Best of Rationality Quotes

105 points gotdistractedbythe 02 May 2013 03:48:24AM Permalink

"The spatial anomaly has interacted with the tachyonic radiation in the nebula, it's interfering with our sensors. It's impossible to get a reading."

"There's no time - we'll have to take the ship straight through it!"

"Captain, I advise against this course of action. I have calculated the odds against our surviving such an action at three thousand, seven hundred and forty-five to one."

"Damn the odds, we've got to try... wait a second. Where, exactly, did you get that number from?"

"I hardly think this is the time for-"

"No. No, fuck you, this is exactly the time. The fate of the galaxy is at stake. Trillions of lives are hanging in the balance. You just pulled four significant digits out of your ass, I want to see you show your goddamn work."

"Well, I used the actuarial data from the past fifty years, relating to known cases of ships passing through nebulae that are interacting with spatial anomalies. There have been approximately two million such incidents reported, with only five hundred and forty-two incidents in which the ship in question survived intact."

"And did you at all take into account that ship building technology has improved over the past fifty years, and that ours is not necessarily an average ship?"

"Indeed I did, Captain. I weighted the cases differently based on how recent they were, and how close the ship in question was in build to our own. For example, one of the incidents with a happy ending was forty-seven years ago, but their ship was a model roughly five times our size. As such, I counted the incident as having twenty-four percent of the relevance of a standard case."

"But what of our ship's moxie? Can you take determination and drive and the human spirit into account?"

"As a matter of fact I can, Captain. In our three-year history together, I have observed that both you and this ship manage to beat the odds with a measurable regularity. To be exact, we tend to succeed twenty-four point five percent more often than the statistics would otherwise indicate - and, in fact, that number jumps to twenty-nine point two percent specifically in cases where I state the odds against our success to three significant digits or greater. I have already taken that supposedly 'unknowable' factor into account with my calculations."

"And you expect me to believe that you've memorized all these case studies and performed this ridiculously complicated calculation in your head within the course of a normal conversation?"

"Yes. With all due respect to your species, I am not human. While I freely admit that you do have greater insight into fields such as emotion, interpersonal relations, and spirituality than I do, in the fields of memory and calculation, I am capable of feats that would be quite simply impossible for you. Furthermore, if I may be perfectly frank, the entire purpose of my presence on the bridge is to provide insights such as these to help facilitate your command decisions. If you're not going to heed my advice, why am I even here?"

"Mm. And we're still sitting at three thousand seven hundred to one against?"

"Three thousand, seven hundred and forty five to one."

"Well, shit. Well, let's go around, then."

The Vulcan your Vulcan could sound like if he wasn't made of straw, I guess? Link

71 points Mestroyer 06 February 2013 05:52:02AM Permalink

"If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?"

"Oh jeez. Probably."

"What!? Why!?"

"Because all my friends did. Think about it -- which scenario is more likely: every single person I know, many of them levelheaded and afraid of heights, abruptly went crazy at exactly the same time... ...or the bridge is on fire?"

Randall Munroe, on updating on other peoples beliefs.

59 points Eugine_Nier 02 February 2013 06:06:48AM Permalink

It’s nice to elect the right people, but that’s not the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

-- Milton Friedman

59 points sediment 02 June 2013 07:58:49PM Permalink

Hofstadter on the necessary strangeness of scientific explanations:

It is no accident, I would maintain, that quantum mechanics is so wildly counterintuitive. Part of the nature of explanation is that it must eventually hit some point where further probing only increases opacity rather than decreasing it. Consider the problem of understanding the nature of solids. You might wonder where solidity comes form. What if someone said to you, "The ultimate basis of this brick's solidity is that it is composed of a stupendous number of eensy weensy bricklike objects that themselves are rock-solid"? You might be interested to learn that bricks are composed of micro-bricks, but the initial question - "What accounts for solidity?" - has been thoroughly begged. What we ultimately want is for solidity to vanish, to dissolve, to disintegrate into some totally different kind of phenomenon with which we have no experience. Only then, when we have reached some completely novel, alien level will we feel that we have really made progress in explaining the top-level phenomenon.


I first saw this thought expressed in the stimulating book Patterns of Discovery by Norwood Russell Hanson. Hanson attributes it to a number of thinkers, such as Isaac Newton, who wrote, in his famous work Opticks: "The parts of all homogeneal hard Bodies which fully touch one another, stick together very strongly. And for explaining how this may be, some have invented hooked Atoms, which is begging the Question." Hanson also quotes James Clerk Maxwell (from an article entitled "Atom"): "We may indeed suppose the atom elastic, but this is to endow it with the very property for the explanation of which... the atomic constitution was originally assumed." Finally, here is a quote Hanson provides from Werner Heisenberg himself: "If atoms are really to explain the origin of color and smell of visible material bodies, then they cannot possess properties like color and smell." So, although it is not an original thought, it is useful to bear in mind that greeness disintegrates.

— from the postscript to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, in Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (his lovely book of essays from his column in Scientific American)

55 points Zando 03 August 2013 06:50:10AM Permalink

when trying to characterize human beings as computational systems, the difference between “person” and “person with pencil and paper” is vast.

Procrastination and The Extended Will 2009

55 points westward 18 December 2013 09:05:29PM Permalink

"Finally, a study that backs up everything I've always said about confirmation bias." -Kslane, Twitter


54 points Qiaochu_Yuan 11 April 2013 09:13:10AM Permalink

In a class I taught at Berkeley, I did an experiment where I wrote a simple little program that would let people type either "f" or "d" and would predict which key they were going to push next. It's actually very easy to write a program that will make the right prediction about 70% of the time. Most people don't really know how to type randomly. They'll have too many alternations and so on. There will be all sorts of patterns, so you just have to build some sort of probabilistic model. Even a very crude one will do well. I couldn't even beat my own program, knowing exactly how it worked. I challenged people to try this and the program was getting between 70% and 80% prediction rates. Then, we found one student that the program predicted exactly 50% of the time. We asked him what his secret was and he responded that he "just used his free will."

-- Scott Aaronson

53 points Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2013 03:42:09PM Permalink

Remember the exercises in critical reading you did in school, where you had to look at a piece of writing and step back and ask whether the author was telling the whole truth? If you really want to be a critical reader, it turns out you have to step back one step further, and ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he's writing about this subject at all.

-- Paul Graham

53 points BT_Uytya 03 August 2013 01:39:05PM Permalink

The fear people have about the idea of adherence to protocol is rigidity. They imagine mindless automatons, heads down in a checklist, incapable of looking out their windshield and coping with the real world in front of them. But what you find, when a checklist is well made, is exactly the opposite. The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way, the routines your brain shouldn’t have to occupy itself with (Are the elevator controls set? Did the patient get her antibiotics on time? Did the managers sell all their shares? Is everyone on the same page here?), and lets it rise above to focus on the hard stuff (Where should we land?).

Here are the details of one of the sharpest checklists I’ve seen, a checklist for engine failure during flight in a single-engine Cessna airplane—the US Airways situation, only with a solo pilot. It is slimmed down to six key steps not to miss for restarting the engine, steps like making sure the fuel shutoff valve is in the OPEN position and putting the backup fuel pump switch ON. But step one on the list is the most fascinating. It is simply: FLY THE AIRPLANE. Because pilots sometimes become so desperate trying to restart their engine, so crushed by the cognitive overload of thinking through what could have gone wrong, they forget this most basic task. FLY THE AIRPLANE. This isn’t rigidity. This is making sure everyone has their best shot at survival.

-- Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto

52 points VincentYu 01 February 2013 09:36:33PM Permalink

In Munich in the days of the great theoretical physicist Arnold Sommerfeld (1868–1954), trolley cars were cooled in summer by two small fans set into their ceilings. When the trolley was in motion, air flowing over its top would spin the fans, pulling warm air out of the cars. One student noticed that although the motion of any given fan was fairly random—fans could turn either clockwise or counterclockwise—the two fans in a single car nearly always rotated in opposite directions. Why was this? Finally he brought the problem to Sommerfeld.

“That is easy to explain,” said Sommerfeld. “Air hits the fan at the front of the car first, giving it a random motion in one direction. But once the trolley begins to move, a vortex created by the first fan travels down the top of the car and sets the second fan moving in precisely the same direction.”

“But, Professor Sommerfeld,” the student protested, “what happens is in fact the opposite! The two fans nearly always rotate in different directions.”

“Ahhhh!” said Sommerfeld. “But of course that is even easier to explain.”

Devine and Cohen, Absolute Zero Gravity, p. 96.

51 points Cthulhoo 03 September 2013 10:49:52AM Permalink

In some species of Anglerfish, the male is much smaller than the female and incapable of feeding independently. To survive he must smell out a female as soon as he hatches. He bites into her releasing an enzime which fuses him to her permanently. He lives off her blood for the rest of his life, providing her with sperm whenever she needs it. Females can have multiple males attached. The morale is simple: males are parasites, women are sluts. Ha! Just kidding! The moral is don't treat actual animal behavior like a fable. Generally speaking, animals have no interest in teaching you anything.

Oglaf (Original comic NSFW)

48 points philh 03 September 2013 07:46:55PM Permalink

"However, there is something they value more than a man's life: a trowel."

"Why a trowel?"

"If a bricklayer drops his trowel, he can do no more work until a new one is brought up. For months he cannot earn the food that he eats, so he must go into debt. The loss of a trowel is cause for much wailing. But if a man falls, and his trowel remains, men are secretly relieved. The next one to drop his trowel can pick up the extra one and continue working, without incurring debt."

Hillalum was appalled, and for a frantic moment he tried to count how many picks the miners had brought. Then he realized. "That cannot be true. Why not have spare trowels brought up? Their weight would be nothing against all the bricks that go up there. And surely the loss of a man means a serious delay, unless they have an extra man at the top who is skilled at bricklaying. Without such a man, they must wait for another one to climb from the bottom."

All the pullers roared with laughter. "We cannot fool this one," Lugatum said with much amusement.

Ted Chiang, Tower of Babylon

47 points philh 02 February 2013 11:22:32AM Permalink

Men in Black on guessing the teacher's password:

Zed: You're all here because you are the best of the best. Marines, air force, navy SEALs, army rangers, NYPD. And we're looking for one of you. Just one.


Edwards: Maybe you already answered this, but, why exactly are we here?

Zed: [noticing a recruit raising his hand] Son?

Jenson: Second Lieutenant, Jake Jenson. West Point. Graduate with honors. We're here because you are looking for the best of the best of the best, sir! [throws Edwards a contemptible glance]

[Edwards laughs]

Zed: What's so funny, Edwards?

Edwards: Boy, Captain America over here! "The best of the best of the best, sir!" "With honors." Yeah, he's just really excited and he has no clue why we're here. That's just, that's very funny to me.

44 points JQuinton 06 November 2013 06:35:10PM Permalink

A newspaper is better than a magazine. A seashore is a better place than the street. At first it is better to run than to walk. You may have to try several times. It takes some skill, but it is easy to learn. Even young children can enjoy it. Once successful, complications are minimal. Birds seldom get too close. Rain, however, soaks in very fast. Too many people doing the same thing can also cause problems. One needs lots of room. If there are no complications, it can be very peaceful. A rock will serve as an anchor. If things break loose from it, however, you will not get a second chance.

Is this paragraph comprehensible or meaningless? Feel your mind sort through potential explanations. Now watch what happens with the presentation of a single word: kite. As you reread the paragraph, feel the prior discomfort of something amiss shifting to a pleasing sense of rightness. Everything fits; every sentence works and has meaning. Reread the paragraph again; it is impossible to regain the sense of not understanding. In an instant, without due conscious deliberation, the paragraph has been irreversibly infuesed with a feeling of knowing.

Try to imagine other interpretations for the paragraph. Suppose I tell you that this is a collaborative poem written by a third-grade class, or a collage of strung-together fortune cookie quotes. Your mind balks. The presense of this feeling of knowing makes contemplating alternatives physically difficult.

Robert Burton, from On Being Certain: Believing You’re Right Even When You’re Not reminding me of Epiphany Addictions

43 points Eugine_Nier 02 September 2013 04:46:08AM Permalink

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Thomas Edison

42 points Particleman 03 June 2013 04:04:26AM Permalink

Why is there that knee-jerk rejection of any effort to "overthink" pop culture? Why would you ever be afraid that looking too hard at something will ruin it? If the government built a huge, mysterious device in the middle of your town and immediately surrounded it with a fence that said, "NOTHING TO SEE HERE!" I'm pretty damned sure you wouldn't rest until you knew what the hell that was -- the fact that they don't want you to know means it can't be good.

Well, when any idea in your brain defends itself with "Just relax! Don't look too close!" you should immediately be just as suspicious. It usually means something ugly is hiding there.

42 points MinibearRex 04 August 2013 06:07:56AM Permalink

I've got to start listening to those quiet, nagging doubts.


41 points Stabilizer 02 March 2013 12:54:40AM Permalink

You know something is important when you're willing to let someone else take the credit if that's what it takes to get it done.

-Seth Godin

40 points Stabilizer 05 February 2013 01:20:51AM Permalink

Shipping is a feature. A really important feature. Your product must have it.

-Joel Spolsky

40 points Mestroyer 05 October 2013 06:20:28AM Permalink

The market doesn't give a shit how hard you worked. Users just want your software to do what they need, and you get a zero otherwise. That is one of the most distinctive differences between school and the real world: there is no reward for putting in a good effort. In fact, the whole concept of a "good effort" is a fake idea adults invented to encourage kids. It is not found in nature.

--Paul Graham (When I saw this quote, I thought it had to have been posted before, but googling turned up nothing.)

39 points RolfAndreassen 01 January 2013 09:25:47PM Permalink

"Ten thousand years' worth of sophistry doesn't vanish overnight," Margit observed dryly. "Every human culture had expended vast amounts of intellectual effort on the problem of coming to terms with death. Most religions had constructed elaborate lies about it, making it out to be something other than it was—though a few were dishonest about life, instead. But even most secular philosophies were warped by the need to pretend that death was for the best."

"It was the naturalistic fallacy at its most extreme—and its most transparent, but that didn't stop anyone. Since any child could tell you that death was meaningless, contingent, unjust, and abhorrent beyond words, it was a hallmark of sophistication to believe otherwise. Writers had consoled themselves for centuries with smug puritanical fables about immortals who'd long for death—who'd beg for death. It would have been too much to expect all those who were suddenly faced with the reality of its banishment to confess that they'd been whistling in the dark. And would-be moral philosophers—mostly those who'd experienced no greater inconvenience in their lives than a late train or a surly waiter—began wailing about the destruction of the human spirit by this hideous blight. We needed death and suffering, to put steel into our souls! Not horrible, horrible freedom and safety!"

-- Greg Egan, "Border Guards".

39 points Mestroyer 07 February 2013 09:13:19AM Permalink

I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend

Faramir, from Lord of the Rings on lost purposes and the thing that he protects

39 points James_Miller 01 May 2013 04:49:10PM Permalink

Unless challenged to think otherwise, people quickly move from "Phew! Dodged a bullet on that one!" to "I'm a great bullet-dodger."

Discussing the "Near-miss bias" which they define as a tendency to "take more risk after an event in which luck played a critical role in deciding the event's [favorable] outcome."

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, page 150.

39 points Kaj_Sotala 04 November 2013 01:15:49PM Permalink

But there’s a big difference between “impossible” and “hard to imagine.” The first is about it; the second is about you!

-- Marvin Minsky

38 points James_Miller 01 February 2013 07:41:37PM Permalink

You want accurate beliefs and useful emotions.

From a participant at the January CFAR workshop. I don't remember who. This struck me as an excellent description of what rationalists seek.

38 points Particleman 02 August 2013 06:07:05AM Permalink

In 2002, Wizards of the Coast put out Star Wars: The Trading Card Game designed by Richard Garfield.

As Richard modeled the game after a miniatures game, it made use of many six-sided dice. In combat, cards' damage was designated by how many six-sided dice they rolled. Wizards chose to stop producing the game due to poor sales. One of the contributing factors given through market research was that gamers seem to dislike six-sided dice in their trading card game.

Here's the kicker. When you dug deeper into the comments they equated dice with "lack of skill." But the game rolled huge amounts of dice. That greatly increased the consistency. (What I mean by this is that if you rolled a million dice, your chance of averaging 3.5 is much higher than if you rolled ten.) Players, though, equated lots of dice rolling with the game being "more random" even though that contradicts the actual math.

37 points nabeelqu 01 January 2013 03:33:09PM Permalink

Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.

“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”

“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”

“Yes,” said the woman behind them.

“See,” the man explained gently, “this is how it works. I’m the one person who says something. But for everyone like me, there’s a whole car full of people who feel the same way.”

-- Tim Kreider, The Quiet Ones

37 points Grognor 03 February 2013 09:59:37PM Permalink

It is because a mirror has no commitment to any image that it can clearly and accurately reflect any image before it. The mind of a warrior is like a mirror in that it has no commitment to any outcome and is free to let form and purpose result on the spot, according to the situation.

—Yagyū Munenori, The Life-Giving Sword

37 points D_Malik 04 April 2013 07:23:23AM Permalink

There once was a hare who mocked a passing tortoise for being slow. The erudite tortoise responded by challenging the hare to a race.

Built for speed, and with his pride on the line, the hare easily won - I mean, it wasn't even close - and resumed his mocking anew.

Winston Rowntree, Non-Bullshit Fables

37 points Tenoke 08 May 2013 06:19:30PM Permalink

‘Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that in your promiscuous pursuit of women you are merely trying to assuage your subconscious fears of sexual impotence?’

