Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

BenAlbahari comments on Understanding your understanding - Less Wrong

69 Post author: SilasBarta 22 March 2010 10:33PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (77)

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 23 March 2010 01:56:19AM *  17 points [-]

There could be an interesting parallel here with "levels of misunderstanding". Perhaps it could help explain how difficult it is for a homeopathist or creationist to change their mind once they've hit the "engtangled truths" or "truly part of you" stages.

Comment author: Psilence 23 March 2010 09:14:56AM *  13 points [-]

That's probably closer to the truth than one might think. Once a belief system moves beyond rote memorization of its basic principles and becomes associated with other domains, non-rational beliefs can get very heavily embedded with outside belief networks. The feedback loop that can be created by having just a few anecdotal connections to an already established system would be severe.

The key factor is that, for people who are not strict rationalists already, the "correlation=causation" attitude is quite strong, so any neuronal links I make from new information to outside branches of knowledge can freely flow right back the way they came. Where the rationalist would have to find additional evidence to ingrain a belief, the fundamentalist is free to draw from his outside branches of knowledge to find reverse reinforcement to support the belief he's trying to learn.

Of course, we all do this to a certain extent, bootstrapping our new, tenuous beliefs by looking for associations we can make to older, more familiar territory. But fundamentalists can get through the neuronal rut-treading faster than rationalists, allowing a belief system to become ingrained that much faster.

Also, part of rationalists' training involves maintaining belief system elasticity, so we are ready to shift our conceptions as new information comes along. Fundamentalists, on the other hand, strive in exactly the reverse direction, wanting each neuronal pathway to be as unchanging as possible. There are two main reasons I can think of that this would be important: The one is that God's morality is eternal and unchanging, so the closer we bring our thought patterns out of that messy doubting game, the closer we come to "perfection". The other is that certain idea like adultery or homosexuality are expressly forbidden not to just do, but to even think about. What's a person to do? Well, once you hit the Stage 3 described above, your neural pathways will just naturally flow in the proscribed direction, avoiding extraneous pitfalls that you've edited out.

I remember reading something about this stage with professional chess players a long time ago--a chess master simulates less possible moves in their head than a player with only moderate experience, because past a certain stage, their brain pathways have seen enough games that the obviously "bad" moves simply drop out of their neural net.

Charlie Parker echoed a similar thing about jazz:

“You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”

Unfortunately, the same neural embedding that makes great chess players and musicians possible, also makes cults and other forms of indoctrination possible.

Comment author: reaver121 23 March 2010 10:35:28AM 1 point [-]

Good point. That's why I here argued against thinking about things too long. It's even more important the less rational you are. Before you know it, you are past the point that any evidence can convince you that your opinion is wrong.

Comment author: orthonormal 23 March 2010 02:20:14AM 13 points [-]

I think we could designate that as, say, Level (0+2i).

Comment author: simplicio 23 March 2010 04:34:45PM *  6 points [-]

Hell's bells, that's a good idea! Let's classify every belief as a complex number (magnitude 1) with a real and imaginary part!

Astrology: (0 + j1) - {imaginary but vaguely intuitive}

Aliens have visited earth: (2^-1/2 + j2^-1/2) - {intuitively possible, imaginary but with finite real component}

Michelson's prediction of aether wind effect: (-1 + j0) - {simply, honourably wrong}

Elan vital: (0 - j1) - {"not even wrong"}

Comment author: komponisto 23 March 2010 04:47:02PM 4 points [-]

Do you work in some kind of engineering field or something where people regularly write i as "j" and coefficients to the right? Just curious.

Comment author: simplicio 23 March 2010 04:50:50PM 6 points [-]

Yeah, I'm an electrical engineer; "i" is our symbol for current, so we use j instead. As for writing it to the right or left, it's a matter of taste as far as I know. I like it to the left because you're immediately clued in that it's an imaginary quantity.

Comment author: wnoise 23 March 2010 05:37:07PM 1 point [-]

I don't see the point of restriction to magnitude one. And if you do want that, it's much easier to just specify the phase angle.

Comment author: simplicio 23 March 2010 05:39:31PM 1 point [-]

True, but it obscures the imaginary vs. real distinction.

Also, this is a joke. I think.

