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Dpar comments on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) - Less Wrong

110 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 July 2007 10:59PM

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Comment author: Dpar 11 May 2010 06:57:50AM *  3 points [-]

What about knowledge for the sake of knowledge? For instance I don't anticipate that my belief that The Crusades took place will ever directly affect my sensory experiences in any way. Does that then mean that this belief is completely worthless and on the same level as the belief in ghosts, psychics, phlogiston, etc.?

Wouldn't taking your chain of reasoning to its logical conclusion require one to "evict" all beliefs in everything that one has not, and does not anticipate to, personally see, hear, smell, taste, or touch? After all, how much personal sensory experience do you have that confirms the existence of atoms, for example?

DP

Comment author: RobinZ 11 May 2010 03:30:12PM 3 points [-]

I think Eliezer's point is less strong than you think: for one thing, reading a history book is a sensory experience, and fewer history books would proclaim that The Crusades occurred in worlds where they had not than in worlds where they had.

Comment author: Dpar 07 June 2010 11:27:21AM *  1 point [-]

I was going to write a more detailed reply, but then realized that any continued discussion will require us to debate what exactly the OP meant to say in his post, which is pointless since neither of us can read his mind. So let's just call it a day.

DP

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 07 June 2010 12:25:34PM *  2 points [-]

I was going to write a more detailed reply, but then realized that any continued discussion will require us to debate what exactly the OP meant to say in his post, which is pointless since neither of us can read his mind. So let's just call it a day.

This is something of a fallacy of gray. Of course we can read his mind, through the power of human telepathy, by reading more on the same topic. We can't read minds perfectly, but perfect knowledge is never available anyway, and unless you can point out the specific uncertainty you have that decides the discussion, there is no sense in requiring more detail. You might want to stop the discussion for other reasons, but the reason you stated rings false.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 05:33:17PM *  1 point [-]

First of all, calling speech "human telepathy" strikes me as a little pretentious, as well as inaccurate, since the word "telepathy" is generally accepted to have supernatural connotations. Speech is speech; no need to complicate the concept.

Secondly, the article you linked seemed a little rambling and without a clear point. All I was able to take away from it is that the meaning of words is relative. If that's the case then I respond with "well, duh!"; if I missed a deeper point, please enlighten me.

Finally, when you take it upon yourself to question another person's purely subjective reasoning, you're treading very close to completely indefensible territory. If I say that I wanted to stop the discussion because I believe that the author's intended meaning is ambiguous, it's a tall order to question that that is indeed what I believe. Unless you can come up with clear evidence of how my behavior contradicts my stated subjective opinion, you more or less have to take my word that that really is what I think.

DP

Comment author: thomblake 09 August 2010 05:42:45PM *  1 point [-]

You misunderstand. Vladimir Nesov was not claiming that you don't believe that the author's intended meaning is ambiguous. Rather, he was claiming that your belief that "the author's intended meaning is ambiguous" is false, or at least not enough to constitute a good reason for stopping the discussion.

The point of calling speech 'human telepathy' in this instance is that you claimed there's no way to know what the author was thinking since we "can't read his mind". But there is a way to know what the author was thinking to some extent, so by reading your own reasoning backwards we therefore indeed can read minds.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 06:06:45PM 0 points [-]

I stated that taking the OP's reasoning to its logical conclusion requires one to "evict" all beliefs in everything that one has not, and does not anticipate to, personally see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. RobinZ responded by saying that the OP's point is less strong than I think. Since two (presumably) reasonable people can disagree on what the OP meant, his point, as it is written, is by definition ambiguous.

Where do we go from here other than debate what he really meant? What is the point of such debate since neither of us has any special insight into his thought process that would allow us to settle this difference of subjective interpretations? I believe that to be sufficient reason for stopping the discussion. I'm not sure what specifically Vladimir takes issue with here.

As to your point of human telepathy -- comparing reading what someone wrote to reading his mind is a very big stretch. I can see how you could make that argument if you get really technical with word definitions, but I think that it is generally accepted that reading what a person wrote on a computer screen and reading his mind are two very different things.