‘Yes, sir, it has.’

‘Then why do you do it?’

‘To assuage my fears of sexual impotence.’

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

explaining /= explaining away

37 points James_Miller 01 November 2013 03:19:40PM Permalink

"For my own part,” Ms. Yellen said, “I did not see and did not appreciate what the risks were with securitization, the credit ratings agencies, the shadow banking system, the S.I.V.’s — I didn’t see any of that coming until it happened.” Her startled interviewers noted that almost none of the officials who testified had offered a similar acknowledgment of an almost universal failure.

Economist and likely future chairperson of the Federal Reserve Board Janet Yellen shows the key rationality trait of being able to admit you were wrong.

36 points NoisyEmpire 02 January 2013 08:01:12PM Permalink

What does puzzle people – at least it used to puzzle me – is the fact that Christians regard faith… as a virtue. I used to ask how on Earth it can be a virtue – what is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence, that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid…

What I did not see then – and a good many people do not see still – was this. I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith; on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other…

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding onto things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable... Unless you teach your moods "where they get off" you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Caveat: this is not at all how the majority of the religious people that I know would use the word "faith". In fact, this passage turned out to be one of the earliest helps in bringing me to think critically about and ultimately discard my religious worldview.

36 points andreas 02 February 2013 05:42:44AM Permalink

"I design a cell to not fail and then assume it will and then ask the next 'what-if' questions," Sinnett said. "And then I design the batteries that if there is a failure of one cell it won't propagate to another. And then I assume that I am wrong and that it will propagate to another and then I design the enclosure and the redundancy of the equipment to assume that all the cells are involved and the airplane needs to be able to play through that."

Mike Sinnett, Boeing's 787 chief project engineer

36 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 July 2013 07:11:50PM Permalink

"If you don't know how to turn off the safety, being unable to fire the gun is the intended result."

-- NotEnoughBears

35 points dspeyer 01 January 2013 04:37:36PM Permalink

You're better at talking than I am. When you talk, sometimes I get confused. My ideas of what's right and wrong get mixed up. That's why I'm bringing this. As soon as I start thinking it's all right to steal from our employees, I'm going to start hitting you with the stick.


If it makes you feel any better, I agree with your logic completely.

No, what would make me feel better is for you to stop hitting me!


35 points Jay_Schweikert 04 April 2013 02:18:00PM Permalink

Jack Sparrow: [after Will draws his sword] Put it away, son. It's not worth you getting beat again.

Will Turner: You didn't beat me. You ignored the rules of engagement. In a fair fight, I'd kill you.

Jack Sparrow: Then that's not much incentive for me to fight fair, then, is it? [Jack turns the ship, hitting Will with the boom]

Jack Sparrow: Now as long as you're just hanging there, pay attention. The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can't do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can't. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you'll have to square with that some day. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can't bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not?

--Pirates of the Caribbean

The pirate-specific stuff is a bit extraneous, but I've always thought this scene neatly captured the virtue of cold, calculating practicality. Not that "fairness" is never important to worry about, but when you're faced with a problem, do you care more about solving it, or arguing that your situation isn't fair? What can you do, and what can't you do? Reminds me of What do I want? What do I have? How can I best use the latter to get the former?

35 points Zubon 03 May 2013 03:50:45AM Permalink

A lot of people gave very selflessly to build this warship so we can go out and battle the vikings, but the time has come to admit that hard work and hope are no substitute for actual knowledge and that we've made a really shitty ship. If we sail this ship against the vikings, we'll be massacred immediately.

Oglaf webcomic, "Bilge"

(Oglaf is usually NSFW, so I'm not linking, even if this particular comic has nothing worse than coarse language.)

35 points Stabilizer 02 November 2013 01:41:02AM Permalink

A good stack of examples, as large as possible, is indispensable for a thorough understanding of any concept, and when I want to learn something new, I make it my first job to build one.

-Paul Halmos

34 points Qiaochu_Yuan 03 January 2013 08:49:14AM Permalink

In Japan, it is widely believed that you don't have direct knowledge of what other people are really thinking (and it's very presumptuous to assume otherwise), and so it is uncommon to describe other people's thoughts directly, such as "He likes ice cream" or "She's angry". Instead, it's far more common to see things like "I heard that he likes ice cream" or "It seems like/It appears to be the case that she is angry" or "She is showing signs of wanting to go to the park."

-- TVTropes

Edit (1/7): I have no particular reason to believe that this is literally true, but either way I think it holds an interesting rationality lesson. Feel free to substitute 'Zorblaxia' for 'Japan' above.

34 points GabrielDuquette 03 February 2013 01:13:32AM Permalink

Market exchange is a pathetically inadequate substitute for love, but it scales better.

S. T. Rev

34 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 March 2013 09:19:48AM Permalink

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

-- Thomas Sowell

34 points Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:38:53PM Permalink

Far from being the smartest possible biological species, we are probably better thought of as the stupidest possible biological species capable of starting a technological civilization. We filled that niche because we got there first, not because we are in any sense optimally adapted to it.

Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence: the Coming Machine Intelligence Revolution, chap. 2

34 points philh 08 September 2013 01:53:01AM Permalink

Fran: A million billion pounds says you’ll have nothing to show me.

Bernard: Oh, the old million billion. Why don’t we make it interesting, why don’t we say 50?

Black Books, Elephants and Hens. H/t /u/mrjack2 on /r/hpmor.

34 points Nomad 05 October 2013 04:20:03PM Permalink

We often like to think of World War II as a triumph of freedom over totalitarianism. We conveniently forget that the Soviet Union was also one of the winners.

Paul Graham

33 points jsbennett86 02 February 2013 03:45:22AM Permalink

On scientists trying to photograph an atom's shadow:

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

Luke McKinney - 6 Microscopic Images That Will Blow Your Mind

33 points Qiaochu_Yuan 01 February 2013 06:08:33PM Permalink

Things that are your fault are good because they can be fixed. If they're someone else's fault, you have to fix them, and that's much harder.

-- Geoff Anders (paraphrased)

33 points James_Miller 01 April 2013 04:17:37PM Permalink

A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped. True, you occasionally face a question such as 17 × 24 = ? to which no answer comes immediately to mind, but these dumbfounded moments are rare. The normal state of your mind is that you have intuitive feelings and opinions about almost everything that comes your way. You like or dislike people long before you know much about them; you trust or distrust strangers without knowing why; you feel that an enterprise is bound to succeed without analyzing it. Whether you state them or not, you often have answers to questions that you do not completely understand, relying on evidence that you can neither explain nor defend.

Daniel Kahneman,Thinking, Fast and Slow

33 points [deleted] 01 May 2013 02:43:45PM Permalink

When I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an experiment that went something like this -- it had been found by others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A. She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her laboratory the experiment of the other person -- to do it under condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know that the real difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time. This was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but only to change the conditions and see what happens. Nowadays there's a certain danger of the same thing happening, even in the famous field of physics. ...

-- Richard Feynman's Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!

33 points Stabilizer 02 September 2013 08:57:21PM Permalink

Don't ask what they think. Ask what they do.

My rule has to do with paradigm shifts—yes, I do believe in them. I've been through a few myself. It is useful if you want to be the first on your block to know that the shift has taken place. I formulated the rule in 1974. I was visiting the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) for a weeks to give a couple of seminars on particle physics. The subject was QCD. It doesn't matter what this stands for. The point is that it was a new theory of sub-nuclear particles and it was absolutely clear that it was the right theory. There was no critical experiment but the place was littered with smoking guns. Anyway, at the end of my first lecture I took a poll of the audience. "What probability would you assign to the proposition 'QCD is the right theory of hadrons.'?" My socks were knocked off by the answers. They ranged from .01 percent to 5 percent. As I said, by this time it was a clear no-brainer. The answer should have been close to 100 percent. The next day I gave my second seminar and took another poll. "What are you working on?" was the question. Answers: QCD, QCD, QCD, QCD, QCD,........ Everyone was working on QCD. That's when I learned to ask "What are you doing?" instead of "what do you think?"

I saw exactly the same phenomenon more recently when I was working on black holes. This time it was after a string theory seminar, I think in Santa Barbara. I asked the audience to vote whether they agreed with me and Gerard 't Hooft or if they thought Hawking’s ideas were correct. This time I got a 50-50 response. By this time I knew what was going on so I wasn't so surprised. Anyway I later asked if anyone was working on Hawking's theory of information loss. Not a single hand went up. Don't ask what they think. Ask what they do.

-Leonard Susskind, Susskinds Rule of Thumb

33 points Alejandro1 02 December 2013 04:20:15PM Permalink

Most of the Headlines from a Mathematically Literate World. An example:

Our World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Explosions, Rising Stars.

Mathematically Literate World: Hollywood Breaks Box Office Records with Inflation, Rising Population.

32 points jooyous 06 February 2013 09:57:17PM Permalink

I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet, then I continued weeping because his foot problem did not actually solve my shoe problem.

-- Noah Brand

I'd prefer if this quote ended with " ... and then I got done weeping and started working on my shoe budget," but oh wells.

32 points jsbennett86 02 March 2013 04:31:22AM Permalink

On the presentation of science in the news:

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

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

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

32 points Stabilizer 01 April 2013 07:19:22PM Permalink

More specifically, one thing I learned from Terry that I was not taught in school is the importance of bad proofs. I would say "I think this is true", work on it, see that there was no nice proof, and give up. Terry would say "Here's a criterion that eliminates most of the problem. Then in what's left, here's a worse one that handles most of the detritus. One or two more epicycles. At that point it comes down to fourteen cases, and I checked them." Yuck. But we would know it was true, and we would move on. (Usually these would get cleaned up a fair bit before publication.)

-Allen Knutson on collaborating with Terence Tao

32 points ShardPhoenix 03 May 2013 10:14:51AM Permalink

Noriko: Wow, you must have a real knack for it!

Kazumi: That's not it, Miss Takaya! It takes hard work in order to achieve that.

Noriko: Hard work? You must have a knack for hard work, then!

- Gunbuster

32 points TeMPOraL 01 June 2013 04:48:25PM Permalink

Akins Laws of Spacecraft Design are full of amazing quotes. My personal favourite:

6) (Mar's Law) Everything is linear if plotted log-log with a fat magic marker.

(See also an interesting note from HNs btilly on this law)

32 points Zubon 02 July 2013 10:15:14PM Permalink

He senses in his gut that he did the right thing by showing up. As with all gut feelings, only time will tell whether this is pathetic self-delusion.

Neil Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

32 points David_Gerard 02 July 2013 04:13:17PM Permalink

Unix was not designed to stop its users from doing stupid things, as that would also stop them from doing clever things.

  • Doug Gwyn
32 points Benito 01 August 2013 09:15:24PM Permalink

This analogy, this passage from the finite to infinite, is beset with pitfalls. How did Euler avoid them? He was a genius, some people will answer, and of course that is no explanation at all. Euler has shrewd reasons for trusting his discovery. We can understand his reasons with a little common sense, without any miraculous insight specific to genius.

  • G. Polya, Mathematics and Plausible Reasoning Vol. 1
32 points Pablo_Stafforini 02 September 2013 12:56:06PM Permalink

You should work to reduce your biases, but to say you have none is a sign that you have many.

Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — But Some Don’t, New York, 2012, p. 451

32 points Dentin 04 September 2013 04:09:34PM Permalink

There is no glory, no beauty in death. Only loss. It does not have meaning. I will never see my loved ones again. They are permanently lost to the void. If this is the natural order of things, then I reject that order. I burn here my hopelessness, I burn here my constraints. By my hand, death shall fall. And if I fail, another shall take my place ... and another, and another, until this wound in the world is healed at last.

Anonymous, found written in the Temple at 2013 Burning Man

31 points James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:58:51PM Permalink

The women of this country learned long ago, those without swords can still die upon them.

Éowyn explaining to Aragorn why she was skilled with a blade. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the 2002 movie.

31 points jsbennett86 02 February 2013 03:36:42AM Permalink

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

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

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics review of The Core

31 points Vaniver 03 April 2013 02:05:53PM Permalink

Don’t settle. Don’t finish crappy books. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant. If you’re not on the right path, get off it.

--Chris Brogan on the Sunk Cost Fallacy

31 points Alejandro1 01 August 2013 08:45:40PM Permalink

It's a horrible feeling when you don't understand why you did something.

-- Dennis Monokroussos

31 points snafoo 04 August 2013 05:51:26PM Permalink

When the axe came into the woods, many of the trees said, "At least the handle is one of us.

Turkish proverb

31 points Alejandro1 01 November 2013 01:46:41PM Permalink

“What else [have you learned]?”

“Never make a decision blindfolded.”

The teacher laughed. “An impossible wish. We’re all wearing blindfolds, every moment of our lives, and they come off far less easily than this cheap piece of cloth.”

“Then what should we do, when we can’t take the blindfold off?”

“Do the best you can,” the teacher said, “and never forget that you’re wearing it.”

Math with Bad Drawings

31 points HungryHippo 02 December 2013 12:42:14PM Permalink

By the middle of the seventeenth century it had come to be understood that the world was enclosed in a sea of air, much as the greater part of it was covered by water. A scientist of the period, Francesco Lana, contended that a lighter-than-air ship could float upon this sea, and he suggested how such a ship might be built. He was unable to put his invention to a practical test, but he saw only one reason why it might not work:

". . . that God will never suffer this Invention to take effect, because of the many consequencies which may disturb the Civil Government of men. For who sees not, that no City can be secure against attack, since our Ship may at any time be placed directly over it, and descending down may discharge Souldiers; the same would happen to private Houses, and Ships on the Sea: for our Ship descending out of the Air to the sails of Sea-Ships, it may cut their Ropes, yea without descending by casting Grapples it may over-set them, kill their men, burn their Ships by artificial Fire works and Fire-balls. And this they may do not only to Ships but to great Buildings, Castles, Cities, with such security that they which cast these things down from a height out of Gun-shot, cannot on the other side be offended by those below."

Lana's reservation was groundless. He had predicted modern air warfare in surprisingly accurate detail—with its paratroopers and its strafing and bombing. Contrary to his expectation, God has suffered his invention to take effect. And so has Man.

  • B. F. Skinner, "Science and Human Behavior"
30 points Will_Newsome 01 January 2013 08:00:39PM Permalink

For the Greek philosophers, Greek was the language of reason. Aristotle's list of categories is squarely based on the categories of Greek grammar. This did not explicitly entail a claim that the Greek language was primary: it was simply a case of the identification of thought with its natural vehicle. Logos was thought, and Logos was speech. About the speech of barbarians little was known; hence, little was known about what it would be like to think in the language of barbarians. Although the Greeks were willing to admit that the Egyptians, for example, possessed a rich and venerable store of wisdom, they only knew this because someone had explained it to them in Greek.

— Umberto Eco, The Search for the Perfect Language

30 points ciphergoth 02 July 2013 12:59:11PM Permalink

“Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

30 points Alejandro1 02 August 2013 10:55:14AM Permalink

Now, now, perfectly symmetrical violence never solved anything.

--Professor Farnsworth, Futurama.

30 points Alejandro1 01 November 2013 01:48:51PM Permalink

Is time real? …In one sense, it’s a silly question. The “reality” of something is only an interesting issue if its a well-defined concept whose actual existence is in question, like Bigfoot or supersymmetry. For concepts like “time,” which are unambiguously part of a useful vocabulary we have for describing the world, talking about “reality” is just a bit of harmless gassing. They may be emergent or fundamental, but they’re definitely there.

Sean Carroll

29 points roystgnr 02 January 2013 09:24:29PM Permalink

I think, actually, scientists should kinda look into that whole 'death' thing. Because, they seem to have focused on diseases... and I don't give a #*= about them. The guys go, "Hey, we fixed your arthritis!" "Am I still gonna die?" "Yeah."

So that, I think, is the biggest problem. That's why I can't get behind politicians! They're always like, "Our biggest problem today is unemployment!" and I'm like "What about getting old and sick and dying?"

  • Norm MacDonald, Me Doing Stand Up

(a few verbal tics were removed by me; the censorship was already present in the version I heard)

29 points philh 01 March 2013 07:14:03PM Permalink

"Luck" is useless as a strategy and "Hard work" is mostly useless. Prefer "Discover rules then systematically exploit them."

- patio11

29 points James_Miller 01 May 2013 04:56:15PM Permalink

Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.


29 points RolfAndreassen 02 August 2013 02:48:21AM Permalink

Once there was a miser, who to save money would eat nothing but oatmeal. And what's more, he would make a great big batch of it at the start of every week, and put it in a drawer, and when he wanted a meal he would slice off a piece and eat it cold; thus he saved on firewood. Now, by the end of the week, the oatmeal would be somewhat moldy and not very appetising; and so to make himself eat it, the miser would take out a bottle of good whiskey, and pour himself a glass, and say "All right, Olai, eat your oatmeal and when you're done, you can have a dram." Then he would eat his moldy oatmeal, and when he was done he'd laugh and pour the whiskey back in the bottle, and say "Hah! And you believed that? There's one born every minute, to be sure!" And thus he had a great savings in whiskey as well.

-- Norwegian folktale.

29 points Turgurth 02 September 2013 12:11:39AM Permalink

"Not being able to get the future exactly right doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about it."

--Peter Thiel

28 points Alejandro1 03 July 2013 01:28:06PM Permalink

My experience as a marriage counselor taught me that for a discussion of a disagreement to be productive, the parties have to have a shared understanding of what is being debated. If a husband thinks a marital debate is about leaving the toliet seat up or not, and the wife thinks it is about why her husband never listens to, appreciates or loves her the way he should, expect fireworks and frustration. If you are in an argument that you think is about government debt and it’s going nowhere, it may be because the person you are debating isn’t really arguing about the current level of government debt. Rather, they are arguing about the size of government.

