Best of Rationality Quotes

75 points dspeyer 03 September 2014 05:06:19PM Permalink

A good rule of thumb might be, “If I added a zero to this number, would the sentence containing it mean something different to me?” If the answer is “no,” maybe the number has no business being in the sentence in the first place.

Randall Munroe on communicating with humans

70 points Alejandro1 01 September 2014 07:10:29PM Permalink

I’m always fascinated by the number of people who proudly build columns, tweets, blog posts or Facebook posts around the same core statement: “I don’t understand how anyone could (oppose legal abortion/support a carbon tax/sympathize with the Palestinians over the Israelis/want to privatize Social Security/insert your pet issue here)." It’s such an interesting statement, because it has three layers of meaning.

The first layer is the literal meaning of the words: I lack the knowledge and understanding to figure this out. But the second, intended meaning is the opposite: I am such a superior moral being that I cannot even imagine the cognitive errors or moral turpitude that could lead someone to such obviously wrong conclusions. And yet, the third, true meaning is actually more like the first: I lack the empathy, moral imagination or analytical skills to attempt even a basic understanding of the people who disagree with me.

In short, “I’m stupid.” Something that few people would ever post so starkly on their Facebook feeds.

--Megan McArdle

66 points James_Miller 05 September 2014 08:36:09PM Permalink

A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back—forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.

Steven Pinker

61 points Alejandro1 04 January 2014 07:57:52PM Permalink

My friend's kid explained The Hulk to me. She said he's a big green monster and when he needs to get things done, he turns into a scientist.


53 points 27chaos 01 December 2014 08:30:07PM Permalink

If the real radical finds that having long hair sets up psychological barriers to communication and organization, he cuts his hair.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

This one hit home for me. Got a haircut yesterday. :P

50 points B_For_Bandana 02 September 2014 01:25:28AM Permalink

Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours.

Yogi Berra, on Timeless Decision Theory.

46 points Kaj_Sotala 04 January 2014 08:03:06PM Permalink

My 5 year old came to the dinner table, and calmly announced, "There is no Santa." I was puzzled because just couple of days ago he had taken his Christmas gift from Santa (though now that I think about it, he was not totally thrilled). So I asked why he thought so. He said, "Well, for Christmas I only got the gifts I told you about; I had gone to bed and told Santa himself what I wanted without telling you to see if he is real, and none of those came through - and I was a good boy all year!"

To be sure, I asked him, "But you saw Santa at the mall?" He laughed as hard as could be, then pointed out to me, "They are people in costumes!"

-- Wen Gong

46 points Tyrrell_McAllister 02 April 2014 05:53:47PM Permalink

The mathematician and Fields medalist Vladimir Voevodsky on using automated proof assistants in mathematics:

[Following the discovery of some errors in his earlier work:] I think it was at this moment that I largely stopped doing what is called “curiosity driven research” and started to think seriously about the future.


A technical argument by a trusted author, which is hard to check and looks similar to arguments known to be correct, is hardly ever checked in detail.


It soon became clear that the only real long-term solution to the problems that I encountered is to start using computers in the verification of mathematical reasoning.


Among mathematicians computer proof verification was almost a forbidden subject. A conversation started about the need for computer proof assistants would invariably drift to the Goedel Incompleteness Theorem (which has nothing to do with the actual problem) or to one or two cases of verification of already existing proofs, which were used only to demonstrate how impractical the whole idea was.


I now do my mathematics with a proof assistant and do not have to worry all the time about mistakes in my arguments or about how to convince others that my arguments are correct.

From a March 26, 2014 talk. Slides available here.

45 points nabeelqu 05 March 2014 10:56:01AM Permalink

As burglars, they used some unusual techniques...During their casing, they had noticed that the interior door that opened to the draft board office was always locked. There was no padlock to replace...The break-in technique they settled on at that office must be unique in the annals of burglary. Several hours before the burglary was to take place, one of them wrote a note and tacked it to the door they wanted to enter: "Please don't lock this door tonight." Sure enough, when the burglars arrived that night, someone had obediently left the door unlocked. The burglars entered the office with ease, stole the Selective Service records, and left. They were so pleased with themselves that one of them proposed leaving a thank-you note on the door. More cautious minds prevailed. Miss Manners be damned, they did not leave a note.

-- Betty Medsger

44 points dspeyer 04 April 2014 02:26:23AM Permalink

"It is one thing for you to say, ‘Let the world burn.' It is another to say, ‘Let Molly burn.' The difference is all in the name."

-- Uriel, Ghost Story, Jim Butcher

43 points Stabilizer 05 January 2014 04:08:14PM Permalink

This morning my daughter told me that she did well on a spelling test, but she got the easiest words wrong. Of course that’s not exactly true. The words that are hardest for her to spell are the ones she in fact did not spell correctly. She probably meant that she missed the words she felt should have been easy. Maybe they were short words. Children can be intimidated by long words, even though long words tend to be more regular and thus easier to spell.

Our perceptions of what is easy are often upside-down. We feel that some things should be easy even though our experience tells us otherwise.

Sometimes the trickiest parts of a subject come first, but we think that because they come first they should be easy. For example, force-body diagrams come at the beginning of an introductory physics class, but they can be hard to get right. Newton didn’t always get them right. More advanced physics, say celestial mechanics, is in some ways easier, or at least less error-prone.

“Elementary” and “easy” are not the same. Sometimes they’re opposites. Getting off the ground, so to speak, may be a lot harder than flying.

-John D. Cook

43 points satt 10 July 2014 11:17:19PM Permalink

Charles II is said to have himself toyed with the philosophers, asking them to explain why a fish weighs more after it has died. Upon receiving various ingenious answers, he pointed out that in fact a dead fish does not weigh anything more.

— Robert Pasnau, "Why Not Just Weigh the Fish?"

43 points Zubon 03 September 2014 10:47:34PM Permalink

Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.

-- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

42 points AspiringRationalist 01 March 2014 10:10:34PM Permalink

As the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of "normal" is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.

These two senses are already quite far apart. Already someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly.

-- Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictiveness

42 points WalterL 01 December 2014 08:30:37PM Permalink

The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.

-Damon Runyon

39 points dspeyer 01 March 2014 06:43:02PM Permalink

In our large, anonymous society, it's easy to forget moral and reputational pressures and concentrate on legal pressure and security systems. This is a mistake; even though our informal social pressures fade into the background, they're still responsible for most of the cooperation in society.

  • Bruce Schneier, expert in security systems
38 points Gunnar_Zarncke 02 April 2014 11:21:01AM Permalink

It is easier to fight for one's principles than to live up to them.

-- Alfred Adler

ADDED: Source:

Quoted in: Phyllis Bottome, Alfred Adler: Apostle of Freedom (1939), ch. 5

Problems of Neurosis: A Book of Case Histories (1929)

38 points Salemicus 04 September 2014 04:45:08PM Permalink

How to compose a successful critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

D.C. Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. Dennett himself is summarising Anatol Rapoport.

38 points michaelkeenan 01 September 2014 10:23:50PM Permalink

A raise is only a raise for thirty days; after that, it’s just your salary.

-- David Russo

37 points Vulture 05 January 2014 12:00:26AM Permalink

I spent my childhood believing I was destined to be a hero

in some far off magic kingdom.

It was too late when I realized that I was needed here.

--A Softer World

37 points Pablo_Stafforini 07 July 2014 10:28:26PM Permalink

Prediction, not narration, is the real test of our understanding of the world.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, New York, 2007, p. 133

37 points dspeyer 01 November 2014 09:52:29PM Permalink

It’s easier to bear in mind that the map is not the territory when you have two different maps.

--Eric Raymond on the value of bilinguilism

37 points James_Miller 02 November 2014 12:46:09AM Permalink

I want to get the most amount of candy with the least amount of walking.

My 9-year-old son on Halloween.

36 points aarongertler 05 February 2014 03:47:49AM Permalink

"The story of Japanese railways during the earthquake and tsunami is the story of an unceasing drumbeat of everything going right [...] The overwhelming response of Japanese engineering to the challenge posed by an earthquake larger than any in the last century was to function exactly as designed. Millions of people are alive right now because the system worked and the system worked and the system worked.

That this happened was, I say with no hint of exaggeration, one of the triumphs of human civilization. Every engineer in this country should be walking a little taller this week. We can’t say that too loudly, because it would be inappropriate with folks still missing and many families in mourning, but it doesn’t make it any less true."

--Patrick McKenzie, "Some Perspective on the Japan Earthquake"

(Disaster is not inevitable.)

36 points [deleted] 05 April 2014 05:45:29AM Permalink

Philosophers often behave like little children who scribble some marks on a piece of paper at random and then ask the grown-up "What's that?"- It happened like this: the grown-up had drawn pictures for the child several times and said "this is a man," "this is a house," etc. And then the child makes some marks too and asks: what's this then?

  • Wittgenstein, Culture and Value
35 points Ixiel 04 April 2014 11:14:37AM Permalink

Slartibartfast: Perhaps I'm old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what's actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, "Hang the sense of it," and keep yourself busy. I'd much rather be happy than right any day.

Arthur Dent: And are you?

Slartibartfast: Well... no. That's where it all falls down, of course.

Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

34 points johnlawrenceaspden 03 May 2014 03:17:45PM Permalink

When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc.

I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

Benjamin Franklin

34 points Manfred 04 November 2014 02:54:10AM Permalink

In fiction, villains start with some great scheme to do something awesome, and that immediately makes them fascinating to the reader. The hero - if you're doing this poorly - sits at home and just waits for the villain to do something awesome so they can respond. This is a problem. The solution is for your heroes to have a great and awesome scheme also, that just isn't evil.

Brandon Sanderson

33 points Jayson_Virissimo 09 July 2014 05:01:31AM Permalink

We have to reinvent the wheel every once in a while, not because we need a lot of wheels; but because we need a lot of inventors.

-- Bruce Joyce, as quoted by Michael Serra in Discovering Geometry

32 points lmm 03 June 2014 11:44:56AM Permalink

"I just don't have enough data to make a decision."

"Yes, you do. What you don't have is enough data for you not to have to make one"

32 points AspiringRationalist 07 July 2014 12:50:45AM Permalink

Precise forecasts masquerade as accurate ones.

-- Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise

32 points grendelkhan 04 December 2014 09:48:07PM Permalink

If it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid.

"Murphy's Laws of Combat"

31 points EGarrett 05 February 2014 01:34:22AM Permalink

"To convince someone of the truth, it is not enough to state it, but rather one must find the path from error to truth." Wittgenstein. "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough," p. 119

31 points James_Miller 01 June 2014 09:20:25PM Permalink

"Do what you love" / "Follow your passion" is dangerous and destructive career advice. We tend to hear it from (a) Highly successful people who (b) Have become successful doing what they love. The problem is that we do NOT hear from people who have failed to become successful by doing what they love. Particularly pernicious problem in tournament-style fields with a few big winners lots of losers: media, athletics, startups. Better career advice may be "Do what contributes" -- focus on the beneficial value created for other people vs just one's own ego. People who contribute the most are often the most satisfied with what they do -- and in fields with high renumeration, make the most $. Perhaps difficult advice since requires focus on others vs oneself -- perhaps bad fit with endemic narcissism in modern culture? Requires delayed gratification -- may toil for many years to get the payoff of contributing value to the world, vs short-term happiness.

Marc Andreessen

31 points bramflakes 03 December 2014 03:56:16PM Permalink

When you hear an economist on TV "explain" the decline in stock prices by citing a slump in the market (and I have heard this pseudo-explanation more than once) it is time to turn off the television.

Thomas J. McKay, Reasons, Explanations and Decisions

31 points Jay_Schweikert 03 December 2014 04:40:11AM Permalink

All the logical work (if not all the rhetorical work) in “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” is being done by the decision about what aspects of liberty are essential, and how much safety is at stake. The slogan might work as a reminder not to make foolish tradeoffs, but the real difficulty is in deciding which tradeoffs are wise and which are foolish. Once we figure that out, we don’t need the slogan to remind us; before we figure it out, the slogan doesn’t really help us.

