Category Archives: Humor

Thanksgiving Prayer

At tonight’s Thanksgiving, Erin remarked on how this was her first real Thanksgiving dinner away from her family, and that it was an odd feeling to just sit down and eat without any prayer beforehand.  (Yes, she’s a solid atheist in no danger whatsoever, thank you for asking.)

And as she said this, it reminded me of how wrong it is to give gratitude to God for blessings that actually come from our fellow human beings putting in a great deal of work.

So I at once put my hands together and said,

"Dear Global Economy, we thank thee for thy economies of scale, thy professional specialization, and thy international networks of trade under Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, without which we would all starve to death while trying to assemble the ingredients for such a dinner as this.  Amen."

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Mundane Magic

Followup toJoy in the Merely Real, Joy in Discovery, If You Demand Magic, Magic Won’t Help

As you may recall from some months earlier, I think that part of the rationalist ethos is binding yourself emotionally to an absolutely lawful reductionistic universe – a universe containing no ontologically basic mental things such as souls or magic – and pouring all your hope and all your care into that merely real universe and its possibilities, without disappointment.

There’s an old trick for combating dukkha where you make a list of things you’re grateful for, like a roof over your head.

So why not make a list of abilities you have that would be amazingly cool if they were magic, or if only a few chosen individuals had them?

For example, suppose that instead of one eye, you possessed a magical second eye embedded in your forehead.  And this second eye enabled you to see into the third dimension – so that you could somehow tell how far away things were – where an ordinary eye would see only a two-dimensional shadow of the true world.  Only the possessors of this ability can accurately aim the legendary distance-weapons that kill at ranges far beyond a sword, or use to their fullest potential the shells of ultrafast machinery called "cars".

"Binocular vision" would be too light a term for this ability.  We’ll only appreciate it once it has a properly impressive name, like Mystic Eyes of Depth Perception.

So here’s a list of some of my favorite magical powers:

Continue reading "Mundane Magic" »

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Rationality Quotes 19

"I don’t know that I ever wanted greatness, on its own.  It seems rather like wanting to be an engineer, rather than wanting to design something – or wanting to be a writer, rather than wanting to write.  It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself.  Otherwise, it’s just an ego trip."
        — Roger Zelazny, Prince of Chaos

"Many assumptions that we have long been comfortable with are lined up like dominoes."
        — Omega

"I know of no law of logic demanding that every event have a cause."
        — John K. Clark

"It’s perfectly accurate, the accuracy only possessable by subjunctive syllogisms."
        — Damien R. Sullivan

"Money makes the world go round.  Love just barely keeps it from blowing up."
        — Unknown

"Soon things got out of hand, where they have remained ever since."
        — Larry Gonick, The Cartoon History of the Universe

"Finally, ask yourself this: Are you sure you’ve really been abducted by aliens? Do you really want to know? For peace of mind and serenity of spirit, you may only need to remember the following: Ignorance is bliss, Prozac is cheap."
        — Pat Krass

"So it was that on the ninety-fifth day of false winter in the year 2929 since the founding of Neverness, we vowed above all else to seek wisdom and truth, even though our seeking should lead to our death and to the ruin of all that we loved and held dear."
        — David Zindell, Neverness

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Rationality Quotes 18

Q.  Why does "philosophy of consciousness/nature of reality" seem to interest you so much?
A.  Take away consciousness and reality and there’s not much left.
        — Greg Egan, interview in Eidolon 15

"But I am not an object. I am not a noun, I am an adjective.  I am the way matter behaves when it is organized in a John K Clark-ish way.  At the present time only one chunk of matter in the universe behaves that way; someday that could change."
        — John K Clark

"Would it be good advice, once copying becomes practical, to make lots of copies when good things happen, and none (or perhaps even killing off your own personal instance) on bad things?  Will this change the subjective probability of good events?"
        — Hal Finney

"Waiting for the bus is a bad idea if you turn out to be the bus driver."
        — Michael M. Butler on the Singularity

"You are free.  Free of anything I do or say, and of any consequence. You may rest assured that all hurts are forgiven, all loveliness remembered, and treasured.  I am busy and content and loved.  I hope you are the same.  Bless you."
        — Walter Jon Williams, "Knight Moves"

"A man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never sure."
         — Lee Segall

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Awww, a Zebra

This image recently showed up on Flickr (original is nicer):


With the caption:

“Alas for those who turn their eyes from zebras and dream of dragons!  If we cannot learn to take joy in the merely real, our lives shall be empty indeed.” — Eliezer S. Yudkowsky.

“Awww!”, I said, and called over my girlfriend over to look.

“Awww!”, she said, and then looked at me, and said,  “I think you need to take your own advice!”

Me:  “But I’m looking at the zebra!”
Her:  “On a computer!
Me:  (Turns away, hides face.)
Her:  “Have you ever even seen a zebra in real life?”
Me:  “Yes!  Yes, I have!  My parents took me to Lincoln Park Zoo!  …man, I hated that place.”