If you get into a debate that is ostensibly about the level of government debt, try the following tactic (or try it on yourself in your own mind): If your opponent says that government debt is too high and we therefore need to cut public spending, ask whether s/he has EVER favored under ANY economic conditions a nice, fat increase in public spending. If you are debating someone who says that government debt is no big deal and that we should be increasing public spending, ask if s/he has EVER favored under ANY economics conditions a big, fat cut in public spending. You are going to get a no answer most of the time; maybe almost all the time.

…Is that wrong? No, it’s just frustrating when you are arguing about one thing and the other person is arguing about something else (or, when BOTH of you are actually arguing about something other than what on the face of it you think you are arguing about). The solution?: Drop the charade and get down to business. How big government should be is an essential political argument for the members of a society to have, so why not just have it up front?

--Keith Humphreys

(I hope that the general point is appreciated instead of starting a politics discussion! I think these kind of proxy arguments are a very common failure mode in all areas of life.)

28 points James_Miller 01 July 2013 05:31:59PM Permalink

"Here are the ten major principles of rapid skill acquisition:

  1. Choose a lovable project.
  2. Focus your energy on one skill at a time.
  3. Define your target performance level.
  4. Deconstruct the skill into subskills.
  5. Obtain critical tools.
  6. Eliminate barriers to practice.
  7. Make dedicated time for practice.
  8. Create fast feedback loops.
  9. Practice by the clock in short bursts.
  10. Emphasize quantity and speed."

The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything . . . Fast! by Josh Kaufman.

27 points GabrielDuquette 01 January 2013 06:19:58PM Permalink

The first rule of human club is you don't explicitly discuss the rules of human club.

Silas Dogood

27 points Stuart_Armstrong 02 March 2013 01:53:25AM Permalink

"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd-Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise surprised me.”

Bertrand Russell

27 points Jayson_Virissimo 03 April 2013 07:32:21AM Permalink

If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance we can solve them.

-- Isaac Asimov

27 points GabrielDuquette 05 May 2013 03:49:28PM Permalink

"Your third arrest, you go to jail for life." "Why the third?" "Because in a game a guy gets three times to swing a stick at a ball."

Hunter Felt

27 points James_Miller 01 June 2013 03:15:46PM Permalink

Imagine you are sitting on this plane now. The top of the craft is gone and you can see the sky above you. Columns of flame are growing. Holes in the sides of the airliner lead to freedom. How would you react?

You probably think you would leap to your feet and yell, "Let's get the hell out of here!" If not this, then you might assume you would coil into a fetal position and freak out. Statistically, neither of these is likely. What you would probably do is far weirder......

In any perilous event, like a sinking ship or towering inferno, a shooting rampage or a tornado, there is a chance you will become so overwhelmed by the perilous overflow of ambiguous information that you will do nothing at all...

about 75 percent of people find it impossible to reason during a catastrophic event or impending doom.

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney p 55,56, and 58.

27 points snafoo 04 August 2013 05:46:45PM Permalink

Some say imprisoning three women in my home for a decade makes me a monster, I say it doesn’t, and of course the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Ariel Castro (according to The Onion)

27 points JonMcGuire 04 September 2013 04:03:52PM Permalink

But, of course, the usual response to any new perspective is "That can't be right, because I don't already believe it."

Eugene McCarthy, Human Origins: Are We Hybrids?

27 points XerxesPraelor 20 September 2013 05:07:43PM Permalink

There is one very valid test by which we may separate genuine, if perverse and unbalanced, originality and revolt from mere impudent innovation and bluff. The man who really thinks he has an idea will always try to explain that idea. The charlatan who has no idea will always confine himself to explaining that it is much too subtle to be explained. The first idea may be really outree or specialist; it may be really difficult to express to ordinary people. But because the man is trying to express it, it is most probable that there is something in it, after all. The honest man is he who is always trying to utter the unutterable, to describe the indescribable; but the quack lives not by plunging into mystery, but by refusing to come out of it.

G K Chesterton

27 points James_Miller 02 December 2013 12:59:52AM Permalink

There are tens of thousands of professional money managers. Statistically, a handful of them have been successful by pure chance. Which ones? I don't know, but I bet a few are famous.

The market doesn't care how much you paid for a stock. Or your house. Or what you think is a "fair" price.

Professional investors have better information and faster computers than you do. You will never beat them short-term trading. Don't even try.

The book Where Are the Customers' Yachts? was written in 1940, and most still haven't figured out that financial advisors don't have their best interest at heart.

The low-cost index fund is one of the most useful financial inventions in history. Boring but beautiful.

Highlights from 50 Unfortunate Truths About Investing by Morgan Housel.

26 points katydee 01 January 2013 01:37:48PM Permalink

The dream is damned and dreamer too if dreaming's all that dreamers do.

--Rory Miller

26 points curiousepic 06 February 2013 02:25:23AM Permalink

Q: I was wondering what the dumbest or funniest argument you've heard against the defeat of aging?

Aubrey de Grey: Um, It's been a very very long time since I've heard a question or concern I haven't heard before, so nothing's dumb or funny anymore, it's just... tedium.

From this recent talk

26 points GabrielDuquette 01 March 2013 06:18:01PM Permalink

Shouldn't "it works like a charm" be said about things that don't work?

Jason Roy

26 points Stabilizer 02 March 2013 12:58:40AM Permalink

“Anything left on your bucket list?”

“Not dying...”

-Bill Gates in his AMA on reddit.

26 points etotheipi 08 April 2013 02:29:36AM Permalink

"The peril of arguing with you is forgetting to argue with myself. Don’t make me convince you: I don’t want to believe that much."

  • Even More Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays from Vectors 3.0, James Richardson

The others are quite nice too:

26 points Creutzer 20 July 2013 09:28:36AM Permalink

“As I looked out into the night sky, across all those infinite stars, it made me realize how insignificant they are."

Peter Cook

Not, perhaps, a rationality quote per se, but a delightful subversion of a harmful commonplace.

26 points cody-bryce 02 July 2013 06:17:44PM Permalink

Truth would quickly cease to be stranger than fiction, once we got as used to it.

H.L. Mencken

26 points CronoDAS 04 July 2013 07:33:31PM Permalink

There are those among us - among you, too, I observe - who glorify the wonders of the natural world with a kind of glassy-eyed fanaticism and urge a return to that purer, more innocent state. This testifies to nothing other than the fact that those who recommend the satisfactions of living in harmony with nature have never had to do it. Nature is evil. Nature is conflict, violence, betrayal; worms that crawl through the skin and breed in the gut; thorns that poison; snakes that fight in writhing, heaving masses until all lie dead from one another's poison. From nature we learned to tear the flesh off the bone and suck out the blood - and to enjoy it. Do you want to return to that state? I do not.


I have known Nature. I have known Civilization. Civilization is better.

-- Donna Ball (writing as Donna Boyd), The Passion

26 points Vaniver 01 July 2013 04:57:29PM Permalink

We shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish.

-- F. A. Hayek

26 points RolfAndreassen 06 August 2013 03:49:17PM Permalink

He took literally five seconds for something I'd spent two weeks on, which I guess is what being an expert means

-- Graduate student of our group, recognising a level above his own in a weekly progress report

26 points shminux 02 August 2013 03:23:24AM Permalink

A man who says he is willing to meet you halfway is usually a poor judge of distance.


26 points cody-bryce 02 August 2013 10:30:27PM Permalink

If Tetris has taught me anything it's that errors pile up and accomplishments disappear.


25 points Carwajalca 29 January 2013 11:21:28AM Permalink

"I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive."

-- Randall Munroe, in (What-if xkcd, Interplanetary Cessna)

25 points James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:34:35PM Permalink

We cannot dismiss conscious analytic thinking by saying that heuristics will get a “close enough” answer 98 percent of the time, because the 2 percent of the instances where heuristics lead us seriously astray may be critical to our lives.

Keith E. Stanovich, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought

25 points Eugine_Nier 02 February 2013 06:51:31AM Permalink

[S]econd thoughts tend to be tentative, and people tend not to believe that they are being lied to. Their own fairmindedness makes them gullible. Upon hearing two versions of any story, the natural reaction of any casual listener is to assume both versions are slanted to favor their side, and that the truth is perhaps somewhere in the middle. So if I falsely accuse an innocent group of ten people of wrongdoing, the average bystander, if he later hears my false accusation disputed, will assume that five or six of the people are guilty, rather than assume I lied and admit that he was deceived.

-- John C Wright

25 points arundelo 01 February 2013 05:00:17PM Permalink

Eventually you just have to admit that if it looks like the absence of a duck, walks like the absence of a duck, and quacks like the absence of a duck, the duck is probably absent.

--Tom Chivers

25 points Rubix 02 February 2013 01:17:50AM Permalink

"In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight. Not people die, but worlds die in them."

-Yevgeny Yevtushenko

25 points BlueSun 03 April 2013 04:20:39PM Permalink

Something a Chess Master told me as a child has stuck with me:

How did you get so good?

I've lost more games than you've ever played.

-- Robert Tanner

25 points NancyLebovitz 25 June 2013 02:01:01PM Permalink

The movie “Apollo 13″ does a fair job of showing how rapidly the engineers in Houston devised the kludge and documented it, but because of time contraints of course they can’t show you everything. NASA is a stickler for details. (Believe me, I’ve worked with them!) They don’t just rapid prototype something that people’s lives will depend upon. Overnight, they not only devised the scrubber adapter built from stuff in the launch manifest, they also tested it, documented it, and sent up stepwise instructions for constructing it. In a high-maturity organization, once you get into the habit of doing that, it doesn’t really take that long. Something that always puzzles me when I meet cowboy engineers who insist that process will just slow them down unacceptably. I tell them that hey, if NASA engineers could design, build, test, and document a CO2 scrubber adapter made from common household items overnight, you can damn well put in a comment when you check in your code changes.

25 points MinibearRex 05 August 2013 05:23:38AM Permalink

He wasn't certain what he expected to find, which, in his experience, was generally a good enough reason to investigate something.

Harry Potter and the Confirmed Critical, Chapter 6

25 points SatvikBeri 03 September 2013 09:45:33PM Permalink

I discovered as a child that the user interface for reprogramming my own brain is my imagination. For example, if I want to reprogram myself to be in a happy mood, I imagine succeeding at a difficult challenge, or flying under my own power, or perhaps being able to levitate objects with my mind. If I want to perform better at a specific task, such as tennis, I imagine the perfect strokes before going on court. If I want to fall asleep, I imagine myself in pleasant situations that are unrelated to whatever is going on with my real life.

My most useful mental trick involves imagining myself to be far more capable than I am. I do this to reduce the risk that I turn down an opportunity just because I am clearly unqualified[...] As my career with Dilbert took off, reporters asked me if I ever imagined I would reach this level of success. The question embarrasses me because the truth is that I imagined a far greater level of success. That's my process. I imagine big.

Scott Adams

25 points arundelo 02 September 2013 02:44:29AM Permalink

You argue that it would be wrong to stab my neighbor and take all their stuff. I reply that you have an ugly face. I commit the "ad hominem" fallacy because I'm attacking you, not your argument. So one thing you could do is yell "OI, AD HOMINEM, NOT COOL."

[...] What you need to do is go one step more and say "the ugliness of my face has no bearing on moral judgments about whether it is okay to stab your neighbor."

But notice you could've just said that without yelling "ad hominem" first! In fact, that's how all fallacies work. If someone has actually committed a fallacy, you can just point out their mistake directly without being a pedant and finding a pat little name for all of their logical reasoning problems.

-- TychoCelchuuu on Reddit

25 points Stabilizer 03 October 2013 09:15:52PM Permalink

A majority of life's errors are caused by forgetting what one is really trying to do.

-Charlie Munger

25 points jsbennett86 03 October 2013 05:07:22AM Permalink

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

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

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

Randall Munroe - Time

25 points pewpewlasergun 03 October 2013 06:06:56AM Permalink

“Whenever serious and competent people need to get things done in the real world, all considerations of tradition and protocol fly out the window.”

Neal Stephenson - "Quicksilver"

25 points satt 01 December 2013 11:27:45PM Permalink

Visit with your predecessors from previous Administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make original mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.

Donald Rumsfeld

25 points Benito 12 December 2013 06:03:44PM Permalink

When I was a young untenured professor of philosophy, I once received a visit from a colleague from the Comparative Literature Department, an eminent and fashionable literary theorist, who wanted some help from me. I was flattered to be asked, and did my best to oblige, but the drift of his questions about various philosophical topics was strangely perplexing to me. For quite a while we were getting nowhere, until finally he managed to make clear to me what he had come for. He wanted "an epistemology," he said. An epistemology. Every self-respecting literary theorist had to sport an epistemology that season, it seems, and without one he felt naked, so he had come to me for an epistemology to wear--it was the very next fashion, he was sure, and he wanted the dernier cri in epistemologies. It didn't matter to him that it be sound, or defensible, or (as one might as well say) true; it just had to be new and different and stylish. Accessorize, my good fellow, or be overlooked at the party.

  • Daniel Dennett

Example of professing a belief - here, belief is a fashion statement, or something fun to whip out at parties, not a thing that actually constrains anticipation.

24 points Grif 02 February 2013 01:12:40AM Permalink

If someone doesn’t value evidence, what evidence are you going to provide that proves they should value evidence? If someone doesn’t value logic, what logical argument would you invoke to prove they should value logic?

--Sam Harris

24 points harshhpareek 03 March 2013 08:05:37PM Permalink

The world of the manager is one of problems and opportunities. Problems are to be managed; one must understand the nature of the problem, amass resources adequate to deal with it, and "work the problem" on an ongoing basis.[...] But what if the problem can be fixed? This is not the domain of the manager.

An engineer believes most problems have solutions. The engineer isn't interested in building an organisation to cope with the problem. [...] And yet the engineer's faith in fixes often blinds him to the fact that many problems, especially those involving people, don't have the kind of complete permanent solutions he seeks.

-- John Walker, The Hackers Diet (~loc 250 on an e-reader)

24 points maia 01 May 2013 08:08:17PM Permalink

When a problem comes along / You must whip it / Before the cream sets out too long / You must whip it / When something's goin' wrong / You must whip it

Now whip it / Into shape / Shape it up / Get straight / Go forward / Move ahead / Try to detect it / It's not too late / To whip it / Whip it good

-- Devo, on the value of confronting problems rather than letting them fester

24 points cody-bryce 02 August 2013 10:29:11PM Permalink

Far too many people are looking for the right person, instead of trying to be the right person.

-Gloria Steinem

24 points Nomad 03 September 2013 05:28:00PM Permalink

The “I blundered and lost, but the refutation was lovely!” scenario is something lovers of truth and beauty can appreciate.

Jeremy Silman

24 points NoSuchPlace 07 December 2013 03:05:36AM Permalink

It's hard enough to overcome one's own misconceptions without having to think about how to get the resulting ideas past other people's. I worry that if I wrote to persuade, I'd start to shy away unconsciously from ideas I knew would be hard to sell. When I notice something surprising, it's usually very faint at first. There's nothing more than a slight stirring of discomfort. I don't want anything to get in the way of noticing it consciously.

23 points Konkvistador 02 January 2013 07:57:26PM Permalink

Just because someone isn't into finding out The Secrets Of The Universe like me doesn't necessarily mean I can't be friends with them.

-Buttercup Dew (@NationalistPony)

23 points Oscar_Cunningham 02 January 2013 02:21:31PM Permalink

I don't blame them; nor am I saying I wouldn't similarly manipulate the truth if I thought it would save lives, but I don't lie to myself. You keep two books, not no books. [Emphasis mine]

The Last Psychiatrist (

23 points Stabilizer 01 January 2013 06:29:14PM 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. Without visual cues (e.g. the horizon) you can't distinguish between gravity and acceleration. Which means if you're flying through clouds you can't tell what the attitude of the aircraft is. You could feel like you're flying straight and level while in fact you're descending in a spiral. The solution is to ignore what your body is telling you and listen only to your instruments. But it turns out to be very hard to ignore what your body is telling you. Every pilot knows about this problem and yet it is still a leading cause of accidents. You need to do what you know intellectually to be right, even though it feels wrong.”

-Paul Graham

23 points James_Miller 01 January 2013 05:46:59PM Permalink

What You Are Inside Only Matters Because of What It Makes You Do

David Wong, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. Published in

23 points Qiaochu_Yuan 12 March 2013 05:07:31AM Permalink

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

-- George Bernard Shaw

23 points Stabilizer 01 April 2013 07:36:20PM Permalink

One test adults use is whether you still have the kid flake reflex. When you're a little kid and you're asked to do something hard, you can cry and say "I can't do it" and the adults will probably let you off. As a kid there's a magic button you can press by saying "I'm just a kid" that will get you out of most difficult situations. Whereas adults, by definition, are not allowed to flake. They still do, of course, but when they do they're ruthlessly pruned.

-Paul Graham

23 points Zubon 02 June 2013 08:33:40PM Permalink

Sorry? Of course he was sorry. People were always sorry. Sorry they had done what they had done, sorry they were doing what they were doing, sorry they were going to do what they were going to do; but they still did whatever it was. The sorrow never stopped them; it just made them feel better. And so the sorrow never stopped. ...

