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JonMcGuire comments on Fake Explanations - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: JonMcGuire 16 August 2013 08:04:24PM 2 points [-]

People focus on the motivations of the students and the professor because the professor's behavior is unorthodox. The students paid good money to learn about physics. As others have mentioned, you can't be too hard on them, they arrive at class expecting a physics lesson, not sleight-of-hand. Consequently, my initial response to the article was that I understood what EY meant to convey, but I thought there were probably other ways to illustrate it that didn't involve the unnecessary "trickery" demonstrated by the professor.

However, upon further reflection, the professor's trickery itself could be characterized as relevant to EY's point. If we completely ignore the proferred "magic explanations" from the students, one might consider the professor's trick a lesson that all the physics education in the world may be inadequate to explain a puzzling observation. In other words, I found it helpful to assume that the professor was also trying to make a point similar to that which EY was making, instead of assuming that the professor just felt like being a jerk that day.

As a bonus, by focusing on the conditions of the scenario instead of just the answers, a student who is smart enough to recognize that their education may be inadequate could still answer "I don't have enough information to explain this," which implies he still believes there is an explanation, which might be a better answer than just "I don't know," which sounds a lot like just giving up.