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Peter_de_Blanc comments on Occam's Razor - Less Wrong

37 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 September 2007 06:36AM

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Comment author: Peter_de_Blanc 26 September 2007 06:39:27PM 9 points [-]

Eli, you said:

An enormous bolt of electricity comes out of the sky and hits something, and the Norse tribesfolk say, "Maybe a really powerful agent was angry and threw a lightning bolt." The human brain is the most complex artifact in the known universe. If anger seems simple, it's because we don't see all the neural circuitry that's implementing the emotion. (Imagine trying to explain why Saturday Night Live is funny, to an alien species with no sense of humor. But don't feel superior; you yourself have no sense of fnord.) The complexity of anger, and indeed the complexity of intelligence, was glossed over by the humans who hypothesized Thor the thunder-agent.

I think it's worth noting that Norse tribesfolk already knew about human beings, so whatever model of the universe they made had to include angry agents in it somewhere.

Comment author: abramdemski 02 May 2011 04:10:47AM 4 points [-]

I agree. I feel like the post is poking a bit of fun at hokey religion, and in so doing falls into an error. The Norse would do quite badly in life if they switched to a prior based on description lengths in Turing machines rather than a description length in their own language, because their language embodies useful bias concerning their environment. Similarly, English description lengths contain useful bias for our environment. The formalism of Solomonoff induction does not tell us which universal language to use, and English is a fine choice. The "thunder god" theory is not bad because of Occam's razor, but because it doesn't hold up when we investigate empirically! Similarly, if the Norse believed that earthquakes were caused by giant animals moving under the earth, it would not be such a bad theory given what evidence they had (even though animals are complex from a Turing-machine perspective); animals caused many things in their environment. We just know it is wrong today, based on what we know now.