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Will_Newsome comments on "Arbitrary" - Less Wrong

15 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 August 2008 05:55PM

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Comment author: Will_Newsome 23 May 2011 03:46:54AM 0 points [-]

I notice that notions like "arbitrary" and "justified" tend to pay close attention to context, and that it would be easy to confuse the contexts or get indignant when someone uses the idea of justification in a larger or different context than the one that you thought was the one at issue. I can think a Green Babyeater has a less arbitrary and more justified position than a Blue Babyeater in Babyeater politics and not think my use of arbitrariness and justification to analyze that situation is weird. Of course, if you thought we were talking about Green and Blue humans, this could lead to trouble. Thus...

And the upshot is that differently structured minds may well label different propositions with their analogues of the internal label "arbitrary" - though only one of these labels is what you mean when you say "arbitrary", so you and these other agents do not really have a disagreement.

This is true, of course, but humans seem to automatically be able to re-scale the concept of 'arbitrary' and 'justified' across larger and smaller contexts, and contexts where 'morality' or 'truth' aren't even relevant. So long as there is some kind of pattern. (0000000000000000000001000000... is pretty arbitrary, no? Maybe the '1' was an unjustified addition, or a moral error, or something...)

I should note that "arbitrary" might be somewhat reduced by trying to extract it not by thinking about the causal chain that led to a belief or value, but about what that causal chain implies about logical facts about the universe ('pattern attractors', like ferns growing fractally), how those logical facts would constrain counterfactual or non-local causal chains, and how that relates to the notion of an abstract idealized dynamic in contrast to our plain old causal history. Timeless validity instead of or at least in addition to causal validity.