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TsviBT 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: TsviBT 06 March 2012 08:08:06AM *  6 points [-]

I suspect literary labels do have something to do with the contents of a book, no matter how much nonsense might be attached to them

I think Eliezer's point was about the student. "Wulky Wilkinsen is a 'post-utopian'" could be meaningful, if you know what a post-utopian is and is not (I don't, and don't care). The student who learns just the statement, however, has formed a floating belief.

We might even initially use propositional beliefs as indicators of meaningful beliefs about the world. But if we then discuss these highly compressed beliefs without referencing their meaning, we often feel like we are reasoning when really we have ceased to speak about the world. That is, grounded beliefs can become "floaty" and spawn further "floaty" beliefs.

In my sociology class, we talk about how "Man in his natural state has liberty because everyone is equal". "Natural state", "liberty", and "equal" could conceivably be linked to descriptions of social interaction or something. However, class after class we refrain from talking about specific behaviors. Concepts float away from their referents without much resistance - it's all the same to the student, who only needs to make a few unremarkable remarks to get his B+ for class participation. Compare:

"Man in his natural state has liberty because everyone is equal"

"Man in his natural state is equal because everyone has liberty"

"When everyone has liberty and is equal, man is in his natural state"

These statements should express very different beliefs about the world, but to the student they sound equally clever coming out of the professor's mouth.

(Edit for minor grammar and formatting)