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TheAncientGeek comments on On the importance of Less Wrong, or another single conversational locus - Less Wrong

84 Post author: AnnaSalamon 27 November 2016 05:13PM

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Comment author: TheAncientGeek 28 November 2016 06:16:14PM 2 points [-]

How many problems has the second sort solved?

Have you considered that there may be a lot of endless hashing out, not because some people have a preference for it, but because the problems are genuinely difficult?

Comment author: Vaniver 28 November 2016 08:04:10PM *  5 points [-]

How many problems has the second sort solved?

Too many for me to quickly count?

Have you considered that there may be a lot of endless hashing out, not because some people have a preference for it, but because the problems are genuinely difficult?

Yes. It seems to me that both of those factors drive discussions, and most conversations about philosophical problems can be easily classified as mostly driven by one or the other, and that it makes sense to separate out conversations where the difficulty is natural or manufactured.

I think a fairly large part of the difference between LWers and similarly intelligent people elsewhere is the sense that it is possible to differentiate conversations based on the underlying factors, and that it isn't always useful to manufacture difficulty as an opportunity to display intelligence.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 29 November 2016 10:44:47AM 2 points [-]

Too many for me to quickly count?

Name three, then. :)

Comment author: Vaniver 29 November 2016 04:18:16PM 3 points [-]

What I have in mind there is basically 'approaching philosophy like a scientist', and so under some views you could chalk up most scientific discoveries there. But focusing on things that seem more 'philosophical' than not:

How to determine causality from observational data; where the perception that humans have free will comes from; where human moral intuitions come from.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 04 December 2016 01:01:10PM *  2 points [-]

Approaching philosophy as science is not new. It has had a few spectacular successes, such as the wholesale transfer of cosmology from science to philosophy, and a lot of failures, judging by the long list of unanswered philosophical questions (about 200, according to wikipedia). It also has the special pitfall of philosophically uninformed scientists answering the wrong question:-

How to determine causality from observational data;

What causality is is the correct question/.

where the perception that humans have free will comes from;

Whether humans have the power of free will is the correct question.

where human moral intuitions come from.

Whether human moral intuitions are correct is the correct question.

Comment author: Vaniver 04 December 2016 09:46:56PM 2 points [-]

What causality is is the correct question/.

Oh, if you count that one as a question, then let's call that one solved too.

Whether humans have the power of free will is the correct question.

Disagree; I think this is what it looks like to get the question of where the perception comes from wrong.

Whether human moral intuitions are correct is the correct question.

Disagree for roughly the same reason; the question of where the word "correct" comes from in this statement seems like the actual query, and is part of the broader question of where human moral intuitions come from.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 05 December 2016 07:34:00PM *  1 point [-]

What causality is is the correct question/.

Oh, if you count that one as a question, then let's call that one solved too.

Solved where?

Whether humans have the power of free will is the correct question.

Disagree; I think this is what it looks like to get the question of where the perception comes from wrong.

How can philosophers be systematically wrong about the nature of their questions? And what makes you right?

Of course, inasmuch as you agree with Y., you are going to agree that the only question to be answered is where the perception comes for, but this is about truth, not opinion: the important point is that he never demonstrated that.

Whether human moral intuitions are correct is the correct question.

Disagree for roughly the same reason; the question of where the word "correct" comes from in this statement seems like the actual query, and is part of the broader question of where human moral intuitions come from.

if moral intuitions come from God, that might underpin correctness, but things are much less straightforward in naturalistic explanations.

Comment author: Vaniver 15 December 2016 01:29:01AM *  3 points [-]

Solved where?

On one level, by the study of dynamical systems and the invention of differential equations.

On a level closer to what you meant when you asked the question, most of the confusing things about 'causality' are actually confusing things about the way our high-level models of the world interact with the world itself.

The problem of free will is a useful example of this. People draw this picture that looks like [universe] -> [me] -> [my future actions], and get confused, because it looks like either determinism (the idea that [universe] -> [my future actions] ) isn't correct or the intuitive sense that I can meaningfully choose my future actions (the idea that [me] -> [my future actions] ) isn't correct.

