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MugaSofer comments on 37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong - Less Wrong

73 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 March 2008 05:09AM

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Comment author: Robin2 06 March 2008 07:43:31AM -1 points [-]

Hmm... while these are all useful guidelines for how to use words, but I don't think all of them define wrong ways of using words. For example "You use a short word for something that you won't need to describe often, or a long word for something you'll need to describe often. This can result in inefficient thinking, or even misapplications of Occam's Razor, if your mind thinks that short sentences sound "simpler"" Which sounds more plausible, "God did a miracle" or "A supernatural universe-creating entity temporarily suspended the laws of physics"? How is either of those sentences wrong? Sure one is longer than the other, but just because somebody doesn't know the word god or wants to explicitly define it doesn't mean they are wrong.

Ultimately, I think somebody can only be wrong when using a word if they contradict their own definition. Any other misusages are probably just using words inefficiently, rather than incorrectly.

Comment author: MugaSofer 10 April 2013 02:55:00PM 4 points [-]

"You use a short word for something that you won't need to describe often, or a long word for something you'll need to describe often. This can result in inefficient thinking, or even misapplications of Occam's Razor, if your mind thinks that short sentences sound "simpler"" Which sounds more plausible, "God did a miracle" or "A supernatural universe-creating entity temporarily suspended the laws of physics"? How is either of those sentences wrong? Sure one is longer than the other, but just because somebody doesn't know the word god or wants to explicitly define it doesn't mean they are wrong.

The point is that the longer sentence sounds less plausible. Using shorthand ("God" for "A supernatural universe-creating entity" and "miracle" for "temporarily suspended the laws of physics") makes the concept sound less improbable. Thus it is "wrong", in that it is a bad idea (supposedly.)

Comment author: PhilGoetz 17 December 2017 04:02:04PM 0 points [-]

But you're arguing against Eliezer, as "God" and "miracle" were (and still are) commonly-used words, and so Eliezer is saying those are good, short words for them.

Comment author: MugaSofer 05 January 2018 07:37:47PM *  0 points [-]

I don't think so - I think Eliezer's just being sloppy here. "God did a miracle" is supposed to be an example of something that sounds simple in plain English but is actually complex:

One observes that the length of an English sentence is not a good way to measure "complexity". [...] An enormous bolt of electricity comes out of the sky and hits something, and the Norse tribesfolk say, "Maybe a really powerful agent was angry and threw a lightning bolt." The human brain is the most complex artifact in the known universe. [...] The complexity of anger, and indeed the complexity of intelligence, was glossed over by the humans who hypothesized Thor the thunder-agent.

To a human, Maxwell's Equations take much longer to explain than Thor.