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William_Newman comments on Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger) - Less Wrong

111 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 March 2007 05:49PM

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Comment author: William_Newman 28 March 2007 03:06:22PM 0 points [-]

There's no particular reason that constant improvement needs to surpass a fixed point. In theory, see Achilles and the tortoise. In practice, maybe you can't slice things infinitely fine (or at least you can't detect progress when you do), but still you could go on for a very long time incrementally improving military practice in the Americas while, without breakthroughs to bronze and/or cavalry, remaining solidly stuck behind Eurasia. More science fictionally, people living beneath the clouds of Venus could go for a long time incrementally improving their knowledge of the universe before catching up with Babylonian astronomy, and if a prophet from Earth brought them a holy book of astronomy, it could remain a revelation for a very long time. Or if the Bible had included a prophesy referring to "after three cities are destroyed with weapons made of metals of weight 235 and 239," it would've remained utterly opaque through centuries of rapid incremental progress.

I think a related argument would be more convincing: collect incidents when people thought they knew something about the real world from a religious tradition, and it conflicted with what the scientists were coming to believe, and compute a batting average. If the batting average is not remarkably high for the religious side, some skepticism about its reliable truth is called for, or at least some diplomatic dodge like "how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

The batting average could suffer from selection bias if the summaries tend to be written by one side. But even if so, it's sorta interesting indirect evidence if all the summaries tend to be written by one side. And I dimly remember that there are pro-Islam writers who go on about the scientific things that their religious tradition got right, so I don't think there's any iron sociological law that keeps the religious side from writing up such summaries.