But the actual picture is something like [universe: [me] -> [my future actions] ]. That is, I am a higher-level concept in the universe, and my future actions are a higher-level concept in the universe, and the relationship between the two of them is also a higher-level concept in the universe. Both determinism and the intuitive sense that I can meaningfully choose my future actions are correct, and there isn't a real conflict between them. (The intuitive sense mostly comes from the fact that the higher level concept is a lossy compression mechanism; if I had perfect self-knowledge, I wouldn't have any uncertainty about my future actions, but I don't have perfect self-knowledge. It also comes from the relative importance of decision-making as a 'natural concept' in the whole 'being a human' business.)

And so when philosophers ask questions like "When the cue ball knocks the nine ball into the corner pocket, what are the terms of this causal relation?" (from SEP), it seems to me like what they're mostly doing is getting confused about the various levels of their models, and mistaking properties of their models for properties of the territory.

That is, in the territory, the wavefunction of the universe updates according to dynamical equations, and that's that. It's only by going to higher level models that things like 'cause' and 'effect' start to become meaningful, and different modeling choices lead to different forms of cause and effect.

Now, there's an underlying question of how my map came to believe the statement about the territory that begins the previous paragraph, and that is indeed an interesting question with a long answer. There are also lots of subtle points, about stuff like that it's interesting that we don't really need an idea of counterfactuals to describe the universe and the dynamical equations but we do need an idea of counterfactuals to describe higher-level models of the universe that involve causality. But as far as I can tell, you don't get the main point right by talking about causal relata and you don't get much out of talking about the subtle points until you get the main point right.

To elaborate a bit on that, hopefully in a way that makes it somewhat clearer why I find it aggravating or difficult to talk about why my approach on philosophy is better, typically I see a crisp and correct model that, if accepted, obsoletes other claims almost accidentally. If you accept the [universe: [me] -> [my future actions] ] model of free will, for example, then nearly everything written about why determinism is correct / incorrect or free will exists / doesn't exists is just missing the point and is implicitly addressed by getting the point right, and explicitly addressing it looks like repeating the point over and over again.

This is also where the sense that they're wrong about questions is coming from; compare to Babbage being surprised when a MP asked if his calculator would give the right output if given the wrong inputs. If they're asking X, then something else is going wrong upstream, and fixing that seems better than answering that question.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 15 December 2016 01:39:02PM *  1 point [-]

What causality is is the correct question/.

Oh, if you count that one as a question, then let's call that one solved too.

Solved where?

On one level, by the study of dynamical systems and the invention of differential equations.

Nope. On most of the detailed questions a philosopher might want to ask about causality , physics comes down firmly on both sides. Physics is not monolothic.

Does causality imply determinism? (In)determinism is an open question in physics. Note that "differential equations" are used in both classical (deterministic by most accounts) and quantum (indeterminstic by most accounts) physics.

Must causes precede effects? Perhaps not, if timeless physics, or the theory of closed timelike curves, is correct.

Is causality fundamental? It is in causal dynamic triangulation, and a few other things. otherwise not.

Both determinism and the intuitive sense that I can meaningfully choose my future actions are correct, and there isn't a real conflict between them.

Which may be true or false depending on whatever "meaningfully" means. If "meaningful" means choosing between more than one possible future, as required by libertarian free will, then determinism definitely excludes meaningful choice, since it excludes the existence of more than one possible future.

The main problem here is vagueness: you didn't define "free will" or "meaningful". Philosophers have known for a long time that people who think free will is compatible with determinism are defining it one way, and people who think it is not are defining it another way. If you had shown that the libertarian version of free will is compatible with determinism, you would have shown something momentous , but you actually haven't shown anything because you haven't defined "free will" or "meaningful".

Incidentally, you have also smuggled in the idea that the universe actually is, categorically, deterministic. (Compatibilism is usually phrased hypothetically). As noted, that is actually an open question.

The intuitive sense mostly comes from the fact that the higher level concept is a lossy compression mechanism;

Explaining the feeling of having free will, is a third definition, something different yet again. You don't see much about in mainstream philosophical literature because the compatibility between a false impression of X and the non-existence of X is too obvious to be worth pointing out -- not because it is some great insight that philosophers have never had because they are too dumb.

Having a false impression of X is the least meaningful version of X, surely!

That is, in the territory, the wavefunction of the universe updates according to dynamical equations, and that's that. It's only by going to higher level models that things like 'cause' and 'effect' start to become meaningful, and different modeling choices lead to different forms of cause and effect.

So is causality entirely high level or does it have a fundamental basis?

