Re: How You *Say* You Tell the Truth (a reply to Robin's paper)

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sun May 06 2001 - 13:46:11 MDT

Jim Fehlinger wrote:
> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> >
> > [S]aying "I am a genius" proves that you are either extremely smart or
> > stupid, but the Bayesian priors indicate you are more likely to be stupid.
> > This is an emergent social pressure in genuinely rational listeners which
> > can force geniuses to either lie about their own self-evaluation or avoid
> > discussing it, depending on their commitment to honesty.
> Well, here's what Bertrand Russell had to say about that (from "Speaking Personally:
> Bertrand Russell", a 1961 John Chandos interview originally released on a two-disc
> LP set, Riverside 7014, 7015):
> 5. Background to National Greatness
> RUSSELL: What sort of conditions cause a nation to produce great men?
> Now, I've always maintained that Shakespeare would never have written his
> stuff if it hadn't been for our defeating the Armada. I believe that the
> sort of sense of successful energy that we got from that was essential to
> the greatness of the Elizabethan age. That's very disputable; it's only
> a hypothesis. I don't think it's very easy to say, but it seems to me,
> looking over history, that countries which have been politically powerful
> and then ceased to be, do lose culturally. People who might be culturally
> great cease to have the self-confidence that is necessary. Because to do
> anything great you have to have **enormous** self-confidence: 'Well, I'll
> do this whatever people say...' because **everybody** will say you're
> wrong!

The way I think of it is this. Those who are both really bright and who
deeply care about changing the world for the better must learn to stand
regardless of the opposition. For they know that there are no others
will do what could be done to improve the world better than they if they
default. It is not a matter of simple self-confidence but of knowing
that the world and our future is in their hands and on their shoulders.

> The man who thinks originally has at all times I think, in every
> country and in all ages, been exposed to persecution. Buffon, who
> contributed enormously to zoology and geology, was compelled by the
> Sorbonne solemnly to withdraw the opinion that some of the mountains
> that now exist did not exist when the world was older. And Vesalius,
> who first dissected bodies for medical reasons, was sentenced to go
> on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and lost his life through shipwreck
> on the way home. And Galileo, we know, was condemned by the
> Inquisition. And in general you may say that great innovators,
> for the most part, have suffered... Einstein, of course, had to
> leave Germany. And... it's the fate of them, but they think it
> worthwhile.

> I think that liberty, in many of its forms, is almost bound to be
> less than it was in the 19th century or in the later parts of the
> 18th. You cannot do your work as an individual, unless you
> happen to be something like a poet or a... well, it's no good
> being a composer, because then you'd have to get people to
> perform your music. But a poet can be an individual still.
> But most people can't.

Or a theoretician or the center of a small web of extremely competent
hackers or one who weaves and starts the dissemination of a new
worldview. It is simply incorrect to assume that nothing can be done
without having a large part of society behind you or that the amount of
society necessary to an enterprise cannot be motivated by the one or the

I love Russell, but he was often (with some cause) very cynical.

- samantha

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