--Eugene Volokh, "Liberty, safety, and Benjamin Franklin"

A good example of the risk of reading too much into slogans that are basically just applause lights. Also reminds me of "The Choice between Good and Bad is not a matter of saying Good! It is about deciding which is which."

31 points VAuroch 11 November 2014 07:02:18AM Permalink

“There is no point in using the word 'impossible' to describe something that has clearly happened.”

-- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

30 points MattG 10 March 2014 08:57:46PM Permalink

"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

30 points Jack_LaSota 11 October 2014 04:18:21AM Permalink

A novice asked master Banzen: “What separates the monk from the master?”

Banzen replied: “Ten thousand mistakes!”

The novice, not understanding, sought to avoid all error. An abbot observed and brought the novice to Banzen for correction.

Banzen explained: “I have made ten thousand mistakes; Suku has made ten thousand mistakes; the patriarchs of Open Source have each made ten thousand mistakes.”

Asked the novice: “What of the old monk who labors in the cubicle next to mine? Surely he has made ten thousand mistakes.”

Banzen shook his head sadly. “Ten mistakes, a thousand times each.”

The Codeless Code

30 points arundelo 03 December 2014 12:06:10AM Permalink

Problem is, "Fucking up when presented with surprising new situations" is actually a chronic human behavior. It's why purse snatchers are so effective -- by the time someone registers Wait, did somebody just yank my purse off my shoulder?, the snatcher is long gone.

-- Ferrett Steinmetz

29 points Kaj_Sotala 01 March 2014 05:52:25PM Permalink

The use with children of experimental [educational] methods, that is, methods that have not been finally assessed and found effective, might seem difficult to justify. Yet the traditional methods we use in the classroom every day have exactly this characteristic--they are highly experimental in that we know very little about their educational efficacy in comparison with alternative methods. There is widespread cynicism among students and even among practiced teachers about the effectiveness of lecturing or repetitive drill (which we would distinguish from carefully designed practice), yet these methods are in widespread use. Equally troublesome, new "theories" of education are introduced into schools every day (without labeling them as experiments) on the basis of their philosophical or common-sense plausibility but without genuine empirical support. We should make a larger place for responsible experimentation that draws on the available knowledge--it deserves at least as large a place as we now provide for faddish, unsystematic and unassessed informal "experiments" or educational "reforms."

-- John R. Anderson, Lynne M. Reder Herbert A. Simon: Applications and Misapplications of Cognitive Psychology to Mathematics Education

29 points Benito 08 August 2014 09:35:08PM Permalink

Hollywood is filled with feel-good messages about how robotic logic is no match for fuzzy, warm, human irrationality, and how the power of love will overcome pesky obstacles such as a malevolent superintelligent computer. Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of cause to think this is the case, any more than there is that noble gorillas can defeat evil human poachers with the power of chest-beating and the ability to use rudimentary tools.

From the British Newspaper 'The Telegraph', and their article on Nick Bostrom's awesome new book 'Superintelligence'.

I just thought it was a great analogy. Nice to see AI as an X-Risk in the mainstream media too.

29 points KPier 27 September 2014 02:51:51AM Permalink

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He know that she was old, and not over-well built at the first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense. Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely though so many voyages and weathered so many storms, that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors. In such a way he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her depature with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance-money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.

What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship, but the sincerity of his conviction can in nowise help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts.

  • W.J. Clifford, the Ethics of Belief
29 points lukeprog 04 October 2014 09:28:52PM Permalink

Prominent altruists aren't the people who have a larger care-o-meter, they're the people who have learned not to trust their care-o-meters... Nobody has [a care-o-meter] capable of faithfully representing the scope of the world's problems. But the fact that you can't feel the caring doesn't mean that you can't do the caring.

Nate Soares

28 points dspeyer 01 September 2014 05:36:19PM Permalink

Alex Jordan, a grad student at Stanford, came up with the idea of asking people to make moral judgments while he secretly tripped their disgust alarms. He stood at a pedestrian intersection on the Stanford campus and asked passersby to fill out a short survey. It asked people to make judgments about four controversial issues, such as marriage between first cousins, or a film studio’s decision to release a documentary with a director who had tricked some people into being interviewed. Alex stood right next to a trash can he had emptied. Before he recruited each subject, he put a new plastic liner into the metal can. Before half of the people walked up (and before they could see him), he sprayed the fart spray twice into the bag, which “perfumed” the whole intersection for a few minutes. Before other recruitments, he left the empty bag unsprayed. Sure enough, people made harsher judgments when they were breathing in foul air

-- The Righteous Mind Ch 3, Jonathan Haidt

I wonder if anyone who needs to make important judgments a lot makes an actual effort to maintain affective hygiene. It seems like a really good idea, but poor signalling.

28 points Azathoth123 02 November 2014 01:13:34AM Permalink

Base Commander: Anything I do at this point will only make things worse. Anything!

Chief of Police: Many people would charge in anyway.

Base Commander: Oh, the urge to do something during an emergency is very strong. It takes training and discipline to do nothing.

Freefall by Mark Stanley.

27 points jazmt 20 January 2014 02:56:07AM Permalink

Train your tongue to say "I don't know", lest you be brought to falsehood -Babylonian Talmud

27 points brainoil 04 February 2014 12:32:52AM Permalink

"Nothing exists in contradiction to nature, only in contradiction to what we know of it." - Dana Scully, The X-Files

27 points Jayson_Virissimo 04 February 2014 05:26:01AM Permalink

Shit, if I took time out to have an opinion about everything, I wouldn't get any work done...

-- L. Bob Rife, Snow Crash

27 points Thomas 01 March 2014 04:29:55PM Permalink

He says we could learn a lot from primitive tribes. But they could learn a lot more from us!

  • Jeremy Clarkson
27 points Stabilizer 02 March 2014 12:11:14AM Permalink

Procrastination is the thief of compound interest.

-Venkatesh Rao

27 points JQuinton 01 April 2014 01:00:19PM Permalink

Now, one basic principle in all of science is GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. This principle is particularly important in statistical meta-analysis: because if you have a bunch of methodologically poor studies, each with small sample size, and then subject them to meta-analysis, what can happen is that the systematic biases in each study — if they mostly point in the same direction — can reach statistical significance when the studies are pooled. And this possibility is particularly relevant here, because meta-analyses of homeopathy invariably find an inverse correlation between the methodological quality of the study and the observed effectiveness of homeopathy: that is, the sloppiest studies find the strongest evidence in favor of homeopathy. When one restricts attention only to methodologically sound studies — those that include adequate randomization and double-blinding, predefined outcome measures, and clear accounting for drop-outs — the meta-analyses find no statistically significant effect (whether positive or negative) of homeopathy compared to placebo.

27 points roystgnr 02 May 2014 03:35:24PM Permalink

PLAYBOY: So the experiment didn’t work?

[Craig] FERGUSON: No, the experiment always works. There’s no such thing as an experiment that doesn’t work. There are only results, but results may vary. Here’s what I learned:

27 points johnlawrenceaspden 09 June 2014 11:46:13PM Permalink

“The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses"

-- Francis Bacon

27 points James_Miller 18 July 2014 02:00:07AM Permalink

A law professor who was a practicing defense attorney whom I talked with during my ordeal told me of an experiment he had done. He was at a dinner party and told people at one table that he was defending a man who was wrongly accused of molesting a child, and was met with shock and accusations of trying to free a monster. He told another table that he was defending a murder suspect whom he was convinced was guilty, and got, "Oh, that's sounds interesting. Tell me more."

Ray Atkinson on Quora

27 points Pablo_Stafforini 07 July 2014 06:16:58PM Permalink

Another possibility is that our intuitive sense of justice is a set of heuristics: moral machinery that’s very useful but far from infallible. We have a taste for punishment. This taste, like all tastes, is subtle and complicated, shaped by a complex mix of genetic, cultural, and idiosyncratic factors. But our taste for punishment is still a taste, implemented by automatic settings and thus limited by its inflexibility. All tastes can be fooled. We fool our taste buds with artificial sweeteners. We fool our sexual appetites with birth control and pornography, both of which supply sexual gratification while doing nothing to spread our genes. Sometimes, however, our tastes make fools of us. Our tastes for fat and sugar make us obese in a world of abundance. Drugs of abuse hijack our reward circuits and destroy people’s lives. To know whether we’re fooling our tastes or whether our tastes are fooling us, we have to step outside the limited perspective of our tastes: To what extent is this thing—diet soda, porn, Nutella, heroin—really serving our bests interests? We should ask the same question about our taste for punishment.

Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them, New York, 2013, p. 272

27 points Pablo_Stafforini 04 August 2014 05:59:45PM Permalink

A good rule of thumb to ask yourself in all situations is, “If not now, then when?” Many people delay important habits, work and goals for some hypothetical future. But the future quickly becomes the present and nothing will have changed.

Scott Young

26 points Alejandro1 03 February 2014 03:21:43AM Permalink

A serious prophet upon predicting a flood should be the first man to climb a tree.

--Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage.

26 points lukeprog 12 March 2014 08:48:02PM Permalink

If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.

Warren Buffett

26 points aarongertler 04 April 2014 05:55:35PM Permalink

"Throughout the day, Stargirl had been dropping money. She was the Johnny Appleseed of loose change: a penny here, a nickel there. Tossed to the sidewalk, laid on a shelf or bench. Even quarters.

"I hate change," she said. "It's so . . . jangly."

"Do you realize how much you must throw away in a year?" I said.

"Did you ever see a little kid's face when he spots a penny on a sidewalk?”

Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl

26 points Risto_Saarelma 06 June 2014 04:27:40PM Permalink

But in some form or another, a lot of people believe that there are only easy truths and impossible truths left. They tend not to believe in hard truths that can be solved with technology.

Pretty much all fundamentalists think this way. Take religious fundamentalism, for example. There are lots of easy truths that even kids know. And then there are the mysteries of God, which can’t be explained. In between—the zone of hard truths—is heresy. Environmental fundamentalism works the same way. The easy truth is that we must protect the environment. Beyond that, Mother Nature knows best, and she cannot be questioned. There’s even a market version of this, too. The value of things is set by the market. Even a child can look up stock prices. Prices are easy truths. But those truths must be accepted, not questioned. The market knows far more than you could ever know. Even Einstein couldn’t outguess God, Nature, or Market.

Peter Thiel

26 points RolfAndreassen 04 August 2014 05:40:54AM Permalink

A man is walking on the moon with his eyes turned up toward space And the bright blue world that watches him reflected on his face. The whole world sees the hero there and the module crew also. But few can see the guiding team that guards him from below.

Here's a health to the man who walked the moon, and the module crew above, And the team that watches from the sky with worry, joy, and love. To all who blazed the sky-trail come raise your glasses 'round; And a health to the unknown heroes, too, who never left the ground.

Here's a health to the ship's designers, and the welders of her seams, And all who man the radar-scan to watch our dawning dreams. For all the unknown heroes, sing out to every shore: "What makes one step a giant leap is all the steps before".

Leslie Fish, musically praising the Hufflepuff virtues.

26 points jaime2000 05 August 2014 04:24:47AM Permalink

"I want information. I want to understand you. To understand what exactly I'm fighting. You can help me."

"I obviously won't."

"I will kill you if you don't help me. I'm not bluffing, Broadwings. I will kill you and you will die alone and unseen, and frankly you are far too intelligent to simply believe that the stories of ancestral halls are true. You will die and that will probably be it, and nobody will ever know if you talked or not—not that conversing with an enemy in a war you don't support is dishonorable in the first place."

"You'll let me leave if I stonewall, because you don't want to set a precedent of murdering surrendered officers."

"We'll see. Would you like another cup?"


Derpy smiled deviously. "You know, in that last battle? We didn't fly our cannon up there to the cliffs. Nope. We had Earth ponies drag them. Earth ponies are capable of astounding physical feats, you know. We're probably going to be using more mobility in our artillery deployment going forward, now that they've demonstrated how effective the concept is."

