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komponisto comments on For progress to be by accumulation and not by random walk, read great books - Less Wrong

35 Post author: MichaelVassar 02 March 2010 08:11AM

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Comment author: komponisto 02 March 2010 04:20:47PM 5 points [-]

One might argue that Newton didn't use any technique to invent calculus, just a very high IQ or some other unusual set of biological traits.

That would be a non-explanation in any case. However high Newton's IQ may have been, his brain was still operating by lawful processes within the physical universe. By the sheer improbability of inventing calculus by chance, there is bound to exist some general technique used by Newton for doing things like inventing calculus, for all that that technique may have been opaque to Newton's own conscious introspection. Perhaps someone else may be able to formulate this technique in explicit generality (in the same way that Newton himself formulated the methods of calculus, already known in special cases, in explicit generality).

"High IQ" probably doesn't mean more than something like high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM. The algorithms (at least in their essence) can still be run, less efficiently, on inferior hardware.

Comment author: Karl_Smith 02 March 2010 08:27:45PM 3 points [-]

I remember reading that one of the most g loaded tests was recognition time. I think the experiment involved flashing letters and timing how fast it took to press the letter on a keyboard. The key correlate was "time until finger left the home keys" which the authors interpreted as the moment you realized what the letter was.

I also heard a case that sensory memory lasts for a short a relatively constant time among humans and that difference in cognitive ability were strongly related to how speed on pushing information into sensory memory. The greater the speed the larger a concept could be pushed in before key elements started to leak out.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 March 2010 04:33:27PM 4 points [-]

I dispute that this is a non-explanation. Besides referring to concepts whose existence has already been confirmed by other means, it makes a testable prediction about the degree to which abilities should run in genetic families as opposed to student lineages.

Comment author: komponisto 02 March 2010 04:55:33PM *  14 points [-]

It's a question of which data you're interested in explaining. I'm more interested in understanding the mechanism of how Newton invented calculus than in explaining the (comparatively uninteresting) fact that most other people didn't. (If you want to program an AI to invent calculus, crying "IQ!" isn't going to help.)

[ETA: To be more explicit: the vague hypothesis that "Newton had a high IQ" adequately explains why, given that calculus was invented, Newton was among two people to have invented it. But does a much less effective job of explaining why it was invented in the first place, by anybody.]

(As it happens, most of the world's intellectual power has in fact been spread via students rather than children.)

Comment author: SirBacon 02 March 2010 08:31:37PM *  0 points [-]

As for Newton's exact mental processes, they are lost to history, and we are not going to get very specific theories about them. Newton can only give us an outside view of the circumstances of discovery. His most important finds were made alone in his private home and outside of academic institutions. Eliezer left school early himself. Perhaps a common thread?

Teachers select strongly for IQ among students when they have power to choose their students. This might be a more powerful aggregator of high-IQ individuals than transmission from parents to children. It might be the case that teachers don't transmit any special powers to their students, but just like to affiliate with other high-IQ individuals, who then go on to do impressive things.

At a certain level of IQ (that of Yudkowsky, Newton) pedagogy becomes irrelevant and a child will teach itself, given the necessary resources. At this point, teachers are more likely to take credit for natural talent while doing nothing to aid it than they are to "transmit intellectual power."

Comment author: MichaelVassar 03 March 2010 06:24:46AM 7 points [-]

If academic lineages are due to an ability that teachers have to identify talent, this ability is extremely common and predicts achievement FAR better than IQ tests can. I am struck by the degree to which the financial world fails to identify talent with anything like similar reliability.

Also, the above theory is inconsistent with the extreme intellectual accomplishments of East Asians, and previously Jews, within European culture and failure of those same groups to produce similar intellectual accomplishments prior to such cultural admixture.

Comment author: jhuffman 02 March 2010 06:21:37PM *  2 points [-]

The algorithms (at least in their essence) can still be run, less efficiently, on inferior hardware.

I don't think so. There are some conceptual leaps that people with inadequate intelligence will simply never be able to make, no matter how much time they put in. Part of the problem is they will lack the intuition and insight to know what type of problem or method of thought they are trying to invent. If there were a system for generating entirely new paradigms of useful thought we'd have already achieved a singularity of some kind I think.

