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Untermensch comments on Focus Your Uncertainty - Less Wrong

33 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 August 2007 08:49PM

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Comment author: Untermensch 02 May 2012 12:35:09PM *  1 point [-]

Edit - I didn't read the premises correctly. I missed the importance of the bit "Your mind keeps drifting to the explanations you use on television, of why each event plausibly fits your market theory. But it rapidly becomes clear that plausibility can't help you hereā€”all three events are plausible. Fittability to your pet market theory doesn't tell you how to divide your time. There's an uncrossable gap between your 100 minutes of time, which are conserved; versus your ability to explain how an outcome fits your theory, which is unlimited."

The time one spends preparing excuses is only loosely, and also inversley, linked to how easy to explain the event is. When unsure of an outcome to excuse what you are looking for is not the "most likely to be needed" excuse to be "really good" but for any excuse you need to be "as good as possible."

Even if your pet theory is so useless as to be utterly general, it should still be possible to estimate the easiest event to explain compared to any of the others, and that is where the least time should be spent. Failing that, if the events are all equally easy to explain with your pet theory then the time taken trying to work out where to spend the time would be better spent writing whichever explanation of up or down you think most likely of the two until it is as good as you can get it in less than half the time, then do the same for the other, then a few minutes at the end saying how these cancel if the market stays same or similar,

Better would be write a long list of excuses with predicted up and down values, and use them to get a range of levels of upnesses and downnesses that you can combine any number of to excuse any specific levels of up and downness. "Normally the reserve announcement would have had a huge upwards effect on the market, but because it was rainy today and baked beans are on sale in Wal Mart this is reflected in the only slight increase seen when looking at the market as a whole" This way you can even justify trends right up till the moment of truth "Earlier in the day the market was dropping due to the anticipated reseve announcement, but once it was discovered that Bolivia was experiencing solar flares, this slowed the downward trend, with the floating of shares in Greenpeace flinging the market back up again"

Lets use something more 'predictable' for illustrative purposes, you are a physics teacher in 1960/70's America, some serious looking people in suits turn up at your door, their pet scientist and all his notes were disappeared by the Reds and your country needs you.

After the time wasted arguing that it was insane to even ask you to do this you have both a gun to your head and 100 minutes left to come up with excuses as to why the "Hammer and Feather on the Moon" experiment went in any of the three ways*. Given that you have good reason to believe that the Hammer and Feather experiment may not go as you predict, spending 99.99 % of your time on the obvious answer is a very unwise use of your time resource. In fact it may be wiser to spend 1 minute on the obvious answer to have more time to try to excuse the feather hitting first.

*Turns out that the president had been told Russian telekinetics were going to mess with the results of the experiment to make Americans believe the moon landings had been faked, or, if you pefer, perhaps they were worried that the props department in Area 51 hadn't got the tensions on the invisible wires right, yet...