"...why did you tell me that? What would drive you to tell me that?"

"I'll ask again before I continue. Would you like to assist me, Broadwings?"

"I am a gryphon. Telling me your plans will do nothing to change that. I will not barter secrets."

She leaned back, gesturing with a hoof as she talked. "My biggest strengths are that I understand the way crowds think and that I am good at thinking up unexpected ways to solve simple problems. My army's biggest weakness is that my soldiers are inexperienced, and that unexpected developments have an inordinate effect on their morale. Also, my infantry will never be able to stand against a sustained lion charge, so I have to keep finding ways to nullify that disadvantage, and frankly I won't be able to forever."

"I don't understand. What are you doing, Mare? Why are you--"

"--my personal biggest weaknesses," she continued, her smile now malicious, "are my struggles with morality, identity, and my desire to be loved. There's also my relationship with the stallion Macintosh Apple, who is usually called Big Macintosh, with whom I spend upwards of ten hours a day, and on whom I am completely emotionally dependent. If he were to be killed, I'd probably fall apart emotionally. I also have a daughter named Dinky—not by him, mind you—who is in the Southmarch, and who I am very, very guilty about abandoning. If anything were to happen to her I might kill myself. Do you understand yet, Broadwings?"

"Mare, this is insanity. I cannot--"

"--All right then, we'll continue. I also have in this camp Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo, three little fillies, though they're growing quite quickly now. Sweetie Belle is the writer of many propaganda songs, Apple Bloom is Big Mac's sister, who he protects like a daughter, and I believe Scootaloo has no special importance but the other two would defend her to the death. They would be quite easy to kill as well. Do you understand yet?"

"Mare! Are you mad?! Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to tell me these things? Aren't you afraid I would tell--"

"--Good," she nodded. "You're beginning to understand. Let's see. My logistics framework right now is nonexistent. I'm entirely reliant on local villages bringing me food and materiel, and on capturing food and materiel meant for your armies. My army is nowhere near as mobile as it appears, since it can only operate in areas where I have established relationships with each particular village. A bit of simple recon work would let you figure out where I can and cannot go. Do you understand yet?"

Broadwings' eyes opened and his pupils shrank with dawning recognition. "...If I came back to my army, I would use this to defeat you. If I told any other gryphon, they would use it to defeat you. have..."

"Yes. I have sealed your fate; you will not see your home. I can't let you leave now. I absolutely can't. I can now either kill you or keep you prisoner until this war is over—and I don't keep useless prisoners. It's now out of my hooves. One or the other. You pick."

~emkajii, Equestria: Total War

25 points B_For_Bandana 08 February 2014 12:39:25AM Permalink

Madolyn: "Why is the last patient of the day always the hardest?"

Costigan: "Because you're tired and you don't give a shit. It's not supernatural."

The Departed

25 points CronoDAS 04 March 2014 03:07:22AM Permalink

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. Serious-minded persons, for example, are continually condemning the habit of going to the cinema, and telling us that it leads the young into crime. But all the work that goes to producing a cinema is respectable, because it is work, and because it brings a money profit. The notion that the desirable activities are those that bring a profit has made everything topsy-turvy. The butcher who provides you with meat and the baker who provides you with bread are praiseworthy, because they are making money; but when you enjoy the food they have provided, you are merely frivolous, unless you eat only to get strength for your work. Broadly speaking, it is held that getting money is good and spending money is bad. Seeing that they are two sides of one transaction, this is absurd; one might as well maintain that keys are good, but keyholes are bad. Whatever merit there may be in the production of goods must be entirely derivative from the advantage to be obtained by consuming them. The individual, in our society, works for profit; but the social purpose of his work lies in the consumption of what he produces. It is this divorce between the individual and the social purpose of production that makes it so difficult for men to think clearly in a world in which profit-making is the incentive to industry. We think too much of production, and too little of consumption. One result is that we attach too little importance to enjoyment and simple happiness, and that we do not judge production by the pleasure that it gives to the consumer.

-- Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness

25 points Cyan 03 April 2014 05:59:38PM Permalink

It is, in fact, a very good rule to be especially suspicious of work that says what you want to hear, precisely because the will to believe is a natural human tendency that must be fought.

- Paul Krugman

25 points Cyan 05 May 2014 04:06:21AM Permalink

Bruno de Finetti heard of [the author's empirical Bayes method for grading tests] and he wrote to me suggesting that the student should be encouraged to state their probability for each of the possible choices. The appropriate score should be a simple function of the probability distribution and the correct answer. An appropriate function would encourage students to reply with their actual distribution rather than attempt to bluff. I responded that it would be difficult to get third graders to list probabilities. He answered that we should give the students five gold stars and let them distribute the stars among the possible answers.

- Herman Chernoff (pg 34 of Past, Present, and Future of Statistical Science, available here)

25 points B_For_Bandana 03 May 2014 02:28:58AM Permalink

One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some linguistic like koans and some non-linguistic like zazen, in hopes that for any given student one or more of our methods will, in whatever way, engender the condition of non-mediated experience that is our goal. And since even thinking in terms of mediators and goals tends to reinforce our undesirable dependency on concepts, we actively discourage exactly this kind of analytical discourse."

And the student was enlightened.

25 points arundelo 05 August 2014 05:19:21AM Permalink

That's why I'm skeptical of people who look at some catastrophic failure of a complex system and say, "Wow, the odds of this happening are astronomical. Five different safety systems had to fail simultaneously!" What they don't realize is that one or two of those systems are failing all the time, and it's up to the other three systems to prevent the failure from turning into a disaster.

-- Raymond Chen

25 points Stabilizer 04 August 2014 04:01:20AM Permalink

Surgeons finally did upgrade their antiseptic standards at the end of the nineteenth century. But, as is often the case with new ideas, the effort required deeper changes than anyone had anticipated. In their blood-slick, viscera-encrusted black coats, surgeons had seen themselves as warriors doing hemorrhagic battle with little more than their bare hands. A few pioneering Germans, however, seized on the idea of the surgeon as scientist. They traded in their black coats for pristine laboratory whites, refashioned their operating rooms to achieve the exacting sterility of a bacteriological lab, and embraced anatomic precision over speed.

The key message to teach surgeons, it turned out, was not how to stop germs but how to think like a laboratory scientist. Young physicians from America and elsewhere who went to Germany to study with its surgical luminaries became fervent converts to their thinking and their standards. They returned as apostles not only for the use of antiseptic practice (to kill germs) but also for the much more exacting demands of aseptic practice (to prevent germs), such as wearing sterile gloves, gowns, hats, and masks. Proselytizing through their own students and colleagues, they finally spread the ideas worldwide.

-Atul Gawande

25 points Azathoth123 13 September 2014 07:08:04PM Permalink

What goes unsaid eventually goes unthought.

Steve Sailer

25 points Salivanth 02 October 2014 11:49:31PM Permalink

The Courage Wolf looked long and slow at the Weasley twins. At length he spoke, "I see that you possess half of courage. That is good. Few achieve that."

"Half?" Fred asked, too awed to be truly offended.

"Yes," said the Wolf, "You know how to heroically defy, but you do not know how to heroically submit. How to say to another, 'You are wiser than I; tell me what to do and I will do it. I do not need to understand; I will not cost you the time to explain.' And there are those in your lives wiser than you, to whom you could say that."

"But what if they're wrong?" George said.

"If they are wrong, you die," the Wolf said plainly, "Horribly. And for nothing. That is why it is an act of courage."

  • HPMOR omake by Daniel Speyer.
25 points NancyLebovitz 07 December 2014 03:46:52PM Permalink

Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste... years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just... take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that's hard.

Lois McMaster Bujold

25 points Kinsei 06 December 2014 01:18:27PM Permalink

"It’s much better to live in a place like Switzerland where the problems are complex and the solutions are unclear, rather than North Korea where the problems are simple and the solutions are straightforward."

Scott Sumner, A time for nuance

25 points Gunnar_Zarncke 01 November 2014 10:37:35PM Permalink

The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.

Mark Twain

Actually I found this in The topology of Seemingly impossible functional programs which is using topological methods to 'check' infinitely many cases in finite time. Which might even be applicable to FAI research.

24 points jsbennett86 09 January 2014 11:30:28PM Permalink

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

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

24 points michaelkeenan 05 January 2014 08:24:59AM Permalink

If you don't pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.

-- David Allen

24 points Mestroyer 04 January 2014 07:41:07PM Permalink

But losing can be upsetting, and can cause emotions to take the place of logical thinking. Below are some common “losing attitudes.” If you find yourself saying these things, consider it a red flag.

“At least I have my Code of Honor,” a.k.a. “You are cheap!”

This is by far the most common call of the scrub, and I’ve already described it in detail. The loser usually takes the imagined moral high ground by sticking to his Code of Honor, a made-up set of personal rules that tells him which moves he can and cannot do. Of course, the rules of the game itself dictate which moves a player can and cannot make, so the Code of Honor is superfluous and counterproductive toward winning. This can also take the form of the loser complaining that you have broken his Code of Honor. He will almost always assume the entire world agrees on his Code and that only the most vile social outcasts would ever break his rules. It can be difficult to even reason with the kind of religious fervor some players have toward their Code. This type of player is trying desperately to remain a “winner” any way possible. If you catch him amidst a sea of losses, you’ll notice that his Code will undergo strange contortions so that he may still define himself, somehow, as a “winner.”

David Sirlin on self-handicapping in competitive games

24 points arundelo 04 April 2014 02:13:10PM Permalink

Specifically, [these recent books that deal with parallel universes] argue that if some scientific theory X has enough experimental support for us to take it seriously, then we must take seriously also all its predictions Y, even if these predictions are themselves untestable (involving parallel universes, for example).

As a warm-up example, let's consider Einstein's theory of General Relativity. It's widely considered a scientific theory worthy of taking seriously, because it has made countless correct predictions -- from the gravitational bending of light to the time dilation measured by our GPS phones. This means that we must also take seriously its prediction for what happens inside black holes, even though this is something we can never observe and report on in Scientific American. If someone doesn't like these black hole predictions, they can't simply opt out of them and dismiss them as unscientific: instead, they need to come up with a different mathematical theory that matches every single successful prediction that general relativity has made -- yet doesn't give the disagreeable black hole predictions.

-- Max Tegmark, Scientific American guest blog, 2014-02-04

24 points Stabilizer 01 April 2014 08:10:10PM Permalink

How much of a disaster is this? Well, it’s never a disaster to learn that a statement you wanted to go one way in fact goes the other way. It may be disappointing, but it’s much better to know the truth than to waste time chasing a fantasy. Also, there can be far more to it than that. The effect of discovering that your hopes are dashed is often that you readjust your hopes. If you had a subgoal that you now realize is unachievable, but you still believe that the main goal might be achievable, then your options have been narrowed down in a potentially useful way.

-Timothy Gowers, on finding out a method he’d hoped would work, in fact would not.

24 points arundelo 03 May 2014 06:27:58PM Permalink

Things like linear algebra, group theory, and probability have so many uses throughout science that learning them is like installing a firmware upgrade to your brain -- and even the math you don't use will stretch you in helpful ways.

-- Scott Aaronson

24 points NancyLebovitz 02 June 2014 06:08:16PM Permalink

Three Bayesians walk into a bar: a) what's the probability that this is a joke? b) what's the probability that one of the three is a Rabbi? c) given that one of the three is a Rabbi, what's the probability that this is a joke?

--Sorry, no cite. I got this from someone who said they'd been seeing it on twitter.

23 points arundelo 07 January 2014 12:26:45AM Permalink

[I]n any system that is less than 100% perfect, some effort ends up being spent on checking things that, retrospectively, turned out to be ok.

-- Andrew Gelman

23 points hairyfigment 01 March 2014 08:26:28PM Permalink

"He keeps saying, you can run, but you can't hide. Since when do we take advice from this guy?"

You got a really good point there, Rick. I mean, if the truth was that we could hide, it's not like he would just give us that information.