Comment author: wnoise 23 March 2010 05:51:51PM 6 points [-]

I demand my jokes to be totally rigorous!

Yeah, it's a joke, but it could also be a cute (and hence possibly mnemonic) classification scheme.

Comment author: simplicio 23 March 2010 05:55:36PM 3 points [-]

Fair enough. :) I do find when I hear a science related joke that I take about a minute to determine whether it's "correct," then laugh.

Best one I've ever heard (only works if you've taken a complex algebra course):

What's the contour integral around Western Europe?

Zero - all the Poles are in Eastern Europe.

All jokes about quantum mechanics are automatically unfunny.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 March 2010 06:36:43PM 4 points [-]

Actually, there are Poles in Western Europe, but they're removable. ;)

Comment author: SilasBarta 24 March 2010 04:46:20PM *  1 point [-]

(potentially offensive) So you can mathematically prove that Hitler destabilized Europe?

Comment author: RobinZ 23 March 2010 08:12:33PM *  1 point [-]

*searches Internet for removable poles*


Edit: By the way - and I fully grant this may be obvious - "removable poles" is not a very good search term.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 March 2010 09:09:12PM *  4 points [-]

A plane is flying from Warsaw to Paris. The pilot announces that they are passing over Rotterdam, and the world's largest container ship is visible out of the windows on the right side. Shortly afterward, the plane went into a tailspin and crashed.

A later analysis revealed that the crash occurred because all the Poles had moved into the right half-plane.

Comment author: BenAlbahari 23 March 2010 02:38:59AM -1 points [-]


Comment author: komponisto 23 March 2010 04:41:41PM *  2 points [-]

The parent should be at 0, not -1. It's perfectly okay to express something like "LOL" once in a while.

Comment author: wnoise 23 March 2010 04:51:43PM 10 points [-]

Of course it is -- if you're willing to take the karma hit for a comment that adds nothing to the conversation.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 23 March 2010 08:32:28PM 6 points [-]

But it does add to the conversation, in the same way as karma does. It provides the author of the comment valuable feedback about how their comment was perceived. Yes, karma has a similar function, but we react more to written comments than abstract numbers.

Comment author: komponisto 23 March 2010 05:10:31PM *  6 points [-]

The point was, there shouldn't be a karma hit for "adding nothing to the conversation". It should be okay to simply express a reaction without taking a karma hit. The score for "adding nothing" is 0; a negative score indicates that the comment subtracted something from the conversation. To downvote a comment is to actively discourage such a comment from being posted. I don't think such comments should be actively discouraged.

Comment author: wnoise 23 March 2010 05:33:35PM 10 points [-]

Dilution of good content is subtraction, if not as bad as the addition of bad content. I really do have no desire to see a bare "LOL", and will continue to vote accordingly.

Comment author: komponisto 23 March 2010 06:48:12PM 5 points [-]

There is no significant dilution occurring here. If we were flooded by "LOL" comments, or a particular user posted them with inappropriate frequency, that would be a different situation.

You are being too harsh. For my part, I have no desire to see this kind of non-niceness on here, just because we're interested in high-quality content. It subtracts a lot more from the experience here than an occasional "LOL".

Comment author: fburnaby 23 March 2010 06:44:28PM *  1 point [-]

I think this hierarchy can be derived from the way that I've developed for thinking about this problem -- considering the person's beliefs as a "memeplex" ("memotype"?). Replacing a few memes within a creationst's head -- even if the new memes are better -- can significantly increase the net cognitive dissonance going on within their own skull and prompt them to reject facts as something that must have been tampered with, or therwise being somehow invalid, protecting their more self-consistent, incorrect model.

Once the memeplex reaches a stable local minimum region in its dissonance landscape (analagous to fitness landscape), true information can seem worse. A well integrated memplex would be "truly part of you".

EDIT: I realize this analogy is at risk of noticing "surface analogies" between genetics and memetics, which I've just been warned against in the article. I don't think this is the case, but I'll leave the caveat that my understanding of this idea may be as low as level 2.

Comment author: Morendil 23 March 2010 07:58:28PM 0 points [-]

"surface analogies" between genetics and memetics

This should be easy to test: where can we find a research article that makes (and tests) a quantitative prediction based on rigorous memetics ? ;)

(I plead guilty to using the analogy myself.)