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RationalObserver comments on Truly Part Of You - Less Wrong

59 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 November 2007 02:18AM

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Comment author: RationalObserver 28 October 2013 10:51:30AM 0 points [-]

The idea of a concept having or being a "source" seems odd to me. There are many ways of looking at the same concept or idea; oftentimes, the key to finding a new path is viewing an idea in a different way and seeing how it "pours", as you put it. The problem as I see it is that there are often many ways of deriving any particular idea, and no discernible reason to call any particular derivation the source. I find that my mind seems to work like a highly interconnected network, and deriving something is kind of like solving a system of equations, so that many missing pieces can be regenerated using the remaining pieces. My mind seems less like an ordered hierarchy and more like a graph in which ideas/concepts are often not individual nodes but instead highly connected subgraphs within the larger graph, such that there is the potential for vast overlap between concepts, no obvious ordering, and no obvious way to know when you truly "contain" all of some concept. I do understand that, at least for math, ability to derive something is a good measure for some level of understanding, but even within math there are many deep theorems or concepts that I hardly believe that I truly understand until I have analyzed (even if only briefly in my head) examples in which the theorem applies and (often more importantly, imo) examples in which the theorem does not apply. Even then, a new theorem or novel way of looking at it may enhance my understanding of the concept even further. The more I learn about the math, the more connections I make between different and even seemingly disparate topics. I don't see how to differentiate between 1) "containing" a thought and new connections "changing" it and 2) gaining new connections such that you contain more of the "source" for the thought.

Just my two cents.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 October 2013 02:40:06PM 0 points [-]

I'm inclined to agree.

This comes up again in ways that I care more about in the Metaethics Sequence, where much is made of the distinction between normal ("instrumental") values and the so-called "terminal" values that are presumed to be their source. In both cases it seems to me that a directional tree is being superimposed on what's actually a nondirectional network, and the sense of directionality is an illusion born of limited perspective.

That said, I'm not sure it makes much difference in practical terms.

Comment author: RationalObserver 28 October 2013 07:23:01PM 0 points [-]

I haven't read any of that yet, but it sounds interesting. I'm commenting on articles as I read them, going through the sequences as they are listed on the sequences page.

I think it makes a practical difference in actually understanding when you understand something. The practical advice given is to "contain" the "source" for each thought. The trouble is that I don't see how to understand when such a thing occurs, so the practical advice doesn't mean much to me. I don't see how to apply the advice given, but if I could I most definitely would, because I wish to understand everything I know. In part, writing my post was an attempt to make clear to myself why I didn't understand what was being said. I'm still kind of hoping I'm missing something important, because it would be awesome to have a better process for understanding what I understand.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 October 2013 08:25:19PM 0 points [-]

I expect that in practice, the advice to "contain the source for each thought" can be generalized into the advice to understand various paths to derive that thought and understand what those paths depend on, even if we discard the idea that there's some uniquely specifiable "source".

Which is why I'm not sure it makes much difference.

That said, I may not be the best guy to talk about this, as I'm not especially sympathetic to this whole "Truly Part of You" line of reasoning in the first place (as I think I mentioned in a comment somewhere in this sequence of posts a few years ago, back when I was reading through the sequences and commenting on articles as I went along, so you may come across it in your readings).

Comment author: RationalObserver 28 October 2013 09:08:34PM 1 point [-]

Hmm, perhaps I was reading too much into it, then. I already do that part, largely because I hate memorization and can fairly easily retain facts when they are within a conceptual framework.

It's intuitive that better understanding some concept or idea leads to better updating as well as better ability to see alternative routes involving the idea, but it seemed like there was something more being implied; it seemed like there he was making a special point of some plateau or milestone for "containment" of an idea, and I didn't understand what that meant. But, as I said, I was probably reading too much into it. Thanks, this was a pleasant discussion :)