  • Rick and Morty.
23 points Kaj_Sotala 06 March 2014 05:06:09PM Permalink

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous— that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

-- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

22 points shminux 03 February 2014 06:08:08PM Permalink

I’m better at tests than reality. Reality doesn’t tell you which of a million bits of information to look at.

A comment on slatestarcodex.

22 points James_Miller 01 March 2014 05:27:27PM Permalink

[A]lmost no innovative programs work, in the sense of reliably demonstrating benefits in excess of costs in replicated RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Only about 10 percent of new social programs in fields like education, criminology and social welfare demonstrate statistically significant benefits in RCTs. When presented with an intelligent-sounding program endorsed by experts in the topic, our rational Bayesian prior ought to be “It is very likely that this program would fail to demonstrate improvement versus current practice if I tested it.”

In other words, discovering program improvements that really work is extremely hard. We labor in the dark -- scratching and clawing for tiny scraps of causal insight.

Megan McArdle quoting or paraphrasing Jim Manzi.

[Edited in response to Kaj's comment.]

22 points whales 02 April 2014 01:49:57AM Permalink

He said:

When you play bridge with beginners—when you try to help them out—you give them some general rules to go by. Then they follow the rule and something goes wrong. But if you'd had their hand you wouldn't have played the thing you told them to play, because you'd have seen all the reasons the rule did not apply.

from The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

22 points raisin 01 April 2014 03:45:37PM Permalink

Richard Feynmann claimed that he wasn't exceptionally intelligent, but that he focused all his energies on one thing. Of course he was exceptionally intelligent, but he makes a good point.

I think one way to improve your intelligence is to actually try to understand things in a very fundamental way. Rather than just accepting the kind of trite explanations that most people accept - for instance, that electricity is electrons moving along a wire - try to really find out and understand what is actually happening, and you'll begin to find that the world is very different from what you have been taught and you'll be able to make more intelligent observations about it.

reddit user jjbcn on trying to improve your intelligence

If you're not a student of physics, The Feynman Lectures on Physics is probably really useful for this purpose. It's free for download!

It seems like the Feynman lectures were a bit like the Sequences for those Caltech students:

The intervening years might have glazed their memories with a euphoric tint, but about 80 percent recall Feynman's lectures as highlights of their college years. “It was like going to church.” The lectures were “a transformational experience,” “the experience of a lifetime, probably the most important thing I got from Caltech.” “I was a biology major but Feynman's lectures stand out as a high point in my undergraduate experience … though I must admit I couldn't do the homework at the time and I hardly turned any of it in.” “I was among the least promising of students in this course, and I never missed a lecture. … I remember and can still feel Feynman's joy of discovery. … His lectures had an … emotional impact that was probably lost in the printed Lectures.”

22 points Tenoke 07 May 2014 12:25:19PM Permalink

"Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain."

--Corneliu E. Giurgea, the chemist who synthesized Piracetam and coined the term 'Nootropic'

22 points CronoDAS 04 August 2014 08:24:52AM Permalink

The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

-- Alberto Brandolini (via David Brin)

22 points dspeyer 05 August 2014 09:34:00PM Permalink

It was a gamble: would people really take time out of their busy lives to answer other people’s questions, for nothing more than fake internet points and bragging rights?

It turns out that people will do anything for fake internet points.

Just kidding. At best, the points, and the gamification, and the focused structure of the site did little more than encourage people to keep doing what they were already doing. People came because they wanted to help other people, because they needed to learn something new, or because they wanted to show off the clever way they’d solved a problem.


An incredible number of people jumped at the chance to help a stranger

-- Jay Hanlon, Five year retrospective on StackOverflow

21 points cousin_it 16 April 2014 10:22:07AM Permalink

Being wrong about something feels exactly the same as being right about something.

-- many different people, most recently user chipaca on HN

21 points aarongertler 16 May 2014 01:13:23AM Permalink

“I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don't know the answer.”

― Douglas Adams

21 points Mestroyer 04 May 2014 03:38:21AM Permalink

we're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill Today.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk dodging an appeal to nature and the what the hell effect, to optimize for consequences instead of virtue.

21 points elharo 01 May 2014 09:53:13AM Permalink

The brutal truth is that reality is indifferent to your difficulty in finding enough subjects. It’s like astronomy: To study things that are small and distant in the sky you need a huge telescope. If you only have access to a few subjects, you need to study bigger effects, and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

-- Joseph P. Simmons, The Reformation: Can Social Scientists Save Themselves

21 points rationalnoodles 02 June 2014 11:46:14AM Permalink



Arguing with idiots has the game-theoretic structure of a dollar-auction. Whoever gets in the last argument wins. Add to this the asymmetry that someone with low epistemic standarts can make up some nonsense argument in five minutes, while it takes you an hour to prove that it is nonsense. At which point the other guy will make up some new nonsense.


edit: If you decide to reply, please read the original comment on SSC for context.

21 points gwern 17 July 2014 12:22:19AM Permalink

"Independence is for the very few, it is a privilege of the strong. Whoever attempts it enters a labyrinth, and multiplies a thousandfold the dangers of life. Not least of which is that no one can see how and where he loses his way, becomes lonely, and is torn piecemeal by some minotaur of conscience. If he fails, this happens so far from the comprehension of men that they cannot sympathise nor pity."

--29, Part 2: The Free Spirit, Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil- Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future

21 points Torello 02 October 2014 01:39:31AM Permalink

"While there are problems with what I have proposed, they should be compared to the existing alternatives, not to abstract utopias."

Jaron Lanier, Who Owns the Future (page number not provided by e-reader)

21 points Stabilizer 03 October 2014 10:24:12PM Permalink

The version of Windows following 8.1 will be Windows 10, not Windows 9. Apparently this is because Microsoft knows that a lot of software naively looks at the first digit of the version number, concluding that it must be Windows 95 or Windows 98 if it starts with 9.

Many think this is stupid. They say that Microsoft should call the next version Windows 9, and if somebody’s dumb code breaks, it’s their own fault.

People who think that way aren’t billionaires. Microsoft got where it is, in part, because they have enough business savvy to take responsibility for problems that are not their fault but that would be perceived as being their fault.

-John D. Cook

20 points cousin_it 16 January 2014 10:46:11PM Permalink

People will call it immoral until they can afford it

-- blindcavefsh on

I like this quote because it can serve as a replacement for "power corrupts" and also applies to things like embryo selection, so it seems to be pointing to something more general.

20 points Pfft 10 February 2014 05:43:22PM Permalink

Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

--Mike Tyson

20 points Jayson_Virissimo 18 March 2014 09:18:23PM Permalink

The same persons who cry down Logic will generally warn you against Political Economy. It is unfeeling, they will tell you. It recognises unpleasant facts. For my part, the most unfeeling thing I know of is the law of gravitation: it breaks the neck of the best and most amiable person without scruple, if he forgets for a single moment to give heed to it. The winds and waves too are very unfeeling. Would you advise those who go to sea to deny the winds and waves – or to make use of them, and find the means of guarding against their dangers? My advice to you is to study the great writers on Political Economy, and hold firmly by whatever in them you find true; and depend upon it that if you are not selfish or hard-hearted already, Political Economy will not make you so.

-- John Stuart Mill

20 points Jayson_Virissimo 04 April 2014 01:24:36AM Permalink

Today is already the tomorrow which the bad economist yesterday urged us to ignore.

-- Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson

20 points somnicule 09 April 2014 11:13:15AM Permalink

“Even if it's not your fault, it's your responsibility.”

20 points NancyLebovitz 08 June 2014 06:47:11PM Permalink

Let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.

Arthur Martine, quoted by Daniel Dennett

20 points John_Maxwell_IV 07 September 2014 01:56:45AM Permalink

Often, one of these CEOs will operate in a way inconsistent with Thorndike's major thesis and yet he'll end up praising the CEO anyway. In poker, we'd call this the "won, didn't it?" fallacy-- judging a process by the specific, short-term result accomplished rather than examining the long-term result of multiple iterations of the process over time.

This review.

20 points RolfAndreassen 02 September 2014 12:17:19AM Permalink

"I mean, my lord Salvara, that your own expectations have been used against you. You have a keen sense for men of business, surely. You've grown your family fortune several times over in your brief time handling it. Therefore, a man who wished to snare you in some scheme could do nothing wiser than to act the consummate man of business. To deliberately manifest all your expectations. To show you exactly what you expected and desired to see."

"It seems to me that if I accept your argument," the don said slowly, "then the self-evident truth of any legitimate thing could be taken as grounds for its falseness. I say Lukas Fehrwight is a merchant of Emberlain because he shows the signs of being so; you say those same signs are what prove him counterfeit. I need more sensible evidence than this."

-- Scott Lynch, "The Lies of Locke Lamora", page 150.

20 points dspeyer 02 October 2014 02:53:36PM Permalink

Lord Vetinari, as supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, could in theory summon the Archchancellor of Unseen University to his presence and, indeed, have him executed if he failed to obey.

On the other hand Mustrum Ridcully, as head of the college of wizards, had made it clear in polite but firm ways that he could turn him into a small amphibian and, indeed, start jumping around the room on a pogo stick.

Alcohol bridged the diplomatic gap nicely. Sometimes Lord Vetinari invited the Archchancellor to the palace for a convivial drink. And of course the Archchancellor went, because it would be bad manners not to. And everyone understood the position, and everyone was on their best behaviour, and thus civil unrest and slime on the carpet were averted.

-- Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett

20 points James_Miller 15 December 2014 07:01:03PM Permalink

Your mind is like a compiled program you've lost the source of. It works, but you don't know why.

Paul Graham

20 points Salemicus 01 December 2014 07:50:06PM Permalink

Geographers crowd into the edges of their maps parts of the world which they do not know about, adding notes in the margin to the effect that beyond this lies nothing but sandy deserts full of wild beasts, and unapproachable bogs.

Plutarch, from Life of Theseus.

19 points lukeprog 07 January 2014 05:46:00PM Permalink

[This] paper will be something of an exercise in saying the obvious, but on this topic it is worth saying the obvious first so that less obvious things can be said from there.

David Chalmers

19 points Wesmaster160 06 January 2014 10:41:02PM Permalink

There are lots of mysteries in the world. But the truth is that maybe... those things aren't all that mysterious at all... Maybe they're just things I don't know about yet. And that's why they seem mysterious.

--Your partner in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity

19 points MattG 10 March 2014 08:54:26PM Permalink

"This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution." - Daniel Kahneman

19 points malcolmocean 01 March 2014 03:35:08PM Permalink

Allow me to express now, once and for all, my deep respect for the work of the experimenter and for his fight to wring significant facts from an inflexible Nature, who says so distinctly "No" and so indistinctly "Yes" to our theories.

— Hermann Weyl

(quoted in Science And Sanity, by Alfred Korzybski, of "the map is not the territory" fame)

19 points roryokane 18 April 2014 01:26:11AM Permalink

“If only there were irrational people somewhere, insidiously believing stupid things, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and mock them. But the line dividing rationality and irrationality cuts through the mind of every human being. And who is willing to mock a piece of his own mind?”

(With apologies to Solzhenitsyn).

– Said Achmiz, in a comment on Slate Star Codex’s post “The Cowpox of Doubt”

19 points redlizard 15 May 2014 02:58:04AM Permalink

Even with measurements in hand, old habits are hard to shake. It’s easy to fall in love with numbers that seem to agree with you. It’s just as easy to grope for reasons to write off numbers that violate your expectations. Those are both bad, common biases. Don’t just look for evidence to confirm your theory. Test for things your theory predicts should never happen. If the theory is correct, it should easily survive the evidential crossfire of positive and negative tests. If it’s not you’ll find out that much quicker. Being wrong efficiently is what science is all about.

-- Carlos Bueno, Mature Optimization, pg. 14. Emphasis mine.

19 points Torello 01 May 2014 11:33:48PM Permalink

Accident, n. An inevitable occurrence due to the action of immutable natural laws.