Sorrow be damned, and all your plans. Fuck the faithful, fuck the committed, the dedicated, the true believers; fuck all the sure and certain people prepared to maim and kill whoever got in their way; fuck every cause that ended in murder and a child screaming.

Against a Dark Background by Iain M. Banks.

23 points AspiringRationalist 01 June 2013 11:19:51PM Permalink

Bad things don't happen to you because you're unlucky. Bad things happen to you because you're a dumbass.

  • That 70s Show
23 points dspeyer 01 July 2013 08:25:02PM Permalink

The Milky-Way galaxy is mind-bogglingly big.

Eh," you say, "100,000 light years in diameter, give or take a few."

Listen, pal: just because you can measure something in light years doesn't mean you truly understand how big it really is.

By the time you carve our galaxy up into units you have actual, personal experience with, you'll have to start using numbers that you won't live long enough to count to.

That's okay. The galaxy doesn't care. In fact, not caring is one of the things it does best.

That, and being really, really, really big.

--Howard Taylor

23 points dspeyer 01 July 2013 08:20:30PM Permalink

Sometimes the most remarkable things seem commonplace. I mean, when you think about it, jet travel is pretty freaking remarkable. You get in a plane, it defies the gravity of an entire planet by exploiting a loophole with air pressure, and it flies across distances that would take months or years to cross by any means of travel that has been significant for more than a century or three. You hurtle above the earth at enough speed to kill you instantly should you bump into something, and you can only breathe because someone built you a really good tin can that has seams tight enough to hold in a decent amount of air. Hundreds of millions of man-hours of work and struggle and research, blood, sweat, tears, and lives have gone into the history of air travel, and it has totally revolutionized the face of our planet and societies.

But get on any flight in the country, and I absolutely promise you that you will find someone who, in the face of all that incredible achievement, will be willing to complain about the drinks.

The drinks, people.

--Harry Dresden, Summer Knight, Jim Butcher

23 points Eugine_Nier 02 August 2013 06:22:12AM Permalink

Subsidizing the markers of status doesn’t produce the character traits that result in that status; it undermines them.

Reynolds law

23 points pjeby 06 November 2013 12:46:38AM Permalink

Realistically, most people have poor filters for sorting truth from fiction, and there’s no objective way to know if you’re particularly good at it or not. Consider the people who routinely disagree with you. See how confident they look while being dead wrong? That’s exactly how you look to them.

Scott Adams, in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

22 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 February 2013 11:33:28PM Permalink

I've just come across a fascinatingly compact observation by I. J. Good:

Public and private utilities do not always coincide. This leads to ethical problems. Example - an invention is submitted to a scientific adviser of a firm...

The probability that the invention will work is p. The value to the firm if the invention is adopted and works is V, and the loss if the invention is adopted and fails is L. The value to the adviser personally if he advises the adoption of the invention and it works is v, and the loss if it fails to work is l. The losses to the firm and the adviser if he recommends the rejection of the invention are both negligible...

Then the firm's expected gain if the invention is adopted is pV - (1-p)L and the adviser's expected gain in the same circumstances is pv - (1-p)l. The firm has positive expected gain if p/(1-p) L/V, and the adviser has positive expected gain if p/(1-p) l/v.

If l/v p/(1-p) L/V, the adviser will be faced with an ethical problem, i.e. he will be tempted to act against the interests of the firm.

This is a beautifully simple recipe for a conflict of interest:

Considering absolute losses assuming failure and absolute gains conditioned on success, an adviser is incentivized to give the wrong advice, precisely when:

  • The ratio of agent loss to agent gain,
  • exceeds the odds of success versus failure
  • which in turn exceeds the ratio of principal loss to principal gain.

You can see this reflected in a lot of cases because the gains to an advisor often don't scale anywhere near as fast as the gains to society or a firm. It's the Fearful Committee Formula.

22 points satt 02 April 2013 06:18:07AM Permalink

Within the philosophy of science, the view that new discoveries constitute a break with tradition was challenged by Polanyi, who argued that discoveries may be made by the sheer power of believing more strongly than anyone else in current theories, rather than going beyond the paradigm. For example, the theory of Brownian motion which Einstein produced in 1905, may be seen as a literal articulation of the kinetic theory of gases at the time. As Polanyi said:

Discoveries made by the surprising configuration of existing theories might in fact be likened to the feat of a Columbus whose genius lay in taking literally and as a guide to action that the earth was round, which his contemporaries held vaguely and as a mere matter for speculation.

― David Lamb Susan M. Easton, Multiple Discovery: The pattern of scientific progress, pp. 100-101

22 points satt 02 May 2013 02:05:24AM Permalink

For one mistake made for not knowing, ten mistakes are made for not looking.

James Alexander Lindsay

22 points RolfAndreassen 03 May 2013 12:16:01AM Permalink

One interesting thing about Ms. Dowd’s description of “hardball” political tactics is just how dainty and genteel her brass knuckle suggestions actually are. A speech, an appeal to reason: there is nothing here about lucrative contracts for political supporters, promises of sinecure jobs for politicians who lose their seats, a “blank check” for administrative backing on some obscure tax loophole that a particular politician could award to a favored client; there’s not even a delicate hint about grand jury investigations that can be stopped in their tracks or compromising photographs or wiretaps that need never see the light of day. Far be it from Ms Dowd to speak of or even hint at the kind of strategy that actual politicians think about when words like ‘hardball’ come to mind. Ms Dowd speaks of brass knuckles and then shows us a doily; at some level it speaks well of Ms. Dowd as a human being that even when she tries she seems unable to come up with an offer someone can’t refuse.

-- Walter Russell Mead, describing someone else's failure to understand what a desperate effort actually looks like.

22 points shminux 09 June 2013 07:21:58PM Permalink

you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act.

Edward Snowden, the NSA surveillance whistle-blower.

22 points arborealhominid 06 June 2013 03:31:47PM Permalink

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable: one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone 'a gentleman' you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not 'a gentleman' you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said- so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully- 'Ah, but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?' They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man 'a gentleman' in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is 'a gentleman' becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object; it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

  • C.S. Lewis (emphasis my own)
22 points ShardPhoenix 02 August 2013 08:26:41AM Permalink

Rin: "Even I make mistakes once in a while."

Shirou (thinking): ...This is hard. Would it be good for her if I correct her and point out that she makes mistakes often, not just once in a while?

Fate/stay night

22 points lukeprog 02 September 2013 09:57:55AM Permalink

You cannot have... only benevolent knowledge; the scientific method doesn't filter for benevolence.

Richard Rhodes

22 points satt 02 September 2013 01:36:41AM Permalink

I realize that if you ask people to account for 'facts,' they usually spend more time finding reasons for them than finding out whether they are true. [...] They skip over the facts but carefully deduce inferences. They normally begin thus: 'How does this come about?' But does it do so? That is what they ought to be asking.

— Montaigne, Essays, M. Screech's 1971 translation

22 points Eugine_Nier 02 September 2013 04:15:32AM Permalink

If you don’t study philosophy you’ll absorb it anyway, but you won’t know why or be able to be selective.

22 points Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:53:15AM Permalink

the mass of an object never seems to change: a spinning top has the same weight as a still one. So a “law” was invented: mass is constant, independent of speed. That “law” is now found to be incorrect. Mass is found to increase with velocity, but appreciable increases require velocities near that of light. A true law is: if an object moves with a speed of less than one hundred miles a second the mass is constant to within one part in a million. In some such approximate form this is a correct law. So in practice one might think that the new law makes no significant difference. Well, yes and no. For ordinary speeds we can certainly forget it and use the simple constant-mass law as a good approximation. But for high speeds we are wrong, and the higher the speed, the more wrong we are.

Finally, and most interesting, philosophically we are completely wrong with the approximate law. Our entire picture of the world has to be altered even though the mass changes only by a little bit. This is a very peculiar thing about the philosophy, or the ideas, behind the laws. Even a very small effect sometimes requires profound changes in our ideas.

Richard Feynman Lectures on Physics

21 points Vaniver 11 January 2013 01:32:09AM Permalink

Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding or relating; but when they consider that tho' dust blown into the eyes of a single person, or into a single shop on a windy day, is but of small importance, yet the great number of the instances in a populous city, and its frequent repetitions give it weight and consequence, perhaps they will not censure very severely those who bestow some attention to affairs of this seemingly low nature. Human felicity is produc'd not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.

--Benjamin Franklin

21 points Antadil 02 March 2013 11:18:53PM Permalink

I remember asking a wise man, once,

'Why do men fear the dark?'

'Because darkness' he told me, 'is ignorance made visible.'

'And do men despise ignorance?', I asked.

'No!', he said, 'they prize it above all things - all things! - but only so long as it remains invisible.'

– R. Scott Bakker: The Judging Eye

21 points RichardKennaway 10 April 2013 07:00:22PM Permalink

BOSWELL. 'Sir Alexander Dick tells me, that he remembers having a thousand people in a year to dine at his house: that is, reckoning each person as one, each time that he dined there.' JOHNSON. 'That, Sir, is about three a day.' BOSWELL. 'How your statement lessens the idea.' JOHNSON. 'That, Sir, is the good of counting. It brings every thing to a certainty, which before floated in the mind indefinitely.'

From Boswell's Life of Johnson. HT to a commenter on the West Hunter blog.

21 points BT_Uytya 03 June 2013 09:34:39AM Permalink

Baroque Cycle by Neal Stphenson proves to be a very good, intelligent book series.

“Why does the tide rush out to sea?”

“The influence of the sun and the moon.”

“Yet you and I cannot see the sun or the moon. The water does not have senses to see, or a will to follow them. How then do the sun and moon, so far away, affect the water?”

“Gravity,” responded Colonel Barnes, lowering his voice like a priest intoning the name of God, and glancing about to see whether Sir Isaac Newton were in earshot.

“That’s what everyone says now. ’Twas not so when I was a lad. We used to parrot Aristotle and say it was in the nature of water to be drawn up by the moon. Now, thanks to our fellow-passenger, we say ‘gravity.’ It seems a great improvement. But is it really? Do you understand the tides, Colonel Barnes, simply because you know to say ‘gravity’?”

Daniel Waterhouse and Colonel Barnes in Solomon’s Gold

21 points jsbennett86 11 September 2013 06:03:45AM Permalink

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

Richard Mitchell - Less Than Words Can Say

21 points dspeyer 02 December 2013 06:10:24AM Permalink

Mike nodded. He wasn't really surprised, though. One of the things he'd come to learn since the Ring of Fire, all the way down to the marrow of his bones, was that if the ancestors of twentieth-century human beings didn't do something that seemed logical, it was probably because it wasn't actually logical at all, once you understood everything involved. So it turned out that such notorious military numbskulls as Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Phil Sheridan, Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and all the rest of them hadn't actually been idiots after all. It was easy for twentieth-century professors to proclaim loftily that Civil War generals had insisted on continuing with line formations despite the advent of the Minié ball-armed rifled musket because the dimwits simply hadn't noticed that the guns were accurate for several hundred yards. When—cluck; cluck—they should obviously have adopted the skirmishing tactics of twentieth-century infantry.

But it turned out, when put to a ruthless seventeenth-century Swedish general's test in his very rigorous notion of field exercises, that those professors of a later era had apparently never tried to stand their ground when cavalry came at them. After they fired their shot, and needed one-third of a minute—if they were adept at the business, and didn't get rattled—to have a second shot ready. In that bloody world where real soldiers lived and died, skirmishing tactics without breechloading rifles or automatic weapons were just a way to commit suicide. If the opponent had large enough forces and was willing to lose some men, at least.

-- 1634: The Baltic War, by Eric Flint and David Weber

20 points RichardKennaway 13 January 2013 08:11:24PM Permalink

"Just because you no longer believe a lie, does not mean you now know the truth."

Mark Atwood

20 points Alicorn 11 January 2013 03:08:53AM Permalink

He tells her that the earth is flat -

He knows the facts, and that is that.

In altercations fierce and long

She tries her best to prove him wrong.

But he has learned to argue well.

He calls her arguments unsound

And often asks her not to yell.

She cannot win. He stands his ground. The planet goes on being round.

--Wendy Cope, He Tells Her from the series ‘Differences of Opinion’

20 points Alicorn 02 March 2013 01:07:37AM Permalink

...these things are possible. And because they're possible we have to think of them so they don't surprise us later. We have to think of them so that if the worst does come, we'll already know how to live in that universe.

-- Miro, in Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

20 points Pablo_Stafforini 02 May 2013 06:19:16PM Permalink

Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea—whether it’s about politics or sports—what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology—rigid and unyielding.

Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, New York, 2008, pp. 138-139

20 points Vaniver 01 July 2013 04:56:28PM Permalink

I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.

-- David Ricardo

20 points PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 02:48:18PM Permalink

I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it.

  • Terry Pratchett,, quoted here
20 points Vaniver 13 November 2013 03:51:46AM Permalink

When the tech geeks raised concerns about their ability to deliver the website on time, they are reported to have been told “Failure is not an option.” Unfortunately, this is what happens when you say “failure is not an option”: You don’t develop backup plans, which means that your failure may turn into a disaster.

From an article about Obamacare.

20 points lukeprog 14 November 2013 12:55:08AM Permalink

God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot predict, the courage to predict the things I can, and the wisdom to buy index funds.

Nate Silver

(h/t Rob Wiblin)

20 points malcolmmcc 01 November 2013 11:01:56AM Permalink

"Next time you’re in a debate, ask yourself if someone is on offense or defense. If they’re neither, then you know you have someone you can learn from"

Julien Smith

20 points Stabilizer 07 December 2013 10:34:41PM Permalink

In every way that people, firms, or governments act and plan, they are making implicit forecasts about the future.

-The Economist

19 points ygert 01 January 2013 05:29:18PM Permalink

I was rereading HP Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu lately, and the quote from the Necronomicon jumped out at me as a very good explanation of exactly why cryonics is such a good idea.

(Full disclosure: I myself have not signed up for cryonics. But I intend to sign up as soon as I can arrange to move to a place where it is available.)

The quote is simply this:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die.

19 points GabrielDuquette 02 February 2013 01:19:39AM Permalink

Saw kid tryin' to catch a butterfly, got me wonderin why I didn't see a butterfly trying desperately to fly away from a kid


19 points Pablo_Stafforini 02 June 2013 02:40:27AM Permalink

Th[e] strategy [of preferring less knowledge and intelligence due to their high cognitive costs] is exemplified by the sea squirt larva, which swims about until it finds a suitable rock, to which it then permanently affixes itself. Cemented in place, the larva has less need for complex information processing, whence it proceeds to digest part of its own brain (its cerebral ganglion). Academics can sometimes observe a similar phenomenon in colleagues who are granted tenure.

Nick Bostrom

19 points B_For_Bandana 01 June 2013 08:45:22PM Permalink

Stepan Arkadyevitch subscribed to a liberal paper, and read it. It was not extreme in those views, but advocated those principles the majority held. And though he was not really interested in science or art or politics, he strongly adhered to such views on all those subjects as the majority, including his paper, advocated, and he changed them only when the majority changed them; or more correctly, he did not change them, but they themselves imperceptibly changed in him.

Stepan Arkadyevitch never chose principles or opinions, but these principles and opinions came to him, just as he never chose the shape of a hat or coat, but took those that others wore. And, living as he did in fashionable society, through the necessity of some mental activity, developing generally in a man's best years, it was as indispensable for him to have views as to have a hat. If there was any reason why he preferred liberal views rather than the conservative direction which many of his circle followed, it was not because he found a liberal tendency more rational, but because he found it better suited to his mode of life.

The liberal party declared that everything in Russia was wretched; and the fact was that Stepan Arkadyevitch had a good many debts and was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that marriage was a defunct institution and that it needed to be remodeled, and in fact domestic life afforded Stepan Arakadyevitch very little pleasure, and compelled him to lie, and to pretend, which was contrary to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather allowed it to be understood, that religion is only a curb on the barbarous portion of the community, and in fact Stepan Arkadyevitch could not bear the shortest prayer without pain in his knees, and he could not comprehend the necessity of all these high-sounding words about the other world when it was so very pleasant to live in this one.

  • Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

The personal is political!

19 points Zubon 03 July 2013 11:03:03PM Permalink

Xander: Yep, vampires are real. A lot of 'em live in Sunnydale. Willow 'll fill you in.

Willow: I know it's hard to accept at first.

Oz: Actually, it explains a lot.

One of the stronger examples of Bayesian updating in fiction, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 2, episode 13

19 points mushroom 01 July 2013 09:53:59PM Permalink

“The wonder and horror of epidemiology, is that it’s not enough to just measure one thing very accurately. To get the right answer, you may have to measure a great many things very accurately.”

-- Jerry Avorn, quoted here.

19 points ShardPhoenix 02 August 2013 08:28:32AM Permalink

But, Senjougahara, can I set a condition too? A condition, or, well, something like a promise. Don't ever pretend you can see something that you can't, or that you can't see something that you can. If our viewpoints are inconsistent, let's talk it over. Promise me.


19 points johnlawrenceaspden 08 September 2013 04:53:03PM Permalink

When you know a thing, to hold that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it. This is knowledge.

Confucius, Analects

19 points RolfAndreassen 03 October 2013 05:29:05AM Permalink

"I didn't go spiralling down. Because there is no abyss. There is no yawning chasm waiting to swallow us up, when we learn that there is no god, that we're animals like any other animal, that the universe has no purpose, that our souls are made of the same stuff as water and sand."

I said, "There are two thousand cultists on this island who believe otherwise."

Michael shrugged. "What do you expect from moral flat-Earthers, if not fear of falling?"

