said that experiments should be made without preconceived ideas. This is impossible.

--Henri Poincare, Science and Hypothesis.

13 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2010 07:50:13AM Permalink

There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

13 points Kobayashi 06 October 2010 11:28:21PM Permalink

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

  • Zendegi, by Greg Egan (2010)

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

13 points Apprentice 06 October 2010 10:47:42AM Permalink

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

-- Metallica

13 points Unnamed 05 October 2010 08:48:57PM Permalink

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

-- adapted from Reinhold Niebuhr

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

13 points MichaelGR 04 November 2010 09:10:40PM Permalink

It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful, they are found because it was possible to find them. -J. Robert Oppenheimer.

13 points xamdam 03 November 2010 01:41:32PM Permalink

We're all puppets, Laurie. I'm just a puppet who can see the strings.

Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen)

13 points MichaelGR 03 January 2011 09:33:59PM Permalink

In a strong enough wind, even turkeys can fly.

-Saying of investors

13 points gerg 03 January 2011 09:08:12PM Permalink

It is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not desire.

-- Thucydides

13 points billswift 03 January 2011 07:44:47PM Permalink

When somebody makes a statement you don't understand, don't tell him he's crazy. Ask him what he means.

-- H Beam Piper, Space Viking

13 points lukeprog 12 February 2011 03:30:48PM Permalink

If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Paul Graham

13 points benelliott 01 February 2011 08:28:48PM Permalink

Admitting error clears the score and proves you wiser than before.

--Arthur Guiterman

13 points billswift 01 February 2011 07:29:20PM Permalink

How emotionally entangled are you with your point of view? Test yourself - defend an opposing view, believing your life depends upon it.

-- Marc Stiegler, David's Sling

13 points wedrifid 04 March 2011 07:46:53AM Permalink

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).

13 points TobyBartels 03 March 2011 02:54:27AM Permalink

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.

13 points atucker 02 March 2011 05:38:28PM Permalink

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

13 points Confringus 04 April 2011 08:39:08PM Permalink

"Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Douglas Adams

This quote defines my approach to science and philosophy; a phenomenon can be wondrous on its own merit, it need not be magical or extraordinary to have value.

13 points Pugovitz 07 June 2011 07:18:02PM Permalink

"Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." ~Thomas H. Huxley

One of my favorite quotes; from the father of the word "agnostic."

13 points wedrifid 01 June 2011 09:57:43AM Permalink

A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.

-- Kahlil Gibran

13 points djcb 03 July 2011 10:28:23AM Permalink

In an article in a women’s magazine many years ago we advised the readers to buy their stocks as they bought their groceries, not as they bought their perfume.

-- Benjamin Graham The Intelligent Investor, 1949.

(I really like Graham's rational, down-to-earth approach to investing, and this quote is a good example of the kind of thinking he wants to convey)

13 points lukeprog 16 September 2011 12:53:43AM Permalink

It is remarkable that [probability theory], which originated in the consideration of games of chance, should have become the most important object of human knowledge... The most important questions of life are, for the most part, really only problems of probability.


13 points DanielLC 04 October 2011 04:31:12AM Permalink

"-but I think it would probably kill you."

"Comforting to know. Well, more comforting than not knowing it could kill you," I remark pointedly.

Sam Hughes

13 points MichaelHoward 02 October 2011 03:36:38PM Permalink

It does not do to dwell on dreams... and forget to live.

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

13 points Konkvistador 09 November 2011 12:05:44AM Permalink

Virtually no idea is too ridiculous to be accepted, even by very intelligent and highly educated people, if it provides a way for them to feel special and important. Some confuse that feeling with idealism.

--Thomas Sowell

13 points wedrifid 05 November 2011 07:49:49AM Permalink

Sweetie, if you work reaaaaly hard, and focus reaaaaly well, and there aren't that many people who are still better at what you do than you are despite your best efforts, you can be whatever you want. If you don't die.

Zach Weiner, SMBC]

13 points Oligopsony 04 November 2011 10:04:34PM Permalink

“Tell me, Eben: how is’t, d’you think, that the planets are moved in their courses?”

“Why, said Ebenezer, “’tis that the cosmos is filled with little particles moving in vortices, each of which centers on a star; and ‘tis the subtle push and pull of these particles in our solar vortex that slides the planets along their orbs – is’t not?”

“So saith Descartes,” Burlingame smiled. “And d’you haply recall what is the nature of light?”

“If I have’t right,” replied Ebenezer, “’tis an aspect of the vortices – of the press of inward and outward forces in ‘em. The celestial fire is sent through space from the vortices by this pressure, which imparts a transitional motion to little light globules – ”

“Which Renatus kindly hatched for that occasion,” Burlingame interrupted. “And what’s more he allows his globules both a rectilinear and a rotatary motion. If only the first occurs when the globules smite our retinae, we see white light; if both, we see color. And if this were not magical enough – mirabile dictu! – when the rotatory motion surpasseth the rectilinear, we see blue; when the reverse, we see red; and when the twain are equal, we see yellow. What fantastical drivel!”

“You mean ‘tis not the truth? I must say, Henry, it sounds reasonable to me. In sooth, there is a seed of poetry in it; it hath an elegance.”

“Aye, it hath every virtue and but one small defect, which is, that the universe doth not operate in that wise.”

-John Barth, the Sot-Weed Factor

13 points Hey 02 November 2011 09:01:09AM Permalink

I am thinking of coding up a web app for accumulating, voting, and commenting on quotes. Kind of like but much fancier.

Is that something you guys would be interested in? If so, what features would you want?

This would be free to use of course, and the site would not lock down the data (ie it would be exportable to various formats).

I am thinking there are a lot of communities that post quotes for internal use, and might be interested in a kind of unified web site for this. My initial thought is that it would be like Reddit, where each tribe/community/subculture/topic/etc gets its own subdirectory.

13 points djcb 01 November 2011 09:48:31PM Permalink

The nurse recorded the time of death, 9:21 P.M. He discovered, oddly, that the clock had halted at that moment —just the sort of mystical phenomenon that appealed to unscientific people. Then an explanation occurred to him. He knew the clock was fragile, because he had repaired it several times, and he decided that the nurse must have stopped it by picking it up to check the time in the dim light.

[ James Gleick - Genius - The work and Life of Richard Feynman; this is a really chilling passage, which describes the moments just after Feynman's wife has passed away, which devastated him. Somehow, this struck me.]

13 points jsbennett86 01 November 2011 12:53:29AM Permalink

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

13 points GabrielDuquette 31 October 2011 06:11:05PM Permalink

Would anybody tell me if I was getting stupider?

Mike Patton

13 points paper-machine 06 December 2011 06:34:25AM Permalink

Rejecting all organs of information therefore but my senses, I rid myself of the Pyrrhonisms with which an indulgence in speculations hyperphysical and antiphysical so uselessly occupy and disquiet the mind. A single sense may indeed be sometimes decieved, but rarely: and never all our senses together, with their faculty of reasoning. They evidence realities; and there are enough of these for all the purposes of life, without plunging into the fathomless abyss of dreams and phantasms. I am satisfied, and sufficiently occupied with the things which are, without tormenting or troubling myself about those which may indeed be, but of which I have no evidence.

I am sure that I really know many, many, things, and none more surely than that I love you with all my heart, and pray for the continuance of your life until you shall be tired of it yourself.