  • Ambrose Bierce, The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary, complied and edited by Ernest J. Hopkins
19 points Jayson_Virissimo 09 July 2014 04:56:08AM Permalink

An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.

-- Niels Bohr, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations

19 points lukeprog 24 September 2014 07:06:10AM Permalink

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.

J.S. Mill

19 points JQuinton 07 October 2014 04:41:37PM Permalink

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility.

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

18 points hairyfigment 13 March 2014 08:51:11PM Permalink

A: Maybe an Air Nomad Avatar will understand where I'm coming from...(simulates Yangchen)...

Y: Avatar Aang, I know that you are a gentle spirit. And the monks have taught you well. But this isn't about you. This is about the world.

A: But the monks taught me I had to detach myself from the world so my spirit could be free!

Y: ...Here is my wisdom for you: selfless duty calls for you to sacrifice your own spiritual needs, and do whatever it takes to protect the world.

  • Avatar: The last airbender
18 points Benito 02 April 2014 06:15:24PM Permalink

“I propose we simply postpone the worrisome question of what really has a mind, about what the proper domain of the intentional stance is. Whatever the right answer to that question is—if it has a right answer—this will not jeopardize the plain fact that the intentional stance works remarkably well as a prediction method in these other areas, almost as well as it works in our daily lives as folk psychologists dealing with other people. This move of mine annoys and frustrates some philosophers, who want to blow the whistle and insist on properly settling the issue of what a mind, a belief, a desire is before taking another step. Define your terms, sir! No, I won’t. That would be premature. I want to explore first the power and the extent of application of this good trick, the intentional stance. Once we see what it is good for, and why, we can come back and ask ourselves if we still feel the need for formal, watertight definitions. My move is an instance of nibbling on a tough problem instead of trying to eat (and digest) the whole thing from the outset. “Many of the thinking tools I will be demonstrating are good at nibbling, at roughly locating a few “fixed” points that will help us see the general shape of the problem. In Elbow Room (1984a), o compared my method to the sculptor’s method of roughing out the form in a block of marble, approaching the final surfaces cautiously, modestly, working by successive approximation. Many philosophers apparently cannot work that way and have to secure (or so they think) the utterly fixed boundaries of their problems and possible solutions before they can venture any hypotheses.”

-Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, Chapter 18 "The Intentional Stance" [Bold is original]

Reminded me of the idea of 'hacking away at the edges'.

18 points James_Miller 01 April 2014 10:57:23PM Permalink

“Anything outside yourself, this you can see and apply your logic to it." She said. "But it’s a human trait that when we encounter personal problems, those things most deeply personal are the most difficult to bring out for our logic to scan. We tend to flounder around, blaming everything but the actual, deep-seated thing that’s really chewing on us.”

Jessica speaking to Thufir Hawat in Frank Herbert's Dune

18 points Jayson_Virissimo 09 July 2014 05:05:00AM Permalink

If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.

-- Orville Wright,

18 points James_Miller 06 July 2014 05:37:35PM Permalink

Show me a republic, ancient or modern, in which there have been no decorations. Some people call them baubles. Well, it is by such baubles that one leads men.

Napoleon who would have approved of gamification.

17 points lukeprog 15 January 2014 01:20:18AM Permalink

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

Joseph Schumpeter

17 points whales 13 January 2014 08:58:20AM Permalink

It’s tempting to judge what you read: "I agree with these statements, and I disagree with those." However, a great thinker who has spent decades on an unusual line of thought cannot induce their context into your head in a few pages. It’s almost certainly the case that you don’t fully understand their statements. Instead, you can say: "I have now learned that there exists a worldview in which all of these statements are consistent." And if it feels worthwhile, you can make a genuine effort to understand that entire worldview. You don't have to adopt it. Just make it available to yourself, so you can make connections to it when it's needed.

Bret Victor, reflecting on Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together by Bruno Latour

17 points bbleeker 04 March 2014 12:54:48PM Permalink

The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth - that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

--H. L. Mencken

17 points Vulture 03 May 2014 09:17:23PM Permalink

[N]ature is constantly given human qualities. Wordsworth wrote that “nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Mother Nature has comforted us in every culture on earth. In the 20th and 21st centuries, some environmentalists claimed that the entire earth is a single ecosystem, a “superorganism” in the language of Gaia.

I would argue that we have been fooling ourselves. Nature, in fact, is mindless. Nature is neither friend nor foe, neither malevolent nor benevolent.

Nature is purposeless. Nature simply is. We may find nature beautiful or terrible, but those feelings are human constructions. Such utter and complete mindlessness is hard for us to accept. We feel such a strong connection to nature. But the relationship between nature and us is one-sided. There is no reciprocity. There is no mind on the other side of the wall. That absence of mind, coupled with so much power, is what so frightened me...

-- Alan Lightman

17 points satt 01 May 2014 11:09:26PM Permalink

Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious.

Errol Morris

17 points James_Miller 01 June 2014 09:26:32PM Permalink

Every time a mosquito dies, the world becomes a better place.

Glenn Reynolds

From Wikipedia "Various species of mosquitoes are estimated to transmit various types of disease to more than 700 million people annually in Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, Russia, and much of Asia, with millions of resultant deaths. At least two million people annually die of these diseases, and the morbidity rates are many times higher still."

Related: lets eliminate species of mosquitoes that bite humans.

17 points Salemicus 08 July 2014 07:28:51PM Permalink

The point is that even the Good Samaritan had to have the money to help, otherwise he too would have had to pass on the other side.

Margaret Thatcher, CPC Lecture.

17 points Benito 05 August 2014 12:50:36PM Permalink

But if that were the case, then moral philosophers - who reason about ethical principles all day long - should be more virtuous than other people. Are they? The philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel tried to find out. He used surveys and more surreptitious methods to measure how often moral philosophers give to charity, vote, call their mothers, donate blood, donate organs, clean up after themselves at philosophy conferences, and respond to emails purportedly from students. And in none of these ways are moral philosophers better than other philosophers or professors in other fields.

Schwitzgebel even scrounged up the missing-book lists from dozens of libraries and found that academic books on ethics, which are presumably mostly borrowed by ethicists, are more likely to be stolen or just never returned than books in other areas of philosophy. In other words, expertise in moral reasoning does not seem to improve moral behavior, and it might even make it worse (perhaps by making the rider more skilled at post hoc justification). Schwitzgebel still has yet to find a single measure on which moral philosophers behave better than other philosophers.

  • Jonathon Haidt, discussing the idea that ethical reasoning causes good behaviour, in his book 'The Righteous Mind'.

I found the book-stealing thing quite funny, although I imagine that some of the results described could be explained by popularity; if more people get into / like ethics, then there are more people who might steal library books, more antisocial people who don't respond to emails, etc. This hasn't been demonstrated to my knowledge though, and I'm otherwise inclined to believe that people who spend their days thinking about ethics in the abstract, are simply better at coming up with rationales for their instinctive feelings. Joshua Greene says rights are an example of this, where we need a dictum against whatever our emotions are telling us is despicable, even though we can't find any utilitarian justification for it.

17 points jaime2000 01 September 2014 12:30:35PM Permalink

A Verb Called Self

I am the playing, but not the pause.

I am the effect, but not the cause.

I am the living, but not the cells.

I am the ringing, but not the bells.

I am the animal, but not the meat.

I am the walking, but not the feet.

I am the pattern, but not the clothes.

I am the smelling, but not the rose.

I am the waves, but not the sea

Whatever my substrate, my me is still me.

I am the sparks in the dark that exist as a dream -

I am the process, but not the machine.

~Jennifer Diane "Chatoyance" Reitz, Friendship Is Optimal: Caelum Est Conterrens

17 points 27chaos 01 December 2014 08:25:59PM Permalink

I know that all revolutions must have ideologies to spur them on. That in the heat of conflict these ideologies tend to be smelted into rigid dogmas claiming exclusive possession of the truth, and the keys to paradise, is tragic. Dogma is the enemy of human freedom. Dogma must be watched for and apprehended at every turn and twist of the revolutionary movement. The human spirit glows from that small inner light of doubt whether we are right, while those who believe with complete certainty that they possess the right are dark inside and darken the world outside with cruelty, pain, and injustice.

Saul Alinsky, in his Rules for Radicals.

17 points Gunnar_Zarncke 01 November 2014 11:12:29PM Permalink

Personality problems and pattern ordered by difficulty to change according to Seligman:

  • Panic - Curable

  • Specific Phobias - Almost Curable

  • Sexual Dysfunctions - Marked Relief

  • Social Phobia - Moderate Relief

  • Agoraphobia - Moderate Relief

  • Depression - Moderate Relief

  • Sex Role - Moderate Change

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder - Moderate/Mild Relief

  • Sexual Preferences - Moderate/Mild Cange [*]

  • Anger - Mild/Moderate Relief

  • Everyday Anxiety - Mild/Moderate Relief

  • Alcohol Dependency - Mild Relief

  • Overweight - Temporary Change

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Marginal Relief [except for rape which shows Moderate Relief]

  • Sexual Orientation - Probably Unchangeable [*]

  • Sexual Identity - Unchangeable [*]

From 'What You Can Change and What You Can't*' by Seligman pg. 244 of the reviewed ('vintage') edition of 2006, explicitly confirmed to be still state of the art.

Just read the book and thought this table to be quite quote-worthy even though it isn't prosaic.

* These terms have specific and possibly somewhat non-standard definitions in the book. Seligman gives a convincing theory for formation of aspects of sexuality of different 'depth' (a core concept of Seligman) based on biological facts around expression of genes and hormones. See chapter 11.

16 points Jayson_Virissimo 05 February 2014 04:36:11AM Permalink

Better beware of notions like genius and inspiration; they are a sort of magic wand and should be used sparingly by anybody who wants to see things clearly.

-- José Ortega y Gasset

16 points WalterL 03 February 2014 05:08:58PM Permalink

You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.

  • Napoleon Bonaparte
16 points MattG 10 March 2014 08:53:54PM Permalink

"Luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome." - Daniel Kahneman

16 points elharo 13 March 2014 11:08:10AM Permalink

May I make a general request to people posting quotes? Please include not just the author's name but sufficient information to enable a reader to find the relevant quote. This doesn't necessarily have to be full MLA format; but a title, journal or book name if from a print source, page number or URL, and date would be helpful. Hyperlinked URLs are excellent if available but do not substitute for the rest of this information since these threads will likely outlive the location of some of the sources.

Doing so enables the reader not just to get a brief hit of rationality but to say, "Gee, that's interesting. I'd like to learn more," and read further in the source.

In fact, why don't we add a fifth bullet point to the header:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the original source of the quote
16 points Eugine_Nier 02 April 2014 01:10:14AM Permalink

I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.

G. K. Chesterton, attributed.

16 points Tyrrell_McAllister 01 June 2014 08:33:14PM Permalink

To know what questions may reasonably be asked is already a great and necessary proof of sagacity and insight. For if a question is absurd in itself and calls for an answer where none is required, it not only brings shame on the propounder of the question, but may betray an incautious listener into absurd answers, thus presenting, as the ancients said, the ludicrous spectacle of one man milking a he-goat and the other holding a sieve underneath.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (trans. Norman Kemp Smith), p. A58/B82.

16 points seez 14 September 2014 01:33:40AM Permalink

A conversation between me and my 7-year-old cousin:

Her: "do you believe in God?"

Me: "I don't, do you?"

Her: "I used to but, then I never really saw any proof, like miracles or good people getting saved from mean people and stuff. But I do believe in the Tooth Fairy, because ever time I put a tooth under my pillow, I get money out in the morning."

16 points William_Quixote 04 December 2014 07:32:39PM Permalink

there is a familiar phenomenon here, in which a certain kind of would-be economic expert loves to cite the supposed lessons of economic experiences that are in the distant past, and where we actually have only a faint grasp of what really happened. Harding 1921 “works” only because people don’t know much about it; you have to navigate through some fairly obscure sources to figure out [what actually happened]. And the same goes even more strongly — let’s say, XII times as strongly — when, say, [Name] starts telling us about the Emperor Diocletian. The point is that the vagueness of the information, and even more so what most people [think they] know about it, lets such people project their prejudices onto the past and then claim that they’re discussing the lessons of experience.

