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tmgerbich comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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Comment author: tmgerbich 26 April 2011 01:24:14PM 28 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong!

I was on facebook and I saw a wall post about the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't read fanfiction much since I was a kid, but the title was intriguing, so I clicked on it and started reading. The ideas were interesting enough that I went to the author's page and it brought me here.

Anyways, I'm a 22 year old female person. I'm graduating from college in 2 weeks with a chemistry major and I have no real plans, so it makes posting about my life situation a little awkward right now. I'll probably be heading back to the Chicagoland area and trying to find a job, I guess.

I can already tell that this site is going to wreak havoc on my ability to finish up all my projects, study for finals, and hang out with my friends. I just spent a couple hours reading randomly around and I can tell I've barely scratched the surface on the content. But after I almost died laughing at the post about the sheep and the pebbles I was hooked. Really, I just want to be a freshman again so I can spend my time staying up all night thinking and talking and puzzling things out with EZmode classes and no real responsibilities.

Anyways. I'm pretty excited about getting through the material on here. I love learning to understand how other people think, and how that helps them reach the conclusions that they reach. It's always terrifying when I realize that someone has posited an argument or a scenario that challenges my interpretation or understanding of the universe in a way that I can't easily refute- especially when I can't refute it because I realize they're right and I'm not.

Oddly enough, one of the scariest experiences of my life was when someone told me about the Monty Hall problem- two goats one car. A friend explained the scenario and asked me if I would switch doors. I jokingly replied that I probably wouldn't, since I was clearly already lucky enough to miss the goat once, I shouldn't start questioning my decision now. The friend told me that I was being irrational and that by switching, I would have a better chance of picking the car. I remember being scornful and insisting that the placement of the goat occurred prior to my choosing a door, and revealing one of the other doors could have no impact on the reality of what prize had already been placed behind what door. The friend finally gave up and told me to go look it up.

I looked up the problem and the explanation, and it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. As soon as I read the sentence that explained that by switching, I would end up with the car 2/3 of the time as opposed to 1/3 of the time, I felt my intuitive ideas being uprooted and turned on their head. As soon as it clicked, I thought of 4 or 5 other ways to think about the problem and get the right answer- and of course it was the right answer, because it made logical and intuitive sense. But then thinking back to how sure I had been just 10 minutes ago that my other instincts had been correct was horrifying.

Remembering how completely comfortable and secure I had felt in my initial reasoning was so jarring because it now seemed so obviously counter-intuitive. I'm usually very comfortable refining my ideas in light of new ones, incorporating new frameworks and modifying the way I understand things. But that comfortableness derives from the fact that I'm not actually that attached to many of my ideas. When I was in high school, my physics teacher stressed the importance of understanding that the things we were studying were not the true nature of reality. They represented a way of modeling phenomena that we could observe and quantify, but they were not reality, and different models were useful for different things. Similarly, I usually try to keep in mind that the majority of the time, the understanding I have of things is going to be imperfect and incomplete, because of course I don't have access to all the information necessary to make the perfect model. It followed that I should strive to be as adept as possible at incorporating new information into my model of understanding the universe whenever possible without resisting because I had some attachment to my preexisting ideas.

But the the case of the Monty Hall problem, I was confident that I understood the whole problem already. It seemed like my friend was trying to confuse my basic understanding of reality with a mathematical wording trick. Coming to an understanding of how deeply flawed my reasoning and intuition had been was exhilarating and terrifying. It was also probably at least a bit dramatized by the caffeine haze I was in at the time.

I think I still have a lot of ideas and ways of thinking that aren't quite rational. I can find inconsistencies in my understanding of the world. I know that a lot of them are grounded in my emotional attachment to certain ways of thinking that I have in common with people with whom I identify. I'm afraid if I really think about certain things, I'll come to conclusions that I either have to deliberately ignore or accept at the cost of giving up my ability to ignore certain truths in order to favor my personal attachments (Sorry that sentences was convoluted- I can't think of a better way to phrase it at 8 AM when I've been up all night).

Sometimes I'm legitimately afraid I might drive myself crazy by thinking. Even in college I have a hard time finding people who really want to talk about a lot of the things I think about. My roommate is the most wonderfully patient person in the world- she sits for hours and listens while I spout ideas and fears about all kinds of physics and philosophy and everything in between. And even though she can follow most everything (sometimes it takes some explaining), she doesn't even really find it very interesting. But there are times when I'm seriously concerned that I could go out of my head just from thinking and getting too close to my own horizon of imponderability and trying to conclude something or anything.

So yeah. I'm not quite sure if that's quite what we're supposed to do with introduction posts. In retrospect, I think I probably took way too long to drag out a rather boring story that could have been summarized in a few sentences and confided enough fears and weirdness to be off-putting and possibly discredited as a rationalist. Anyways… I've put off biochem proposals for hours reading here and now writing this, so I'm going to stick with it instead of redoing the whole thing and running out of time and failing to graduate. Props if you got through it all. Hopefully by the time I'm done here I'll be sophisticated enough to say all this in a few concise sentences. Is eliminating excess rambling part of rationality? But yeah- I've never really read other people's ideas about all these topics, and I'm kind of pumped about it. If I can understand even a bit of what y'all are talking about and figure out how to be a little less wrong I'll be a happy camper.

Comment author: Alicorn 26 April 2011 03:30:33PM *  6 points [-]

Welcome! I love your story about the Monty Hall problem. Consider putting it as a toplevel anecdote in the Discussion Section.

Comment author: Swimmer963 26 April 2011 01:32:01PM 4 points [-]

I'm very interesting in reading your future posts! It sounds like you have a lot of potential and a lot of learning to do, which is always the most exciting combination. I wish I could be your roommate and get to hear all of this!

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 April 2011 04:16:10PM 3 points [-]

Definitely an interesting intro, and it's good to see someone care so much about whether they understand the world.

Approximate quote from Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error: "How does being wrong feel? Exactly like being right."

Comment author: JStewart 26 April 2011 03:38:13PM 1 point [-]

That was an awesome introduction post. I like the way you think.