Thomas Jefferson, to John Adams, August 15, 1820.

13 points J_Taylor 04 December 2011 12:04:58PM Permalink

When you choose

How much postage to use,

When you know

What's the chance it will snow,

When you bet

And you end up in debt,

Oh try as you may,

You just can't get away

From mathematics!

Tom Lehrer, Thats Mathematics

(If one were so inclined, one could give a quasi-rationalist commentary on practically every lyric in that song.)

13 points gwern 01 December 2011 04:35:04AM Permalink

"Suffering by nature or chance never seems so painful as suffering inflicted on us by the arbitrary will of another."

--Arthur Schopenhauer

13 points Anubhav 08 January 2012 05:16:29AM Permalink

Imagine willpower doesn't exist. That's step 1 to a better future.

Second slide of this powerpoint by Stanford's Persuasive Tech Lab.

13 points NancyLebovitz 10 January 2012 09:33:38PM Permalink

In short, they made unrealistic demands on reality and reality did not oblige them.

Cory Doctorow talking about DRM, but I think there are some wider applications.

13 points fortyeridania 02 January 2012 12:03:22PM Permalink

The truth is common property. You can't distinguish your group by doing things that are rational, and believing things that are true.

Paul Graham, Lies We Tell Kids

13 points MixedNuts 02 January 2012 02:20:33PM Permalink

The ultimate theological question is: ‘Where does the Sun go at night?’.

The answer that so many civilisations agreed for so long was: ‘The Sun is driven by one of the gods, and at night it goes under the Earth to fight a battle. There is at least some risk that the god will lose this battle, and so the Sun may not rise tomorrow’. It’s something the human race understood was a cast iron fact before they knew how to cast iron. It survived as the working model twenty-five times longer than the four hundred years we’ve understood the Earth goes around the Sun.

Lance Parkin, Above us only sky

This is less a rationality quote than a "yay science" quote, but I find that impressive beyond words. For millenia that was a huge and frightening question, and then we went and answered it, and now it's too trivial to point out. We found out where the sun goes at night. I want to carve a primer on cosmology in gold letters on a mountain, entitled something in all caps along the lines of "HERE IS THE GLORY OF HUMANKIND".

13 points [deleted] 01 January 2012 12:17:44AM Permalink

Science isn't just a job, it's a means of determining truth. Methods of determining truth that aren't trustworthy in the laboratory don't become trustworthy when you leave it. There is no doctrine of applying scientific methodology to every aspect of one's life, you either follow trustworthy methods of investigation or you don't, and "follow trustworthy methods of investigation" is the core of science.

~Desertopa, TVTropes Forum

13 points army1987 08 February 2012 05:21:12PM Permalink

Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.

H. Jackson Brown

(The second-last paragraph of The Power of Agency by Lukeprog reminded me of it.)

13 points gwern 01 February 2012 03:27:12PM Permalink

On the Outside View:

"Of course, if you want to, you can always come up with reasons why the lessons from the Neo-Sumerian Empire don't apply to you."

--Steven Kaas

13 points taelor 07 March 2012 09:00:12AM Permalink

But even as light is opposed by darkness, science and reason have their enemies. Superstition and belief in magic are as old as man himself; for the intransigence of facts and our limitations in controlling them can be powerfully hard to take. Add to this the reflection that we are in an age when it is popular to distrust whatever is seen as the established view or the Establishment, and it is no wonder that anti-rational attitudes and doctrines are mustering so much support. Still, we can understand what encourages the anti-rationalist turn without losing our zeal for opposing it. A current Continuing Education catalogue offers a course description, under the heading "Philosophy", that typifies the dark view at its darkest: "Children of science that we are, we have based our cultural patterns on logic, on the cognitive, on the verifiable. But more and more there has crept into current research and study the haunting suggestion that there are other kinds of knowledge unfathomable by our cognition, other ways of knowing beyond the limits of our logic, which are deserving of our serious attention." Now "knowledge unfathomable by our cognition" is simply incoherent, as attention to the words makes clear. Moreover, all that creeps is not gold. One wonders how many students enrolled.

-- W. V. O. Quine

13 points EllisD 02 March 2012 02:24:29PM Permalink

Whether a mathematical proposition is true or not is indeed independent of physics. But the proof of such a proposition is a matter of physics only. There is no such thing as abstractly proving something, just as there is no such thing as abstractly knowing something. Mathematical truth is absolutely necessary and transcendent, but all knowledge is generated by physical processes, and its scope and limitations are conditioned by the laws of nature.

-David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity.

13 points bungula 01 March 2012 01:30:50PM Permalink

It's the Face of Boe. I'm absolutely certain about this, absolutely positive. Of course I'll probably turn out to be incorrect

Sam Hughes, talking about the first season finale of Doctor Who, differentiating between the subjective feeling of certainty and the actual probability estimate.

13 points Bugmaster 05 April 2012 05:48:37AM Permalink

-- So... if they've got armor on, it's a battle !

-- And who told you that ?

-- A knight...

-- How'd you know he was a knight ?

-- Well... that's 'cause... he'd got armor on ?

-- You don't have to be a knight to buy armor. Any idiot can buy armor.

-- How do you know ?

-- 'Cause I sold armor.

-Game of Thrones (TV show)

13 points Konkvistador 23 May 2012 05:45:15PM Permalink
Is it fair to say you're enjoying the controversy you've started?
Thiel: I don't enjoy being contrarian.
Yes you do. *laughs*
Thiel: No, I think it is much more important to be right than to be contrarian.

--Peter Thiel, on 60 Minutes

13 points GabrielDuquette 08 May 2012 02:24:04PM Permalink

The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding.

Cheryl Strayed, Wild

13 points Vaniver 10 May 2012 04:07:28PM Permalink

If rational thought is useful at all, then it must be maintained as a practice. Parents must teach it to their children, teachers must teach it to their students, and people must respect each other for their rationality. If the practice of rational thought is not to be lost, some group of people, at least, will have to maintain it.

-Jonathan Baron

13 points AlexSchell 02 May 2012 02:32:49AM Permalink

[Instrumentalism about science] has a long and rather sorry philosophical history: most contemporary philosophers of science regard it as fairly conclusively refuted. But I think it’s easier to see what’s wrong with it just by noticing that real science just isn’t like this. According to instrumentalism, palaeontologists talk about dinosaurs so they can understand fossils, astrophysicists talk about stars so they can understand photoplates, virologists talk about viruses so they can understand NMR instruments, and particle physicists talk about the Higgs Boson so they can understand the LHC. In each case, it’s quite clear that instrumentalism is the wrong way around. Science is not “about” experiments; science is about the world, and experiments are part of its toolkit.

David Wallace

13 points CasioTheSane 05 May 2012 07:01:54PM Permalink

We're even wrong about which mistakes we're making.

-Carl Winfeld

13 points arundelo 05 July 2012 02:13:49PM Permalink

However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

-- Clay Shirky

13 points Alicorn 22 August 2012 05:09:26AM Permalink

Some critics of education have said that examinations are unrealistic; that nobody on the job would ever be evaluated without knowing when the evaluation would be conducted and what would be on the evaluation.

Sure. When Rudy Giuliani took office as mayor of New York, someone told him "On September 11, 2001, terrorists will fly airplanes into the World Trade Center, and you will be judged on how effectively you cope."


When you skid on an icy road, nobody will listen when you complain it's unfair because you weren't warned in advance, had no experience with winter driving and had never been taught how to cope with a skid.

