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Peterdjones comments on Behaviorism: Beware Anthropomorphizing Humans - Less Wrong

53 Post author: Yvain 04 July 2011 08:40PM

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Comment author: Peterdjones 14 July 2011 07:09:54PM *  0 points [-]

All science only makes predictions within controlled circumstances.

Then "human behaviour is predictable" doesn't apply to life in general.

If you booby-trapped a billiards table, so there were unknown valleys and crests on the surface of the table, you wouldn't disprove physics because suddenly a physicist can't predict the motion of a billiard ball.

Predictability in controlled experiments isn't taken by physicists to prove a sweeping statement like "the universe is predictable". Some physical system are well known to be unpredictable.

In uncontrolled circumstances our predictions become less accurate because there are literally millions of unknown variables.

Or some other reason.

But, of course, since humans are so predictable, we can make decent enough predictions - for example, we can predict how much time, and to whom, a person will dedicate talking to at a dinner table. We can also predict, with reasonable certainty, when a basketball player will take a 2-point shot over a 3-point shot, or what play a football coach will play at any given time. So whilst our predictions are imperfect, they are still accurate enough.

Which is to say that some real situation have straightforward rules and rewards, allowing predictability.

Physical indeterminism is irrelevant since we're talking about the macro world. If we have to wonder whether human behavior is unpredictable due to some quantum mechanic weirdness, then we have to equally wonder whether billiard balls are unpredictable due to some quantum mechanic weirdness as well.

Oh we know that, They are.

The point is that we know human behavior is perfectly predictable in controlled experimental conditions, and less predictable in situations where some variables are unknown - this necessarily means that the myth of people being unpredictable is a result of ignorance of variables.

No, it doesn't necessarily mean that.

You get what you are looking for. Ask them to write a story or paint a picture, you do not know what you are going to get..

Once we can control the variables, of course we do. We can make them write a story or paint a picture of whatever we like.

That, again, is getting what you are looking for.

Physics is not successful at predicting the movement of objects because it cannot give me the exact time that a rock balanced on top of some mountain in the Northern Hemisphere will topple over.

No physicist would say physics is successful in predicting without specifying a system. What does "human behaviour is predictable" mean? We already knew you could predict behaviour in some situations, so that isnt a discovery. And we don't know that it is predictable by and large, because it isn't.

Comment author: MikeSamsa 15 July 2011 01:20:38AM 2 points [-]

Then "human behaviour is predictable" doesn't apply to life in general.

Yes it does since we know that human behavior is predictable. Scientists don't need to add "in controlled environments" because that's necessarily the case. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is predictable in uncontrolled environments. So if you're saying that human behavior is unpredictable because it can't be predicted in uncontrolled environments, then you've simply defined human behavior (and everything) as being unpredictable. How did you describe this kind of argument? "And 11 fingered people have 11 fingers"?

Predictability in controlled experiments isn't taken by physicists to prove a sweeping statement like "the universe is predictable". Some physical system are well known to be unpredictable.

Your analogy is a misrepresentation. Behavioral scientists saying human behavior is predictable is akin to physicists saying that the movement of a falling object is predictable. The fact that physicists can only predict the motion of falling bodies when they know the mass of the object, the force of gravity, etc, does not mean that they have to say, "Falling bodies are predictable in controlled environments, but they are unpredictable in the real world".

Or some other reason.

There cannot be any other reason.

Which is to say that some real situation have straightforward rules and rewards, allowing predictability.

So it's just a coincidence that every "free range" behavior which has been tested happens to be predictable?

Oh we know that, They are.

You think the movement of billiard balls are unpredictable because of "quantum mechanics"?... You do understand that indeterminism and probabilism do not preclude predictability, right?

No, it doesn't necessarily mean that.

There is no other option.

That, again, is getting what you are looking for.

No. Knowing the variables in an environment does not mean you get what you're looking for. There is an almost infinite number of ways in which the variables could be combined to reach different conclusions and predictions. If we come up with a law that uses specific parameters that give us an accurate prediction, then that means the phenomenon we're observing is predictable.

