Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

epigeios comments on Explaining vs. Explaining Away - Less Wrong

46 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 March 2008 01:59AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (98)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: epigeios 20 May 2013 10:22:29AM 0 points [-]

Well, I hate to say something against your post here, because I quite agree with it all. Except there is one Mind Projection Fallacy of which I question whether it was done on purpose. The fallacy where you are reducing the poem to it's parts.

The majority of poetry is metaphor. All of the specific examples in that poem are metaphors for the feeling of majesty. So to the poet, those three examples are quite the same. The poet's distaste for scientific reduction isn't that everything is explained away, it's that explaining something reduces it's perceived majesty.

Now, to us reductionists, it is the opposite. Explaining something increases it's perceived majesty. The more explanation required (literally required), the more majestic it is. The difference is a simple alignment of the feeling of majesty. Whether it be aligned to interpretation, or to perception.

So yes, believers in things will likely read the poem and presume that the poet means that rainbows are explained away. Most believers in things certainly react that way, including you. But that was not the intent of the poem (presuming the poet was not a hack). In modern times, the only reason that explanation of the poem is available to us is because we already know that mythical creatures (including ghosts) don't exist. The only reason that explanation of the poem is available to us is because most non-reductionists are actually reductionists, having a strong, deep belief that many things have been explained away by reduction.

However, back when mythical creatures like gnomes and haunts were imagined, it was not without a reason. Never assume that people are referring to mystical creatures and magic when they talk of their perception of reality. They are simply using metaphor to explain something their brain cannot grasp at the moment of perception. Most of the time, they don't even know they're doing it, and so believe the metaphor to be literal. But just because they use the wrong words, that doesn't mean their perception is false, only that their interpretation of their perception is false. The haunts in the air and the gnomes in the mine are still there, they're just not called "haunts" and "gnomes".

So, like the rainbow, haunts and gnomes were not explained away. All three were just explained. What was explained away was the interpretation. What was explained was the perception.