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DilGreen comments on Guessing the Teacher's Password - Less Wrong

62 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 August 2007 03:40AM

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Comment author: DilGreen 01 October 2010 03:13:25PM *  13 points [-]

This reminds me of my own experience as a student who loved chemistry. We were told a series of useful untruths about what matter is as we went through the system.

Molecules and atoms were like billiard balls.

No, that was an approximation - atoms are made of nuclei and electrons which can be visualised as little planetary systems.

No, that was an approximation - electrons, protons, neutrons are more usefully considered as probability functions.

I didn't do science at university level, so I never got to the next level, but quantum theory was waiting for me there.

I did start an electronic engineering course, and there we learned another useful half-truth - the equations that describe the behaviour of a transistor. Only they don't. They describe a manageable function which is something like the behaviour of a transistor - the real-world behaviour is non-linear and discontinuous (truly horrible - I didn't finish the course...).

All of these useful untruths are like passwords - they allow us to reliably accomplish things in the world, but they do not give us real power over or understanding of the domain they address. Nevertheless, it would be hard to do without them.

Comment author: handoflixue 19 May 2011 07:52:41PM 14 points [-]

Given how much got accomplished with prior models of the atom, I wouldn't say these are necessarily good examples of passwords. They also weren't approximations so much as older models. It's sort of like learning the geocentric model first, and then later updating to the heliocentric model, and then finally learning that the sun actually revolves around the center of the universe as well.

I'm honestly a bit puzzled as to why we insist on teaching so many older models in science, without appropriately labeling them. Perhaps the math is easier to learn, and perhaps it's just much easier to teach the models you grew up with originally.

Comment author: Rixie 28 March 2013 03:11:34PM 3 points [-]

Actually, when I learned these I learned them all at once, with the "older model" tag attached to them, and then I was given a "current model" that I was told that I wouldn't understand yet, and so we worked with the planetary system thing.

That's progress?

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Comment author: [deleted] 29 March 2013 12:35:16AM 1 point [-]

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I once read something like “This page was generated in 0.[fourteen digits] seconds.”