-- Greg Egan, "Distress".

19 points ShardPhoenix 03 December 2013 08:29:07AM Permalink

You know what they say - "Asking once will bring you temporary shame, whereas not doing so will bring you permanent shame".

They also say "Answering a question will make you feel superior for a while, whereas not doing so will give you a lifelong sense of superiority".

19 points Eugine_Nier 03 December 2013 01:00:37AM Permalink

All appearances to the contrary, the managers involved in this debacle aren't dumb. But they come from a background -- law and politics -- where arguments often take the place of reality, and plausibility can be as good as, or better than, truth.

What engineers know that lawyers and politicians often don't is that in the world of things, as opposed to people, there's no escaping the sharp teeth of reality. But in law, and especially politics, inconvenient facts are merely inconvenient, something to be rationalized away.

Glenn Reynolds

18 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 January 2013 10:06:26AM Permalink

It is not an epistemological principle that one might as well hang for a sheep as for a lamb.

-Bas van Fraassen, The Scientific Image

18 points jsbennett86 13 February 2013 11:34:58PM Permalink

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

Ozy Frantz - Brain Chemicals are not Fucking Magic

18 points Kawoomba 06 February 2013 10:26:25AM Permalink

A sharp knife is nothing without a sharp eye.

Klingon proverb.

18 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2013 05:25:27AM Permalink

Good things come to those who steal them.

-- Magnificent Sasquatch

18 points Cyan 08 April 2013 05:27:30AM Permalink

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.

- Kung Fu-tzu

18 points Vaniver 01 April 2013 03:16:14PM Permalink

The mere formulation of a problem is far more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skills.

-- Albert Einstein

18 points twanvl 09 April 2013 11:45:37AM Permalink

If the climate skeptics want to win me over, then the way for them to do so is straightforward: they should ignore me, and try instead to win over the academic climatology community, majorities of chemists and physicists, Nobel laureates, the IPCC, National Academies of Science, etc. with superior research and arguments.

-- Scott Aaronson on areas of expertise

18 points RolfAndreassen 06 May 2013 05:08:42PM Permalink

But if the question is "Has this caused you to revise downward your estimate of the value of health insurance?" the answer has to obviously be yes. Anyone who answers differently is looking deep into their intestinal loops, not the Oregon study. You don't have to revise the estimate to zero, or even a low number. But if you'd asked folks before the results dropped what we'd expect to see if insurance made people a lot healthier, they'd have said "statistically significant improvement on basic markers for the most common chronic diseases. The fact that we didn't see that means that we should now say that health insurance, or at least Medicaid, probably doesn't make as big a difference in health as we thought.

-- Megan McArdle, trying to explain Bayesian updates and the importance of making predictions in advance, without referring to any mathematics.

18 points Woodbun 05 June 2013 05:27:29AM Permalink

...the machines will do what we ask them to do and not what we ought to ask them to do. In the discussion of the relation between man and powerful agencies controlled by man, the gnomic wisdom of the folk tales has a value far beyond the books of our sociologists.

18 points Estarlio 12 June 2013 10:30:01PM Permalink

"Oh, you could do it all by magic, you certainly could. You could wave a wand and get twinkly stars and a fresh-baked loaf. You could make fish jump out of the sea already cooked. And then, somewhere, somehow, magic would present its bill, which was always more than you could afford.

That’s why it was left to wizards, who knew how to handle it safely. Not doing any magic at all was the chief task of wizards - not “not doing magic” because they couldn’t do magic, but not doing magic when they could do and didn’t. Any ignorant fool can fail to turn someone else into a frog. You have to be clever to refrain from doing it when you knew how easy it was.

There were places in the world commemorating those times when wizards hadn’t been quite as clever as that, and on many of them the grass would never grow again."

-- Terry Prachett, Going Postal

18 points Arkanj3l 05 August 2013 03:04:37AM Permalink

From Jacques Vallee, Messengers of Deception...

'Then he posed a question that, obvious as it seems, had not really occurred to me: “What makes you think that UFOs are a scientific problem?”

I replied with something to the effect that a problem was only scientific in the way it was approached, but he would have none of that, and he began lecturing me. First, he said, science had certain rules. For example, it has to assume that the phenomena it is observing is natural in origin rather than artificial and possibly biased. Now the UFO phenomenon could be controlled by alien beings. “If it is,” added the Major, “then the study of it doesn’t belong to science. It belongs to Intelligence.” Meaning counterespionage. And that, he pointed out, was his domain. *

“Now, in the field of counterespionage, the rules are completely different.” He drew a simple diagram in my notebook. “You are a scientist. In science there is no concept of the ‘price’ of information. Suppose I gave you 95 per cent of the data concerning a phenomenon. You’re happy because you know 95 per cent of the phenomenon. Not so in intelligence. If I get 95 per cent of the data, I know that this is the ‘cheap’ part of the information. I still need the other 5 percent, but I will have to pay a much higher price to get it. You see, Hitler had 95 per cent of the information about the landing in Normandy. But he had the wrong 95 percent!”

“Are you saying that the UFO data we us to compile statistics and to find patterns with computers are useless?” I asked. “Might we be spinning our magnetic tapes endlessly discovering spurious laws?”

“It all depends on how the team on the other side thinks. If they know what they’re doing, there will be so many cutouts between you and them that you won’t have the slightest chance of tracing your way to the truth. Not by following up sightings and throwing them into a computer. They will keep feeding you the information they want you to process. What is the only source of data about the UFO phenomenon? It is the UFOs themselves!”

Some things were beginning to make a lot of sense. “If you’re right, what can I do? It seems that research on the phenomenon is hopeless, then. I might as well dump my computer into a river.”

“Not necessarily, but you should try a different approach. First you should work entirely outside of the organized UFO groups; they are infiltrated by the same official agencies they are trying to influence, and they propagate any rumour anyone wants to have circulated. In Intelligence circles, people like that are historical necessities. We call them ‘useful idiots’. When you’ve worked long enough for Uncle Sam, you know he is involved in a lot of strange things. The data these groups get is biased at the source, but they play a useful role.

“Second, you should look for the irrational, the bizarre, the elements that do not fit...Have you ever felt that you were getting close to something that didn’t seem to fit any rational pattern yet gave you a strong impression that it was significant?”'

18 points Eugine_Nier 02 September 2013 04:44:42AM Permalink

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.


18 points Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:37:33AM Permalink

IF you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;

If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

If--, by Rudyard Kipling

18 points Bundle_Gerbe 01 November 2013 11:26:39AM Permalink

The theme of this book, then, must be the coming to consciousness of uncertain inference. The topic may be compared to, say, the history of visual perspective. Everyone can see in perspective, but it has been a difficult and long-drawn-out effort of humankind to become aware of the principles of perspective in order to take advantage of them and imitate nature. So it is with probability. Everyone can act so as to take a rough account of risk, but understanding the principles of probability and using them to improve performance is an immense task.

James Franklin, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability before Pascal

18 points NancyLebovitz 04 November 2013 01:36:55PM Permalink

Any man can learn to learn from the wise once he can find them: but learn to learn from a fool and all the world’s your faculty.

--John Ciardi

18 points JQuinton 26 December 2013 02:41:46PM Permalink

Saying "everyone is equally to blame" is great if you want to sound reasonable and paint yourself as a moderate voice in a debate, but it doesn't really work if you actually want to be correct.

From a commenter called "ThisIsMyRealName" over at Slate

18 points adamzerner 21 December 2013 05:52:32PM Permalink

"A problem well put, is half solved." - John Dewey

18 points shminux 03 December 2013 10:56:59PM Permalink

Scott Aaronson after looking into the JFK assassination conspiracy evidence:

Before I started reading, if someone forced me to guess, maybe I would’ve assigned a ~10% probability to some sort of conspiracy. Now, though, I’d place the JFK conspiracy hypothesis firmly in Moon-landings-were-faked, Twin-Towers-collapsed-from-the-inside territory. Or to put it differently, “Oswald as lone, crazed assassin” has been added to my large class of “sanity-complete” propositions: propositions defined by the property that if I doubt any one of them, then there’s scarcely any part of the historical record that I shouldn’t doubt.

17 points HalMorris 02 January 2013 09:58:44AM Permalink

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

  • Mark Twain - Life on the Mississippi

(If you wonder where "two hundred and forty-two miles" shortening of the river came from, it was the straightening of its original meandering path to improve navigation)

17 points Kindly 07 January 2013 03:42:13AM Permalink

Then for the first time it dawned on him that classing all drowthers together made no more sense than having a word for all animals that can't stand upright on two legs for more than a minute, or all animals with dry noses. What possible use could there be for such classifications? The word "drowther" didn't say anything about people except that they were not born in a Westil Family. "Drowther" meant "not us," and anything you said about drowthers beyond that was likely to be completely meaningless. They were not a "class" at all. They were just... people.

Orson Scott Card, The Lost Gate

17 points AspiringRationalist 01 January 2013 09:16:14PM Permalink

The ideas of the Hasids are scientifically and morally wrong; the fashion, food and lifestyle are way stupid; but the community and family make me envious.

-- Penn Jilette

17 points gotdistractedbythe 04 February 2013 01:55:07AM Permalink

Been making a game of looking for rationality quotes in the super bowl

"It's only weird if it doesn't work" --Bud Light Commercial

Only a rationality quote out of context, though, since the ad is about superstitious rituals among sports fans. My automatic mental reply is "well that doesn't work"

17 points Vaniver 01 February 2013 09:27:35PM Permalink

If you're not making quantitative predictions, you're probably doing it wrong.

--Gabe Newell during a talk. The whole talk is worthwhile if you're interested in institutional design or Valve.

17 points pjeby 05 May 2013 05:24:06AM Permalink

Nowadays many educated people treat reinforcement theory as if it were something not terribly important that they have known and understood all along. In fact most people don't understand it, or they would not behave so badly to the people around them.

-- Karen Pryor, Dont Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training

17 points lukeprog 14 May 2013 08:45:43PM Permalink

Philosophy... is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should have been asking in the first place.

Daniel Dennett

17 points pjeby 01 May 2013 08:11:29PM Permalink

When I argue with reality, I lose -- but only 100 percent of the time.

-- Byron Katie, Loving What Is

17 points tingram 03 June 2013 05:23:24AM Permalink

It is said, for example, that a man ten times regrets having spoken, for the once he regrets his silence. And why? Because the fact of having spoken is an external fact, which may involve one in annoyances, since it is an actuality. But the fact of having kept silent! Yet this is the most dangerous thing of all. For by keeping silent one is relegated solely to oneself, no actuality comes to a man's aid by punishing him, by bringing down upon him the consequences of his speech. No, in this respect, to be silent is the easy way. But he who knows what the dreadful is, must for this very reason be most fearful of every fault, of every sin, which takes an inward direction and leaves no outward trace. So it is too that in the eyes of the world it is dangerous to venture. And why? Because one may lose. But not to venture is shrewd. And yet, by not venturing, it is so dreadfully easy to lose that which it would be difficult to lose in even the most venturesome venture, and in any case never so easily, so completely as if it were's self. For if I have ventured amiss--very well, then life helps me by its punishment. But if I have not ventured at all--who then helps me?

--Soren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

17 points elharo 03 July 2013 10:00:50AM Permalink

When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.

Tyrion Lannister in George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings

17 points AShepard 01 July 2013 11:56:09PM Permalink

If (as those of us who make a study of ourselves have been led to do) each man, on hearing a wise maxim immediately looked to see how it properly applied to him, he would find that it was not so much a pithy saying as a whiplash applied to the habitual stupidity of his faculty of judgment. But the counsels of Truth and her precepts are taken to apply to the generality of men, never to oneself; we store them up in our memory not in our manners, which is most stupid and unprofitable.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, "On habit"

17 points Eugine_Nier 02 September 2013 08:16:25PM Permalink

Another bad indication is when we feel sorry for people applying for the program. We used to fund people because they seemed so well meaning. We figured they would be so happy if we accepted them, and that they would get their asses kicked by the world if we didn't. We eventually realized that we're not doing those people a favor. They get their asses kicked by the world anyway.

Paul Graham

17 points Eugine_Nier 04 October 2013 02:56:50AM Permalink

You can't trust your intuitions [in this domain]. I'm going to give you a set of rules here that will get you through this process if anything will. At certain moments you'll be tempted to ignore them. So rule number zero is: these rules exist for a reason. You wouldn't need a rule to keep you going in one direction if there weren't powerful forces pushing you in another.

Paul Graham

17 points roland 05 November 2013 08:22:03PM Permalink

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.

-- Peter Drucker

16 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 January 2013 09:29:29AM Permalink

"A stupid person can make only certain, limited types of errors. The mistakes open to a clever fellow are far broader. But to the one who knows how smart he is compared to everyone else, the possibilities for true idiocy are boundless."

-- Steven Brust, spoken by Vlad, in Iorich

16 points Mass_Driver 25 January 2013 10:00:41PM Permalink

I once heard a story about the original writer of the Superman Radio Series. He wanted a pay rise, his employers didn't want to give him one. He decided to end the series with Superman trapped at the bottom of a well, tied down with kryptonite and surrounded by a hundred thousand tanks (or something along these lines). It was a cliffhanger. He then made his salary demands. His employers refused and went round every writer in America, but nobody could work out how the original writer was planning to have Superman escape. Eventually the radio guys had to go back to him and meet his wage demands. The first show of the next series began "Having escaped from the well, Superman hurried to..." There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I've no idea what it is.


I would argue that the lesson is that when something valuable is at stake, we should focus on the simplest available solutions to the puzzles we face, rather than on ways to demonstrate our intelligence to ourselves or others.

16 points NancyLebovitz 17 January 2013 03:43:04AM Permalink

I keep coming back to the essential problem that in our increasingly complex society, we are actually required to hold very firm opinions about highly complex matters that require analysis from multiple fields of expertise (economics, law, political science, engineering, others) in hugely complex systems where we must use our imperfect data to choose among possible outcomes that involve significant trade offs. This would be OK if we did not regard everyone who disagreed with us as an ignorant pinhead or vile evildoer whose sole motivation for disagreeing is their intrinsic idiocy, greed, or hatred for our essential freedoms/people not like themselves. Except that there actually are LOTS of ignorant pinheads and vile evildoers whose sole motivation etc., or whose self-interest is obvious to everyone but themselves.


16 points GabrielDuquette 01 January 2013 06:21:03PM Permalink

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.* *Not a controlled experiment


16 points shokwave 05 March 2013 09:17:16AM Permalink

On consciousness:

"Forget about minds," he told her. "Say you've got a device designed to monitor—oh, cosmic rays, say. What happens when you turn its sensor around so it's not pointing at the sky anymore, but at its own guts?"

He answered himself before she could: "It does what it's built to. It measures cosmic rays, even though it's not looking at them any more. It parses its own circuitry in terms of cosmic-ray metaphors, because those feel right, because they feel natural, because it can't look at things any other way. But it's the wrong metaphor. So the system misunderstands everything about itself. Maybe that's not a grand and glorious evolutionary leap after all. Maybe it's just a design flaw."

-- Blindsight, by Peter Watts

16 points player_03 08 April 2013 06:25:20AM Permalink

When I was a Christian, and when I began this intense period of study which eventually led to my atheism, my goal, my one and only goal, was to find the best evidence and argument I could find that would lead people to the truth of Jesus Christ. That was a huge mistake. As a skeptic now, my goal is very similar - it just stops short. My goal is to find the best evidence and argument, period. Not the best evidence and argument that leads to a preconceived conclusion. The best evidence and argument, period, and go wherever the evidence leads.

--Matt Dillahunty

16 points Jayson_Virissimo 02 May 2013 01:06:05AM Permalink

With numbers you can do anything you like. Suppose I have the sacred number 9 and I want to get a number 1314, date of the execution of Jaques de Molay - a date dear to anyone who, like me, professes devotion ot the Templar tradition of knighthood. What do I do? I multiply 9 by one hundred and forty-six, the fateful day of the destruction of Carthage. How did I arrive at this? I divided thirteen hundred and fourteen by two, three, et cetera, until I found a satisfying date. I could also have divided thirteen hundred and fourteen by 6.28, the double of 3.14 and I would have got two hundred and nine. That is the year Attulus I, king of Pergamon, ascended the throne. You see?

Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (1989)

16 points arborealhominid 03 May 2013 01:13:52PM Permalink

One of the biggest tasks, according to Gardner, was tracking information and beliefs back to their roots. This is always important, but especially in a field as rich in hearsay as herbal medicine. One little piece of information, or an unsubstantiated report, can grow and become magnified, quickly becoming an unquestioned truism. She used as an example the truism that the extracts of the herb Ginkgo Biloba might cause dangerous bleeding. Everyone says it can. The journalists say it. The doctors say it. The herbalists say it. Even I say it! It's nearly impossible to read a scientific paper on Ginkgo that doesn't mention this alleged danger. But why do we say it - where did the information come from? Turns out, there was one case report - of a single person - who couldn't clot efficiently after taking Ginkgo. Another 178 papers were published that mentioned this danger, citing only this one report. Those 178 papers were cited by over 4,100 other papers. So now we have almost 4-and-a-half thousand references in the scientific literature - not to mention the tens of thousands of references in the popular press - to the dangers of Ginkgo, all traceable back to a single person whose bleeding may or may not have been attributable to the herb.

-Adam Stark

16 points army1987 03 May 2013 12:03:52PM Permalink

it is often better to pull numbers out of your arse and use them to make a decision, than to pull a decision out of your arse.

