All stick and no carrot, since ought-three.
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Thu, 12 Feb 2004
Humans are incredibly capable at believing what they want to believe. People fool themselves all the time, and they especially fool themselves about fooling themselves. Everyone thinks they're rational and well-informed. You don't think you hold any incorrect beliefs, right? But you've thought that before and been wrong; what makes you think you're finally right?
It's like drunk driving. Why do people do it when everyone knows it's a terrible idea? Well, once you reach a certain point of drunkeness (the "sweet spot", I like to call it), you don't think you're that drunk. Your ability to measure your internal state has been compromised. Likewise with beliefs—your believe set always includes the belief that you're right.
There's only one set of beliefs you can really know are correct, and those are beliefs that are testable against something outside your control—the physical universe, for example. No matter how fervently you believe that your shaman made you bulletproof, you can't deny the holes in your body. No matter how fervently you believe that deep parsing, symbolic computation and linguistic insight are the key towards good machine translation, the proof is in the evaluation. No matter how fervently you believe in cold fusion, no one is going to buy it until you produce something that works (and good luck with that, guys). I'd go so far as to say that that the less testable your beliefs are, ceteris paribus, the less likely they are to be true.
Of course, this fact in and of itself is not entirely useful. The vast majority of beliefs are not testable in this way, and even if they are, you can always fool yourself about the results or the method of the tests (think of the poor morons who believe in creation). But simply being aware of this is, I think, a step in the right direction—being aware of the fact that and the degree to which your beliefs are likely to be untrue. I don't think that the majority of people have this awareness.
This is also why people like scientists and engineers are more likely, in general, to be right about things. Not because they're inherently smarter than the rest of you dummies, but because these are the people who are faced daily with incontrovertable facts that they have to adjust their belief set to. This theory is WRONG because it predicts the opposite of what actually happens. This object is WORSE than this other object because it underperforms in the test. That's the kind of experience that forces you to realize that your own beliefs, no matter how fervently you believe in them, can be just plain dead wrong.
And constantly being faced with hard cold facts forces you to develop a way of thinking that is constantly self-checking and self-criticizing, and that way of thought carries over into other aspects of life as well. Which is not to say that they are always right—as Paul Graham points out, look at the widespread support of socialism in the academic community during WWII. But there's a higher likelihood, because you're in the habit of being critical and you're aware that you can be wrong.
Just something I've been thinking about recently.Mon, 26 Jan 2004
And while I'm busy making unsupported generalizations, I've been developing a theory about living in Boston. It goes like this: the longer you live here, the more you treat
I'll talk to someone who just moved here, and I'll be like, "Hey, that was a nice conversation I just had." Then I'll talk to someone who's been living here for years and they will just go on and on at maximum volume, ignoring my desperate interruptions and completely overriding anything I try to say until, n minutes later, they finally pause for breath. Then I'll try to say something and before the third word is out of my mouth, they're off again about some other tangentially related topic, leaving me to struggle like a fly transfixed on the needle of their cold steel wit.
I know this isn't a strictly Boston-area thing, but I've definitely noticed a correlation between the length of time you've lived here and your tendency to treat people as empty buckets that need filling.Wed, 26 Nov 2003
I am, once again, awe-struck by Mencken. It seems like every quote of his I stumble across takes something I've kind of half-formedly pondered before and crystallizes it into a pithy, poignant expression.
I have often felt that it's extremism, in some form, that's at the heart of 99% of the world's problems. It's people who believe something to be absolutely, indubitably true that are the ones willing to take any measure, no matter how Procrustean, to accomplish their goal. And that inevitably ends with someone else getting hurt.
And people are constantly fooling themselves into thinking that their system of morality, especially when compared to that of their ancestors, is finally right and finally complete. This generation despises the previous generation for interning Japanese Americans during WWII. "We'd never succumb to that kind of horrible behavior! We'd never think that was right!" But what of ours will future generations look back and despise, swearing they've finally got it right?Wed, 30 Jul 2003
Dan Gillmore wrote an excellent (and brief) article in response to the "copyright cartel"'s creation of a website devoted to
In short, the purpose of copyright law, as envisioned by the founding fathers, was to balance two oppoosing needs:
The time limit on copyright allowed creators to make money (fulfilling #1) while still enabling a transition to public domain (fulfilling #2). That time limit has now been extended so frequently as to be de facto
Even while under copyright, it is not the case, though the MPAA, Disney, and friends would like you to believe so, that you have no rights other than what the copyright holder explicitly grants you. This is the notion of "fair use"—your rights as a consumer of copyrighted material. And these, too, are under threat.Wed, 16 Jul 2003
That was Kurt Cobain's famous last line, penned on his suicide note, and I recently saw it again on (of all places) some guy's sig on some IETF list (he's
I wonder why people believe this? And, in general, why people are driven to sacrifice their life, or their youth, for such abstract social fictions (there's that term again!) as fame (which is what I assume
I taste my food and drink. I talk to my friends. I read good books. I play music with others. These are things I understand, and things I enjoy doing. To sacrifice all that for the purposes of a few more orders of magnitude difference in the number of people who know my name? Maybe I'm too much of an Alan Watts reader/Epicurean.
I often think that people too readily apply their notions of
People will say,
And without recognizing this, it's just too easy to start thinking that the universe has treated you unfairly, or the world owes you something. Which is a sure path to a short bitter life.
Fairness is a social fiction, and a convenient one, but to think that it makes sense outside the realm of social interaction is foolish. "God works in mysterious ways" is just a poor translation for
One idea that's been slowly emerging in my mind over the last few years is the concept of flexibility in law. I'm talking specifically about the judicial aspect of things: what you are responsible for when you take on the role of judging another human.
I used to believe that the letter of the law was what was important; you as judge or jury member had the duty of interpreting the law to the best of your ability and determining whether or not the defendant had violated it. That was the whole and the extent of your duty.
Nowadays, I don't think it's quite that cut and dry. I have come to believe that we as human beings have a responsibility to society to create and maintain human society, and this means taking into account what we intuitively feel is right and wrong—our a priori beliefs in the degree of wrongness of an act. This means that the our judgment should not be based solely on the letter, or even the spirit, of the law.
The fundamental idea that provides this belief is that we are humans and not machines. It can be convenient to think of the universe as clockwork around us, and at some deep physical level it may be, but at the level of social interactions, we live in a human world. A world where there are always shades of gray, there are always situations which the creators of the law simply didn't take into account or couldn't forsee (through fault or no fault of their own), and things are rarely black and white.
This doesn't mean, I don't think, that the idea of declaring things legal or illegal has to change. (Though certainly it is related to my hatred of so-called
This night methinks is but the daylight sick. -- William Shakespeare, "The Merchant of Venice"