Paul Krugman on the use of examples to obscure rather than clarify

16 points lukeprog 01 December 2014 11:27:14PM Permalink

Rationalizations are more important than sex... Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?

  • Jeff Goldblum's character in The Big Chill
15 points Cyan 17 February 2014 04:07:37PM Permalink

Heaven and Earth are heartless

treating creatures like straw dogs.

- Tao Te Ching

Su Ch'e commentary on this verse explains: "Heaven and Earth are not partial. They do not kill living things out of cruelty or give them birth out of kindness. We do the same when we make straw dogs to use in sacrifices. We dress them up and put them on the altar, but not because we love them. And when the ceremony is over, we throw them into the street, but not because we hate them."

- Straw dog in Wikipedia

15 points elharo 07 February 2014 12:40:46PM Permalink

For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error. Which sounds kind of obvious, until I meet yet another person who rails to me about how empirical positivism can’t provide its own ultimate justification, and should therefore be replaced by the person’s favorite brand of cringe-inducing ugh.

--Scott Aaaronson, Retiring falsifiability? A storm in Russell’s teacup

15 points James_Miller 01 March 2014 05:23:02PM Permalink

If you're expecting the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you are fooling yourself. That's like expecting a lion not to eat you because you didn't eat him.

15 points Jayson_Virissimo 05 April 2014 06:50:49AM Permalink

...the utility of a thought experiment is inversely proportional to the size of its departure from reality.

-- Daniel Dennett, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking

15 points jaime2000 01 April 2014 02:24:24PM Permalink

There is an important difference between “We don’t know all the answers yet” and “Do what feels right, man.” These questions have answers, because humans have biochemistry, and we should do our best to find them and live by the results.

~J. Stanton, The Paleo Identity Crisis: What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?

15 points Eugine_Nier 02 April 2014 01:21:46AM Permalink

A BS detection Heuristic.

You can tell if a discipline is BS if the degree depends severely on the prestige of the school granting it. I remember when I applied to MBA programs being told that anything outside the top 10 or 20 would be a waste of time. On the other hand a degree in mathematics is much less dependent on the shool (conditional on being above a certain level, so the heuristic would apply to the differene betwewn top 10 and top 2000 schools).

The same applies to research papers. In math and physics, a result posted on arXiv (with a minimum hurdle) is fine. In low quality fields like academic finance (where almost all academics are charlatans and all papers some form of complicated storytelling), the "prestige" of the journal is the sole criterion.

Nassim Taleb

15 points James_Miller 04 August 2014 03:35:52AM Permalink

Come back with your shield - or on it.

Our kind might not be able to cooperate, but the Spartans certainly could. The Spartans were masters of hoplite phalanx warfare where often every individual would have been better off running away but collectively everyone was better off if none ran away than if all did. The above quote is what Plutarch says Spartan mothers would tell their sons before battle. (Because shields were heavy if you were going to run away you would drop it, and coming back on your shield meant you were dead.) Spreading memes to overcome collective action problems is civilization level rational.

15 points Jack_LaSota 09 September 2014 11:50:34PM Permalink

My transformation begins with me getting tired of my own bullshit.

Skeletor is Love

15 points Mass_Driver 08 September 2014 09:37:47PM Permalink

It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.

On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

Steven Pinker, The New Republic 9/4/14

15 points James_Miller 02 September 2014 02:48:00PM Permalink

A heuristic shouldn't be the "least wrong" among all possible rules; it should be the least harmful if wrong.

Nassim N. Taleb

15 points James_Miller 02 October 2014 12:31:25AM Permalink

I want to say "live and let live" about non-scientific views. But, then I read about measles outbreaks in countries where vaccines are free.

Zach Weinersmith (Twitter)


Rather than panicking about the single patient known to have Ebola in the US, protect yourself against a virus that kills up to 50,000 Americans every year. It's the flu, and simply getting the shot dramatically reduces your chances of becoming ill.

Erin Brodwin Business Insider

15 points Vaniver 11 December 2014 07:13:11PM Permalink

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

--Marcel Proust

15 points pgbh 14 November 2014 07:25:51AM Permalink

"I remember reading of a competition for a paper on resolution of singularities of surface; Castelnuovo and Enriques were in the committee. Beppo Levi presented his famous paper on the resolution of singularities for surfaces.

Enriques asked him for a couple of examples and was convinced; Castelnuovo was not. The discussion got heated. Enriques exclaimed 'I am ready to cut off my head if this does not work', and Castelnuovo replied 'I don't think that would prove it either.'"

-- Angelo Vistoli, mathoverflow

15 points Grok_Narok 02 November 2014 02:27:52PM Permalink

The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

14 points NancyLebovitz 27 January 2014 04:50:48PM Permalink

No one ever said reality was going to be dignified.

-- Claire Dederer

14 points lukeprog 15 January 2014 01:22:48AM Permalink

The bulk of available evidence suggests that people in all societies tend to be relatively rational when it comes to the beliefs and practices that directly involve their subsistence... The more remote these beliefs and practices are from subsistence activities, the more likely they are to involve nonrational characteristics.

Robert Edgerton

14 points Sniffnoy 09 January 2014 04:42:54AM Permalink

It's good to learn from your failures, but I prefer to learn from the failures of others.

-- Jace Beleren

14 points CronoDAS 24 February 2014 12:07:59PM Permalink

Now life is the only art that we are required to practice without preparation, and without being allowed the preliminary trials, the failures and botches, that are essential for the training of a mere beginner. In life, we must begin to give a public performance before we have acquired even a novice's skill; and often our moments of seeming mastery are upset by new demands, for which we have acquired no preparatory facility. Life is a score that we play at sight, not merely before we have divined the intentions of the composer, but even before we have mastered our instruments; even worse, a large part of the score has been only roughly indicated, and we must improvise the music for our particular instrument, over long passages. On these terms, the whole operation seems one of endless difficulty and frustration; and indeed, were it not for the fact that some of the passages have been played so often by our predecessors that, when we come to them, we seem to recall some of the score and can anticipate the natural sequence of the notes, we might often give up in sheer despair. The wonder is not that so much cacophony appears in our actual individual lives, but that there is any appearance of harmony and progression.

-- Lewis Mumford, The Conduct of Life

14 points TsviBT 09 March 2014 05:08:18AM Permalink

The secret of life is: This is not a drill.

-The Wise Man in Darkside, a radio play by Tom Stoppard

14 points Eugine_Nier 05 March 2014 02:55:41AM Permalink

If everybody thinks you're crazy, they might have a point. But if nobody thinks you're crazy, you have surrendered to herd consensus and are being far too timid in what you allow yourself to think and say in public.

Eric Raymound

14 points johnlawrenceaspden 15 April 2014 11:43:31PM Permalink

Encoded in the large, highly evolved sensory and motor portions of the human brain is a billion years of experience about the nature of the world and how to survive in it. The deliberate process we call reasoning is, I believe, the thinnest veneer of human thought, effective only because it is supported by this much older and much more powerful, though usually unconscious, sensorimotor knowledge. We are all prodigious olympians in perceptual and motor areas, so good that we make the difficult look easy. Abstract thought, though, is a new trick, perhaps less than 100 thousand years old. We have not yet mastered it. It is not all that intrinsically difficult; it just seems so when we do it.

Hans Moravec, Wikipedia/Moravec's Paradox

14 points Larks 08 June 2014 05:49:12PM Permalink

It is perplexing, but amusing to observe people getting extremely excited about things you don't care about; it is sinister to watch them ignore things you believe are fundamental.

Taleb, Aphorisms.

14 points shminux 18 July 2014 07:50:02PM Permalink

Always train your doubt most strongly on those ideas that you really want to be true.

Sean Carroll in his blog post describing why it is a bit premature to declare that Einstein's General Relativity has been experimentally proven to be incomplete, even if it would be very exciting if so.

14 points Pablo_Stafforini 07 July 2014 06:15:08PM Permalink

It takes […] what Berkeley calls a mind debauched by learning to carry the process of making the natural seem strange, so far as to ask for the why of any instinctive human act. To the metaphysician alone can such questions occur as: Why do we smile, when pleased, and not scowl? Why are we unable to talk to a crowd as we talk to a single friend? Why does a particular maiden turn our wits so upside-down? The common man can only say, “Of course we smile, of course our heart palpitates at the sight of the crowd, of course we love the maiden, that beautiful soul clad in that perfect form, so palpably and flagrantly made from all eternity to be loved!”

William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. 2, New York, 1890, pp. 386-387

14 points Torello 07 July 2014 04:13:59PM Permalink

No matter how dissatisfied people are with the results they are getting, they rarely question their way of trying to get results. When what we are doing is not working, we do not try doing something totally different. Instead, we try harder by doing more of what seems self-evidently the right way to proceed.

  • Deborah Tannen, You Just Don't Understand, p. 186
14 points Skeptityke 07 July 2014 02:16:05AM Permalink

It wasn’t easier, the ghost explains, you just knew how to do it. Sometimes the easiest method you know is the hardest method there is.

It’s like… to someone who only knows how to dig with a spoon, the notion of digging something as large as a trench will terrify them. All they know are spoons, so as far as they’re concerned, digging is simply difficult. The only way they can imagine it getting any easier is if they change – digging with a spoon until they get stronger, faster, and tougher. And the dangerous people, they’ll actually try this.

-Aggy, from Prequel.

On the importance of looking for more efficient ways to do things.

14 points shminux 26 August 2014 09:09:12PM Permalink

is consciousness more like the weather, or is it more like multiplication?

Scott Aaronson

More context:

a perfect simulation of the weather doesn’t make it rain—at least, not in our world. On the other hand, a perfect simulation of multiplying two numbers does multiply the numbers: there’s no difference at all between multiplication and a “simulation of multiplication.” Likewise, a perfect simulation of a good argument is a good argument, a perfect simulation of a sidesplitting joke is a sidesplitting joke, etc.

Maybe the hardware substrate is relevant after all. But [...] I think the burden is firmly on those of us who suspect so, to explain what about the hardware matters and why. Post-Turing, no one gets to treat consciousness’s dependence on particular hardware as “obvious”—especially if they never even explain what it is about that hardware that makes a difference.

14 points Lumifer 12 September 2014 05:13:53PM Permalink

It’s as if you went into a bathroom in a bar and saw a guy pissing on his shoes, and instead of thinking he has some problem with his aim, you suppose he has a positive utility for getting his shoes wet.

Andrew Gelman

14 points asd 10 September 2014 04:03:05PM Permalink

When I visited Dieter Zeh and his group in Heidelberg in 1996, I was struck by how few accolades he’d gotten for his hugely important discovery of decoherence. Indeed, his curmudgeonly colleagues in the Heidelberg Physics Department had largely dismissed his work as too philosophical, even though their department was located on “Philosopher Street.” His group meetings had been moved to a church building, and I was astonished to learn that the only funding that he’d been able to get to write the first-ever book on decoherence came from the German Lutheran Church.

This really drove home to me that Hugh Everett was no exception: studying the foundations of physics isn’t a recipe for glamour and fame. It’s more like art: the best reason to do it is because you love it. Only a small minority of my physics colleagues choose to work on the really big questions, and when I meet them, I feel a real kinship. I imagine that a group of friends who’ve passed up on lucrative career options to become poets might feel a similar bond, knowing that they’re all in it not for the money but for the intellectual adventure.

-- Max Tegmark, Our Mathematical Universe, Chapter 8. The Level III Multiverse, "The Joys of Getting Scooped"

14 points jimmy 02 November 2014 07:18:44PM Permalink

The moment I realized that if I fall, that would probably be my end, I became really, really calm and detached. I picked up a good spot in the parking, with the back to the wall,, between 2 cars, and I moved there to meet them, all the time I was very focused to not get taken down and to take as many of them with me as possible. That was all I was thinking. In retrospect, I still think there were a decent amount of adrenalin circulating through my body, but in the moment I really felt zen and in complete control of myself.