-- Steven Dutch

13 points lukeprog 09 September 2012 12:46:27AM Permalink

If a thing can be observed in any way at all, it lends itself to some type of measurement method. No matter how “fuzzy” the measurement is, it’s still a measurement if it tells you more than you knew before.

Douglas Hubbard, How to Measure Anything

13 points Konkvistador 04 September 2012 08:40:20AM Permalink

Erode irreplaceable institutions related to morality and virtue because of their contingent associations with flawed human groups #lifehacks

--Kate Evans on Twitter

13 points NihilCredo 04 November 2012 07:37:34PM Permalink

The great thing about reality is that eventually you hit it.

Source: Andrew Sullivan in an otherwise fairly bland political post

13 points lukeprog 21 November 2012 11:22:50AM Permalink

Philosophy is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat. Metaphysics is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there. Theology is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat that isn't there and shouting "I found it!" Science is like being in a dark room and looking for a black cat using a flashlight.


13 points gotdistractedbythe 06 December 2012 12:37:13AM Permalink

"Right and wrong do exist. Just because you don't know what the right answer is — maybe there's even no way you could know what the right answer is — doesn't make your answer right or even okay. It's much simpler than that. It's just plain wrong."

--Dr. House

13 points michaelkeenan 01 December 2012 05:27:13PM Permalink

The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

-- Eden Phillpotts

12 points Vladimir_Nesov 18 April 2009 10:26:10PM Permalink

One disadvantage of having a little intelligence is that one can invent myths out of his own imagination, and come to believe them. Wild animals, lacking imagination, almost never do disastrously stupid things out of false perceptions of the world about them. But humans create artificial disasters for themselves when their ideology makes them unable to perceive where their own self-interest lies.

-- E.T. Jaynes, Probability Theory as Logic [pdf].

12 points badger 18 April 2009 04:48:59AM Permalink

Reason means truth, and those who are not governed by it take the chance that someday a sunken fact will rip the bottom out of their boat.

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

12 points anonym 15 June 2009 02:18:22AM Permalink

Knowing that one may be subject to bias is one thing; being able to correct it is another.

Jon Elster

12 points hrishimittal 03 July 2009 03:10:10PM Permalink have to make a conscious effort to keep your ideas about what you want from being contaminated by what seems possible.This is isomorphic to the principle that you should prevent your beliefs about how things are from being contaminated by how you wish they were. Most people let them mix pretty promiscuously. The continuing popularity of religion is the most visible index of that.

-- pg

12 points JustinShovelain 02 July 2009 10:55:13PM Permalink

Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.

-- Edward de Bono

12 points SilasBarta 02 July 2009 08:39:51PM Permalink

"An economic transaction is a solved political problem."

--Abba Lerner

12 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 August 2009 03:52:00AM Permalink

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

-- Ibsen, 1881

12 points anonym 01 September 2009 03:32:45PM Permalink

Reality is not optional.

Thomas Sowell

12 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:13:44AM Permalink

It does not matter how frequently something succeeds if failure is too costly to bear.—Nicholas Nassim Taleb

(i.e.: don't forget to put, in your utility functions, the damn appropriate weight of those highly-improbable-but-high-negative-impact tragedies!)

12 points RobinZ 22 October 2009 04:45:27PM Permalink

There is an unfortunate optical illusion - a variant on the Doppler effect - that besets all frauds. It's unfortunate, because it has the effect of exacerbating the pecuniary losses that fraud victims endure, by unfairly leaving them, like many rape victims, irrationally ashamed of themselves.

The Doppler principle we posit holds that as a victim approaches a swindler, he sees nothing but green lights. But as soon as he realizes that his money is gone, he spins around and beholds, as if by magic, bright red flags as far as the eye can see.

-- Roger Parloff, senior editor, "More brazen than Madoff?", Fortune, 2009-03-31

12 points MichaelGR 30 November 2009 12:22:38AM Permalink

"Stressing output is the key to improving productivity, while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite."

--Andrew S. Grove

12 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2009 11:42:44PM Permalink

"Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of "world history," but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened."

-- Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense

12 points MichaelGR 08 January 2010 08:59:15PM Permalink

This problem affects a question close to Frances Kamm’s work: what she calls the Problem of Distance in Morality (PDM). Kamm says that her intuition consistently finds that moral obligations attach to things that are close to us, but not to thinks that are far away. According to her, if we see a child drowning in a pond and there’s a machine nearby which, for a dollar, will scoop him out, we’re morally obligated to give the machine a dollar. But if the machine is here but the scoop and child are on the other side of the globe, we don’t have to put a dollar in the machine. --Aaron Swartz

12 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:37:36PM Permalink

A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

-- Alexander Pope

12 points Unnamed 07 January 2010 05:33:41PM Permalink

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"

-- attributed to George Carlin

12 points Zack_M_Davis 01 February 2010 06:38:17PM Permalink

'Cause it's gonna be the future soon

And I won't always be this way

When the things that make me weak and strange get engineered away

--Jonothan Coulton

12 points XiXiDu 01 February 2010 10:50:03AM Permalink

The introduction of suitable abstractions is our only mental aid to organize and master complexity.

-- Edsger W. Dijkstra

12 points ABranco 01 March 2010 11:50:20PM Permalink

A touchstone to determine the actual worth of an "intellectual" — find out how he feels about astrology. —Robert Heinlein

12 points Rain 01 March 2010 09:53:26PM Permalink

Truth is beautiful, without doubt; but so are lies.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

12 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:57:20PM Permalink

"Successful zealots don't argue to win. They argue to move the goalposts and to make it appear sane to do so."

-- Seth Godin

12 points RichardKennaway 01 March 2010 08:56:04PM Permalink

"Death is the most terrible of all things; for it is the end, and nothing is thought to be any longer either good or bad for the dead."

-- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The halt can manage a horse,

the handless a flock,

The deaf be a doughty fighter,

To be blind is better than to burn on a pyre:

There is nothing the dead can do.

-- Havamal

12 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 March 2010 04:02:57PM Permalink

I haven't taken this position just to be difficult. To look around, the world does appear to be flat, so I think it is incumbent on others to prove decisively that it isn't. And I don't think that burden of proof has been met yet.

-- Daniel Shenton, President of the Flat Earth Society as of 2010

12 points AlexMennen 05 April 2010 06:06:58AM Permalink

An atheist walked into a bar, but seeing no bartender he revised his initial assumption and decided he only walked into a room.

12 points gregconen 04 April 2010 04:52:19PM Permalink

Do not imagine that mathematics is hard and crabbed, and repulsive to common sense. It is merely the etherealization of common sense.

WIlliam Thomson, Lord Kelvin

12 points djcb 02 April 2010 12:20:39PM Permalink

The white line down the center of the road is a mediator, and very likely it can err substantially towards one side the other before the disadvantaged side finds advantage in denying its authority.


-- Schelling, Strategy of conflict, p144

[The book was mentioned a couple of times here on LW, and is a nice introduction to the use of game theory in geopolitics]

12 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:09:37AM Permalink

Unfortunately for the good sense of mankind, the fact of their fallibility is far from carrying the weight in their practical judgment, which is always allowed to it in theory; for while every one well knows himself to be fallible, few think it necessary to take any precautions against their own fallibility, or admit the supposition that any opinion, of which they feel very certain, may be one of the examples of the error to which they acknowledge themselves to be liable.

