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paper-machine 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: [deleted] 11 August 2011 05:55:20PM 4 points [-]

that irrationality comes from unquestioned cached thoughts, and that modern education systems exacerbate this tendency.

I don't think LW claims that's the only place irrationality comes from. There's the various biases, an inability to update, akrasia, and so on...

I'm currently in a technical graduate program for a profession that is different from most other types of graduate programs because in this field, the first few years are spent memorizing huge reams of information and taking multiple choice tests (have a guess as to what I'm studying?)

Actuarial science, I imagine. My second guess is pharmacy, but that seems less technical than actuarial science.

And perhaps most scandalous, once we're "in the system", we students recognize the need for it to be this way even though it's frustrating.

Can you explain specifically "the need for it to be this way"? Would a person learning these things via SRS or a comparable long-term memorization system not wipe the floor with the crammers in real life? If someone who actually knows the material isn't at an advantage, then why do you need to know these things in the first place.

I ask because I'm leaning toward "recognizing in hindsight the reason behind the structure of the system" is a bias in its own right, though I can't say its been analyzed anywhere, and I don't have enough evidence to definitively say one way or another.

I'm a math grad student, and I also have a larger-than-feasibly-possible, unwieldy mess of information I need to learn, but I don't get the mercy of a multiple-choice exam.

So, regarding the strategy students can adopt, the two ends of the spectrum are: 1) You can just memorize details long enough to regurgitate them in the lever-pressing experiments, and understand nothing critically; or 2) You can insist on trying to critically understand everything, and you will certainly fall behind and fail.

False dichotomy.

If you want to do the thing you're being trained for, you need the piece of paper. To get that paper, you have to pass the tests. To pass the tests you need to just memorize and not think.

Step two to three is lacking in justification.

I guess I could just declare the whole enterprise unethical and forget about this profession and move out in the woods somewhere. So if you can tell me how to maximize career satisfaction and income out in a nice forest away from everyone instead of memorizing reams of B.S., I'm all ears. Seriously.

What? If you truly feel the profession is unethical (and why you would feel this way is not quite clear), pivot into another profession. It's not like everyone has to be a physicist or a construction worker. There are plenty of professions in the world (though perhaps not as many jobs as there used to be, I suppose).

As knowledge accumulates, this problem is only going to get worse, and extend to more fields.

That's why we have SRS, nootropics, expert systems and (ultimately, someday) FAI.

Certainly education has not yet been optimized but all fields are not math and physics, and there's enough unpredictable detail in the world that as knowledge accumulates, so will the memorization required to learn that knowledge.

Heh! Math has plenty of "unpredictable detail." Heh.

And if we can't always use critical thinking at every step - which we can't - then password-guessing is better than nothing.

There's a difference between password-guessing and memorization that I think you've ignored in this... well, for lack of a better word, rant. There's nothing wrong with memorizing facts; there's everything wrong with memorizing the answers to questions.

For instance, at some point a pharmacist needs to memorize that, say, grapefruit juice is contraindicated for some kinds of high blood pressure medicine (or was it cholesterol medicine? I don't know, I'm not a pharmacist.) If we ask them, "What do I need to know about high blood pressure medicine?", the answer "Don't take it with grapefruit juice," isn't a fake answer.

What would be a fake answer is if we were taking a different class of HBP medicine that didn't interact with grapefruit juice, but the pharmacist said "Don't take it with grapefruit juice," anyway on the principle that grapefruit juice interacts with some HBP medicines.

That's probably unclear, but I'm sure someone else will clarify the situation better.

Comment author: lessdazed 11 August 2011 05:59:07PM 2 points [-]

I don't think LW claims that's the only place irrationality comes from. There's the various biases, an inability to update, akrasia, and so on...

Analogously,

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2011 08:28:38PM 3 points [-]

So, regarding the strategy students can adopt, the two ends of the spectrum are: 1) You can just memorize details long enough to regurgitate them in the lever-pressing experiments, and understand nothing critically; or 2) You can insist on trying to critically understand everything, and you will certainly fall behind and fail.

False dichotomy.

Nothing described as "two ends of the spectrum" is ever a false dichotomy. Or a true dichotomy, for that matter.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 August 2011 08:42:35PM 0 points [-]

While they do sometimes treat this as two ends of a spectrum, their ultimate conclusion

To pass the tests you need to just memorize and not think.

Relies on the earlier (perhaps unstated, or implicitly stated) premise that 1) and 2) are mutually exclusive.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2011 10:02:19PM 2 points [-]

If you believe that the passage in question is a false dichotomy then you either do not understand what a dichotomy is or you parsed the quoted text incorrectly. The two ends of the spectrum are mutually exclusive (and look somewhat extreme) but for them to be dichotomous the entire rest of the spectrum - all the moderate parts - must be excluded.

Even if the text is somehow wrong or stupid it is not a false dichotomy.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 August 2011 10:26:58PM *  1 point [-]

Would you rather I called it a fake spectrum?

EDIT: I really don't understand the issue. In order to apply excluded middle to reach the conclusion, they have to both hold that the two ends of the spectrum are dichotomous, and that the rest of the spectrum either doesn't exist, or is inconsequential. So it's a spectrum in a name only, which as far as I can see is as good as a false dichotomy.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2011 10:44:02PM 1 point [-]

Would you rather I called it a fake spectrum?

That is one of many things you could say that isn't just strictly and trivially false.

But it isn't my preferences you are satisfying. I don't mind if you say wrong things, I'm just going to reply with a correction if you do. (So 'rather?' is a strange question!)

Comment author: [deleted] 11 August 2011 10:50:07PM 2 points [-]

Let me rephrase, then. "Is there anything you would correct in characterizing the aforementioned as a fake spectrum?"

Honestly, if I have to write so strictly, it's almost too much effort.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 August 2011 11:04:11PM *  1 point [-]

I thought the answer 'no' would have come across, even while I distanced myself from the personal connotations.