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Rationality Quotes 17

"We take almost all of the decisive steps in our lives as a result of slight inner adjustments of which we are barely conscious."
        — Austerlitz

"In both poker and life, you can’t read people any better than they can read themselves. You can, if you’re good, very accurately determine if they think their hand is good, or if they think they know the answer to your legal question. But you can’t be sure if reality differs from their perception."
        — Matt Maroon

"We should not complain about impermanence, because without impermanence, nothing is possible."
        — Thich Nhat Hanh

"I’ve never been happy. I have a few memories, early in life, and it sounds dramatic to say, but when I reflect on my life, the best I’ve ever had were brief periods when things were simply less painful."
        — Ilan Bouchard

Q: What are the "intuitive and metaphyscal arts"?
A: The gods alone know. Probably the old tired con-acts of fortune-telling and putting the hex on your neighbor’s goat, glossed up with gibberish borrowed from pop science tracts in the last two centuries.
        — The Aleph Anti-FAQ

"If you build a snazzy alife sim … you’d be a kind of bridging `first cause’, and might even have the power to intervene in their lives – even obliterate their entire experienced cosmos – but that wouldn’t make you a god in any interesting sense.  Gods are ontologically distinct from creatures, or they’re not worth the paper they’re written on."
        — Damien Broderick

"NORMAL is a setting on a washing-machine."
        — Nikolai Kingsley

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Points of Departure

Followup toAnthropomorphic Optimism

If you’ve watched Hollywood sci-fi involving supposed robots, androids, or AIs, then you’ve seen AIs that are depicted as "emotionless".  In the olden days this was done by having the AI speak in a monotone pitch – while perfectly stressing the syllables, of course.  (I could similarly go on about how AIs that disastrously misinterpret their mission instructions, never seem to need help parsing spoken English.)  You can also show that an AI is "emotionless" by having it notice an emotion with a blatant somatic effect, like tears or laughter, and ask what it means (though of course the AI never asks about sweat or coughing).

If you watch enough Hollywood sci-fi, you’ll run into all of the following situations occurring with supposedly "emotionless" AIs:

  1. An AI that malfunctions or otherwise turns evil, instantly acquires all of the negative human emotions – it hates, it wants revenge, and feels the need to make self-justifying speeches.
  2. Conversely, an AI that turns to the Light Side, gradually acquires a full complement of human emotions.
  3. An "emotionless" AI suddenly exhibits human emotion when under exceptional stress; e.g. an AI that displays no reaction to thousands of deaths, suddenly showing remorse upon killing its creator.
  4. An AI begins to exhibit signs of human emotion, and refuses to admit it.

Now, why might a Hollywood scriptwriter make those particular mistakes?

Continue reading "Points of Departure" »

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Rationality Quotes 16

"I read a lot of fantasy and have wondered sometimes, not so much what I would do in a fantasy setting, but what the book characters would do in the real world."
        — Romana

"That’s the thing that’s always fascinated me about Go. It is essentially an extremely simple game gone terribly, terribly wrong."
        — Amorymeltzer

"Dealing with the sheer of volume of "stuff" available on the internet is like being a crackhead with OCD. In the course of one hour I’ve tweaked my fantasy baseball lineup, posted on this message board, read Yahoo news, answered my latest e-mail, downloaded guidance criteria for PAHs in soils in NY State, checked the discography of a couple of bands, sent a deliverable to a client, and checked the weather. If that isn’t superstimulus I don’t know what is.  It’s amazing how much I can do, yet accomplish so little."
        — Misanthropic

"We don’t have thoughts, we are thoughts.  Thoughts are not responsible for the machinery that happens to think them."
        — John K Clark

"I have known more people whose lives have been ruined by getting a Ph.D. in physics than by drugs."
        — Jonathan I. Katz

"There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, "Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything," and an optimist who says, "Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine anyway."  Either way, nothing happens."
        — Yvon Chouinard

"Life moved ever outward into infinite possibilities and yet all things were perfect and finished in every single moment, their end attained."
        — David Zindell, Neverness

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Rationality Quotes 15

"Who thinks they’re not open-minded? Our hypothetical prim miss from the suburbs thinks she’s open-minded. Hasn’t she been taught to be? Ask anyone, and they’ll say the same thing: they’re pretty open-minded, though they draw the line at things that are really wrong."
        — Paul Graham

"In the same way that we need statesmen to spare us the abjection of exercising power, we need scholars to spare us the abjection of learning."
        — Jean Baudrillard

"Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it."
        — Charles Murray

"The popular media can only handle ideas expressible in proto-language, not ideas requiring nested phrase-structure syntax for their exposition."
        — Ben Goertzel

"The best part about math is that, if you have the right answer and someone disagrees with you, it really is because they’re stupid."
        — Quotes from Honors Linear Algebra

"Long-Term Capital Management had faith in diversification.  Its history serves as ample notification that eggs in different baskets can and do all break at the same time."
        — Craig L. Howe

"Accountability is about one person taking responsibility. If two people are accountable for the same decision, no one is really accountable."
        — Glyn Holton

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Rationality Quotes 14

"As for the little green men… they don’t want us to know about them, so they refrain from making contact… then they do silly aerobatics displays within radar range of military bases… with their exterior lights on… if that’s extraterrestrial intelligence, I’m not sure I want to know what extraterrestrial stupidity looks like."
        — Russell Wallace

"Characterizing male status-seeking as egotistical is like characterizing bonobo promiscuity as unchaste."
        — Liza May

"Introducing a technology is not a neutral act–it is profoundly revolutionary. If you present a new technology to the world you are effectively legislating a change in the way we all live. You are changing society, not some vague democratic process. The individuals who are driven to use that technology by the disparities of wealth and power it creates do not have a real choice in the matter. So the idea that we are giving people more freedom by developing technologies and then simply making them available is a dangerous illusion."
        — Karl Schroeder

"Hans Riesel held a Mersenne record for 14 days in the 50’s, calculated using the first Swedish computer. My old highschool computing teacher had worked as a student on the system and had managed to crush his foot when a byte fell out of its rack and onto him."
        — Anders Sandberg

"Gentlemen, I do not mind being contradicted, and I am unperturbed when I am attacked, but I confess I have slight misgivings when I hear myself being explained."
        — Lord Balfour, to the English Parliament

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