-- Paul Crowley

16 points novalis 07 June 2013 06:33:30PM Permalink

"It’s actually hard to see when you’ve fucked up, because you chose all your actions in a good-faith effort and if you were to run through it again you’ll just get the same results. I mean, errors-of-fact you can see when you learn more facts, but errors-of-judgement are judged using the same brain that made the judgement in the first place." - Collin Street

16 points James_Miller 01 June 2013 03:24:39PM Permalink

you would be foolish to accept what people believed for “thousands of years” in many domains of natural science. When it comes to the ancients or the moderns in science always listen to the moderns. They are not always right, but overall they are surely more right, and less prone to miss the mark. In fact, you may have to be careful about paying too much attention to science which is a generation old, so fast does the “state of the art” in terms of knowledge shift.

Razib Khan

16 points Alejandro1 02 June 2013 05:37:52PM Permalink

"I call that 'the falling problem'. You encounter it when you first study physics. You realize that, if you were ever dropped from a plane without a parachute, you could calculate with a high degree of accuracy how long it's take to hit the ground, your speed, how much energy you'll deposit into the earth. And yet, you would still be just as dead as a particularly stupid gorilla dropped the same distance. Mastery of the nature of reality grants you no mastery over the behavior of reality. I could tell you your grandpa is very sick. I could tell you what each cell is doing wrong, why it's doing wrong, and roughly when it started doing wrong. But I can't tell them to stop."

"Why can't you make a machine to fix it?"

"Same reason you can't make a parachute when you fall from the plane."

"Because it's too hard?"

"Nothing is too hard. Many things are too fast."


"I think I could solve the falling problem with a jetpack. Can you try to get me the parts?"

"That's all I do, kiddo."


16 points bouilhet 02 July 2013 11:22:27PM Permalink

The conscientious. - It is more comfortable to follow one's conscience than one's reason: for it offers an excuse and alleviation if what we undertake miscarries--which is why there are always so many conscientious people and so few reasonable ones.

-- Nietzsche

16 points PhilGoetz 16 July 2013 02:50:30PM Permalink

There's more pressure on a vet to get it right. People say "it was god's will" when granny dies, but they get angry when they lose a cow.

  • Terry Pratchett, again
16 points grendelkhan 05 July 2013 09:55:57PM Permalink

"You're like an infant!" Tosco sneered. "Still humming at night about your poor lost momma and the terrible thing men do to their cos? Grow up and face the real world."

"I have," Carlo replied. "I faced it, and now I'm going to change it."

Greg Egan, The Eternal Flame, ch. 38

16 points Kaj_Sotala 05 August 2013 08:24:08PM Permalink

Old man: Gotcha! So you do collect answers after all!

Eye: But of course! Everybody does! You need answers to base decisions on. Decisions that lead to actions. We wouldn't do much of anything, if we were always indecisive!

All I am saying is that I see no point in treasuring them! That's all!

Once you see that an answer is not serving its question properly anymore, it should be tossed away. It's just their natural life cycle. They usually kick and scream, raising one hell of a ruckus when we ask them to leave. Especially when they have been with us for a long time.

You see, too many actions have been based on those answers. Too much work and energy invested in them. They feel so important, so full of themselves. They will answer to no one. Not even to their initial question!

What's the point if a wrong answer will stop you from returning to the right question. Although sometimes people have no questions to return to... which is usually why they defend them, with such strong conviction.

That's exactly why I am extra cautious with all these big ol' answers that have been lying around, long before we came along. They bully their way into our collection without being invited by any questions of our own. We accept them just because they have satisfied the questions of so many before us... seeking the questions which fits them instead...

My favorite kind of answers are those that my questions give birth to. Questions that I managed to keep safe long enough to do so. These baby answers might seem insignificant in comparison at first, but they are of a much better quality.

16 points Eugine_Nier 04 August 2013 05:43:25AM Permalink

And anyone that’s been involved in philanthropy eventually comes to that point. When you try to help, you try to give things, you start to have the consequences. There’s an author Bob Lupton, who really nails it when he says that when he gave something the first time, there was gratitude; and when he gave something a second time to that same community, there was anticipation; the third time, there was expectation; the fourth time, there was entitlement; and the fifth time, there was dependency. That is what we’ve all experienced when we’ve wanted to do good. Something changes the more we just give hand-out after hand-out. Something that is designed to be a help actually causes harm.

Peter Greer

16 points jimmy 03 September 2013 01:47:02AM Permalink

"To know thoroughly what has caused a man to say something is to understand the significance of what he has said in its very deepest sense." -Willard F. Day

16 points Alejandro1 03 October 2013 01:53:00PM Permalink

header: funtime activity: casually accusing people of machiavellianism.

man: i’m hungry. we should buy lunch.

woman: OH, so you’re saying THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS?

--Zack Weinersmith, SMBC rejected ideas

16 points Eugine_Nier 03 December 2013 12:56:13AM Permalink

The most important professions in the modern world may be the most reviled: advertiser, salesperson, lawyer, and financial trader. What these professions have in common is extending useful social interactions far beyond the tribe-sized groups we were evolved to inhabit (most often characterized by the Dunbar number). This commonly involves activities that fly in the face of our tribal moral instincts.

Nick Szabo

15 points GabrielDuquette 02 February 2013 01:18:28AM Permalink

Judge a book by its cover. The author and publisher selected that design to represent the book's content and tone. #MoreSensibleSayings


15 points Jayson_Virissimo 01 April 2013 11:33:50PM Permalink

Focusing is about saying no.

-- Steve Jobs

15 points SilasBarta 01 May 2013 05:17:41PM Permalink

I was pleasantly surprised to see this elegant phrasing of a (Machian?) rationalist principle in popular culture:

"There's an axiom in my business [i.e. law]: 'A difference that makes no difference is no difference.'"

-- Joe Adama in the TV series Caprica

15 points ArisKatsaris 05 May 2013 05:16:31PM Permalink

It's often a good habit to keep track of seemingly identical concepts separately, just in case you're wrong and they're not identical.

-- aristosophy

15 points AlanCrowe 01 May 2013 02:17:44PM Permalink

And I told her that no matter what the org chart said, my real bosses were a bunch of mice in cages and cells in a dish, and they didn’t know what the corporate goals were and they couldn’t be “Coached For Success”, the way that poster on the wall said.

15 points MagnetoHydroDynamics 03 July 2013 12:51:40PM Permalink

All magic is science! You just don't know what you're doing, so you call it magic! And well, it's... Ridiculous.

Princess Bubblegum in Adventure Time.

15 points Panic_Lobster 14 August 2013 06:28:36AM Permalink

Karl Popper used to begin his lecture course on the philosophy of science by asking the students simply to 'observe'. Then he would wait in silence for one of them to ask what they were supposed to observe. [...] So he would explain to them that scientific observation is impossible without pre-existing knowledge about what to look at, what to look for, how to look, and how to interpret what one sees. And he would explain that, therefore, theory has to come first. It has to be conjectured, not derived.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

15 points philh 10 August 2013 11:48:06PM Permalink

"But think how small he is," said the Black Panther, who would have spoiled Mowgli if he had had his own way. "How can his little head carry all thy long talk?"

"Is there anything in the jungle too little to be killed? No. That is why I teach him these things, and that is why I hit him, very softly, when he forgets."

Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book

15 points Polina 05 August 2013 11:47:45AM Permalink

Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

George Bernard Shaw

15 points arundelo 26 September 2013 05:17:23PM Permalink

We have this shared concept that there's some baseline level of effort, at which point you've absolved yourself of finger-pointing for things going badly. [.... But t]here are exceptional situations where the outcome is more important than what you feel is reasonable to do.

-- Tim Evans-Ariyeh

15 points NancyLebovitz 13 September 2013 12:49:38PM Permalink

Personally, a huge breakthrough for me was realizing I could view social situations as information-gathering opportunities (as opposed to pass-fail tests). If something didn't work - that wasn't a fail, it was DATA. If something did work... also data. I could experiment! People's reactions weren't eternal judgments about my worth, but interesting feedback on the approach I had chosen that day.


15 points Salemicus 03 September 2013 07:20:38PM Permalink

[This claim] is like the thirteenth stroke of a crazy clock, which not only is itself discredited but casts a shade of doubt over all previous assertions.

A. P. Herbert, Uncommon Law.

15 points Salemicus 03 September 2013 07:11:37PM Permalink

A man who has made up his mind on a given subject twenty-five years ago and continues to hold his political opinions after he has been proved to be wrong is a man of principle; while he who from time to time adapts his opinions to the changing circumstances of life is an opportunist.

A. P. Herbert, Uncommon Law.

15 points lavalamp 23 September 2013 09:42:20PM Permalink

You asked us to make them safe, not happy!

--"Adventure Time" episode "The Businessmen": the zombie businessmen are explaining why they are imprisoning soft furry creatures in a glass bowl.

15 points Estarlio 04 September 2013 11:10:25PM Permalink

Foundations matter. Always and forever. Regardless of domain. Even if you meticulously plug all abstraction leaks, the lowest-level concepts on which a system is built will mercilessly limit the heights to which its high-level “payload” can rise. For it is the bedrock abstractions of a system which create its overall flavor. They are the ultimate constraints on the range of thinkable thoughts for designer and user alike. Ideas which flow naturally out of the bedrock abstractions will be thought of as trivial, and will be deemed useful and necessary. Those which do not will be dismissed as impractical frills — or will vanish from the intellectual landscape entirely. Line by line, the electronic shanty town grows. Mere difficulties harden into hard limits. The merely arduous turns into the impossible, and then finally into the unthinkable.


The ancient Romans could not know that their number system got in the way of developing reasonably efficient methods of arithmetic calculation, and they knew nothing of the kind of technological paths (i.e. deep-water navigation) which were thus closed to them.

15 points JQuinton 04 September 2013 03:47:11PM Permalink

Somebody could give me this glass of water and tell me that it’s water. But there’s a lot of clear liquids out there and I might actually have a real case that this might not be water. Now most cases when something like a liquid is in a cup it’s water.

A good way to find out if it’s water is to test if it has two hydrogens per oxygen in each molecule in the glass and you can test that. If it evaporates like water, if it tastes like water, freezes like water… the more tests we apply, the more sure we can be that it’s water.

However, if it were some kind of acid and we started to test and we found that the hydrogen count is off, the oxygen count is off, it doesn’t taste like water, it doesn’t behave like water, it doesn’t freeze like water, it just looks like water. If we start to do these tests, the more we will know the true nature of the liquid in this glass. That is how we find truth. We can test it any number of ways; the more we test it, the more we know the truth of what it is that we’re dealing with.

  • An ex-Mormon implicitly describing Bayesian updates
15 points undermind 07 November 2013 12:50:59AM Permalink

Oh, Death was never enemy of ours!

We laughed at him, we leagued with him, old chum.

No soldier's paid to kick against His powers.

We laughed, -knowing that better men would come,

And greater wars: when each proud fighter brags

He wars on Death, for lives; not men, for flags.

-Wilfred Owen

15 points Gvaerg 01 November 2013 09:57:14PM Permalink

"I spread the map out on the dining room table, and I held down the corners with cans of V8. The dots from where I'd found things looked like the stars in the universe. I connected them, like an astrologer, and if you squinted your eyes like a Chinese person, it kind of looked like the word 'fragile'. [...] I erased and connected the dots to make 'porte'. I had the revelation that I could connect the dots to make 'cyborg', and 'platypus', and 'boobs', and even 'Oskar', if you were extremely Chinese. I could connect them to make almost anything I wanted, which meant I wasn't getting closer to anything. And now I'll never know what I was supposed to find. And that's another reason I can't sleep."

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (emphasis mine)

15 points hairyfigment 04 November 2013 06:34:46AM Permalink

That's why it's so important to understand how unworried I was. I wasn't $400 worth of worried, or $100 worth of worried, or even $20 worth. I wouldn't have gone to the dermatologist if I didn't have health insurance. I probably wouldn't have gone if I had insurance but it had a big deductible, or even any real co-pay. The only reason I went to have my life saved is because it cost me zero dollars.

  • Jon Schwarz, A Tiny Revolution
15 points BT_Uytya 07 December 2013 07:01:55PM Permalink

This was what made the fall of Iothiah so disastrous. ... Strategically, the loss of Iothiah was little more than a nuisance.

Symbolically, however…

The crisis she faced was a crisis in confidence, nothing more, nothing less. The less her subjects believed in the Empire, the less some would sacrifice, the more others would resist. It was almost arithmetic. The balance was wobbling, and all the world watched to see which way the sand would spill. She had made a resolution to act as if she believed to spite all those who doubted her as much as anything else, and paradoxically, they had all started believing with her. It was a lesson Kellhus had drummed into her countless times and one she resolved never to forget again.

To know is to have power over the world; to believe is to have power over men.

Scott R. Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

15 points Alejandro1 02 December 2013 12:18:04AM Permalink

Note: When treating mental patients who think they’re Samson, cut their hair before putting them in the locked ward.

--Fred Clark

14 points Will_Newsome 03 January 2013 07:07:41AM Permalink

[O]ne may also focus on a single problem, which can appear in different guises in various disciplines, and vary the methods. An advantage of viewing the same problem through the lens of different models is that we can often begin to identify which features of the problem are enduring and which are artifacts of our particular methods or background assumptions. Because abstraction is a license for us to ignore information, looking at several approaches to modeling a problem can give you insight into what is important to keep and what is noise to ignore. Moreover, discovering robust features of a problem, when it happens, can reshape your intuitions.

— Gregory Wheeler, Formal Epistemology

14 points Qiaochu_Yuan 01 January 2013 10:45:50PM Permalink

If you ever decide that your life is not too high a price to pay for saving the universe, let me know. We'll be ready.

-- Kyubey (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)

14 points BerryPick6 01 January 2013 04:15:35PM Permalink

Many of our most serious conflicts are conflicts within ourselves. Those who suppose their judgements are always consistent are unreflective or dogmatic.

-- John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.

14 points pleeppleep 02 January 2013 02:28:38AM Permalink

I intend to live forever or die trying

-- Groucho Marx

14 points xv15 11 February 2013 04:34:07PM Permalink

Closeness in the experiment was reasonably literal but may also be interpreted in terms of identification with the torturer. If the church is doing the torturing then the especially religious may be more likely to think the tortured are guilty. If the state is doing the torturing then the especially patriotic (close to their country) may be more likely to think that the tortured/killed/jailed/abused are guilty. That part is fairly obvious but note the second less obvious implication–the worse the victim is treated the more the religious/patriotic will believe the victim is guilty. ... Research in moral reasoning is important because understanding why good people do evil things is more important than understanding why evil people do evil things.

-Alex Tabarrok

14 points Eugine_Nier 05 February 2013 01:22:59AM Permalink

Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking "Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?" they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make.

-- Screwtape, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

14 points Kingoftheinternet 01 February 2013 07:47:05PM Permalink

If you are reading this book and flipping out at every third sentence because you feel I'm insulting your intelligence, then I have three points of advice for you:

  • Stop reading my book. I didn't write it for you. I wrote it for people who don't already know everything.

  • Empty before you fill. You will have a hard time learning from someone with more knowledge if you already know everything.

  • Go learn Lisp. I hear people who know everything really like Lisp.

For everyone else who's here to learn, just read everything as if I'm smiling and I have a mischievous little twinkle in my eye.

Introduction to Learn Python The Hard Way, by Zed A. Shaw

14 points khafra 19 April 2013 04:37:17PM Permalink

Amazon isn’t a store, not really. Not in any sense that we can regularly think about stores. It’s a strange pulsing network of potential goods, global supply chains, and alien associative algorithms with the skin of a store stretched over it, so we don’t lose our minds.

  • Tim Maly, pondering the increasing and poorly understood impact of algorithms on the average person's life.
14 points elharo 08 May 2013 10:58:16PM Permalink

One of the most impressive features of brains – especially human brains — is the flexibility to learn almost any kind of task that comes its way. Give an apprentice the desire to impress his master and a chicken-sexing task, and his brain devotes its massive resources to distinguishing males from females. Give an unemployed aviation enthusiast a chance to be a national hero, and his brain learns to distinguish enemy aircraft from local flyboys. This flexibility of learning accounts for a large part of what we consider human intelligence. While many animals are properly called intelligent, humans distinguish themselves in that they are so flexibly intelligent, fashioning their neural circuits to match the task at hand. It is for this reason that we can colonize every region on the planet, learn the local language we’re born into, and master skills as diverse as playing the violin, high-jumping and operating space shuttle cockpits.

David Eagleman, Incognito, p. 71

14 points Qiaochu_Yuan 27 May 2013 02:31:46AM Permalink

We would all like to believe that if we win something it is because of our skill, but if we lose it is because of the good luck or cheating of our opponent. This is nowhere more apparent than in the game of backgammon. A good opponent will play in such a way that the dice rolls having highest probability will be "good rolls" for them on their next turn, enabling them to take the other player's pieces, consolidate their position, etc. However, since there is an element of randomness, when these rolls actually come up it is very difficult even for me to believe that my opponent's fortune is due to their skill rather than their luck. Whenever I am being consistently beaten by an opponent I have to fight very hard to make myself believe that there is actually something wrong with my play and figure out how to correct it.

This phenomenon is nowhere more apparent than in computer backgammon. Computer backgammon is essentially a solved problem. Unlike Chess or Go, the best neural network algorithms that run even on modest hardware will consistently beat most human players, and perhaps draw with the best in the world. In fact, we have learnt rather a lot from these algorithms. Many rules of thumb that were believed for years by most decent players have been overturned by computer simulations. Computers tend to play backgammon markedly more aggressively than is natural for a human, but we can show that they are nevertheless doing the right thing. If you are not an extremely high level player, playing against a good computer algorithm feels weird if you are used to playing against humans.