Both Leibniz and Newton were giants among the early natural philosophers or scientists.If not for them it might have taken an Einstein or Ramanujan to invent calculus; and if it had been Einstein then instead of benefiting from the work he built on top of Newton and some of his successors we would have to wait for someone else to work out general relativity (most likely).

Comment author: JamesAndrix 03 March 2010 08:35:56PM 2 points [-]

If there were a system for generating entirely new paradigms of useful thought we'd have already achieved a singularity of some kind I think.

Human creativity isn't magic. There IS such a system. Most likely we can codify a simpler and more efficient system. Hopefully so, as this will be required for FAI.

The fact that we haven't coded it yet doesn't mean it can't be done. Once done, a below average thinker could in principle follow the algorithm.

Comment author: TruePath 14 April 2010 11:15:27PM 2 points [-]

Arguably they couldn't.

An average thinker could surely be the computational substrate on which the algorithm was implemented in the same way transitors implement the algorithm running on this computer. However, this would simply be a version of Searle's Chinese room. The sentient being doing the thinking here would actually be an AI running really really slowly through the application of computational rules on pencil and paper by some person.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 15 April 2010 04:44:22PM 0 points [-]

Any rule you can follow to break down a problem or bypass a known cognitive bias makes you smarter. It IS such an algorithm. There doesn't have to be another sentient being/AI that you're running, that's just proof of concept.

The point is that we do not have to rely on genetics to give us people who can come up with brilliant ideas. We can train normal people and certainly above-average people to think in ways that lead to brilliant ideas, even if more slowly or only in groups.

And we should be training the brilliant people in the same processes anyway.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 April 2010 05:26:38PM 0 points [-]

What training methods are you thinking of?

Comment author: JamesAndrix 15 April 2010 09:30:04PM 0 points [-]

For the most part, we don't have them yet. To a small degree they are some of the things we try to work out here. To a larger degree, science in general qualifies. (Look at the difference in performance between the most brilliant people pre-science, and the most brilliant people post-science. I see no reason to assume that normal people don't enjoy the same multiplier. At least some sub-brilliant people must have made brilliant discoveries because they used science.)

The potential future methods are somewhere in between the strategy of running an AI on pencil and paper, and giving up on making yourself more creative/rational.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 April 2010 02:36:57PM *  2 points [-]

Thinking at the Edge might be useful.

It grew out of Focusing, a method based on observation of who got value from therapy and who didn't. Those who did all had a pattern of pausing, paying close attention to how they felt, spending some time searching for the exact words which satisfied them to express how they felt, and then saying them. I haven't seen any discussion of art or music therapy in this context.

Thinking at the Edge applies the method of close observation and expression of subtle feelings to cognition.

TAE requires a familiarity with Focusing. The participants in our first TAE were experienced Focusing people. This took care of the most difficult part of my university course. Nevertheless I expected it to fail, and I certainly experienced that it did fail. Some people did not even get as far as using logic, and most created no theory. Yet there was great satisfaction and even excitement. A great thing seemed to have happened, so I was grateful that I was saved any embarrassment. For some reason they did not feel cheated.

Later I understood. During the ensuring year many people wrote to us. They reported that they found themselves able to speak from what they could not say before, and that they were now talking about it all the time. And some of them also explained another excitement. Some individuals had discovered that they could think! What “thinking” had previously meant to many of them involved putting oneself aside and rearranging remembered concepts. For some the fact that they could create and derive ideas was the fulfillment of a need which they had despaired of long ago.

Now after five American and four German TAE meetings I am very aware of the deep political significance of all this. People, especially intellectuals, believe that they cannot think! They are trained to say what fits into a pre-existing public discourse. They remain numb about what could arise from themselves in response to the literature and the world. People live through a great deal which cannot be said. They are forced to remain inarticulate about it because it cannot be said in the common phrases. People are silenced! TAE can empower them to speak from what they are living through.