I don't understand why you think controlled environments (i.e. environments where the values of parameters are known) automatically produces some behavior or outcome. That's nonsensical.

No physicist would say physics is successful in predicting without specifying a system. What does "human behaviour is predictable" mean? We already knew you could predict behaviour in some situations, so that isnt a discovery. And we don't know that it is predictable by and large, because it isn't.

"Human behavior is predictable" means that human behavior can be predicted. Informally we might have known that behavior is predictable in some situations, but that's no better than saying "We already knew that the effects of gravity are predictable because when we drop stuff it always goes down". The point is that as long as we have information on the values of parameters, then human behavior is predictable. Pointing out situations where parameters are unknown does not mean human behavior is unpredictable.

Comment author: Peterdjones 15 July 2011 06:41:58PM *  0 points [-]

Then "human behaviour is predictable" doesn't apply to life in general. Yes it does since we know that human behavior is predictable.

Scientists don't need to add "in controlled environments" because that's necessarily the case.

No it isn't necessarily the case We can imagine Foundation style wide range prediction. (Un)predictability due to large numbers of variable is a contingent issue: it depends on how much computation you throw at it, as in weather forecasting.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is predictable in uncontrolled environments.

Not even the examples of real life prediction of human behaviour you mentioned? Not even the positions of the planets in the solar system?

So if you're saying that human behavior is unpredictable because it can't be predicted in uncontrolled environments, then you've simply defined human behavior (and everything) as being unpredictable. How did you describe this kind of argument? "And 11 fingered people have 11 fingers"?

Not analogous: an uncontrolled environment is not a special environment that is designed to force unpredictable behaviour. It is a general environment that is not designed for anything.

Your analogy is a misrepresentation. Behavioral scientists saying human behavior is predictable is akin to physicists saying that the movement of a falling object is predictable.

Behavioral scientists saying human behavior is predictable is akin to physicists saying physics is predictable. Physicsts saying that the movement of a falling object is predictable.is akin to behavioural scientists saying the behaviour of road users or game players is predictable.

The fact that physicists can only predict the motion of falling bodies when they know the mass of the object, the force of gravity, etc, does not mean that they have to say, "Falling bodies are predictable in controlled e environments, but they are unpredictable in the real world".

"falling objects" are predictable because they are falling--to fall is to be under the control of one force.

Or some other reason.

There cannot be any other reason.

Yes there can. Physical indeterminism that effects humans is logically possible.

So it's just a coincidence that every "free range" behavior which has been tested happens to be predictable?

If it's not predictable in the free range, that doesn't mean much. Or, rather, it doens't mean what it seems to mean.

You think the movement of billiard balls are unpredictable because of "quantum mechanics"?... You do understand that indeterminism and probabilism do not preclude predictability, right?

For some value of "predictability". Weaker claims are easier to defend, but they mean less.

There is no other option. [than lack of knowledge of variables]

Indeterminism means even Laplace's Demon can't predict. That's definitional

No. Knowing the variables in an environment does not mean you get what you're looking for.

That you don't look for the unpredictable means you get what you look for.

There is an almost infinite number of ways in which the variables could be combined to reach different conclusions and predictions. If we come up with a law that uses specific parameters that give us an accurate prediction, then that means the phenomenon we're observing is predictable.

I don't understand why you think controlled environments (i.e. environments where the values of parameters are known) automatically produces some behavior or outcome. That's nonsensical.

I don't think that. I think that if you asked someone to write a story with rewards for originality. you would get unpredictable results. What I object to is the sweeping, uncontextualised nature of "behaviour is predictable"

"Human behavior is predictable" means that human behavior can be predicted.

That's ambiguous too. Some of the time?All the time?

The point is that as long as we have information on the values of parameters, then human behavior is predictable.

And all the other variable are being held constant. Which they never are in "free range" situations. In a sense, there are no causes in free range situations, as there are in controlled environments, because the "other variables held constant" clause doesn't apply. It is a mistake to think that you can sum one bit of controlled-environment causality against another and get even more causality. .

Comment author: rocurley 20 July 2011 07:33:54PM 1 point [-]

It looks like there are two definitions of controlled environment here. Maybe taboo it?