Now, I don't think that's the average reaction you can expect in a combat situation, nor do I think that so much control is needed. But I've been in other critical and stressful situations (like in the middle of a forest fire, or going up the ring to fight other guys in front of a few hundred people), and I think that it's not the prospect of death or getting hurt that are most stressing, is not knowing what to do

--Bogdan M (emphasis mine)

13 points satt 06 January 2014 07:16:21PM Permalink

I am so very good at what I do because I never really believe anything is going to work and I'm always looking for the ways the things I make will fail.


13 points spxtr 04 January 2014 10:00:19PM Permalink

The most traditional way to begin a study of quantum mechanics is to follow the historical developments--Planck's radiation law, the Einstein-Debye theory of specific heats, the Bohr atom, de Broglie's matter waves, and so forth--together with careful analyses of some key experiments such as the Compton effect, the Frank-Hertz experiment, and the Davisson-Germer-Thompson experiment. In that way we may come to appreciate how the physicists in the first quarter of the twentieth century were forced to abandon, little by little, the cherished concepts of classical physics and how, despite earlier false starts and wrong turns, the masters--Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Dirac, among others--finally succeeded in formulating quantum mechanics as we know it today.

However, we do not follow the historical approach in this book. Instead, we start with an example that illustrates, perhaps more than any other example, the inadequacy of classical concepts in a fundamental way. We hope that by exposing the reader to a "shock treatment" at the onset, he or she may be attuned to what we might call the "quantum-mechanical way of thinking" at a very early stage.

-- Modern Quantum Mechanics by J. J. Sakurai, the standard graduate level quantum textbook. Following this quote is a discussion of the Stern-Gerlach experiment. I post this quote because it is in line with Quantum Explanations.

13 points Vaniver 03 February 2014 06:45:58PM Permalink

But, while nothing can be done about the past, much can be done in the present to prepare for the future.

--Thomas Sowell

13 points Eugine_Nier 07 February 2014 07:56:11AM Permalink

I'm a big fan of the cognitive utility of the old phrase: "The exception that proves the rule." But then I'm kind of an exception in that regard, since anytime I mention I like that, I get deluged with logical and etymological objections.

I merely mean that an exception that is famous for being exceptional suggests a general tendency in the opposite direction. The canonical example is that Beethoven's titanic fame as a deaf composer suggests that most composers aren't deaf, while, say, the lack of obsessive publicity about painter David Hockney's late onset deafness suggests that deafness isn't all that big of a deal, one way or another, to painters. Judging from the immortal fame of Beethoven's battle with deafness, we can assume that there aren't many deaf composers, while the ho-hum response to Hockney's deafness suggests that we can't make strong quantitative assumptions about painters and deafness.

Steve Sailor

13 points EGarrett 06 May 2014 04:39:52PM Permalink

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." -George Bernard Shaw

13 points James_Ernest 04 May 2014 06:18:56AM Permalink

Real probabilities about the structure and properties of the cosmos, and its relation to living organisms on this planet, can be reach’d only by correlating the findings of all who have competently investigated both the subject itself, and our mental equipment for approaching and interpreting it — astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and so on. The only sensible method is that of assembling all the objective scientifick data of 1931, and forming a fresh chain of partial indications bas’d exclusively on that data and on no conceptions derived from earlier and less ample arrays of data; meanwhile testing, by the psychological knowledge of 1931, the workings and inclinations of our minds in accepting, connecting, and making deductions from data, and most particularly weeding out all tendencies to give more than equal consideration to conceptions which would never have occurred to us had we not formerly harboured provisional and capricious ideas of the universe now conclusively known to be false. It goes without saying that this realistic principle fully allows for the examination of those irrational feelings and wishes about the universe, upon which idealists so amusingly base their various dogmatick speculations.

-- H.P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters, 1932-1934.

13 points grendelkhan 18 August 2014 06:45:56PM Permalink

Sometimes the biggest disasters aren't noticed at all -- no one's around to write horror stories.

Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep

13 points Iydak 13 August 2014 11:57:54AM Permalink

We try things. Occasionally they even work.

Parson Gotti

13 points johnlawrenceaspden 04 October 2014 12:05:52PM Permalink

To stay young requires unceasing cultivation of the ability to unlearn old falsehoods

-- Robert Heinlein (

13 points Torello 02 October 2014 01:22:37AM Permalink

"Put simply, the truth about all those good decisions you plan to make sometime in the future, when things are easier, is that you probably won't make them once that future rolls around and things are tough again."

Sendhil Mullaainathan and Eldar Shafir, Scarcity, p. 215

13 points Jay_Schweikert 18 December 2014 05:02:23AM Permalink

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation, For fear they should succumb and go astray; So when you are requested to pay up or be molested, You will find it better policy to say: --

"We never pay any-one Dane-geld, No matter how trifling the cost; For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that pays it is lost!"

--Rudyard Kipling, "Dane-Geld"

A nice reminder about the value of one-boxing, especially in light of current events.

13 points NancyLebovitz 17 December 2014 10:00:43PM Permalink

Where you are going to spend your time and your energy is one of the most important decisions you get to make in life.

Jeff Bezos

13 points VAuroch 11 November 2014 07:02:01AM Permalink

Lampshading mysterious answers:

The door was the way to... to... The Door was The Way. Good. Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to.

-- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams

13 points Unnamed 01 November 2014 09:52:00PM Permalink

It is a sound maxim, and one which all close thinkers have felt, but which no one before Bentham ever so consistently applied, that error lurks in generalities: that the human mind is not capable of embracing a complex whole, until it has surveyed and catalogued the parts of which that whole is made up; that abstractions are not realities per se, but an abridged mode of expressing facts, and that the only practical mode of dealing with them is to trace them back to the facts (whether of experience or of consciousness) of which they are the expression.

Proceeding on this principle, Bentham makes short work with the ordinary modes of moral and political reasoning. These, it appeared to him, when hunted to their source, for the most part terminated in phrases. In politics, liberty, social order, constitution, law of nature, social compact, c., were the catch-words: ethics had its analogous ones. Such were the arguments on which the gravest questions of morality and policy were made to turn; not reasons, but allusions to reasons; sacramental expressions, by which a summary appeal was made to some general sentiment of mankind, or to some maxim in familiar use, which might be true or not, but the limitations of which no one had ever critically examined.


It is the introduction into the philosophy of human conduct, of this method of detail—of this practice of never reasoning about wholes until they have been resolved into their parts, nor about abstractions until they have been translated into realities—that constitutes the originality of Bentham in philosophy, and makes him the great reformer of the moral and political branch of it.


Instead of taking up their opinions by intuition, or by ratiocination from premises adopted on a mere rough view, and couched in language so vague that it is impossible to say exactly whether they are true or false, philosophers are now forced to understand one another, to break down the generality of their propositions, and join a precise issue in every dispute.

12 points Stabilizer 14 January 2014 08:33:01PM Permalink

As we saw, the E1A team [at Fermilab] found for some time that there were no neutral currents---they wrote letters saying so, even drafting a paper to that effect. By late 1973 they had a great deal riding on that claim. A consensus that neutral currents did not exist would have vindicated their earlier caution; they would have refuted CERN and denied the Europeans priority. For all these reasons it is stunning to reread Cline’s [a leading member of E1A] memorandum of 10 December 1973 that began with the simple statement, “At present, I do not see how to make this effect go away.” With those words Cline gave up his career-long commitment to the nonexistence of neutral currents. “Interest” had to bow to the linked assemblage of ideas and empirical results that rendered the old beliefs untenable, even if they were still “logically possible”.


Microphysical phenomena [...] are not simply observed; they are mediated by layers of experience, theory and causal stories that link background effects to their tests. But the mediated quality of effects and entities does not necessarily make them pliable; experimental conclusions have a stubbornness not easily canceled by theory change. And it is this solidity in the face of altering conditions that impresses the experimenters themselves---even when theorists dissent.

-Peter Galison, How Experiments End.

A major concept he introduces in this chapter is the stubbornness of empirical reality.

12 points TheAncientGeek 06 January 2014 08:49:52PM Permalink

"Indeed he knows not how to know who knows not also how to unknow." Sir Richard Francis Burton.

12 points Jayson_Virissimo 20 March 2014 08:31:28PM Permalink

For men imagine that their reason governs words, while, in fact, words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Words are generally formed in a popular sense, and define things by those broad lines which are most obvious to the vulgar mind; but when a more acute understanding or more diligent observation is anxious to vary those lines, and to adapt them more accurately to nature, words oppose it. Hence the great and solemn disputes of learned men often terminate in controversies about words and names...

-- Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

12 points Dagon 17 April 2014 03:39:25PM Permalink

But understanding human limitations does not mean we can overcome them. It only means we can’t pretend they don’t exist. It should point us toward humility, not hubris.

Yuval Levin in the National Review

12 points lukeprog 09 April 2014 02:02:46AM Permalink

There is nothing that can be said by mathematical symbols and relations which cannot also be said by words. The converse, however, is false. Much that can be and is said by words cannot be put into equations — because it is nonsense.

Clifford Truesdell

12 points TobyBartels 12 May 2014 02:57:38AM Permalink

Don't just tell me what you'd like to be true.

This is from Greg Egan's 1999 novel Teranesia; since there are no hits for ‘Teranesia’ in the Google custom search, I'm inferring that it hasn't been posted before.

Here's a little background. This is a spoiler for some events early in the novel, but it is early; it's not a spoiler for the really big stuff (not even in this chapter). So Prabir lives alone with his father (‘Baba’) and mother (and baby sister Madhusree who is not in this scene), and their garden has been sown with mines for some very interesting reasons that needn't concern us, and Baba has discovered this by being blown up by one. But he's still alive, so mother and Prabir have laid a ladder atop some boxes across the garden, and she's crawled along the ladder to rescue Baba without setting off more mines. But this is harder than anticipated.

She turned to Prabir. “I'm going to try sitting down, so I can get Baba on to the ladder. But then I might not be able to stand up with him, to carry him. If I leave him on the ladder and walk back to my end, do you think the two of us could carry the ladder to the side of the garden with Baba on it—like a stretcher?”

Prabir replied instantly, “Yes, we can do it.”

His mother looked away, angry for a moment. She said, “I want you to think about it. Don't just tell me what you'd like to be true.”

Chastened, Prabir obeyed her. Half his father's weight. More than twice as much as Madhusree's. He believed he was strong enough. But if he was fooling himself, and dropped the ladder …

He said, “I'm not sure how far I could carry him without resting. But I could slide the crate along the ground with me—kick it along with one foot. Then if I had to stop, I could rest the ladder on it.”

His mother considered this. “All right. That's what we'll do.” She shot him a half-smile, shorthand for all the reassuring words that would have taken too long to speak.

(taken from the American hardback edition, pages 5051)

[Edit: grammar in the text written by me]

12 points Jayson_Virissimo 16 July 2014 08:21:17PM Permalink

What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.

-- Epictetus, Discourses

12 points EGarrett 20 July 2014 06:16:31PM Permalink

"One of the most important things in life is what Judge Learned Hand described as 'that ever-gnawing inner doubt as to whether you're right.' If you don't have that, if you think you've got an inside track to absolute truth, you become doctrinaire, humorless and intellectually constipated. The greatest crimes in history have been perpetrated by such religious and political and racial fanatics, from the persecutions of the Inquisition on down to Communist purges and Nazi genocide." -Saul Alinsky

12 points Azathoth123 18 September 2014 05:10:18AM Permalink

Yet none of these sights [of the Scottish Highlands] had power, till a recent period, to attract a single poet or painter from more opulent and more tranquil regions. Indeed, law and police, trade and industry, have done far more than people of romantic dispositions will readily admit, to develope in our minds a sense of the wilder beauties of nature. A traveller must be freed from all apprehension of being murdered or starved before he can be charmed by the bold outlines and rich tints of the hills. He is not likely to be thrown into ecstasies by the abruptness of a precipice from which he is in imminent danger of falling two thousand feet perpendicular; by the boiling waves of a torrent which suddenly whirls away his baggage and forces him to run for his life; by the gloomy grandeur of a pass where he finds a corpse which marauders have just stripped and mangled; or by the screams of those eagles whose next meal may probably be on his own eyes.