DP

Comment author: thomblake 09 August 2010 06:20:15PM 3 points [-]

I stated that taking the OP's reasoning to its logical conclusion requires one to "evict" all beliefs in everything that one has not, and does not anticipate to, personally see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.

Right, but RobinZ was not arguing against this claim (depending on what you mean by 'personally' here) but rather pointing out that your reasoning was flawed.

For instance I don't anticipate that my belief that The Crusades took place will ever directly affect my sensory experiences in any way.

RobinZ pointed out that your belief that the crusades took place affects your sensory experience; if you believe they happened, then you should anticipate having the sensory experience of seeing them in the appropriate place in a history book, if you were to check.

If you thought that your belief that the crusades happened did not imply any such anticipated experiences, then yes, it would be worthless and on the same level as belief in an invisible dragon in your garage.

Comment author: Dpar 09 August 2010 06:32:19PM *  0 points [-]

So reading about something in a book is a sensory experience now? I beg to differ. A sensory experience of The Crusades would be witnessing them first hand. The sensory experience of reading about them is perceiving patterns of ink on a piece of paper.

DP

Edit: Also, I think that RobinZ didn't state that as something that she believed, she stated that as something that she believed the OP meant. It's that subjective interpretation of his position that I didn't want to debate. If you wish to adapt that position as your own and debate its substance, we certainly can.

Comment author: Oligopsony 09 August 2010 06:40:37PM 2 points [-]

What's important isn't the number of degrees of removal, but that the belief's being true corresponds to different expected sensory experiences of any kind at all than its being false. The sensory experience of perceiving patterns of ink on a piece of paper counts.

Now you could say: "reading about the Crusades in history books is strong evidence that 'the Crusades happened' is the current academic consensus," and you could hypothesize that the academic consensus was wrong. This further hypothesis would lead to further expected sensory data - for instance, examining the documents cited by historians and finding that they must have been forgeries, or whatever.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 06:45:13PM 0 points [-]

So reading about something in a book is a sensory experience now? I beg to differ.

You are disputing definitions. Reading something in a book is a sort of thing you'd change expectation about depending on your model of the world, as are any other observations. If your beliefs influence your expectation about observations, they are part of your model of reality. On the other hand, if they don't, they are sometimes too part of your model of reality, but it's a more subtle point.

And returning to your earlier concerns, consider me having a special insight into the intended meaning, and proving counterexample to the impossibility of continuing the discussion. Reading something in a history book definitely counts as anticipated experience.

Comment author: anon895 09 August 2010 06:13:14PM 1 point [-]

I was expecting the link to be Mundane Magic.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 09 August 2010 06:32:13PM *  0 points [-]

The point is not that the ability is "magical", but that it's real, that we do have an ability to read minds, in exactly the same sense as Dpar appealed to the impossibility of.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 May 2010 03:34:21PM 2 points [-]

Belatedly: Welcome to Less Wrong! Please feel free to introduce yourself.

Comment author: Dpar 07 June 2010 11:27:41AM *  0 points [-]

A belated thanks! :)

DP

Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 19 February 2015 07:06:44PM *  1 point [-]

The LessWrong FAQ says that there is value in replying to old content, so I'm commenting in hopes that it is useful to someone in the future, and just for the sake of organizing my thoughts.

I would have phrased this differently than Yudkowsky, but I think I understand the concept he was getting at when he gave this example:

Or suppose your postmodern English professor teaches you that the famous writer Wulky Wilkinsen is actually a "post-utopian". What does this mean you should expect from his books? Nothing. The belief, if you can call it that, doesn't connect to sensory experience at all.

His point is that this is just semantics. It makes no difference to the world whether we label something "post-utopian" or "aegffsdfa eereraksrfa" or anything else. The words you read in the book will be the same. The reason I don’t like this example is that, if I actually knew some literary jargon, I might get some real verifiable information that does actually mean I should expect a specific kind of sensory experience. It’s just that the classification scheme is arbitrary, and so is my belief that one classification scheme is "correct".

