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Hul-Gil comments on No Safe Defense, Not Even Science - Less Wrong

14 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 May 2008 05:19AM

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Comment author: Hul-Gil 18 April 2012 07:21:41PM *  1 point [-]

Not only this, but you can be obviously wrong. We look at people trusting in spontaneous generation, or a spirit theory of disease, and mock them - rightfully. They took "reasonable" explanations of ideas, tested them as best they could, and ended up with unreasonable confidence in utterly illogical ideas.

I don't believe most of the old "obviously wrong" beliefs, like a spirit theory of disease, were ever actually systematically tested. Experimentation doesn't prevent you from coming to silly conclusions, but it can throw out a lot of them.

(A nitpick: Either these things are only obviously wrong in retrospect, or they did not start with reasonable explanations. That is, either we cannot rightfully mock them, or the ideas were ridiculous from the beginning.)

As for the rest, I don't disagree with your assertions - only the (implied) view we should take of them. It is certainly true that science can be slow, and true that you can't ever really know if your explanation is the right one. But I think that emphasis on knowing "the real truth", the really right explanation, is missing the point a little; or, in fact, the idea of the One True Explanation itself is unproductive at best and incoherent at worst. After all, even if we eventually have such an understanding of the universe that we can predict the future in its entirety to the finest level of detail theoretically possible, our understanding could still be totally wrong as to what is "actually" happening. Think of Descartes' Evil Genius, for example. We could be very, very confident we had it right... but not totally sure.

But - once you are at this point, does it matter? The power of science and rationality lies in their predictive ability. Whether our understanding is the real deal or simply an "[apparently] perfect model" becomes immaterial. So I think yes, science can lead you to the right conclusion, if by "right" we mean "applicable to the observed world" and not The Undoubtable Truth. No such thing exists, after all.

The slowness is a disappointment, though. But it's accelerating!