Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

conchis comments on Fake Explanations - Less Wrong

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

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (84)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: conchis 21 August 2007 12:53:45PM 10 points [-]

"They wanted to maximise their chances of pleasing the prof., not maximise their chances of understanding the world."

I don't know that I buy this. If the students make a guess that's wrong, one would expect that to kickstart a process of the professor helping them to understand why it's wrong. (Student: "Um... because of heat conduction?" Teacher: "OK, what does heat conduction suggest should happen in this situation?"...) This seems more likely to result in learning than just sitting there and saying "I don't know". If anything, I think it's often a bigger problem from a learning perspective, when people are too afraid of being wrong to put out tentative ideas.

"I don't know" is a rational response to this situation if you are sure enough of your understanding of all the potential principles involved that you know they can't explain the phenomenon (and you don't happen to guess that the professor is messing with you). But it's fairly clear the students aren't in that situation, so starting to generate hypotheses about what's going on seems perfectly sensible. Of course, they should be actual hypotheses, and Eliezer's perfectly right that "because of heat conduction", if offered as an actual explanation, isn't an hypothesis as much as a cop out. But if it's a starting point, rather than an endpoint, then that seems perfectly reasonable.

In short, the problem isn't that they're guessing. It's if their guesses aren't actually saying anything, but they think that they are. (And I think Eliezer's admonition to just say "I don't know" conflates these two problems.)

Comment author: DSimon 19 June 2013 01:49:24PM 0 points [-]

How about "I don't know, but maybe it has something to do with X?"