Comment author: CronoDAS 16 April 2010 05:38:46PM 1 point [-]

The writing at that link is confusing. It's too... "dense", let's say, and reminds me of attempts to sound profound by deliberately being hard to understand rather than actually being profound - what others may have called using too many "big words". I don't have a good way of describing the feeling of reading something hard to understand, and, when something is hard to understand, it's also hard to know whether it's worth putting in the effort to try to understand it or whether it's just gibberish. Am I making sense here?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 April 2010 06:27:24PM 0 points [-]

You're making sense. I'm sure Focusing is legitimate, and TAE is the same process I use for accessing new ideas. The bit I quoted sounds like TAE is incredibly valuable for people who've gotten false ideas about thinking from school and/or mainstream society.

However, in spite of all this, I find the TAE site unreadable, and I can handle moderately difficult text.

I'm not sure what the problem is.I don't think it's the vocabulary-- it might be that there's too much philosophy inserted in the wrong places, but this is only a guess.

Comment author: jhuffman 05 March 2010 06:19:15PM *  0 points [-]

Not if you think what Karl mentions above. The problem is that the amount of thought that you can hold in your head at one time is finite and differs significantly from one person to another.

In other words: algorithms need working memory, which is not boundless.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 05 March 2010 07:45:41PM 0 points [-]

Well first off, I was assuming pencil and paper were allowable augmentations.

I would be surprised if it were the case that our brain process that finds big insights with N 'bits of working memory' couldn't be serialized to find the same big insights as a sequence of small insights produced by a brain running a similar process but with only N/2 available 'bits'.

Comment author: jhuffman 05 March 2010 08:35:43PM *  0 points [-]

Imagine yourself studying a 4 megapixel digital image only by looking at it one pixel at a time. Yes, you can look at it, and then even write down what color it was. Later you can refer back to this list and see what color a particular pixel was. Its hard to remember more than a few dozen at once though, so how will you ever have a complete picture of it in your head?

Comment author: JamesAndrix 06 March 2010 02:07:55AM 1 point [-]

I could find and write down a set of instructions that would allow you to determine if there was a face in the image. If you were immortal and I were smarter, I could write down a set of instructions that might enable you to derive the physics of the photographed universe given a few frames.

At this level it's like the Chinese room.

But I don't think the ratio between Einstein's working memory and a normal person's working memory is 100,000 to 1.

It would be EASY to make instructions to find faces even if someone could only see and remember 1/16th of the image at a time. You get tons of image processing for free. "Is there a dark circle surrounded by a color?"

A human runnable algorithm to turn data into concepts would be different in structure, but not in kind.

Comment author: dxu 02 April 2015 03:31:16PM *  1 point [-]

"High IQ" probably doesn't mean more than something like high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM. The algorithms (at least in their essence) can still be run, less efficiently, on inferior hardware.

This seems (to me) to be pretty unlikely to be the case. "High processing speed and copious amounts of RAM" would allow more efficient execution of a particular algorithm... but where does that algorithm come from in the first place? One notes that no one taught Newton the "algorithm for inventing calculus". The true algorithm he used, as you pointed out, is likely to have been implemented at a lower level of thought than that of conscious deliberation; if he were still alive today and you asked him how he did it, he might shrug and answer, "I don't know", "It just seemed obvious", or something along those lines. So where did the algorithm come from? I very much doubt that processing speed and RAM alone are enough to come up with a working algorithm good enough to invent calculus from scratch within a single human lifespan, no matter what substrate said algorithm is being run on. (If they were, so-called "AI-complete" problems such as natural language processing would plausibly be much easier to solve.) There is likely some additional aspect to intelligence (pattern-recognition, possibly?) that makes it possible for humans to engage in creative thinking of the sort Newton must have employed to invent calculus; to use Douglas Hofstadter's terminology, "I-mode", not "M-mode". "High IQ", then, would refer to not only increased processing speed and working memory, but also increased pattern-recognition skills. (Raven's Progressive Matrices, anyone?)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 02 March 2010 05:46:53PM 1 point [-]

"IQ or some other unusual set of biological traits" implies that the unusual features of the cognitive process might be built upon unusual features of a biological process and fairly likely to emerge given that unusual substrate. I then argued that this was an unlikely interpretation..