-- John Stuart Mill

12 points anonym 02 May 2010 03:08:13AM Permalink

There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophic systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of the epoch.

-- Alfred North Whitehead

12 points MichaelGR 01 May 2010 05:48:07PM Permalink

By definition, all but the last doomsday prediction is false. Yet it does not follow, as many seem to think, that all doomsday predictions must be false; what follow is only that all such predictions but one are false.

-Richard A. Posner, Catastrophe: Risk and Response, p. 13

12 points Daniel_Burfoot 02 June 2010 04:26:51AM Permalink

To a very great extent, the term science is reserved for fields that do progress in obvious ways. But does a field make progress because it is a science, or is it a science because it makes progress?

-Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

12 points roland 01 June 2010 06:28:21PM Permalink

Prevent all problems and get nothing done, or accept an allowable level of small problems and focus on the big things. --Timothy Ferriss

12 points Kaj_Sotala 08 July 2010 07:36:26PM Permalink

"Anyone who believes that the theory of evolution implies moral darwinism, and who also believes in the theory of gravity, has a moral duty to go jump off a cliff." -- Ari Rahikkala

12 points Kazuo_Thow 01 July 2010 10:02:12PM Permalink

This is what fascinates me most in existence: the peculiar necessity of imagining what is, in fact, real.

-- Philip Gourevitch

12 points RichardKennaway 03 August 2010 07:44:31AM Permalink

Man cannot understand the perfection and imperfections of his chosen art if he cannot see the value in other arts. Following rules only permits development up to a point in technique and then the student and artist has to learn more and seek further. It makes sense to study other arts as well as those of strategy. Who has not learned something more about themselves by watching the activities of others? To learn the sword study the guitar. To learn the fist study commerce. To just study the sword will make you narrow-minded and will not permit you to grow outward.

-- Musashi, "A Book of Five Rings"

12 points arch1 01 September 2010 08:32:17PM Permalink

A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering. (Bertrand Russell)

12 points brazzy 01 September 2010 08:05:25AM Permalink

The art of ignoring is one of the accomplishments of every well-bred girl, so carefully instilled that at last she can even ignore her own thoughts and her own knowledge.

-- H.G. Wells, Ann Veronica

12 points Vladimir_M 06 October 2010 10:49:54PM Permalink

Prompted by the discussion of Sam Harriss idea that science should provide for a universal moral code, I thought of this suitable reply given long ago:

[The] doctrine of right and wrong is perpetually disputed, both by the pen and the sword: whereas the doctrine of lines and figures is not so, because men care not in that subject what be truth, as a thing that crosses no man's ambition, profit, or lust. For I doubt not, but if it had been a thing contrary to any man's right of dominion, or to the interest of men that have dominion, that the three angles of a triangle should be equal to two angles of a square, that doctrine [would] have been, if not disputed, yet by the burning of all books of geometry suppressed, as far as he whom it concerned was able.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)

(It also provides for some interesting perspective on the current epistemological state of various academic fields that are taken seriously as a source of guidance for government policy.)

12 points komponisto 05 October 2010 07:02:24PM Permalink

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

-- Bertrand Russell

(Quoted, in Italian translation, on p. 174 of Amanda Knox's appeal brief.)

12 points RolfAndreassen 05 October 2010 06:09:40PM Permalink

"Ideas are tested by experiment." That is the core of science. All else is bookkeeping.

12 points nazgulnarsil 09 December 2010 04:49:02PM Permalink

"Imagine being told you were made for a purpose, and that longevity and happiness are not in the list of design objectives." -David Eubanks, Life Artificial

12 points Rain 06 December 2010 03:06:16AM Permalink

Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.

-- Laurens Van der Post

12 points MichaelGR 05 December 2010 09:49:21PM Permalink

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

-George Bernard Shaw

12 points RichardKennaway 03 December 2010 09:15:01PM Permalink

"When I start to wonder if black swans exist, I put down my copy of Mind and pick up my copy of Nature."

-- Ariadne (former columnist in New Scientist).

12 points [deleted] 07 January 2011 07:53:08PM Permalink

Dirge without Music

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned

With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,

They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

12 points Nevin 05 January 2011 05:33:20AM Permalink

The new XKCD is highly relevant.

Okay, middle school students, it's the first Tuesday in February.

This means that by law and custom, we must spend the morning reading though the Wikipedia article List of Common Misconceptions, so you can spend the rest of your lives being a little less wrong.

The guests at every party you'll ever attend thank us in advance.

Subtext: I wish I lived in this universe.

12 points MichaelHoward 04 January 2011 08:49:53PM Permalink

You can make a small program (say, 1,000 lines) work through brute force even when breaking every rule of good style. For a larger program, this is simply not so. If the structure of a 100,000-line program is bad, you will find that new errors are introduced as fast as old ones are removed.

-- Bjarne Stroustrup

12 points MichaelGR 03 January 2011 09:32:11PM Permalink

Take the bettors in the racetrack experiment. Thirty seconds before putting down their money, they had been tentative and uncertain; thirty seconds after the deed, they were significantly more optimistic ans self-assured. The act of making a final decision--in this case, of buying a ticket--had been the critical factor. Once a stand had been taken, the need for consistency pressured these people to bring what they felt and believed into line with what they had already done. They simply convinced themselves that they had made the right choice and, no doubt, felt better and it all.

-Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The psychology of Persuasion, p.59

12 points PhilGoetz 06 February 2011 06:34:56AM Permalink

"But can people in desperate poverty be considered to be making free choices? Many say no. So, is the choice between starving and selling one’s kidney really a choice? Yes; an easy one. One of the options is awful. To forbid organ selling is to take away the better choice. If we choose to provide an even better option to the person that would be great – but it is no solution to the problem of poverty to take away what choices the poor do have absent outside help."

Katja Grace, on Metaeuphoric, Dying for a Donation

12 points aausch 04 February 2011 10:05:08PM Permalink

Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying

-- The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett

12 points Konkvistador 03 February 2011 08:35:54PM Permalink

To study and not think is a waste. To think and not study is dangerous.


12 points MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:53:17PM Permalink

It has never mattered to me that thirty million people might think I'm wrong. The number of people who thought Hitler was right did not make him right... Why do you necessarily have to be wrong just because a few million people think you are?

-- Frank Zappa, quoted from The Real Frank Zappa Book

12 points MichaelGR 03 February 2011 02:51:43PM Permalink

Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.

-Chinese proverb

12 points Eneasz 03 February 2011 04:58:02AM Permalink

At my mother's knee I learned to view religious worship as a practice which lures people away from their duties and pleasures on earth, and breeds in them a thirst for impossible things, the chasing of which can bring no honour or delight but only bewilderment, disappointment, and insanity.

  • K. J. Bishop, "The Etched City"

(a sentiment I think applies to all super-stimuli)

12 points lukeprog 06 March 2011 08:23:32PM Permalink

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

12 points Nornagest 03 March 2011 03:37:38AM Permalink

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.

12 points Oscar_Cunningham 14 April 2011 11:44:56AM Permalink

Fluff Principle: on a user-voted news site, the links that are easiest to judge will take over unless you take specific measures to prevent it.

Paul Graham "What Ive learned from Hacker News"

12 points atucker 06 April 2011 07:17:13AM Permalink

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

~ Story, used most famously in David Foster Wallace's Commencement Address at Kenyon College

12 points RichardKennaway 02 May 2011 09:10:18PM Permalink

If a guy tells me the probability of failure is 1 in 10E5, I know he's full of crap.

