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gjm comments on Fake Justification - Less Wrong

40 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2007 03:57AM

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Comment author: gjm 25 February 2015 03:38:21PM 2 points [-]

What do you mean by "fine"?

The claim, let's recall, is that "the best EVERYTHING has been produced within the last few decades". It seems to me that one can find Bach's best music better than anything from the last few decades without making "venerable" the standard of better.

It's certainly true that tools of many kinds are much better than they used to be, and it's probably true that there are a lot more artists now than before. But:

  • some people are just exceptionally good at some things, and there's no reason to suppose (e.g.) that anyone making music in the last 30 years has been as good at Bach was at the things Bach was good at.
  • taste is a complex business, and some things that have improved a lot in the last 30 years are purely "synthetic" things that were starting from a very low baseline. E.g., if someone likes listening to violin music, it is possible that they prefer the best modern instruments to those of Stradivarius but very unlikely that they prefer the best computer-generated violin-like sounds to either; but it's the computer-generated stuff that's improved most dramatically over recent decades. A lot of the tools of music-making really haven't (at the top end, for some people's taste) improved much since, say, 1950.
  • tastes vary, for all kinds of reasons; if you happen to prefer classical-in-the-broadest-sense music then it is not true that there are a lot more people doing it now than there were historically. (Note that this preference is not at all the same as making venerability the standard of quality.)
Comment author: Vaniver 25 February 2015 03:55:27PM *  2 points [-]

What do you mean by "fine"?

That there exists a careful statement of the claim that captures the majority of the reach of the claim while avoiding the overreach of the claim.

It seems to me that one can find Bach's best music better than anything from the last few decades without making "venerable" the standard of better.

So, this could quickly descend into reference class tennis. If we ask the question whether the best "music" was made in the last 30 years or before, now Bach fares more poorly than if we narrow our attention to "western art music." If we exclude "influence" as a measure of quality, because of the inherently time-based nature of influence, now Bach fares more poorly than if we include "influence." If we observe that musical taste is strongly tied to class-based markers, and that many of the groups that have liking classical music as a badge of group membership also have a preference for the venerable, and thus exclude "group affiliation" as a measure of quality, now Bach fares more poorly than if we include group affiliation.

There are, of course, other preferences that one could exclude that make Bach fare better. If we rule out, say, my preference for western art music that was made for video games because my positive affect for those games has bled into my positive affect for the music, then Bach has a better chance against Soule.