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handoflixue 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: handoflixue 19 May 2011 08:01:10PM 4 points [-]

It seems to me that passwords and placeholders occupy about the same space, and probably look fairly similar when they're first being taught. Knowing that light, sound, and matter are all waves tells me they have something in common. It means once I learn what a wave is, I ought to be able to predict some behaviors of all three based on this new information. If I also know that some things are not waves, I'll have a decent foundation for when to apply the wave equation, once I learn it.

Indeed, "password" itself seems to be a password for the concept of a placeholder. Now that I've puzzled that out, though, the new question arises: is it actually useful to learn a placeholder, or should we teach the wave equation first, and then go in to "light is a wave, and here is why", "sound is a wave and here is why"?

Certainly, being up-front about it when we're using a placeholder or an approximation would be wise. I must have had an odd experience in school, since there was generally at least one other student that would ask "what does 'wave' MEAN?" and then we'd all either learn what it meant, or that it was a placeholder to be learned about later.

Comment author: aspera 09 October 2012 04:36:56AM 1 point [-]

I agree with you, a year and a half late. In fact, the idea can be extended to EY's concept of "floating beliefs," webs of code words that are only defined with respect to one another, and not with respect to evidence. It should be noted that if at any time, a member of the web is correlated in some way with evidence, then so is the entire web.

In that sense, it doesn't seem like wasted effort to maintain webs of "passwords," as long as we're responsible about updating our best guesses about reality based on only those beliefs that are evidence-related. In the long term, given enough memory capacity, it should speed our understanding.