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alexvermeer 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: alexvermeer 04 January 2011 07:07:01PM 3 points [-]

"Or suppose your postmodern English professor teaches you that the famous Wulky Wilkinsen is actually a "post-utopian". What does this mean you should expect from his book? Nothing."

When I first read this I thought, "Huh? Surely it tells you something, because I already have beliefs about what 'utopian' probably means, and what the 'post' part of it probably means, and what context these types of terms are usually used in... That sounds like a whole bag of reasons to expect certain things/themes/ideas in his book!"

But I think this missed the point Eliezer is making; a point I suggest would be more clear if he said:

"Or suppose your postmodern English professor teaches you that the famous Wulky Wilkinsen is actually a "barnbeanbaggle". What does this mean you should expect from his book? Nothing."

Darn right. I have no idea what a "barnbeanbaggle" is. It creates no anticipations about what I"ll find in his book; it's free-floating.

Comment author: ata 04 January 2011 07:46:19PM *  3 points [-]

Free-floating beliefs have to at least feel like beliefs. You can't even think you have a belief about whether Wulky Wilkinsen is a barnbeanbaggle unless you think you have some idea of what "barnbeanbaggle" is being used to mean. The thing about using a made-up word is that it's too easy to notice that you don't know what to anticipate from it. The thing about "post-utopian" is that, even if you have some idea of what "post-utopian" is supposed to mean, being told (by someone you perceive as sufficiently authoritative) that a certain author is "post-utopian" is quite likely to just make you selectively interpret that author's works to fit that schema. Similar to how you can make professional wine tasters describe a white wine the way they usually describe red wines by dying it red.

Comment author: alexvermeer 04 January 2011 09:20:07PM 1 point [-]

The made-up word being too easy to notice is a good point.

  1. "I believe Wulky is a post-utopian."
  2. "The professor says Wulky is a post-utopian, and I expect to figure out what the term means and confirm or disconfirm this claim by reading his book."

When I first read this post I thought (2), and if I understand it right, the post is attacking (1).

I may be getting too tied-up with the labels being used...

Comment author: Will_Sawin 05 January 2011 10:29:01PM 0 points [-]

You originally misunderstood Eliezer's point, and now understand it.

If many people will similarly misunderstand it, that is a reason for Eliezer to change it on lesswrong or if/when it appears in his book. If you are relatively unusual, it is only a weak reason.

Reasons not to change it would be a lack of viable alternatives. Can we think of an alternative better than "post-utopian" or "barnbeanbaggle"? For example, a less meaningful term from literary theory or another field?

Comment author: BarbaraB 14 June 2012 08:07:18PM 1 point [-]

My boyfriend just suggested "metaspontaneity" !

Comment author: BarbaraB 14 June 2012 09:03:04PM 0 points [-]