One of the most annoying results of this is that it is impossible to obtain a reliable user generated rating of a backgammon program. For example, GNU Backgammon is one of the two or three best algorithms in the world and an under-appreciated gem of the GNU project as a whole. A full 50% of the user reviews on the Ubuntu software centre accuse the program of cheating by fixing the dice rolls and give it a 1 or 2 star review. It is hilarious how many of these reviews include comments like they "know how to play" or have been "playing for a long time" as if this were evidence to support their claim. The rest of the reviews are by people who know better and they all give it 4 or 5 stars (4 is reasonable due to a few user interface quirks, but the algorithm itself is worth a 5). As a result, the averaged rating is only 3 stars, even though this is widely acknowledged as one of the three best backgammon programs in the world. It doesn't cheat because it doesn't have to, and it actually gives you mechanisms for checking that it is not cheating, e.g. entering dice rolls manually and a tutor mode that will correct your bad plays.

This phenomenon is repeated absolutely everywhere that user reviews of backgammon programs are available. On the Google Play store, I have seen this even on a program with an absolutely crappy algorithm that I can consistently beat on expert level as well as on decent ones that are backed by GNUbg. As a result, it is absolutely impossible to find out which are the good backgammon programs if you don't already know, since they all get a low average rating.

-- Matthew Leifer

14 points alexvermeer 16 June 2013 08:32:59PM Permalink

The recognition of confusion is itself a form of clarity.

T.K.V. Desikachar

14 points sediment 01 June 2013 01:53:19PM Permalink

What I have been calling nefarious rhetoric recurs in a rudimentary form also in impromptu discussions. Someone harbors a prejudice or an article of faith or a vested interest, and marshals ever more desperate and threadbare arguments in defense of his position rather than be swayed by reason or face the facts. Even more often, perhaps, the deterrent is just stubbon pride: reluctance to acknowledge error. Unscientific man is beset by a deplorable desire to have been right. The scientist is distinguished by a desire to be right.

— W. V. Quine, An Intermittently Philosophical Dictionary (a whimsical and fun read)

14 points jsbennett86 12 July 2013 04:43:26AM Permalink

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

The Doctor - Doctor Who

14 points Stabilizer 01 July 2013 10:00:15PM Permalink

On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments. Needy readers have an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic hungers.

-Dennetts Law of Needy Readers, Daniel Dennett

14 points Joshua_Blaine 02 August 2013 05:49:04PM Permalink

The best solution to a problem is usually the easiest one.

-- GLaDOS from Portal 2

14 points shminux 16 September 2013 04:54:16PM Permalink

Rationality wakes up last:

In those first seconds, I'm always thinking some version of this: "Oh, no!!! This time is different. Now my arm is dead and it's never getting better. I'm a one-armed guy now. I'll have to start drawing left-handed. I wonder if anyone will notice my dead arm. Should I keep it in a sling so people know it doesn't work or should I ask my doctor to lop it off? If only I had rolled over even once during the night. But nooo, I have to sleep on my arm until it dies. That is so like me. What happens if I sleep on the other one tomorrow night? Can I learn to use a fork with my feet?"

Then at about the fifth second, some feeling returns to my arm and I experience hope. I also realize that if people could lose their arms after sleeping on them there wouldn't be many people left on earth with two good arms. Apparently the rational part of my mind wakes up last.

Scott Adams on waking up with a numb arm.

14 points gwern 10 September 2013 04:18:02PM Permalink

"...By the end of August, I was mentally drained, more drained, I think, than I had ever been. The creative potential, the capacity to solve problems, changes in a man in ebbs and flows, and over this he has little control. I had learned to apply a kind of test. I would read my own articles, those I considered the best. If I noticed in them lapses, gaps, if I saw that the thing could have been done better, my experiment was successful. If, however, I found myself reading with admiration, that meant I was in trouble."

His Master's Voice, Stanislaw Lem; p. 106 from the Northwestern University Press 3rd edition, 1999

14 points Yahooey 04 September 2013 07:55:15PM Permalink

There are no absolute certainties in this universe. A man must try to whip order into a yelping pack of probabilities, and uniform success is impossible.

— Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao

14 points iDante 02 September 2013 03:08:53AM Permalink

At which point, Polly decided that she knew enough of the truth to be going on with. The enemy wasn't men, or women, or the old, or even the dead. It was just bleedin' stupid people, who came in all varieties. And no one had the right to be stupid.

  • Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment
14 points Eugine_Nier 02 September 2013 04:48:56AM Permalink

When you have to talk yourself into something, it’s a bad sign

Paul Graham

14 points CronoDAS 06 October 2013 01:30:37AM Permalink

You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.

-- Henry Ford

14 points NancyLebovitz 06 November 2013 05:55:38PM Permalink

"One of the miseries of life is that everybody names things a little bit wrong, and so it makes everything a little harder to understand in the world than it would be if it were named differently."

--Richard Feynman

14 points Cyan 01 December 2013 11:09:42PM Permalink

We see things not as they are but as we are, ...

- G. T. W. Patrick

13 points John_Maxwell_IV 14 January 2013 05:10:40AM Permalink

I guess my point here is that part of the reason I stayed in Mormonism so long was that the people arguing against Mormonism were using such ridiculously bad arguments. I tried to find the most rigorous reasoning and the strongest research that opposed LDS theology, but the best they could come up with was stuff like horses in the Book of Mormon. It's so easy for a Latter-Day Saint to simply write the horse references off as either a slight mistranslation or a gap in current scientific knowledge that that kind of "evidence" wasn't worth the time of day to me. And for every horse problem there was something like Hugh Nibley's "Two Shots in the Dark" or Eugene England's work on Lehi's alleged travels across Saudi Arabia, apologetic works that made Mormon historical and theological claims look vaguely plausible. There were bright, thoughtful people on both sides of the Mormon apologetics divide, but the average IQ was definitely a couple of dozen points higher in the Mormon camp.

13 points Endovior 03 January 2013 06:07:47PM Permalink

If your ends don’t justify the means, you’re working on the wrong project.

-Jobe Wilkins (Whateley Academy)

13 points Mandos 12 March 2013 11:51:54PM Permalink

"If you don't know what you want," the doorman said, "you end up with a lot you don't."

― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

13 points TimS 04 March 2013 02:33:55PM Permalink

Any positive social quality -- looks, smarts, cash, power, whatever -- makes people want to compete for your attention. Some of these people are going to be assholes operating under the mistaken impression that you are a vending machine, and that if they feed you enough suck-up coins, you will dispense whatever it is they want. If you have no idea that you have Quality X that they want from you, then you have no chance of figuring out that the reason they're getting so overbearing is that you're not giving them all the X they think they deserve. People can get remarkably angry when you don't give them the thing you have no idea they're asking for. And then they get angrier if you try to tell them you're confused.

Arabella Flynn

13 points Kawoomba 01 March 2013 08:34:41PM Permalink

Wenn der Hahn kräht auf dem Mist, dann ändert sich das Wetter, oder es bleibt wie es ist.

(When the rooster crows on the dungheap, then the weather will change, or stay as it is)

-- German weather lore / farmers' rule

13 points NancyLebovitz 05 March 2013 12:26:10AM Permalink

Popular evopsych, summed up: "Men and women are different. Humans and chimps are the same."

Cliff Pervocracy

13 points Viliam_Bur 19 April 2013 07:14:30AM Permalink

"In the typical Western two men fight desperately for the possession of a gun that has been thrown to the ground: whoever reaches the weapon first shoots and lives; his adversary is shot and dies. In ordinary life, the struggle is not for guns but for words; whoever first defines the situation is the victor; his adversary, the victim. ... [the one] who first seizes the word imposes reality on the other; [the one] who defines thus dominates and lives; and [the one] who is defined is subjugated and may be killed."

"In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined."

-- Thomas Szasz

13 points xv15 08 April 2013 03:36:06AM Permalink

Joe Pyne was a confrontational talk show host and amputee, which I say for reasons that will become clear. For reasons that will never become clear, he actually thought it was a good idea to get into a zing-fight with Frank Zappa, his guest of the day. As soon as Zappa had been seated, the following exchange took place:

Pyne: I guess your long hair makes you a girl.

Zappa: I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.

Of course this would imply that Pyne is not a featherless biped.

Source: Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

13 points lukeprog 14 May 2013 08:43:46PM Permalink

He who says "Better to go without belief forever than believe a lie!" merely shows his own... private horror of becoming a dupe... It is like a general informing his soldiers that it is better to keep out of battle forever than to risk a single wound. Not so are victories... over enemies or over nature gained.

William James

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 09 May 2013 11:25:14PM Permalink

This debate brings to mind one of the more interesting differences between the hard sciences and other fields. This occurs when you firmly believe A, someone makes a compelling argument, and within a few seconds you firmly believe not-A, to the point of arguing for not-A with even more vigor that you used for A just a few seconds ago.

-- Lou Scheffer

(Most recent example from my own life that springs to mind: "It seems incredibly improbable that any Turing machine of size 100 could encode a complete solution to the halting problem for all Turing machines of size up to almost 100... oh. Nevermind.")

13 points Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 May 2013 02:59:11AM Permalink

"I don't really understand metaphysics or why it's needed." -- Matt Simpson

"Sketch version: There is no "no metaphysics" anwser, there is only "metaphysics I just unconsciously accept" and "metaphysics I've actually thought about". You can do it well or you can do it badly but you can't not do metaphysics." -- Andrew Summitt

13 points lukeprog 08 June 2013 06:14:40PM Permalink

If you're not making mistakes, you're not taking risks, and that means you're not going anywhere. The key is to make mistakes faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win.

John W. Holt (previously quoted here, but not in a Rationality Quotes thread)

13 points cody-bryce 03 June 2013 05:56:40PM Permalink

Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.

-Akins Laws of Spacecraft Design

13 points uninverted 03 June 2013 09:36:11PM Permalink

It’s hard to tell the difference between "Nobody ever complains about this car because it’s reliable" and “Nobody complains about this car because nobody buys this car."

-- Shamus Young

13 points Tenoke 18 July 2013 09:38:25PM Permalink

“The future is always ideal: The fridge is stocked, the weather clear, the train runs on schedule and meetings end on time. Today, well, stuff happens.”

  • Hara Estroff Marano on procrastination in Psychology Today as cited here
13 points Salemicus 22 August 2013 11:16:10PM Permalink

Finding a good formulation for a problem is often most of the work of solving it... Problem formulation and problem solution are mutually-recursive processes.

David Chapman

13 points hylleddin 02 August 2013 09:24:40PM Permalink

The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.

-- Tillaume, The Alloy of Law

13 points Eugine_Nier 04 August 2013 06:13:25AM Permalink

So, in a business setting, you’ve got to provide value to your customers so that they pay for the goods and services that you’re providing. Philanthropy is unfortunate in that the people that your customer base is made of oftentimes are the people that are writing the checks to support you. The people that are writing the donation checks are what keep organizations in business oftentimes. The people that are receiving the services, then, are oftentimes not paying for the services, and therefore their voice is not heard. And so within the nonprofit space, we’ve created a system where he/she who tells the best story is the one that’s rewarded. There’s an incentive to push down the stories that are not of positive impact. There’s the incentive to pretend that there are no negative things that happen, there’s the incentive to make sure that our failures are never made public, and there’s the disconnected between who’s paying for the service and who’s receiving the services. When you disconnect those two aspects, you do not have accountability that acts in the best interest of the people who are receiving what we are all trying to do, which is just to help in places of great need.

Peter Greer

13 points snafoo 04 August 2013 05:50:23PM Permalink

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.

Stephen Jay Gould

13 points ChristianKl 03 October 2013 10:45:21AM Permalink

A number of isolated facts does not produce a science any more than a heap of bricks produces a house.

Alfred Korzybski - Science and Sanity Page 55

13 points JackV 02 December 2013 11:59:56AM Permalink

When he studied which psychological studies were replicatable, and had to choose whether to disbelieve some he'd previously based a lot of work on, Brian Nosek said:

I choose the red pill. That's what doing science is.

(via ciphergoth on twitter)

12 points GLaDOS 10 January 2013 07:10:30PM Permalink

While truths last forever, taboos against them can last for centuries.

--"Sid" a commenter from HalfSigmas blog

12 points army1987 01 January 2013 08:20:35PM Permalink

If you'd have told a 14th-century peasant that there'd be a huge merchant class in the future who would sit in huge metal cylinders eating meals and drinking wine while the cylinders hurtled through the air faster than a speeding arrow across oceans and continents to bring them to far-flung business opportunities, the peasant would have classified you as insane. And he'd have been wrong to the tune of a few gazillion frequent-flyer miles.

-- someone on Usenet replying to someone deriding Kurzweil

12 points Kindly 01 February 2013 07:44:07PM Permalink

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total darkness sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

W. H. Auden, "The More Loving One"

12 points scav 07 February 2013 04:13:25PM Permalink

But I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.

-- Randall Munroe

12 points Alejandro1 01 March 2013 03:36:40PM Permalink

I once had a civil argument with [someone], in which I laid out my position in the usual way: “Premiss + premiss + premiss = conclusion.” She responded: “Well, that’s your opinion; you have yours, and I have mine.” I pointed out that no, I wasn’t asserting an opinion, I was making an argument based on facts and logic. Either my facts are wrong, or my logic is. She looked at me like I had lost my mind.

--Rod Dreher

(Post slightly edited in response to comments below)

12 points GabrielDuquette 11 April 2013 04:41:54AM Permalink


1 Ricochet

2 Retrieve, rethrow

3 Line up birds precisely

4 Huge boulder

5 Use lovebirds, 2nd dies of grief

Ken Jennings

12 points michaelkeenan 01 May 2013 04:48:52PM Permalink

Don't you understand anything about commitment, about being a pro, about sticking with what you say you wanna be? You don't do it just when you feel good. You don't do it just when you're not tired. You don't do it just when it's sunny. You do it every day of your life. You do it when it hurts to do it, when it's the last thing in the world that you wanna do, when there are a million reasons not to do it. You do it because you're a professional.

-- Teddy Atlas

12 points tingram 03 June 2013 01:25:56AM Permalink

From the remarkable opening chapter of Consciousness Explained:

One should be leery of these possibilities in principle. It is also possible in principle to build a stainless-steel ladder to the moon, and to write out, in alphabetical order, all intelligible English conversations consisting of less than a thousand words. But neither of these are remotely possible in fact and sometimes an impossibility in fact is theoretically more interesting than a possibility in principle, as we shall see.

--Daniel Dennett

12 points taelor 08 June 2013 04:36:24AM Permalink

The hidden thought embedded in most discussions of conspiracy theories is this: The world is being controlled by evil people; so, if we can get rid of them, the world can revert to control by good people, and things will be great again. This thought is false. The world is not controlled by any group of people – evil or good – and it will not be. The world is a large, chaotic mess. Those groups which do exert some control are merely larger pieces in the global mix.

-- Paul Rosenberg

12 points Bruno_Coelho 01 June 2013 07:13:25PM Permalink

Students are often quite capable of applying economic analysis to emotionally neutral products such as apples or video games, but then fail to apply the same reasoning to emotionally charged goods to which similar analyses would seem to apply. I make a special effort to introduce concepts with the neutral examples, but then to challenge students to ask wonder why emotionally charged goods should be treated differently.

-- R. Hanson

12 points Kaj_Sotala 02 July 2013 04:28:54AM Permalink

The language of the totalist environment is characterized by the thought-terminating cliché. The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. These become the start and finish of any ideological analysis.

-- Robert Jay Lifton, Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

12 points Zubon 09 July 2013 11:19:17PM Permalink

[As the] percentage of the US population carrying cameras everywhere they go, every waking moment of their lives [has gone from "almost none" to "almost all,"] in the last few years, with very little fanfare, we've conclusively settled the questions of flying saucers, lake monsters, ghosts, and Bigfoot.

xkcd explains that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence .

12 points Eugine_Nier 02 July 2013 03:47:59AM Permalink

At college in 1980, my Government Studies prof also served as Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party of Minnesota (the real one, not the DFL). We clashed over Robert Mugabe, just coming to power in Zimbabwe, he asserting it spelled salvation and I, that it spelled ruin.

I e-mailed him a year or two ago, asking if I could get a retroactive grade increase since my predictions had proven more accurate than his. His explanation was that he truly believed Mugabe was an agrarian reformer whose program of taking land from Whites to give to Blacks would benefit the country; but things just hadn't worked out as hoped.

I didn't bother to send him the famous Heinlein quote about Bad Luck. And I didn't really expect the grade change. But it certainly was satisfying to say "I told you so" 30 years later.


12 points anonym 21 August 2013 02:23:44AM Permalink

The opposite intellectual sin to wanting to derive everything from fundamental physics is holism which makes too much of the fact that everything is ultimately connected to everything else. Sure, but scientific progress is made by finding where the connections are weak enough to allow separate theories.

-- John McCarthy

12 points jsbennett86 14 September 2013 09:41:19PM Permalink

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

Mark Crislip - Science-Based Medicine

12 points wadavis 03 October 2013 10:50:21PM Permalink

...I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

Abraham Lincoln, Letter to Horace Greeley

12 points Eugine_Nier 02 November 2013 10:58:12PM Permalink

Someone I know at TAC opined that everyone knows this stuff, and talking about it is just mean. I think he is mistaken: you have to state important facts every so often, or nobody knows them anymore.

