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Vladimir_M comments on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions - Less Wrong

71 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 August 2007 10:27PM

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Comment author: Vladimir_M 12 May 2011 11:45:34PM 4 points [-]

Don't worry, we're not going to hang anybody for it.

I don't know who you mean by "we," but in any case, I don't think objecting to misrepresentations and strawmen is unreasonable even if they're directed against people who are long dead.

But I am superior to them. I have a better understanding of the world.

Then why the need to invent strawmen instead of discussing their actual ideas and theories?

What I want to emphasize is that grappling with reality successfully enough to make a great intellectual contribution is extremely hard. If a theory provides motivation and guidance for work that leads to great contributions, then it should be seen as a useful model, not an intellectual blunder -- whatever its shortcomings, and however thoroughly its predictions have been falsified in the meantime. Historically, theories such as phlogiston, aether, or vitalism clearly satisfy this criterion.

Now of course, it makes sense to discuss how and why our modern theories are superior to phlogiston etc. What doesn't make sense is going out of your way to bash strawmen of these theories as supposedly unscientific and full of bad reasoning. In reality, they were a product of the best scientific reasoning possible given the state of knowledge at the time, and moreover, they motivated the crucial work that led to our present knowledge, and to some degree even provided direct practically useful results.