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RogerS comments on Fake Explanations - Less Wrong

58 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 August 2007 09:13PM

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Comment author: RogerS 03 April 2013 10:21:08PM *  0 points [-]

Many different things can be deduced from this story, as previous comments have illustrated. The step that I question is "carries no information" = "magic". I prefer Karl Popper's account, in which [to paraphrase "Conjectures & Refutations" Chapter 1] "carries no predictive information" = "metaphysical" but "metaphysical" does not mean "unscientific". Rather, science involves two activities, hypothesis creation and hypothesis testing. It is the hypothesis testing that has to be exclusively empirical (confined to falsifiable hypotheses). There are no rules for arriving at new hypotheses according to Popper, only heuristics, and metaphysical arguments can often be a source of new insights that lead to new falsifiable hypotheses. I believe Imre Lakatos developed this distinction with his idea of "Research programmes" which cannot be falsified but get abandoned when they cease to be fruitful of falsifiable hypotheses. The commenters who have stressed that some of the student's wrong answers could be valuable first steps towards understanding fit into Popper's scheme. The question (which we can't answer) is whether the "password" status or the "first step" status was uppermost in their minds. To conclude, the posting is valuable in drawing attention to the disutility of password-type answers, but misleading in not also recognizing the role of first-step-type answers.