West Hunter

12 points Vaniver 10 December 2013 12:18:00AM Permalink

Why, because I cannot help feeling that you are now saying what is not quite consistent or accordant with what you were saying at first about rhetoric. And I am afraid to point this out to you, lest you should think that I have some animosity against you, and that I speak, not for the sake of discovering the truth, but from jealousy of you.

Now if you are one of my sort, I should like to cross-examine you, but if not I will let you alone. And what is my sort? you will ask. I am one of those who are very willing to be refuted if I say anything which is not true, and very willing to refute any one else who says what is not true, and quite as ready to be refuted as to refute-I for I hold that this is the greater gain of the two, just as the gain is greater of being cured of a very great evil than of curing another.

--Socrates in Gorgias (Paragraph break mine, to make it slightly less of a wall of text. This has shown up before, in a somewhat different form.)

11 points Konkvistador 30 January 2013 12:10:07PM Permalink

Whenever you can, count.

--Sir Francis Galton

11 points PhilipL 21 January 2013 05:20:59PM Permalink

Person 1: "I don't understand how my brain works. But my brain is what I rely on to understand how things work." Person 2: "Is that a problem?" Person 1: "I'm not sure how to tell."

-Todays xkcd

11 points Particleman 03 January 2013 05:35:04AM Permalink

"How is it possible! How is it possible to produce such a thing!" he repeated, increasing the pressure on my skull, until it grew painful, but I didn't dare object. "These knobs, holes...cauliflowers -" with an iron finger he poked my nose and ears - "and this is supposed to be an intelligent creature? For shame! For shame, I say!! What use is a Nature that after four billion years comes up with THIS?!"

Here he gave my head a shove, so that it wobbled and I saw stars.

"Give me one, just one billion years, and you'll see what I create!"

  • Stanislaw Lem, "The Sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius" (trans. Michael Kandel)
11 points arborealhominid 08 January 2013 12:38:19AM Permalink

Tobias adjusted his wings and appeared to tighten his talons on the branch. "Maybe you’re right. I don’t know. Look, Ax, it’s a whole new world. We’re having to make all this up as we go along. There aren’t any rules falling out of the sky telling us what and what not to do." "What exactly do you mean?" "Too hard to explain right now," Tobias said. "I just mean that we don’t really have any time-tested rules for dealing with these issues... So we have to see what works and what doesn’t. We can’t afford to get so locked into one idea that we defend it to the death, without really knowing if that idea works- in the real world."

  • Animorphs, book 52: The Sacrifice
11 points GabrielDuquette 02 February 2013 01:20:29AM Permalink

People's executive functioning is largely invisible to them, and perceived in moral terms to the extent that it is visible.

S. T. Rev

11 points Eugine_Nier 02 March 2013 07:42:55AM Permalink

You can't possibly get a good technology going without an enormous number of failures. It's a universal rule. If you look at bicycles, there were thousands of weird models built and tried before they found the one that really worked. You could never design a bicycle theoretically. Even now, after we've been building them for 100 years, it's very difficult to understand just why a bicycle works – it's even difficult to formulate it as a mathematical problem. But just by trial and error, we found out how to do it, and the error was essential.

-- Freeman Dyson

11 points gwern 02 March 2013 02:22:07AM Permalink

If someone does not believe in fairies, he does not need to teach his children 'There are no fairies'; he can omit to teach them the word 'fairy'.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel § 413; via Fable of The Born-Blind-People

(Gb rkcerff guvf va zber YJl wnetba: vs lbh qvq abg nyernql xabj gur jbeq be pbaprcg snvel, jung bofreingvbaf jbhyq cevivyrtr gur fcrpvsvp ulcbgurfvf bs 'snvevrf' gb gur cbvag jurer vg jbhyq orpbzr n frevbhf cbffvovyvgl? Ubj znal ovgf jbhyq gung gnxr naq jurer jbhyq lbh trg gurz, nfvqr sebz gur zrqvn naq bgure crbcyr'f cebqhpgf?)

11 points Dahlen 13 April 2013 09:27:06AM Permalink

How rare it is to encounter advice about the future which begins from a premise of incomplete knowledge!

─James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State

11 points xv15 08 April 2013 05:38:31AM Permalink

"Alas", said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into."

"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.

-Kafka, A Little Fable

11 points ModusPonies 03 April 2013 02:17:16PM Permalink

If you will learn to work with the system, you can go as far as the system will support you ... By realizing you have to use the system and studying how to get the system to do your work, you learn how to adapt the system to your desires. Or you can fight it steadily, as a small undeclared war, for the whole of your life ... Very few of you have the ability to both reform the system and become a first-class scientist.

—Richard Hamming

(I recommend the whole talk, which contains some great examples and many other excellent points.)

11 points BT_Uytya 06 May 2013 07:40:17PM Permalink

But consider: Newton has thought things that no man before has ever thought. A great accomplishment to be sure. Perhaps the greatest achievement any human mind has ever made. Very well - what does that say of Newton, and of us? Why, that his mind is framed in such a way that it can out-think anyone else's. So all hail Isaac Newton! Let us give him his due, and glorify and worship whatever generative force can frame such a mind.

Now consider Hooke. Hooke has perceived things that no man before us has ever perceived. What does that say of Hooke, and of us? That Hooke was framed in some special way? No, for just look at you, Robert - by your leave, you are stooped, asthmatic, fitful, beset by aches and ills, your eyes and ears are no better than those of men who've not perceived a thousandth part of what you have.

Newton makes his discoveries in geometrical realms, where our minds cannot go, he strolls in a walled garden filled with wonders, to which he has the only key. But you Hooke, are cheek-by-jowl with all of humanity in the streets of London. Anyone can look at the things you have looked at. But in those things you see what no one else has. You are the millionth human to look at a spark, a flea, a raindrop, the moon, and the first to see it. For anyone to say that this is less remarkable than what Newton has done, is to understand things in but a hollow and jejune way, 'tis like going to a Shakespeare play and remembering only the sword fights.

Daniel Waterhouse says to Hooke in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver

11 points grendelkhan 25 May 2013 07:50:06PM Permalink

PROF. PLUM: What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?

MRS. PEACOCK: No, just death; isn't that enough?

--Clue (1985)

11 points elharo 03 June 2013 11:25:56PM Permalink

the designers of a theoretical technology in any but the most predictable of areas should identify its assumptions and claims that have not already been tested in a laboratory. They should design not only the technology but also a map of the uncertainties and edge cases in the design and a series of such experiments and tests that would progressively reduce these uncertainties. A proposal that lacks this admission of uncertainties coupled with designs of experiments that will reduce such uncertainties should not be deemed credible for the purposes of any important decision. We might call this requirement a requirement for a falsifiable design.

--Nick Szabo, Falsifiable design: A methodology for evaluting theoretical technologies

11 points Thomas 01 June 2013 11:43:02AM Permalink

I will destroy my enemies by converting them to friends!

  • Maimonides
11 points AlanCrowe 03 July 2013 03:46:24PM Permalink

Madmen we are, but not quite on the pattern of those who are shut up in a madhouse. It does not concern any of them to discover what sort of madness afflicts his neighbor, or the previous occupants of his cell; but it matters very much to us. The human mind is less prone to go astray when it gets to know to what extent, and in how many directions, it is itself liable to err, and we can never devote too much time to the study of our aberrations.

Bernard de Fontenelle,1686

Found in book review

11 points satt 12 July 2013 12:37:16AM Permalink

People tend to roll their eyes a bit when business school grads like me start saying things about “management is measurement” and so on, but the fact is that a) if you don’t measure something, how are you going to find out whether it’s changed or not? and b) if you don’t want to find out whether something’s changing or not, in what sense can you actually claim to care about it?

Daniel Davies

11 points shminux 19 August 2013 04:36:20PM Permalink

If your parents made you practice the flute for 10,000 hours, and it wasn't your thing, you aren't an expert. You're a victim.

The most important skill involved in success is knowing how and when to switch to a game with better odds for you.

Scott Adams

11 points Panic_Lobster 10 October 2013 05:35:03AM Permalink

The reason that testability is not enough is that prediction is not, and cannot be, the purpose of science. Consider an audience watching a conjuring trick. The problem facing them has much the same logic as a scientific problem. Although in nature there is no conjurer trying to deceive us intentionally, we can be mystified in both cases for essentially the same reason: appearances are not self-explanatory. If the explanation of a conjuring trick were evident in its appearance, there would be no trick. If the explanations of physical phenomena were evident in their appearance, empiricism would be true and there would be no need for science as we know it. The problem is not to predict the trick's appearance. I may, for instance predict that if a conjurer seems to place various balls under various cups, those cups will later appear to be empty; and I may predict that if the conjurer appears to saw someone in half, that person will later appear on stage unharmed. Those are testable predictions. I may experience many conjuring shows and see my predictions vindicated every time. But that does not even address, let alone solve, the problem of how the trick works. Solving it requires an explanation: a statement of the reality which accounts for the trick's appearance.

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

10 points GLaDOS 29 January 2013 07:34:17PM Permalink

I notice with some amusement, both in America and English literature, the rise of a new kind of bigotry. Bigotry does not consist in a man being convinced he is right; that is not bigotry, but sanity. Bigotry consists in a man being convinced that another man must be wrong in everything, because he is wrong in a particular belief; that he must be wrong, even in thinking that he honestly believes he is right.

-G. K. Chesterton

10 points taelor 02 January 2013 03:41:07PM Permalink

It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sutained by innnumerable unbeliefs: the fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japan's defeat; the fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable reports or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land.

It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He can not be frightened by danger, nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains, but in not seeing mountains to move.

-- Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

10 points blashimov 13 January 2013 07:53:31AM Permalink

I have always had an animal fear of death, a fate I rank second only to having to sit through a rock concert. My wife tries to be consoling about mortality and assures me that death is a natural part of life, and that we all die sooner or later. Oddly this news, whispered into my ear at 3 a.m., causes me to leap screaming from the bed, snap on every light in the house and play my recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” at top volume till the sun comes up.

-Woody Allen EDIT: Fixed formatting.

10 points JQuinton 18 February 2013 08:10:42PM Permalink

I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing.

William Deseriewicz

The whole speech is worth reading as one giant rationality quote

10 points tingram 10 March 2013 05:57:14PM Permalink

The roulette table pays nobody except him that keeps it. Nevertheless a passion for gaming is common, though a passion for keeping roulette tables is unknown.

--George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists

10 points tingram 10 March 2013 05:50:50PM Permalink

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

--Ursula K. Le Guin {Lord Estraven}, The Left Hand of Darkness

10 points Larks 02 April 2013 02:36:37PM Permalink

There is nothing so disturbing to one's well-being and judgment as to see a friend get rich

Charles P Kindleberger, in Manias, Panics and Crashes; a History of Financial Crisis

10 points lukeprog 14 May 2013 11:58:56PM Permalink

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them — especially not from yourself. Instead of turning away in denial when you make a mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your own mistakes, turning them over in your mind...

Daniel Dennett

10 points JQuinton 04 June 2013 05:26:42PM Permalink

My sense of the proper way to determine what is ethical is to make a distinction between a smuggler of influence and a detective of influence. The smuggler knows these six principles and then counterfeits them, brings them into situations where they don’t naturally reside.

The opposite is the sleuth’s approach, the detective’s approach to influence. The detective also knows what the principles are, and goes into every situation aware of them looking for the natural presence of one or another of these principles.

  • Robert Cialdini at the blog Bakadesuyo explaining the difference between ethical persuasion and the dark arts
10 points Osiris 06 June 2013 01:35:05PM Permalink

“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.” --Lord Byron.

All too often those who are least rational in their best moments are the greatest supporters of using one's head, if only to avoid too early a demise. I wonder how many years Lord Byron gained from rational thought, and which of the risks he took did he take because he was good at betting...

10 points shminux 10 June 2013 05:00:43PM Permalink

My dad used to run a business and whenever they needed a temp, he'd always line up 5-10 interviewees, to check out how they looked.

And then hire the ugliest.

Aside from keeping my mother off his back, he reasoned that if the temp had kept good employment, and it wasn't for her looks, she must be ok.

From the comments on the article on the jobs for good-looking.

10 points CasioTheSane 05 June 2013 06:43:48AM Permalink

The paucity of skepticism in the world of health science is staggering. Those who aren't insufferable skeptical douchebags are doing it wrong.

-Stabby the Raccoon

10 points baiter 04 July 2013 01:20:38PM Permalink

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

English proverb

10 points Pablo_Stafforini 01 July 2013 10:35:43PM Permalink

[O]ur moral judgments are less reliable than many would hope, and this has specific implications for methodology in normative ethics. Three sources of evidence indicate that our intuitive ethical judgments are less reliable than we might have hoped: a historical record of accepting morally absurd social practices; a scientic record showing that our intuitive judgments are systematically governed by a host of heuristics, biases, and irrelevant factors; and a philosophical record showing deep, probably unresolvable, inconsistencies in common moral convictions. I argue that this has the following implications for moral theorizing: we should trust intuitions less; we should be especially suspicious of intuitive judgments that t a bias pattern, even when we are intuitively condent that these judgments are not a simple product of the bias; we should be especially suspicious of intuitions that are part of inconsistent sets of deeply held convictions; and we should evaluate views holistically, thinking of entire classes of judgments that they get right or wrong in broad contexts, rather than dismissing positions on the basis of a small number of intuitive counterexamples.

Nick Beckstead, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future, University of Rutgers, New Brunswick, 2013, p. 19

10 points lukeprog 11 July 2013 07:42:37PM Permalink

Extinguished philosophies lie about the cradle of every science as the strangled snakes beside that of Hercules.

John McCarthy, adapted a line by T.H. Huxley

10 points CronoDAS 02 July 2013 08:00:18AM Permalink

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

-- Denis Healey

10 points jbay 02 August 2013 02:10:09PM Permalink

But, unlike other species, we also know how not to know. We employ this unique ability to suppress our knowledge not just of mortality, but of everything we find uncomfortable, until our survival strategy becomes a threat to our survival.

[...] There is no virtue in sustaining a set of beliefs, regardless of the evidence. There is no virtue in either following other people unquestioningly or in cultivating a loyal and unquestioning band of followers.

While you can be definitively wrong, you cannot be definitely right. The best anyone can do is constantly to review the evidence and to keep improving and updating their knowledge. Journalism which attempts this is worth reading. Journalism which does not is a waste of time."

10 points iDante 10 August 2013 10:10:52PM Permalink

To the layman, the philosopher, or the classical physicist, a statement of the form "this particle doesn't have a well-defined position" (or momentum, or x-component of spin angular momentum, or whatever) sounds vague, incompetent, or (worst of all) profound. It is none of these. But its precise meaning is, I think, almost impossible to convey to anyone who has not studied quantum mechanics in some depth.

10 points cody-bryce 02 August 2013 10:28:23PM Permalink

I just think it's good to be confident. If I'm not on my team why should anybody else be?

-Robert Downey Jr.

10 points NancyLebovitz 04 September 2013 02:43:55PM Permalink

The merit of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, then – or its offence, depending where you stood – was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible.

John LeCarre, explaining that he didn't have insider information about the intelligence community, and if he had, he would not have been allowed to publish The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but that a great many people who thought James Bond was too implausible wanted to believe that LeCarre's book was the real deal.

10 points aausch 07 September 2013 07:13:02PM Permalink

“The first magical step you can do after a flood,” he said, “is get a pump and try to redirect water.”

-- Richard James, founding priest of a Toronto based Wicca church, quoted in a thegridto article

10 points Panic_Lobster 08 October 2013 03:14:54AM Permalink

When philosophers use a word—"knowledge", "being", "object", "I", "proposition", "name"—and try to grasp the essence of the thing, one must always ask oneself: is the word ever actually used in this way in the language-game which is its original home?—What we do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use. You say to me: "You understand this expression, don't you? Well then—I am using it in the sense you are familiar with."— As if the sense were an atmosphere accompanying the word, which it carried with it into every kind of application.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 116-117

10 points monsterzero 04 October 2013 10:08:56PM Permalink

Human consciousness isn't optimized for anything, except maybe helping feral hominids survive in the wild.

-Charles Stross, "Rule 34"

10 points James_Miller 03 October 2013 02:11:45PM Permalink

Because of the way evolution operates, the mind consists of many, many parts, and these parts have many different functions. Because they're designed to do different things, they don't always work in perfect harmony.

Why Everyone Else Is A Hypocrite, by Robert Kurzban, p. 6.

10 points rule_and_line 06 November 2013 02:39:09AM Permalink

The idea that a self-imposed external constraint on action can actually enhance our freedom by releasing us from predictable and undesirable internal constraints is not an obvious one. It is hard to be Ulysses.

-- Reid Hastie Robyn Dawes (Rational Choice in an Uncertain World)

The "Ulysses" reference is to the famous Ulysses pact in the Odyssey.

10 points Benito 02 November 2013 10:03:40AM Permalink

On not doing the impossible:

Ferrucci says. “We constantly underestimate—we did in the ’50s about AI, and we’re still doing it—what is really going on in the human brain.”

The question that [Douglas] Hofstadter wants to ask Ferrucci, and everybody else in mainstream AI, is this: Then why don’t you come study it?


Peter Norvig, one of Google’s directors of research, echoes Ferrucci almost exactly. “I thought he was tackling a really hard problem,” he told me about Hofstadter’s work. “And I guess I wanted to do an easier problem.”

-Article at The Atlantic

10 points Dan_Moore 19 December 2013 04:24:06PM Permalink

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. -Samuel Beckett