To elaborate a bit on that, hopefully in a way that makes it somewhat clearer why I find it aggravating or difficult to talk about why my approach on philosophy

I find it aggravating to keep pointing out to people that they haven't in any way noticed the real problem. It seems to you that you have solved the problem of free will just because you are using concepts in such a vague way that you can;t get a handle on the real problem.

Comment author: Viliam 16 December 2016 09:31:29AM *  1 point [-]

(In)determinism is an open question in physics. Note that "differential equations" are used in both classical (deterministic by most accounts) and quantum (indeterminstic by most accounts) physics.

For the human level, it is irrelevant whether quantum physics is lawfully deterministic or lawfully following a quantum random number generator. It is still atoms boucing according to equations, except that in one case those equations include a computation of a random number. If every atom is secretly holding a coin that it flips whenever it bounces off another atom, from the human level it makes no difference.

People are often mesmerized by the word "indeterministic", because they interpret it as "that means magic is possible, and my thoughts actually could be changing the physical events directly". But that absolutely doesn't follow. It the atoms flips a coin whenever it bounces off another atom, that is still completely unrelated to the content of my thoughts.

Quantum experiments that show how particles follow some statistical patterns when moving through two slits, still don't show any connection between the movement of the particle and the human thought. So this is all a huge red herring.

If you don't understand how whether the atom is flipping a truly random coin when bouncing off another atom, or whether it only follows a computation that doesn't include a random coin is completely irrelevant for debating human "free will", then you are simply confused about the topic.

Maybe this will help:

Imagine that a master has two slaves. The first slave receives a command "today, you will pick cotton the whole day". The second slave receives a command "today in the morning, your foreman will flip a coin -- if it lands head, you will pick cotton the whole day; if it lands tails, you will clean the stables the whole day". Is the second slave any more "free" than the first one? (Just because until the foreman flips the coin he is unable to predict what he will be doing today? How is that relevant to freedom? If the foreman instead of a coin uses a quantum device and sends an electron through two slits, does that make the difference?)

Comment author: Vaniver 15 December 2016 06:59:04PM 0 points [-]

I find it aggravating to keep pointing out to people that they haven't in any way noticed the real problem. It seems to you that you have solved the problem of free will just because you are using concepts in such a vague way that you can;t get a handle on the real problem.

What process do you use to determine which problem is more 'real'? That seems like our core disagreement, and we can probably discuss that more fruitfully.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 15 December 2016 02:47:18PM *  0 points [-]

Vaniver was saying that causality is entirely high level.

That cannot be the case, though, because it means that causality itself is caused by the low level, which is a contradiction.

The true meaning of cause is just "what has something else coming from it, namely when it can help to explain the thing that comes from it." This cannot be reduced to something else, because the thing it was supposedly reduced to would be what causality is from, and would help to explain it, leading to a contradiction.

Comment author: WalterL 01 December 2016 07:44:23PM 0 points [-]

Scientists don't approach philosophy though, they run screaming in the other dimension.

The Scientific Method doesn't work on untestable stuff.

Comment author: MugaSofer 29 November 2016 12:02:42PM *  3 points [-]

Off the top of my head: Fermat's Last Theorem, whether slavery is licit in the United States of America, and the origin of species.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 29 November 2016 01:59:44PM -2 points [-]

Is that a joke?

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 29 November 2016 03:16:48PM 1 point [-]

to Too many for me to quickly count?

The last time I counted I came up with two and a half.

Comment author: eagain 23 January 2017 08:25:07PM 0 points [-]

Have you considered that there may be a lot of endless hashing out, not because some people have a preference for it, but because the problems are genuinely difficult?

I've considered that view and found it wanting, personally. Not every problem can be solved right now with an empirical test or a formal model. However, most that can be solved right now, can be solved in such a way, and most that can't be solved in such a way right now, can't be solved at all right now. Adding more "hashing out of big questions" doesn't seem to actually help; it just results in someone eventually going meta and questioning whether philosophy is even meant to make progress towards truth and understand anyway.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 23 January 2017 10:22:27PM 0 points [-]

Can you tell which problems can never be solved?

Comment author: eagain 02 February 2017 05:13:16AM 0 points [-]

Only an ill-posed problem can never be solved, in principle.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 03 February 2017 01:40:53PM 0 points [-]

Is there a clear, algorithmic way of determining which problems are ill posed?

Comment author: Cloakless 16 July 2017 05:03:28PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, you just need a halting oracle and you're sorted.