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NancyLebovitz comments on Understanding your understanding - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 March 2010 02:28:01AM 3 points [-]

I'm putting in a kind word for "guessing the teacher's password". Sometimes it's a useful preliminary to getting better understanding. In my case, especially if the "teacher" is stuff rather than a person, blundering around for a while gives me enough raw material to develop conscious theories.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 23 March 2010 02:18:19PM 2 points [-]

Yes, actually the Level 0 of random guessing is not so bad. It implies that you are not systematically wrong.

In the language of compression, a Level 0 understanding would correspond to a naive or uniform encoding like PPM. Not great, but at least you're not inflating the image.

Comment author: SilasBarta 23 March 2010 03:51:07PM *  4 points [-]

Good point. As Eliezer Yudkowsky often notes, it's possible to do a lot worse than maximum entropy guessing. So perhaps the negative levels are when your "understanding" is so bad, you would improve by random guessing. In practice, though, even this kind of performance has some good non-randomness to it. E.g., even when you guess while at a negative level, you don't apply randomization at the level of letters, leading to guesses like "ghftklw" for an explanation of light.

Comment author: Morendil 23 March 2010 02:27:25PM 3 points [-]

Level 0 is knowledge, of a sort. I may not know or understand anything about (say) finite element methods, but I know that such a thing exists, roughly what domain it comes from and that I can, if necessary, locate and acquire more accurate knowledge about it.

Level 0 should perhaps be reserved for "unknown unknowns", the things you don't know you don't know, where you don't even know there's a password to guess.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 March 2010 04:10:42PM 1 point [-]

I may have been talking about a level at 1/2, where you don't exactly know there's a password, but you're unsystematically collecting enough experience to have a basis for theories.

Comment author: Strange7 23 March 2010 02:56:31PM 0 points [-]

I would call unknown unknowns something like level -1.

Comment author: SilasBarta 23 March 2010 03:47:07PM 1 point [-]

Yes, it is a kind of knowledge -- knowledge about what labels a specific group of people use in their domain, and so allows you to make predictions about what words they will use when speaking to each other, so it is a narrow kind of understanding. But it's important not to equate "understanding of how people talk" with "understanding of the models they're talking about".

One reason I put this level in is so that you can recognize these "empty labels" as something that you need to fill in; i.e., you shouldn't stop at "light is waves", but follow through to finding out "what model of the world corresponds to light being waves?"

Comment author: prase 23 March 2010 12:30:39PM -1 points [-]

Teacher is always a person, since she creates or uses the terminology, from which the passwords are drawn. But otherwise agreed - knowing the passwords enables one to actually search for their meanings, and this takes one closer to the understanding. The password guesing level is better than nothing.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 23 March 2010 01:19:18PM *  0 points [-]

What I meant was that I have a better time with that preliminary stage if I'm doing something like trying to find a good combination of paper and ink for calligraphy than trying to satisfy a person.