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Amanojack comments on Taboo Your Words - Less Wrong

71 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 February 2008 10:53PM

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Comment author: Amanojack 11 March 2010 05:45:26PM 2 points [-]

Albert says that people have "free will". Barry says that people don't have "free will". Well, that will certainly generate an apparent conflict. Most philosophers would advise Albert and Barry to try to define exactly what they mean by "free will", on which topic they will certainly be able to discourse at great length. I would advise Albert and Barry to describe what it is that they think people do, or do not have, without using the phrase "free will" at all. (If you want to try this at home, you should also avoid the words "choose", "act", "decide", "determined", "responsible", or any of their synonyms.)

Careful here. You may sometimes find that there was no coherent concept there to begin with, that the notion was simply semantic cotton candy whipped up out of the ambiguity of language.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 March 2010 07:59:56PM *  1 point [-]

Aside: Welcome to LessWrong! Feel free to introduce yourself. (I see you are already reading through a lot of the backlog - hope you're having fun!)

Regarding your point, I think it is important to figure out why they are proposing an incoherent concept - while it is sometimes because they are trolls or postmodernists (but I repeat myself edit: not really - the motives are different), it is more often because they are generalizing incorrectly from their mental experience.

Comment author: JGWeissman 11 March 2010 08:08:02PM 2 points [-]

while it is sometimes because they are trolls or postmodernists (but I repeat myself)

I'll agree that postmodernists say and believe lots of silly things, but do they really deserve that kick in the pants? It's not like they say those silly things for the same reasons trolls do, to deliberately upset people.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 March 2010 08:12:20PM *  0 points [-]

You're right - most of them are, so far as I can tell, in the generalizing-incorrectly category. I'll make an edit.

Comment author: Amanojack 11 March 2010 08:33:50PM *  0 points [-]

Thanks, I'm having a great time so far!

I actually had a simpler process in mind: someone puts some words together in a way that sounds plausible and like it should mean something, and it becomes a kind of philosophy meme. Someone once asked me, "Do you think mathematics is discovered or invented?" In hindsight I don't think anyone really had a clue what they meant by that dichotomy; it just had a profound-sounding ring to it.

Comment author: RobinZ 11 March 2010 08:46:40PM 1 point [-]

You can introduce yourself in the comments to "Welcome to LessWrong".

I'm not sure your mathematics example is accurately characterized, though - I would have guessed that the question arose from some historic tree-falling-in-a-forest discussion.

Comment author: Amanojack 12 March 2010 01:15:55AM *  3 points [-]

Quite possibly. However, I've noticed that even famous thinkers are very susceptible to this kind of error. Wittgenstein and Korzybski were some of the few I'm aware of that even seriously noted these kinds of semantic issues and tried to correct them systematically.

Once I get more comfortable here maybe I'll write a post to make the case (as it may sound a little unbelievable at this point). I must say I'm thoroughly impressed with the level to which semantic issues have been appreciated here so far.

Comment author: RobinZ 12 March 2010 01:19:56AM 0 points [-]

I'll look forward to it.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 27 November 2011 11:12:33PM 0 points [-]

Once I get more comfortable here maybe I'll write a post to make the case (as it may sound a little unbelievable at this point).

Is it up?

Comment author: orthonormal 12 March 2010 07:15:38AM 1 point [-]

I actually had a simpler process in mind: someone puts some words together in a way that sounds plausible and like it should mean something, and it becomes a kind of philosophy meme.

We're fortunate that there are also examples of this in scientific history, where we have a better chance of seeing what went conceptually wrong.

By the way, are you doing this in sequence, or have you read later posts yet? Dissolving the Question is pretty much exactly on this topic, and Righting a Wrong Question is also relevant.

Comment author: Amanojack 12 March 2010 11:02:04PM *  0 points [-]

I'm reading them pretty much in sequence. Dissolving the Question was excellent, and I just commented there. Although it's old, I feel this series of posts is the most critical, and also that there is much more to be said along these lines.

Comment author: Jack 12 March 2010 06:48:36AM *  0 points [-]

Careful here. You may sometimes find that there was no coherent concept there to begin with, that the notion was simply semantic cotton candy whipped up out of the ambiguity of language.