Richard P. Feynmann, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

12 points beoShaffer 12 June 2011 08:53:58PM Permalink

Tom smiled. "Yes, Don't you like that idea?" "Liking it and having it be true aren't the same thing, Tom."

-Clive Barker, Abarat

12 points Patrick 07 June 2011 03:45:19AM Permalink

If things are nice there is probably a good reason why they are nice: and if you do not know at least one reason for this good fortune, then you still have work to do.

Richard Askey

12 points RobertLumley 02 June 2011 12:19:35AM Permalink

"There always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death … And the issue is not a matter of what reward or what punishment will be the outcome of that reasoning. The issue is simply whether or not two plus two equals four." – Albert Camus, The Plague

12 points arundelo 07 July 2011 02:04:33AM Permalink

Bill James was asked about the Holmes saying "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". He responded:

That Sherlock Holmes line is very, very interesting. It's false, and extremely arrogant, and very dangerous. That's not a real way to think about the world. This concept of eliminating the impossible -- we could never do that. The whole idea of Sherlock Holmes is dangerous because it encourages people to think that -- if they're intelligent enough -- they could put all the pieces together in absolute terms. But the human mind is not sophisticated enough to do that. People are not that smart. It's not that Sherlock Holmes would need to be twice as smart as the average person; he'd have to be a billion times as smart as the average person.

12 points paper-machine 10 August 2011 03:09:58PM Permalink

Advancing a career in science is not the same as advancing science.

-- John D. Cook, in a tweet.

12 points Tom_Talbot 02 August 2011 11:43:36PM Permalink

Suppose we know someone's objective and also know that half the time that person correctly figures out how to achieve it and half the time he acts at random. Since there is generally only one right way of doing things (or perhaps a few) but very many wrong ways, the "rational" behavior can be predicted but the "irrational" behavior cannot. If we predict the person's behavior on the assumption that he is rational, we will be right half the time. If we assume he is irrational, we will almost never be right, since we still have to guess which irrational thing he will do. We are better off assuming he is rational and recognizing that we will sometimes be wrong. To put the argument more generally, the tendency to be rational is the consistent (and hence predictable) element in human behavior. The only alternative to assuming rationality (other than giving up and assuming that human behavior cannot be understood and predicted) would be a theory of irrational behavior - a theory that told us not only that someone would not always do the rational thing but also which particular irrational thing he would do. So far as I know, no satisfactory theory of that sort exists.

David Friedman, Price Theory, An Intermediate Text

12 points GabrielDuquette 02 August 2011 08:43:01PM Permalink

"[I]f function is hard enough, form is forced to follow it, because there is no effort to spare for error. Wild animals are beautiful because they have hard lives."

Paul Graham

12 points CronoDAS 24 September 2011 10:56:02PM Permalink

If we don't change our direction, we're likely to end up where we're headed.

-- Chinese proverb

12 points lukeprog 16 September 2011 12:54:43AM Permalink

The enlightened individual has learned to ask not "Is it so?" but rather "What is the probability that it is so?"

Sheldon Ross

12 points lionhearted 01 September 2011 11:34:16PM Permalink

I moved out of the hood for good, you blame me?

Niggas aim mainly at niggas they can't be.

But niggas can't hit niggas they can't see.

I'm out of sight, now I'm out of they dang reach.

-- Dr. Dre, "The Watcher"

12 points lukeprog 01 September 2011 12:12:13PM Permalink

Imagine that everyone in North America took [a cognitive enhancement pill] before retiring and then woke up the next morning with more memory capacity and processing speed... I believe that there is little likelihood that much would change the next day in terms of human happiness. It is very unlikely that people would be better able to fulfill their wishes and desires the day after taking the pill. In fact, it is quite likely that people would simply go about their usual business - only more efficiently. If given more memory capacity and processing speed, people would, I believe: carry on using the same ineffective medical treatments because of failure to think of alternative causes; keep making the same poor financial decisions because of overconfidence; keep misjudging environmental risks because of vividness; play host to the [tempting bad ideas] of Ponzi and pyramid schemes; [and] be wrongly influenced in their jury decisions by incorrect testimony about probabilities... The only difference would be that they would be able to do all of these things much more quickly!

Keith Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss

12 points grendelkhan 07 October 2011 03:35:44PM Permalink

Whether their motives were righteous or venal, highminded or base, noble or ig-, in retrospect the obvious verdict is that they were all morons--yes, even the distinguished fellows and visiting scholars at think tanks and deans of international studies schools. They were morons because the whole moral, political and practical purpose of their scheme depended on its going exactly according to plan. Which nothing ever does. The Latin phrase for this logical fallacy would be Duh. Some of them were halfway intelligent; some of them may even have been well-intentioned; but they lacked imagination, and this is a fatal flaw. What we learn from history is that it never turns out like it's supposed to. And the one thing we know for sure about the future is that it won't be like we think.

Tim Kreider, Artist's Note for The Pain

12 points Wix 07 October 2011 02:33:24PM Permalink

‎"Real magic is the kind of magic that is not real, while magic that is real (magic that can actually be done), is not real magic."

-Lee Siegle

12 points MinibearRex 04 November 2011 02:36:39PM Permalink

Through the discovery of Buchner, Biology was relieved of yet another fragment of mysticism. The splitting up of sugar into CO2 and alcohol is no more the effect of a "vital principle" than the splitting up of cane sugar by invertase. The history of this problem is instructive, as it warns us against considering problems beyond our reach because they have not yet found their solution.

-Jacques Loeb, 1906, on the discovery of the mechanism of glycolysis

12 points baiter 04 November 2011 02:31:09AM Permalink

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams, Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials

12 points kateblu 09 December 2011 03:42:02AM Permalink

"If a theory has a lot of parameters, you adjust their values to fit a lot of data, and your theory is not really predicting those things, just accommodating them. Scientists use words like “curve fitting” and “fudge factors” to describe that sort of activity. On the other hand, if a theory has just a few parameters but applies to a lot of data, it has real power. You can use a small subset of the measurements to fix the parameters; then all other measurements are uniquely predicted. " Frank Wilczek

12 points Alerik 06 December 2011 05:28:36PM Permalink

“To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.” ― Paul Valéry

12 points harshhpareek 04 December 2011 07:32:21AM Permalink

The Meander (aka Menderes) is a river in Turkey. As you might expect, it winds all over the place. But it doesn't do this out of frivolity. The path it has discovered is the most economical route to the sea

-- Paul Graham, "The Age of the Essay" (

12 points hairyfigment 03 December 2011 12:17:34AM Permalink

Every properly trained wizard has heard of Abraham, the idiot apprentice who recklessly enchanted a massive diamond instead of selling it to pay someone more skilled to fix his cursed noble friend. Haven't you destroyed the bloody thing by now?

  • Raven, from Dan Shive's webcomic El Goonish Shive.
12 points Karmakaiser 01 December 2011 01:40:48AM Permalink

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.


12 points Karmakaiser 09 January 2012 04:33:02PM Permalink

"A “lie-to-children” is a statement which is false, but which nevertheless leads the child’s mind towards a more accurate explanation, one that the child will only be able to appreciate if it has been primed with the lie." "Yes, you needed to understand that” they are told, “so that now we can tell you why it isn’t exactly true." It is for the best possible reasons, but it is still a lie".”

