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TrevinPeterson 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: TrevinPeterson 02 March 2010 07:15:56PM 3 points [-]

progress means replacing one pile of sludge with another fashionable sludge-pile of similar quality.

The methods available to test these various hypotheses seem to have more of an impact on their prominence, than any objective measure of truth. Classical mechanics conformed to observations and could be confirmed by various tests. This led to widespread adoption until, observations were be made that did not fit the theories. Often the theories are available and cover various possible outcomes, all justified by the intuition offered by the current, yet untestable, theories.

This is where the social sciences run into difficulty. Predictions made by the social sciences are confirmed or disproved by the available methods of verification, at the time the predictions are made. These methods of verification evolve at a slower rate than the theories, and are always limited by the dynamic nature of human actors in large groups. Even if we could determine the utility function for everyone in the world, by the time that utility function had been applied and used to test various SS theories, they would have already changed.

It is unlikely that the LHC will produce results, not yet predicted by various physicists. When it does produce results, some thoeries will be proved and some will be disproved. The confirmation of the correct theory, however, is more valuable than 100 potentially correct yet untestable theories.

Mathematics has evolved quickly, for the same reasons that language has evolved, it is testable in its immediate ability to express and be understood. It has a very clean and objective measurement of success.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 02 March 2010 07:31:41PM *  0 points [-]

Classical mechanics conformed to observations and could be confirmed by various tests. This led to widespread adoption until, observations were be made that did not fit the theories.

This is what I call the naive history of science. In this view science progresses inevitably because it relies on a recipe for doing good science (the scientific method). You could probably find this in a physics textbook, but these kinds of stories aren't taken seriously by historians of science.

Classical mechanics made incorrect predictions from the get-go (for instance it couldn't explain the observed motion of the moon), in addition to positing occult forces which many natural philosophers (especially on The Continent) believed were a return to the natural magic tradition. The disagreement over classical mechanics was not a simple problem of applying a method. There were deep metaphysical commitments that explain why some accepted Newton's theories and others rejected them. Theories "fitting" or "not fitting" observation cannot explain the history of physics (let alone the history of science).

Comment author: orthonormal 03 March 2010 06:39:19AM 3 points [-]

Theories "fitting" or "not fitting" observation cannot explain the history of physics (let alone the history of science).

Right, but they're at least entangled with it, which is what separates scientific disciplines from their predecessors. I completely agree that the history of science is more messy, politics-laden, and irrational than the naive/textbook view acknowledges, but it only takes a weak sustained current (in this case, the fact that the results of experiments sometimes shocked and puzzled scientists) to overcome random noise in time.

Comment author: h-H 02 March 2010 09:30:42PM -2 points [-]

um, I think you're missing the overall point of his post; he states that we sometimes have accurate theories but our box of tools-mathematical techniques-is yet underdeveloped to make full sense of them.

it might be the case that he's taking a naive view etc, but from your post it appears that has little to no significance to his overall point.

also, to any who downvoted, please refrain from down-voting without attempting to explain your disagreement. it's obviously not good practice.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 03 March 2010 06:28:42AM 8 points [-]

No, up and down votes are symmetrical. Both should usually be done without explanation.

Comment author: wedrifid 03 March 2010 06:37:27AM 3 points [-]

Agree, and add that I often prefer not to downvote in cases where I have expressed disagreement, simply because it reduces resentment.

Comment author: orthonormal 03 March 2010 06:41:27AM *  10 points [-]

I disagree; an explanation of a downvote is a lot more helpful to the author than an explanation of an upvote (in addition to the fact that it often mitigates status-based anger), and thus the symmetry is broken. h-H is perhaps exaggerating this principle, but it's perfectly legitimate to say "that comment looked OK to me, what are you seeing?"

Comment author: h-H 04 March 2010 12:08:50AM 0 points [-]

seconded, and well put.

Comment author: komponisto 03 March 2010 01:44:59PM 0 points [-]

Strong second.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 03 March 2010 02:04:33PM 4 points [-]

No, up and down votes are symmetrical.

Up and down votes should not be symmetrical. The space of upvote-worthy comments is much smaller than the space of downvote-worthy comments, so a down-vote, by itself, conveys less information.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 March 2010 05:38:30PM *  2 points [-]

In the space of comments actually posted, the reverse is the case. What class of potential comments did you have in mind?

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 03 March 2010 06:33:24PM *  2 points [-]

In the space of comments actually posted, the reverse is the case. What class of potential comments did you have in mind?

I had in mind the space of comments that would be posted if commenters received no feedback on what kinds of comments were appropriate.

ETA: My point was that there are a lot more ways for a comment to go wrong than to go right. The region of good comments is a small target in commentspace. Given only that a comment was downvoted, it could be anywhere in a vast wasteland of bad possible comments. That's the case even if you condition on the comment's having appeared on LW.

Of course, sometimes one knows exactly why a comment was downvoted. But, if you're the author, and you hadn't expected the downvote, it's probably not so clear why you received one. In general, you can see that the comment must have been in a relatively small region within bad-comment-land. But that's small relative to all of bad-comment-land, so even your "small" region is probably still big compared to all of good-comment-land.

Comment author: khafra 03 March 2010 08:06:24PM 0 points [-]

With a somewhat valuable but straightforward comment, an upvote with no further discussion is optimal, because both the author and the readers understand why it's good.

With a worthless but ingenuously written comment, the readers gain nothing from further discussion, but commentary helps the author to more easily discover his error. Do what your decision theory requires regarding the good of the many vs. the good of the few.

Comment author: blogospheroid 03 March 2010 10:17:55AM 1 point [-]

Bingo!

Economics suffers from a problem that it is the art of the royal economic advisor. Almost all radical economic advice suffers from a problem that only a very strong sovereign would be able to implement the same. In real life, almost every economic measure would be half-diluted by the time the rubber hit the road.

That doesn't mean that the field has no advances. One might have to push and prod around a little to get progress in the direction sought.

For advancing the art of value creation, one can easily identify insights from economics that can be used.