Comment author: [deleted] 02 April 2015 06:08:08PM *  0 points [-]

"High IQ" probably doesn't mean more than something like high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM. The algorithms (at least in their essence) can still be run, less efficiently, on inferior hardware.

This seems like strikingly accurate defintion of IQ, although I agree with dxu that pattern recognition and/or other unusual abilities (set on solving logical problems no matter the context,) also are part of it. However, the methods Newton used to come up with for example calculus, are likely not the ones that can be found inside a human brain of a newborn. He probably used a lot of creative thinking to come up with ideas that hepled him do that.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 April 2015 07:14:13PM 0 points [-]

the methods Newton used to come up with for example calculus, are likely not the ones that can be found inside a human brain

Can you say more about what you mean by this? An uncharitable reading is absurd on the face of it (if the methods Newton used weren't to be found inside a human brain, how exactly did Newton use them?) but I can't quite work out a coherent charitable reading.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 April 2015 07:24:00PM 0 points [-]

Err, I meant that I don´t find it likely that the human brain by itself have algorithms that are made for inventing calculus. He probably developed that thinking by other means. It was misfortunate of me to forget to spell out that last part.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 April 2015 10:22:41PM 1 point [-]

Well, right, but what I'm trying to understand is what "other means" you have in mind, and what you're trying to contrast them with, and how you think he went about developing them. As it stands, it sounds like you're trying to suggest that creative thinking isn't a natural function of the human mind.... which, again, I assume is not what you mean, but I'm at a loss to understand what you do mean.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 April 2015 03:01:59PM 1 point [-]

What I meant is simply: 1) IQ and creative thinking is not the same thing, the two concepts are not strongly connected to one and other. The brain operates differently when using stuff that requires high "IQ" and when "thinking creatively" (Algorithms related to both concepts still reside inside the brain of course.) 2) I think that Newton used both creative thinking and high IQ and perhaps some other part that the brain is equipped with by default, in order to develop his thinking in a way that allowed for the invention of calculus.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 April 2015 03:14:25PM 0 points [-]

Ah! OK, this helps clarify. Thanks.

For my own part, I agree that the cognitive processes underlying what we observe when we measure IQ aren't the same as the ones we observe when we evaluate creative thinking, though they certainly overlap significantly. And, sure, it seems likely that developing calculus requires both of those sets.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 April 2015 03:21:15PM 0 points [-]

Good we sorted it out :)

Comment author: dxu 03 April 2015 01:25:55AM *  0 points [-]

I think that by "creative thinking" Okeymaker is referring to something similar to what I describe in this comment, in that Newton employed more than simply "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM" when he developed calculus.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 April 2015 03:11:05PM *  0 points [-]

Honestly, I grow more confused rather than less.

So, yes, of course there's more going on when thinking systems think than "processing speed and RAM." Of course there are various cognitive processes engaging with input in various ways.

If I'm following, you're suggesting that the distinction being introduced here is between two different set of cognitive processes, one of which (call it A) is understood as somehow more natural or innate or intrinsic to the human mind than the other (call it B), and creative thinking is part of B. And the claim is that Newton relied not only on A, but also (and importantly) on B to invent calculus.

Well, OK. I mean, sure, we can divide cognitive processes up into categories however we wish.

I guess what I'm failing to understand is:
a) what observable traits of cognitive processes sort them into A or B (or both or neither)? Like... is identifying words that rhyme "natural"? Is flirting with someone attractive? Is identifying the number of degrees in the unmeasured angles of an equilateral triangle? How would we answer these questions?
b) what is the benefit of having sorted cognitive processes into these categories?

EDIT: Ah. Okeymaker's most recent comment has helped clarify matters, in that they are no longer talking about natural and unnatural cognitive processes at all, but merely processes underlying "IQ" vs "creative thinking." That I understand.

Comment author: dxu 03 April 2015 03:40:05PM *  0 points [-]

If I'm following, you're suggesting that the distinction being introduced here is between two different set of cognitive processes, one of which (call it A) is understood as somehow more natural or innate or intrinsic to the human mind than the other (call it B), and creative thinking is part of B.

