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jpet comments on Understanding your understanding - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: jpet 23 March 2010 06:18:52PM *  4 points [-]

Where in this system would you place a thorough and accurate, but superficial model that described the phenomenon? If I've made a lot of observations, collected a lot of data, and fit very good curves to it, I can do a pretty good job of predicting what's going to happen--probably better than you, in a lot of cases, if you're constrained by model that reflects a true understanding of what's going on inside.

If we're trying to predict where a baseball will land, I'm going to do better with my practiced curve-fitting than you are with your deep understanding of physics.

Or for a more interesting example, someone with nothing but pop-psychology notions of how the brain works, but lots of experience working with people, might do a far better job than me at modeling what another person will do, no matter how much neuroscience I study.

...to answer myself, I guess this could be seen as a variation on stage 1: you have a formula that works really well, but you can't explain why it works. It's just that you've created the formula yourself by fitting it to data, rather than being handed it by someone else.

[Edit: changed "non-generative" to "superficial"]

Comment author: SilasBarta 23 March 2010 06:37:44PM *  1 point [-]

Yes, those are all examples of stage 1 -- where you have some system that gives answers, and works, even though you can't say why. They are extensions of the "primitively understood" part of reality that I mention in Level 2 (but which counts as Level 1).

I don't know why you say they're not "generative" -- when make a prediction with the black box inside you, you've generated a prediction.

However, as I mentioned in another comment, there can be partial progress on the levels. For example, if your experience with people allows you to make predictions in very different areas of human behavior, in such a way that the predictions relate to each other and have implications for each other, that would be progress into Level 2. (Though this would still be a shallow connection to your other models because it only connects to phenomena involving human behavior.)