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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Explain/Worship/Ignore? - Less Wrong

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 September 2007 08:01PM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2010 12:19:38AM 5 points [-]

An explanation stops being fake as soon as it tells you to predict something (or better yet, do something) you couldn't do before. For example, if you sketch out the refractive reflection on paper, your son will - hopefully! - know to look away from the Sun, and at what angle to expect to see the rainbow, and just a little about why. And just knowing that it's water droplets, at all, tells you that you might be able to use a garden hose.

Comment author: Morendil 21 January 2010 12:40:42AM *  6 points [-]

I'm embarrassed to be caught using "fake explanation" as a fake explanation. Thanks for straightening that out. I'll use my own words more.

Yes, optics are enough that I can predict something. Even this late in the game for me, I occasionally find some things I hadn't really, really known before; it took experimental evidence (a rainbow caused by one of the wonderful waterfalls of Iceland) to realize that a rainbow appears centered about a point - my eyes - that moves as I move. That has a particularly wonderful effect when the rainbow is close to a full circle, as was the case that day at Skogafoss.

For some reason, I experienced that moment of playing with my personal rainbow as a minor epiphany; it had all the hallmarks of the religious experience I hear people talking about, up to "feeling at one with nature". Except that this was a reductionist epiphany, where I realized that even though I was momentarily unable to recall all the details of why this rainbow danced with me, that knowledge was mine to reconstruct if I wanted to, down to almost the rock-bottom level of explanation. I felt as if the Universe belonged to me in that instant.

Previous to that I was something of a rationalist's mysterian, if the phrase makes any sense; I had (truth be told, likely still have) traces of the "science doesn't know everything so there might be magic" attitude.

I don't know (yet) how to pass on that kind of feeling to my kids, but I hope I figure it out, for their sakes. It's a great feeling, one I'd love to share with people I love, and knowing it has a neurological basis doesn't spoil it one bit.

This was last summer, about three months before I chanced upon LW and ultimately the sequence that includes "Joy in the merely real".

ETA: folks are sending karma here and to the grand-parent, I notice; I'd appreciate, if any of those upvotes mean "might like to see that worked into a post", your replying that explicity.

I've been thinking about writing up the rainbow epiphany for a while now, but didn't know how or for whom, and though I'm writing this at 2am and probably in for more revising than I care to admit, I feel better for having gotten it out.