No, I'm not suggesting that. That may be what Okeymaker is suggesting; I'm not quite clear on his/her distinction either. What I was originally addressing, however, was komponisto's assertion that "high IQ" is merely "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM", which I denied, pointing out that "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM" alone would surely not have been enough to invent calculus, and that "creative thinking" (whatever that means) is required as well. In essence, I was arguing that "high IQ" should be defined as more than simply "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM", but should include some tertiary or possibly even quaternary component to account for thinking of the sort Newton must have performed to invent calculus. This suggested definition of IQ seems more reasonable to me; after all, if IQ were simply defined as "high processing speeed and copious amounts of RAM", I doubt researchers would have had so much trouble testing for it. Furthermore, it's difficult to imagine tests like Raven's Progressive Matrices (which are often used in IQ testing) being completed by dint of sheer processing speed and RAM.

Note that the above paragraph contains no mention of the words "natural", "innate", or any synonyms. The distinction between "natural" thinking and "synthetic" (I guess that would be the word? I was trying to find a good antonym for "natural") thinking was not what I was trying to get at with my original comment; indeed, I suspect that the concept of such a distinction may not even be coherent. Furthermore, conditional on such a distinction existing, I would not sort "creative thinking" into the "synthetic" category of thinking; as I noted in my original comment, no one taught Newton the algorithm he used to invent calculus. It was probably opaque even to his own conscious introspection, probably taking the form of a brilliant flash of insight or something like that, after which he just "knew" the answer, without knowing how he "knew". This sort of thinking, I would say, is so obviously spontaneous and untaught that I would not hesitate to classify it as "natural"--if, that is, the concept is indeed coherent.

It sounds as though you may be confused because you have been considering Okeymaker's and my positions to be one and the same. In light of this, I think I should clarify that I simply offered my comment as a potential explanation of what Okeymaker meant by "creative thinking"; no insight was meant to be offered on his/her distinction between "natural" thinking and "synthetic" thinking.

Comment author: komponisto 27 April 2015 07:52:04PM *  0 points [-]

What I was originally addressing, however, was komponisto's assertion that "high IQ" is merely "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM", which I denied, pointing out that "high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM" alone would surely not have been enough to invent calculus,

This shows that you didn't understand what I was arguing, because you are in fact agreeing with me.

The structure of my argument was:

(1) People say that high IQ is the reason Newton invented calculus.

(2) However, high IQ is just high processing speed and copious amounts of RAM.

(3) High processing speed and copious amounts of RAM don't themselves suffice to invent calculus.

(4) Therefore, "high IQ" is not a good explanation of why Newton invented calculus.

Comment author: dxu 27 April 2015 11:02:37PM *  0 points [-]

I understood what you were saying; I just disagreed with your definition of "high IQ". Put another way: I modus tollens'd your modus ponens.

EDIT: It turns out that Quill_McGee already expressed what I was trying too, and probably better than I could have myself. So yeah--what he/she said.

Comment author: Quill_McGee 27 April 2015 10:37:52PM *  0 points [-]

Whereas, if I am interpreting them correctly, what they are saying is

(1) People say that high IQ is the reason Newton invented calculus.

(2) High processing speed and copious amounts of RAM don't themselves suffice to invent calculus.

(3) Therefore, "High processing speed and copious amounts of RAM" is not a good description of high IQ.

Personally, I'd say that 'high IQ' is probably most useful when just used to refer to whatever it is that enables people to do stuff like invent calculus, and that 'working memory' already suffices for RAM, and that there probably should be a term for 'high processing speed' but I do not know what it is/should be.

EDIT: that is, I think that Newton scored well along some metric which did immensely increase his chances of inventing calculus, which does extend beyond RAM and processing speed, which I would nonetheless refer to as 'high IQ'

tabooing IQ would almost certainly be helpful here.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 03 April 2015 05:34:48PM 0 points [-]

I apologize for being unclear; when I wrote "you're suggesting that the distinction being introduced here" I meant introduced by Okeymaker, whose position is what I was trying to understand in the first place (and I believe I now do), and which I'd assumed (incorrectly) that you were talking about as well.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 April 2015 11:00:53PM *  0 points [-]

deleted, se my other comment in response to your question.