I'm actually pretty sure there is no coherent concept of free will as people usually understand it. I'm not sure it is simply cotton candy whipped up out of the ambiguity of the language, in fact I think if "free" means uncaused the concept is actually outright contradictory.

Also, it occurs to me that it just isn't always going to be possible to shed concepts like this. Eventually you just bump your head against fundamental concepts that can't be dissolved. This can be solved if you can perfectly represent the concepts mathematically, but if you can't I don't know where to go from there. This may have been happening in in the discussion of qualia a while back.

Comment author: pengvado 12 March 2010 08:54:21AM 0 points [-]

You don't really mean "can't be dissolved", right? Rather, there are some concepts which you may demonstrate to be incoherent, without simultaneously providing an explanation of how the mistaken concept came to be and what it should be replaced with. Such a concept is not dissolved yet.

Comment author: Jack 12 March 2010 09:18:01AM 0 points [-]

I mean something a little stronger than that. Like "can't be dissolved by unmodified human brains". I think some concepts may be basic to how we think, embedded in us through evolution and that because they're so basic it won't be possible for a normal human mind to dissolve them. In addition some of these concepts maybe somehow incoherent or confused, but the point in the second paragraph is independent of the first and could have been a standalone comment to the OP.

Comment author: Amanojack 12 March 2010 09:50:41PM *  0 points [-]

Eventually you just bump your head against fundamental concepts that can't be dissolved. This can be solved if you can perfectly represent the concepts mathematically, but if you can't I don't know where to go from there.

There may be undissolvable concepts in communication (words, mathematical symbols), which is an interesting question in its own right, but as single intelligences we aren't limited to communication devices for our thinking. Are we?

In answer to "where to go from here," I think we can imagine things far subtler than we can reliably convey to another mind. My answer has always been to think without words.

Comment author: calcsam 09 May 2011 08:00:24AM -1 points [-]

Amanojack, could you explain that more?

Comment author: wedrifid 09 May 2011 08:49:27AM -1 points [-]

Amanojack, could you explain that more?

Got a Tardis handy?

Comment author: Amanojack 10 May 2011 06:18:16PM 3 points [-]

About thinking without words?

When I was 10 years old I had a habit of talking to myself. Gradually my self-talk got more and more non-standard to the point where it would be impossible for others to understand, as I realized I didn't need to clarify the thoughts I was trying to convey to myself. I would understand them anyway. I started using made-up words for certain concepts, just as a memory aid. Eventually words become exclusively a memory aid, something to help my short-term memory stay on track, and I would go for minutes at a time without ever using any words in my thought processes.

I think the reason I started narrating my thoughts again is because I found it really hard to communicate with people due to the habits I had built up during all those conversations with myself. I would forget to put in context, use words in unusual ways, and otherwise fail to consider how lost the listener might be. You can have great ideas, but if you can't communicate them they don't count for anything socially - that is the message from society. So I think there is effectively some social pressure to use natural languages (English, etc.) in your thought processes, obscuring the fact that it can all happen more efficiently with minimal verbal interference. I think words can be strong corrupting influence in the thought process in general, the short argument being that they are designed for the notoriously limited and linear process of mouth-to-ear communication. There is a lot more I could say about that, if anyone is interested.

Comment author: k4ntico 27 November 2011 10:36:00AM *  0 points [-]

I think it solves lots of problems to view the matter of intelligence as a property of communications rather than one of agents. Of course, this is just a matter of focus, in order to clarify the idea you'll have to refer to agents. Receiving agents first of all, as producing agents are less of a necessity :) Which is in line with the main virtue of the move, that is to reframe all debates and research on intelligence that got naturally promoted by the primitive concern of comparing agent intelligence - to reframe them as background to the real problem which is to evolve the crowds - the mixtures of heterogeneous agent intelligences that we form - towards better intellectual coordination. To be honest and exhibit a problem the move creates rather than solves: how should the arguable characteristic property of math to allow intellectual coordination to progress without exchanging messages, be pictured in ?