The label is just a label, so arguing about classification schemes is just semantics. Using this definition, your belief that the crusades took place would affect what sorts of things you would expect to read, and what sorts of archeological finds you would expect to find if you went looking for them. However, if you believe that the crusades marked the beginning of the high middle ages, that would just be semantics. We could say that the middle ages started at the sacking of Rome, or we could make a label like "dark ages" to describe the intermediary period. What we call it and how we classify it makes no difference in the actual reality of history. It's just semantics.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 23 February 2015 12:38:23PM 3 points [-]

Semantic labels are part of the structure of an explicit model. For instance, the Chinese use the same word for both "rat" and "mouse". A model with a ratmouse vertex will behave differently to a model with separate rat and mouse verteces. The structure and function of model affect what it predicts, what it's users can notice, how they behave. Agents do not passively receive a stream of predetermined experiences, they interact with the world, and the experiences they can expect depend on the structure and function of their models...

..and more besides. Models contain evaluative weightings as well as neutral structure. For instance, in the English speaking world, mice have the connotation of being cute, rats of being vermin. The professor might not be failing to specify an empirical confirmable concept when describing the writer as a post utopian: she might rather be succeeding in tweaking her students' evaluative model. She might be aiming at making a social or political point.

There is a long history of the political influence of language ranging from Greek rhetoricIan's to Orwell' s essays. A STEM type might consider it pointless, to focus on such issues, rather than what can be proved objectively. A humanities type might also consider it pointless to focus on objective, empirical claims with no social or political upshot. Neither complaint is really about meaningfullness or semantics, in the sense if the meaningfulness of the words, rather they are both about the subjectively evaluated pointfulness of an activity.

By a convoluted meta level irony, the way the way the term "semantics" is often used is itself a way if funneling the reader towards a conclusion. We have seen that there are circumstances where a semantic change would make a difference: where it makes a structural/functional change, and where it makes an evaluative/connotational difference. Since these circumstances don't always to apply, there are circumstances where a semantic change really is trivial, really "just semantics". For instance, if the word cat were replaced by the word zeb, in a connotationally neutral way, that would be semantics of a pointless kind that doesn't change anything. But that situation is atypical. Although the standard rhetoric about what is "just semantic" suggests the opposite., most rewordings make a difference. Indeed, it is likely that people object to recordings because they do make a difference, not because they don't.

Consider: A: So youre pro abortion? B: I'm pro choice A: Thats just semantics.

A has spotted that B's rewording has strengthened his argument, by introducing a phrasing with a positive connotation, and so she objects to it... using the common apprehension that rewordings are just semantics, and don't change anything!

Comment author: MarsColony_in10years 24 February 2015 10:11:09PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for breaching that topic. I considered pointing out that my "aegffsdfa eereraksrfa" example might be more difficult to pronounce than "post-utopian", and so actually would have an impact on the world in general. On reflection, I decided to make the assertion that it "makes no difference", since that would spare a lot of confusion. It's a good first order approximation. When introducing a topic, it's important to take the Bohr model view of the world before trying to explain quarks and leptons.

The entanglement of semantic language with our interpretation of reality clouds things. Scientific language is precise, but often dry and hard to understand. However, by de-coupling the two worlds, we study the underlying reality without those (or perhaps with only minimal) distorting effects from our language. That's what we are doing when we talk about Map and Territory here on LW. We get a better map from this, but if we also compare the collective maps of societies to the best maps of reality, we can look for systematic differences. Some of these are cognitive biases, which we tend to concentrate on here on LW. However, there are also many other interesting or useful things that we can learn about ourselves as mapmakers. For example, the Bouba/kiki effect might help us choose more intuitive vocabulary as we build a more and more extensive set of jargon.

Just studying the way languages evolve can be informative, whether it's rigorously using Computational Linguistics or informally by an author or artist. The mere existence of a formal scientific understanding of reality allows a poet or philosopher, if they are familiar only with the answers but not the underlying explanations, to look at some facet of human nature and ask "isn't it odd when people...". A great deal of social commentary is built from that one question.