Thomas Babington Macaulay, History of England

Frankly, the whole passage Steve Sailer quotes at the link is worth reading.

12 points Zubon 03 September 2014 10:43:35PM Permalink

"You sound awfully sure of yourself, Waterhouse! I wonder if you can get me to feel that same level of confidence."

Waterhouse frowns at the coffee mug. "Well, it's all math," he says. "If the math works, why then you should be sure of yourself. That's the whole point of math."

-- Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

12 points Vulture 02 September 2014 04:26:30PM Permalink

People who are often misunderstood: 6% geniuses; 94% garden-variety nonsense-spouters

-- David Malki !

12 points Lumifer 17 October 2014 04:12:43PM Permalink

"You know, esoteric, non-intuitive truths have a certain appeal – once initiated, you’re no longer one of the rubes. Of course, the simplest and most common way of producing an esoteric truth is to just make it up."

West Hunter

12 points James_Miller 14 October 2014 02:42:01PM Permalink

To summarize Twitter and my Facebook feed this morning: “The Ebola virus proves everything I already believed about politics.” You might find this surprising. The Ebola virus is not running for office. It does not have a policy platform, or any campaign white papers on burning issues. It doesn’t even vote. So how could it neatly validate all our preconceived positions on government spending, immigration policy, and the proper role of the state in our health care system? Stranger still: How could it validate them so beautifully on both left and right?

Megan McArdle

12 points Salemicus 09 December 2014 01:58:44PM Permalink

Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense.

Henry St John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Reflections on Exile

12 points LyleN 20 November 2014 02:59:00PM Permalink

With the truth, all given facts harmonize; but with what is false, the truth soon hits a wrong note.

-- Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics, pointing out entangled truths and contagious lies

11 points katydee 04 February 2014 07:50:26AM Permalink

The most important thing in life is to be free to do things. There are only two ways to insure that freedom - you can be rich or you can you reduce your needs to zero.

Colonel John Boyd

11 points CasioTheSane 27 March 2014 10:32:55PM Permalink

Don't you think it would be a useful item to add to your intellectual toolkits to be capable of saying, when a ton of wet steaming bullshit lands on your head, 'My goodness, this appears to be bullshit'?

-Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon

11 points MichaelHoward 15 March 2014 02:13:44AM Permalink

How many things apparently impossible have nevertheless been performed by resolute men who had no alternative but death.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte.

11 points Ixiel 14 April 2014 03:37:41PM Permalink

If the best minds were in charge of designing a bridge, I would expect the bridge to hold up well even in a storm. If the best minds were in charge of designing an airplane, I would expect it to fly reliably. But if the best minds were in charge of something no one really knows how to do, I would be ready for a failure, albeit a failure with superb academic credentials.

Terry Coxon

11 points Eugine_Nier 01 May 2014 11:21:22PM Permalink

People are surely better off with the truth. Oddly enough, everyone agrees with this when it comes to the arts. Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, "Give us schmaltz!" They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

Steven Pinker

11 points Nornagest 21 June 2014 11:58:50PM Permalink

Relevant to bounded cognition and consequentialism:

"It is better to be just than to be kind, but only good judges can be just; let those who cannot be just be kind."

-- Loyal to the Group of Seventeen, The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe

11 points Stabilizer 04 August 2014 11:24:33PM Permalink

Most of the time what we do is what we do most of the time.

-Daniel Willingham, Why Dont Students Like School. The point is that, quite often the reason we're doing something is that that's what we're used to doing in that situation.

Note: He attributes the quote to some other psychologists.

11 points BenSix 07 October 2014 09:12:09PM Permalink

“Nobody supposes that the knowledge that belongs to a good cook is confined to what is or may be written down in a cookery book.” - Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics

11 points tjohnson314 17 December 2014 01:02:59AM Permalink

"You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1 against."

  • Ernest Rutherford
11 points Robin 07 December 2014 11:55:40PM Permalink

"As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation—or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown."

Ayn Rand

10 points lukeprog 15 January 2014 01:19:06AM Permalink

For it seemed to me that I could find much more truth in the reasonings that each person makes concerning matters that are important to him, and whose outcome ought to cost him dearly later on if he judged badly, than in those reasonings engaged in by a man of letters in his study, which touch on speculations that produce no effect and are of no other consequence to him except perhaps that, the more they are removed from common sense, the more pride he will take in them.

Rene Descartes

10 points Lumifer 15 January 2014 08:57:25PM Permalink

I'd like to offer a link to a blog post that looks very very rational to me. Though not in the usual-to-LW sense.

It starts like this:

One of the most consistent messages I offer here is about interactions with law enforcement, and can be expressed in two words — shut up — although "oh you dumb son of a bitch will you for the love of God shut up" might capture the flavor better.

10 points MattG 10 March 2014 08:55:04PM Permalink

"Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory and to deploy attention when needed." - Daniel Kahneman

10 points Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 06:54:55PM Permalink

As the marijuana legalization movement strengthens, you can see hints of how hard it is to hit the libertarian sweet spot where something is simultaneously legalized but remains rare and distasteful. People, especially young people, pick up messages from society about what is winning and what is losing more than they pick up nuanced messages. Smoking tobacco is losing so it seems reasonable to ban smoking it even in your own car while driving through a brushfire zone. Smoking marijuana is winning, so it doesn't seem like the ban on smoking in Laurel Canyon applies to dope.

Steve Sailer

10 points johnlawrenceaspden 05 April 2014 12:49:12AM Permalink

I assume that the reader is familiar with the idea of extrasensory perception, and the meaning of the four items of it, viz., telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis. These disturbing phenomena seem to deny all our usual scientific ideas. How we should like to discredit them! Unfortunately the statistical evidence, at least for telepathy, is overwhelming.

Alan Turing (from "Computing Machinery and Intelligence")

10 points timujin 18 May 2014 08:29:07AM Permalink

“All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine! I have a duty!”

― Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30)

10 points Jayson_Virissimo 17 June 2014 06:37:24AM Permalink

The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating — in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around like rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

-- Anne Morris

10 points LizzardWizzard 27 June 2014 10:33:42AM Permalink

Three Bayesians walk into a bar: a) what's the probability that this is a joke? b) what's the probability that one of the three is a Rabbi? c) given that one of the three is a Rabbi, what's the probability that this is a joke? (c)

According to the base rate there is an evidence that this is a joke about Russia national team or Suarez bite

10 points B_For_Bandana 07 July 2014 05:33:42PM Permalink

In times like these I really have to wonder why it's never (or at least rarely, to my eye) stressed that self-awareness is probably the single most important component of a healthy life. We're constantly handed very specific definitions of good behavior, complex moral and legal codes, questionable social constructs, and so on. I don't remember ever really being told to take a step back--to step back as far as possible--and look constructively at myself. But increasingly I feel that the only dividing line between being "that guy" and being a net positive to those around you comes out of being able to look at yourself critically and build constructively.

Maybe I'm oversimplifying or assuming that introspection is simple. But for every ten groups explaining religious ideology to me, or telling me why their political candidate is best, I wish one would have told me to get out of my own head as much as possible.

10 points dspeyer 07 July 2014 09:26:08PM Permalink

Perhaps we should do what Aristotle meant to do, instead of what he did. The goal he announces in the Metaphysics seems one worth pursuing: to discover the most general truths. That sounds good. But instead of trying to discover them because they're useless, let's try to discover them because they're useful.

-- Paul Graham

10 points Ixiel 19 August 2014 12:55:58AM Permalink

Most of the time he asked questions. His questions were very good, and if you tried to answer them intelligently, you found yourself saying excellent things that you did not know you knew, and that you had not, in fact, known before. He had "educed" them from you by his question. His classes were literally "education" - they brought things out of you, they made your mind produce its own explicit ideas.

Thomas Merton, about professor Mark Van Doren

10 points Benito 04 August 2014 09:58:03AM Permalink

A good argument is like a piece of technology. Few of us will ever invent a new piece of technology, and on any given day it’s unlikely that we’ll adopt one. Nevertheless, the world we inhabit is defined by technological change. Likewise, I believe that the world we inhabit is a product of good moral arguments. It’s hard to catch someone in the midst of reasoned moral persuasion, and harder still to observe the genesis of a good argument. But I believe that without our capacity for moral reasoning, the world would be a very different place.

-Joshua Greene, “Moral Tribes”, Endnotes

10 points Jack_LaSota 07 September 2014 05:01:06PM Permalink

Katara: Do you think we'll really find airbenders?

Sokka: You want me to be like you, or totally honest?

Katara: Are you saying I'm a liar?

Sokka: I'm saying you're an optimist. Same thing, basically.

-Avatar: The Last Airbender

10 points bbleeker 04 October 2014 09:10:19AM Permalink

"What we assume to be 'normal consciousness' is comparatively rare, it's like the light in the refrigerator: when you look in, there you are ON but what's happening when you don't look in?"

Keith Johnstone, Impro - Improvisation and the Theatre

10 points shminux 03 October 2014 09:53:10PM Permalink

The words out of your mouth will literally be ignored, misheard, or even contorted to the opposite of what they mean, if that’s what it takes to preserve the listener’s misconception

Scott Aaronson on why quantum computers don't speed up computations by parallelism, a popular misconception.

10 points elharo 09 December 2014 12:30:01PM Permalink

We're similarly shocked whenever authority figures who are supposed to know what they're doing make it plain that they don't, President Obama's healthcare launch being probably the most serious recent example. We shouldn't really be shocked, though. Because all these stories illustrate one of the most fundamental yet still under-appreciated truths of human existence, which is this: everyone is totally just winging it, all the time.

Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and politicial parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.

In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.

-- Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, May 21, 2014

10 points alex_zag_al 01 November 2014 09:19:28PM Permalink

Colin Howson, talking about how Cox's theorem bears the mark of Cox's training as a physicist (source):

An alternative approach is to start immediately with a quantitative notion and think of general principles that any acceptable numerical measure of uncertainty should obey. R.T. Cox and I.J. Good, working independently in the mid nineteen-forties, showed how strikingly little in the way of constraints on a numerical measure yield the finitely additive probability functions as canonical representations. It is not just the generality of the assumptions that makes the Cox–Good result so significant: unlike some of those which have to be imposed on a qualitative probability ordering, the assumptions used by Cox and to a somewhat lesser extent Good seem to have the property of being uniformly self-evidently analytic principles of numerical epistemic probability whatever particular scale it might be measured in. Cox was a working physicist and his point of departure was a typical one: to look for invariant principles:

To consider first ... what principles of probable inference will hold however probability is measured. Such principles, if there are any, will play in the theory of probable inference a part like that of Carnot’s principle in thermodynamics, which holds for all possible scales of temperature, or like the parts played in mechanics by the equations of Lagrange and Hamilton, which have the same form no matter what system of coordinates is used in the description of motion. [Cox 1961]

10 points James_Miller 02 November 2014 12:48:54AM Permalink

This conclusory invocation to "science" w/o reference to any study is an IQ test for the American intelligentsia.

Joel S. Gehrke, Sr. on Twitter referencing American Ebola policy and fears.

10 points aarongertler 17 November 2014 05:26:01PM Permalink

Teacher: So if you could live to be any age you like, what would it be?

Boy 2: Infinity.

Teacher: Infinity, you would live for ever? Why would you like to live for ever?

Boy 2: Because you just know a lot of people and make lots of new friends because you could travel to lots of countries and everything and meet loads of new animals and everything.

--Until (documentary)

10 points [deleted] 03 November 2014 09:03:34AM Permalink

More US citizens have married Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.

-- a member of the scientific collaboration I'm in.