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nerdbound comments on Fake Justification - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: nerdbound 01 November 2007 06:09:07AM 13 points [-]

There's always a problem with judging artistic works from different time periods. Shakespeare might be better than the Bible, but Shakespeare would not exist without the Bible. The Bible is an 'influence', as we would call it in indie music. Sure, you might not enjoy listening to Can all the time (witness the terrible "Drunk and Hot Girls" on the new Kanye West album), but Can's influence is seen throughout experimental music. So you don't diss Can either, or you'll lose all your cred. In the same way, the Bible's historical period gives it value, because it created so much cultural motion and thought. I think this is a deeper point than mere 'renown'. It's not even that the Bible is necessarily an 'innovative' literary work. It's that, rightly or wrongly, people thought it was deep and exciting stuff and copied and wrote about it until, rightly or wrongly, it became important. But that's how all art becomes art.

The Bible has a bunch of beautiful metaphors/parables in the New Testament, and beautiful poetry in the Old Testament. I think Job is an excellent literary work for its time, as is Ecclesiastes for its time. Hell, Ecclesiastes is an important literary work for any time, and should be required reading for anyone educated, IMO.

And what on Earth makes you think that a neutral reading of the Bible is easy if you're not a Christian? Are you saying that anti-Christian biases do not exist?

I don't think a neutral search is at all the right metaphor, as art's historical nature is inescapable. Plato isn't good because a modern reader finds it immediately appealing when compared to other books, or because it is the deepest philosophy ever, it's good because of its place in the history of thought.

I like a lot of your posts about religion, by the way. I only comment to argue. But keep up the good work.

Comment author: MBlume 03 August 2012 07:40:59PM *  3 points [-]

Note also that the King James translation was also a work of literature commissioned at great expense by a monarch with absolute power to choose all-stars.

Comment author: TitaniumDragon 24 February 2015 02:54:03AM -2 points [-]

It isn't a problem to judge things from different time periods; the Model-T might have been a decent car in 1910, but it is a lemon today.

New things are better than old things. I'd wager that the best EVERYTHING has been produced within the last few decades.

If you're judging "Which is better, X or Y," and X is much older than Y, it is very likely Y is better.

Comment author: Desrtopa 24 February 2015 03:46:30AM 1 point [-]

If we have incentive to continue to produce better things of that type, then probably, but sometimes the incentives we once had to do things well go away. There may not be any modern works of portrait painting which surpass premodern ones, for instance, because photography has removed a lot of the incentive to practice portrait painting.

Comment author: Lumifer 24 February 2015 04:16:38AM 2 points [-]

I'd wager that the best EVERYTHING has been produced within the last few decades.


Comment author: TitaniumDragon 24 February 2015 06:11:11AM 0 points [-]

Art is part of everything, so yes.

Photoshop allows artists to practice and produce works vastly more rapidly, correct errors quite easily, and otherwise do a ton of things they couldn't do before. Other such programs can do many of the same things.

More artists, plus better tools, plus faster production of art, plus better understanding of the technology of art, probably means that the best piece of art ever made was made in the last few decades.

Indeed, it is possible that more art will be produced in the first few decades of this century than were produced by all of humankind for the first several thousand years of our existence.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 February 2015 06:50:06AM 3 points [-]

You'll have to elaborate on what exactly you mean by 'good' and 'best' art here. A lot of people would very much prefer Bach to whatever has been produced in the last 10/20/... years.

Comment author: Vaniver 24 February 2015 03:05:21PM *  1 point [-]

Obviously, if "venerable" is the standard of better, TitaniumDragon's claim fails. And there are many cases where the customer is made worse off by innovations that benefit the producer, but overall the claim seems fine.

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.

Comment author: Epictetus 25 February 2015 07:57:44PM 3 points [-]

"More" and "faster" are not words commonly associated with quality art. Great art often takes years to produce. Technology may have been a limitation in architecture where a massive cathedral could take centuries to build, but on the scale of music or literature technological limitations were the minor hurdles. Computers certainly help things get published faster, but actually writing literature requires lots of thinking that really isn't facilitated by technology.

Comment author: Nornagest 25 February 2015 10:09:51PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure I agree. Many of history's best artists were extremely productive; Bach, for example, wrote over a thousand pieces.

Traditional sculpture and architecture could take years (or even decades, in the case of cathedrals) to complete, but that has more to do with the medium than anything inherent to great art. A mediocre marble sculpture doesn't take much less time than a good one, technology being equal.