--(The Science of Discworld, Ebury Press edition, quotes from pp 41-42)

12 points Alejandro1 03 January 2012 11:56:30PM Permalink

Prompted by Maniakes, but sufficiently different to post separately:

It cannot have escaped philosophers' attention that our fellow academics in other fields--especially in the sciences--often have difficulty suppressing their incredulous amusement when such topics as Twin Earth, Swampman, and Blockheads are posed for apparently serious consideration. Are the scientists just being philistines, betraying their tin ears for the subtleties of philosophical investigation, or have the philosophers who indulge in these exercises lost their grip on reality?

These bizarre examples all attempt to prove one "conceptual" point or another by deliberately reducing something underappreciated to zero, so that What Really Counts can shine through. Blockheads hold peripheral behavior constant and reduce internal structural details (and--what comes to the same thing--intervening internal processes) close to zero, and provoke the intuition that then there would be no mind there; internal structure Really Counts. Manthra is more or less the mirror-image; it keeps internal processes constant and reduces control of peripheral behavior to zero, showing, presumably, that external behavior Really Doesn't Count. Swampman keeps both future peripheral dispositions and internal states constant and reduces "history" to zero. Twin Earth sets internal similarity to maximum, so that external context can be demonstrated to be responsible for whatever our intuitions tell us. Thus these thought experiments mimic empirical experiments in their design, attempting to isolate a crucial interaction between variables by holding other variables constant. In the past I have often noted that a problem with such experiments is that the dependent variable is "intuition"--they are intuition pumps--and the contribution of imagination in the generation of intuitions is harder to control than philosophers have usually acknowledged.

But there is also a deeper problem with them. It is child's play to dream up further such examples to "prove" further conceptual points. Suppose a cow gave birth to something that was atom-for-atom indiscernible from a shark. Would it be a shark? What is the truth-maker for sharkhood? If you posed that question to a biologist, the charitable reaction would be that you were making a labored attempt at a joke. Suppose an evil demon could make water turn solid at room temperature by smiling at it; would demon-water be ice? Too silly a hypothesis to deserve a response. All such intuition pumps depend on the distinction spelled out by McLaughlin and O'Leary-Hawthorne between "conceptual" and "reductive" answers to the big questions. What I hadn't sufficiently appreciated in my earlier forthright response to Jackson is that when one says that the truth-maker question requires a conceptual answer, one means an answer that holds not just in our world, or all nomologically possible worlds, but in all logically possible worlds. Smiling demons, cow-sharks, Blockheads, and Swampmen are all, some philosophers think, logically possible, even if they are not nomologically possible, and these philosophers think this is important. I do not. Why should the truth-maker question cast its net this wide? Because, I gather, otherwise its answer doesn't tell us about the essence of the topic in question. But who believes in real essences of this sort nowadays? Not I.

Daniel Dennett, Get Real (emphasis added).

12 points imbatman 10 January 2012 11:21:33PM Permalink

"A Confucian has stolen my hairbrush! Down with Confucianism!"

-GK Chesterton (on ad hominems)

12 points Alicorn 06 January 2012 09:19:01PM Permalink

"This has been a good day... I haven't done a single thing that was stupid..."

"Have you done anything that was smart?"

--Peanuts (Nov. 23, 1981) by Charles Schulz

12 points Alicorn 09 January 2012 06:04:02PM Permalink

If some persons died, and others did not die, death would indeed be a terrible affliction.

--Jean de la Bruyère

12 points Maniakes 03 January 2012 08:24:54PM Permalink

I replied as follows: "What would you think of someone who said, "I would like to have a cat, provided it barked"? [...] As a natural scientist, you recognize that you cannot assign characteristics at will to chemical and biological entities, cannot demand that cats bark or water burn. Why do you suppose that the situation is different in the "social sciences?"

-- Milton Friedman

12 points David_Gerard 03 February 2012 07:33:07AM Permalink

The human understanding is no dry light, but receives an infusion from the will and affections; whence proceed sciences which may be called "sciences as one would." For what a man had rather were true he more readily believes. Therefore he rejects difficult things from impatience of research; sober things, because they narrow hope; the deeper things of nature, from superstition; the light of experience, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should seem to be occupied with things mean and transitory; things not commonly believed, out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar. Numberless, in short, are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which the affections color and infect the understanding.

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (Aphorism XLIX), 1620. (1863 translation by Spedding, Ellis and Heath. You should read the whole thing, it's all this good.)

12 points Konkvistador 07 February 2012 03:20:34PM Permalink

It may be expecting too much to expect most intellectuals to have common sense, when their whole life is based on their being uncommon -- that is, saying things that are different from what everyone else is saying. There is only so much genuine originality in anyone. After that, being uncommon means indulging in pointless eccentricities or clever attempts to mock or shock.

--Thomas Sowell

12 points Alicorn 01 February 2012 08:16:27PM Permalink

Death is the gods' crime.

12 points Will_Newsome 04 March 2012 12:10:37PM Permalink

The world is paved with good intentions; the road to Hell has bad epistemology mixed in.

Steven Kaas

12 points GLaDOS 01 March 2012 07:07:58PM Permalink

I have sometimes seen people try to list what a real intellectual should know. I think it might be more illuminating to list what he shouldn’t.

--Gregory Cochran, in a comment here

12 points Stephanie_Cunnane 09 April 2012 02:15:40AM Permalink

From this moment forward, remember this: What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.

-Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek

12 points Klevador 14 April 2012 04:48:48AM Permalink

Any collocation of persons, no matter how numerous, how scant, how even their homogeneity, how firmly they profess common doctrine, will presently reveal themselves to consist of smaller groups espousing variant versions of the common creed; and these sub-groups will manifest sub-sub-groups, and so to the final limit of the single individual, and even in this single person conflicting tendencies will express themselves.

— Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao

12 points Pavitra 05 April 2012 12:59:38PM Permalink

In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, 'If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.'

Yoshinori Kitase

12 points VKS 03 April 2012 08:52:49PM Permalink

Don't just read it; fight it! Ask your own questions, look for your own examples, discover your own proofs. Is the hypothesis necessary? Is the converse true? What happens in the classical special case? What about the degenerate case? Where does the proof use the hypothesis?

  • Paul Halmos
12 points Stephanie_Cunnane 03 April 2012 07:51:19AM Permalink

In short, and I can't emphasize this strongly enough, a fundamental issue that any theory of psychology ultimately has to face is that brains are useful. They guide behavior. Any brain that didn't cause its owner to do useful--in the evolutionary sense--things, didn't cause reproduction.

-Robert Kurzban, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind

12 points jsbennett86 03 April 2012 02:17:07AM Permalink

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.

12 points Annie0305 20 May 2012 10:13:35AM Permalink

Oh, and Paul Graham again from the same piece:

When people are bad at math, they know it, because they get the wrong answers on tests. But when people are bad at open-mindedness they don't know it.

12 points Old_Rationality 02 May 2012 11:59:39AM Permalink

His mind refused to accept a simple inference from simple facts, which were patent to all the world. The very simplicity of the conclusion was of itself enough to make him reject it, for he had an elective affinity for everything that was intricate. He was a prey to intellectual over-subtlety.

Evelyn Baring, Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt

12 points mindspillage 14 May 2012 02:19:05PM Permalink

"In war you will generally find that the enemy has at any time three courses of action open to him. Of those three, he will invariably choose the fourth." —Helmuth Von Moltke

(quoted in Capturing the Potential of Outlier Ideas in the Intelligence Community, via Bruce Schneier)

12 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 May 2012 07:48:47AM Permalink

Proper treatment will cure a cold in seven days, but left to itself a cold will hang on for a week.

-Henry G. Felsen

12 points Vaniver 03 July 2012 12:56:18AM Permalink

Reality is the ultimate arbiter of truth. If your thoughts, beliefs, and actions aren't aligned with truth, your results will suffer.

--Steve Pavlina

12 points Oscar_Cunningham 02 August 2012 09:27:58PM Permalink

By keenly confronting the enigmas that surround us, and by considering and analyzing the observations that I have made, I ended up in the domain of mathematics.

M. C. Escher

12 points Alicorn 09 August 2012 12:26:50AM Permalink

It's not the end of the world. Well. I mean, yes, literally it is the end of the world, but moping doesn't help!

-- A Softer World

12 points RichardKennaway 16 September 2012 06:10:49PM Permalink

When a precise, narrowly focused technical idea becomes metaphor and sprawls globally, its credibility must be earned afresh locally by means of specific evidence demonstrating the relevance and explanatory power of the idea in its new application.

Edward Tufte, Beautiful Evidence

12 points ChristianKl 09 September 2012 10:49:29PM Permalink

“The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

12 points chaosmosis 09 September 2012 12:34:36AM Permalink

"You're very smart. Smarter than I am, I hope. Though of course I have such incredible vanity that I can't really believe that anyone is actually smarter than I am. Which means that I'm all the more in need of good advice, since I can't actually conceive of needing any."

  • New Peter / Orson Scott Card, Children of the Mind
12 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 September 2012 08:18:04AM Permalink

Conspiracy Theory, n. A theory about a conspiracy that you are not supposed to believe.

-L. A. Rollins, Lucifer's Lexicon: An Updated Abridgment

12 points grendelkhan 15 October 2012 05:40:26PM Permalink

It's all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it's much more interesting to assume that you wouldn't have and then ask, "Why?"

--Ta-Nehisi Coates, "A Muscular Empathy"

12 points taelor 02 November 2012 02:47:46AM Permalink

If we see in each generation the conflict of the future against the past, the fight of what might be called progressive versus reactionary, we shall find ourselves organizing the historical story upon what is really an unfolding principle of progress, and our eyes will be fixed upon certain people who appear as the special agencies of that progress. [...] But if we see in each generation a clash of wills out of which there emerges something that probably no man ever willed, our minds become concentrated upon the process that produced such an unpredictable issue, and we are more open for an intensive study of the motions and interactions that underlie historical change. [...] The process of the historical transition will then be recognized to be unlike what the whig historian seems to assume – much less like the procedure of a logical argument and perhaps much more like the method by which a man can be imagined to work his way out of a "complex". It is a process which moves by mediations and those mediations may be provided by anything in the world – by men’s sins or misapprehensions or by what we can only call fortunate conjunctures. Very strange bridges are used to make the passage from one state of things to another; we may lose sight of them in our surveys of general history, but their discovery is the glory of historical research. History is not the study of origins; rather it is the analysis of all the mediations by which the past was turned into our present.

-- Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History

12 points fortyeridania 02 November 2012 07:11:52AM Permalink

On confirmation bias

If a man objects to truths that are all too evident, it is no easy task finding arguments that will change his mind. This is proof neither of his own strength nor of his teacher's weakness. When someone caught in an argument hardens to stone, there is just no more reasoning with them.

Epictetus, Discourses I.5.1-2 (page 15 of this edition) (original Greek, with alternate translations at the link)

12 points SaidAchmiz 02 December 2012 07:26:34AM Permalink

"Well, how about this — that man, unlike animals, is a creature who experiences an insurmountable need for knowledge? I've read that somewhere."

"So have I," said Valentine. "But the trouble is that man, or in any case the common man, easily overcomes this need for knowledge of his. It seems to me that he doesn't have such a need at all. There's a need to understand, but knowledge is not required for that. The God hypothesis, for instance, gives one an unparalleled ability to understand absolutely everything, while discovering absolutely nothing... Give a person a highly simplified model of the world and interpret any event on the basis of this simplified model. Such an approach required no knowledge. A few memorized formulas plus some so-called intuition, so-called practical acumen, and so-called common sense."

Roadside Picnic, Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

11 points AndySimpson 18 April 2009 07:55:05PM Permalink

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

--Aldous Huxley

11 points jscn 16 June 2009 04:21:08AM Permalink

It's a wonderful thing to be clever, and you should never think otherwise, and you should never stop being that way. But what you learn, as you get older, is that there are a few million other people in the world all trying to be clever at the same time, and whatever you do with your life will certainly be lost - swallowed up in the ocean - unless you are doing it with like-minded people who will remember your contributions and carry them forward. That is why the world is divided into tribes.

-- Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age

I neglected to record from which character the quote came.

11 points NancyLebovitz 04 July 2009 02:44:55PM Permalink

By Ta Nehisi Coates

But I distrusted the whole game. Intuitively, I wonder about the honesty and proficiency of writers who opine on everything from Iran to education to drug policy to health care to cap and trade to race. Perhaps these people simply have more brains than me, but the catch-all nature of punditry, the need to speak on every policy topic as though one were an expert, is exactly what I hope to avoid.

11 points anonym 24 October 2009 10:25:46PM Permalink

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural — that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light, and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world — not even in infinite space. I was free — free to think, to express my thoughts — free to live to my own ideal — free to live for myself and those I loved — free to use all my faculties, all my senses — free to spread imagination’s wings — free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope — free to judge and determine for myself — free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the “inspired” books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past — free from the popes and priests — free from all the “called” and “set apart” — free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies — free from the fear of eternal pain — free from the winged monsters of the night — free from devils, ghosts, and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought — no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings — no chains for my limbs — no lashes for my back — no fires for my flesh — no master’s frown or threat — no following another’s steps — no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds.

And then my heart was filled with gratitude, with thankfulness, and went out in love to all the heroes, the thinkers who gave for the liberty of hand and brain — for the freedom of labor and thought — to those who fell in the fierce fields of war, to those who died in dungeons bound with chains — to those who proudly mounted scaffold’s stairs — to those whose bones were crushed, whose flesh was scarred and torn — to those by fire consumed — to all the wise, the good, the brave of every land, whose thoughts and deeds have given freedom to the sons of men. And then I vowed to grasp the torch that they had held, and hold it high, that light might conquer darkness still.

— Robert G. Ingersoll

11 points ABranco 24 October 2009 03:59:33AM Permalink

Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts. —Harvard economist Henry Rosovsky

11 points spriteless 23 October 2009 10:29:00PM Permalink

Since all things related to akrasia and self motivation are relevant here:

"As a final incentive before giving up a difficult task, try to imagine it successfully accomplished by someone you violently dislike." -K. Zenios

11 points anonym 30 November 2009 02:03:46AM Permalink

... by natural selection our mind has adapted itself to the conditions of the external world. It has adopted the geometry most advantageous to the species or, in other words, the most convenient. Geometry is not true, it is advantageous.

— Henri Poincaré

11 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 January 2010 11:43:13PM Permalink

If you’ve never broken the bed, you’re not experimenting enough.

-- Miss HT Psych

11 points Rain 07 January 2010 11:34:47PM Permalink

He must be very ignorant; for he answers every question he is asked.

-- Voltaire

11 points MatthewB 07 January 2010 02:06:09PM Permalink

People will torture their children with battery acid from time to time anyway -- and who among us hasn't wanted to kill and eat an albino? I sincerely hope that my "new atheist" colleagues are not so naive as to imagine that actual belief in magic might be the issue here. After all, it would be absurd to criticize witchcraft as unscientific, as this would ignore the primordial division between mythos and logos. Let me see if I have this straight: Belief in demons, the evil eye, and the medicinal value of a cannibal feast are perversions of the real witchcraft - -which is drenched with meaning, intrinsically wholesome, integral to our humanity, and here to stay. Do I have that right?

Sam Harriss reply to Karen Armstrong

11 points gregconen 01 February 2010 03:53:24PM Permalink

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

Johannes Kepler

11 points RichardKennaway 01 February 2010 10:19:31AM Permalink

"People are not complicated. People are really very simple. What makes them appear complicated is our continual insistence on interpreting their behavior instead of discovering their goals."

-- Bruce Gregory

11 points Bindbreaker 01 March 2010 08:07:19PM Permalink

"One thousand five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew that the Earth was flat... and fifteen minutes ago, you knew people were alone on this planet. Think about what you'll know tomorrow." -- Agent K, "Men in Black"

11 points Rain 01 May 2010 02:22:14PM Permalink

As a species we're fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us in a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?

-- Ollie, The Mist, 2007

11 points djcb 01 May 2010 01:56:11PM Permalink

Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain comes joy, delights, laughter, and sports, and sorrows, griefs, despondency, and lamentations. And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom and knowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, what are bad and what are good, what are sweet, and what are unsavory. ... And by the same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us. ... All these things we endure from the brain. ...In these ways I am of the opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power in the man.

-- Hippocrates, On the sacred disease (ca. 4th century BCE).

[ In this and other of his writings, Hippocrates shows such an incredible early sense for rationality and against superstition that was only rarely seen in the next 2000 after that -- and in addition, he was not just a armchair philosopher, he actually put these things is practice. So, hats off for Hippocrates, even when his medicine was not without faults of course...]

11 points Matt_Duing 02 June 2010 04:15:13AM Permalink

"Sanity is conforming your thoughts to reality. Conforming reality to your thoughts is creativity."

-- Unknown

11 points RichardKennaway 01 June 2010 07:56:25PM Permalink

Despite the fact that you arrived in this world with nothing but an unborn Buddha-mind, your partiality for yourselves now makes you want to have things move in your own way. You lose your temper, become contentious, and then you think, "I haven't lost my temper. That fellow won't listen to me. By being so unreasonable he has made me lose it." And so you fix belligerently on his words and end up transforming the valuable Buddha-mind into a fighting spirit. By stewing over this unimportant matter, making the thoughts churn over and over in your mind, you may finally get your way, but then you fail in your ignorance to realize that it was meaningless for you to concern yourself over such a matter.

From The Dharma Talks of Zen Master Bankei, translated by Norman Waddell. Quoted by Torkel Franzén as a perfect description of Usenet flamewars.

11 points RichardKennaway 02 July 2010 06:59:22AM Permalink

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than yesterday.

Jonathan Swift (also attributed to Pope)

I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.

Abraham Lincoln

11 points Yvain 07 October 2010 07:07:18PM Permalink

A neighbor came to Nasrudin, asking to borrow his donkey. "It is out on loan," the teacher replied. At that moment, the donkey brayed loudly inside the stable. "But I can hear it bray, over there." "Whom do you believe," asked Nasrudin, "me or a donkey?"

-- old Sufi parable

11 points wedrifid 23 December 2010 05:55:51AM Permalink

The moral code of our society is so demanding that no one can think, feel and act in a completely moral way. [...] Some people are so highly socialized that the attempt to think, feel and act morally imposes a severe burden on them. In order to avoid feelings of guilt, they continually have to deceive themselves about their own motives and find moral explanations for feelings and actions that in reality have a non-moral origin.

-- Ted Kaczynski

11 points David_Gerard 11 December 2010 09:30:54PM Permalink

Witching was turning out to be mostly hard work and really short on magic of the zap!-glingle-glingle-glingle variety. There was no school and nothing that was exactly like a lesson. But it wasn’t wise to try to learn witching all by yourself, especially if you had a natural talent. If you got it wrong, you could go from ignorant to cackling in a week ...

When you got right down to it, it was all about cackling. No one ever talked about this, though. Witches said things like “You can never be too old, too skinny, or too warty,” but they never mentioned the cackling. Not properly. They watched out for it, though, all the time.

It was all too easy to become a cackler. Most witches lived by themselves (cat optional) and might go for weeks without ever seeing another witch. In those times when people hated witches, they were often accused of talking to their cats. Of course they talked to their cats. After three weeks without an intelligent conversation that wasn’t about cows, you’d talk to the wall. And that was an early sign of cackling.

“Cackling,” to a witch, didn’t just mean nasty laughter. It meant your mind drifting away from its anchor. It meant you losing your grip. It meant loneliness and hard work and responsibility and other people’s problems driving you crazy a little bit at a time, each bit so small that you’d hardly notice it, until you thought that it was normal to stop washing and wear a kettle on your head. It meant you thinking that the fact you knew more than anyone else in your village made you better than them. It meant thinking that right and wrong were negotiable. And, in the end, it meant you “going to the dark,” as the witches said. That was a bad road. At the end of that road were poisoned spinning wheels and gingerbread cottages.

What stopped this was the habit of visiting. Witches visited other witches all the time, sometimes traveling quite a long way for a cup of tea and a bun. Partly this was for gossip, of course, because witches love gossip, especially if it’s more exciting than truthful. But mostly it was to keep an eye on one another.

Today Tiffany was visiting Granny Weatherwax, who was in the opinion of most witches (including Granny herself) the most powerful witch in the mountains. It was all very polite. No one said, “Not gone bats, then?” or “Certainly not! I’m as sharp as a spoon!” They didn’t need to. They understood what it was all about, so they talked of other things. But when she was in a mood, Granny Weatherwax could be hard work.

  • Pratchett, "Wintersmith"
11 points topynate 03 December 2010 06:20:06AM Permalink

"Empty arguments with words cannot (in any way) compare with a test which will show practical results."

Ma Jun, inventor or reinventor of the South Pointing Chariot and the differential gear.

11 points billswift 03 December 2010 05:15:07AM Permalink

"When in total ignorance, try anything and you will be less ignorant."

-- G.Harry Stine, A Matter of Metalaw

11 points Nominull 07 January 2011 08:15:31PM Permalink

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

-John F. Kennedy

11 points Document 05 January 2011 12:41:30AM Permalink

There should be a word for the things we do not because we want to but because we want to be the kind of person who wants to.

-- A Softer World #626

Possibly related: Cached Selves and some of its outbound links, and Violent Acres' idea of self-brainwashing (bottom of post).

11 points JohannesDahlstrom 04 January 2011 09:23:32PM Permalink

This is how Vetinari thinks, his soul exulted. Plans can break down. You cannot plan the future. Only presumptuous fools plan. The wise man steers.

—Terry Pratchett, Making Money

Although thought by a madman in the book, there seems to be truth in