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

Trying to Try

38 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 October 2008 08:58AM

"No!  Try not!  Do, or do not.  There is no try."
        —Yoda

Years ago, I thought this was yet another example of Deep Wisdom that is actually quite stupid.  SUCCEED is not a primitive action.  You can't just decide to win by choosing hard enough.  There is never a plan that works with probability 1.

But Yoda was wiser than I first realized.

The first elementary technique of epistemology—it's not deep, but it's cheap—is to distinguish the quotation from the referent.  Talking about snow is not the same as talking about "snow".  When I use the word "snow", without quotes, I mean to talk about snow; and when I use the word ""snow"", with quotes, I mean to talk about the word "snow".  You have to enter a special mode, the quotation mode, to talk about your beliefs.  By default, we just talk about reality.

If someone says, "I'm going to flip that switch", then by default, they mean they're going to try to flip the switch.  They're going to build a plan that promises to lead, by the consequences of its actions, to the goal-state of a flipped switch; and then execute that plan.

No plan succeeds with infinite certainty.  So by default, when you talk about setting out to achieve a goal, you do not imply that your plan exactly and perfectly leads to only that possibility.  But when you say, "I'm going to flip that switch", you are trying only to flip the switch—not trying to achieve a 97.2% probability of flipping the switch.

So what does it mean when someone says, "I'm going to try to flip that switch?"

Well, colloquially, "I'm going to flip the switch" and "I'm going to try to flip the switch" mean more or less the same thing, except that the latter expresses the possibility of failure.  This is why I originally took offense at Yoda for seeming to deny the possibility.  But bear with me here.

Much of life's challenge consists of holding ourselves to a high enough standard.  I may speak more on this principle later, because it's a lens through which you can view many-but-not-all personal dilemmas—"What standard am I holding myself to?  Is it high enough?"

So if much of life's failure consists in holding yourself to too low a standard, you should be wary of demanding too little from yourself—setting goals that are too easy to fulfill.

Often where succeeding to do a thing, is very hard, trying to do it is much easier.

Which is easier—to build a successful startup, or to try to build a successful startup?  To make a million dollars, or to try to make a million dollars?

So if "I'm going to flip the switch" means by default that you're going to try to flip the switch—that is, you're going to set up a plan that promises to lead to switch-flipped state, maybe not with probability 1, but with the highest probability you can manage—

—then "I'm going to 'try to flip' the switch" means that you're going to try to "try to flip the switch", that is, you're going to try to achieve the goal-state of "having a plan that might flip the switch".

Now, if this were a self-modifying AI we were talking about, the transformation we just performed ought to end up at a reflective equilibrium—the AI planning its planning operations.

But when we deal with humans, being satisfied with having a plan is not at all like being satisfied with success.  The part where the plan has to maximize your probability of succeeding, gets lost along the way.  It's far easier to convince ourselves that we are "maximizing our probability of succeeding", than it is to convince ourselves that we will succeed.

Almost any effort will serve to convince us that we have "tried our hardest", if trying our hardest is all we are trying to do.

"You have been asking what you could do in the great events that are now stirring, and have found that you could do nothing. But that is because your suffering has caused you to phrase the question in the wrong way... Instead of asking what you could do, you ought to have been asking what needs to be done."
        —Steven Brust, The Paths of the Dead

When you ask, "What can I do?", you're trying to do your best.  What is your best?  It is whatever you can do without the slightest inconvenience.  It is whatever you can do with the money in your pocket, minus whatever you need for your accustomed lunch.  What you can do with those resources, may not give you very good odds of winning.  But it's the "best you can do", and so you've acted defensibly, right?

But what needs to be done?  Maybe what needs to be done requires three times your life savings, and you must produce it or fail.

So trying to have "maximized your probability of success"—as opposed to trying to succeed—is a far lesser barrier.  You can have "maximized your probability of success" using only the money in your pocket, so long as you don't demand actually winning.

Want to try to make a million dollars?  Buy a lottery ticket.  Your odds of winning may not be very good, but you did try, and trying was what you wanted.  In fact, you tried your best, since you only had one dollar left after buying lunch.  Maximizing the odds of goal achievement using available resources: is this not intelligence?

It's only when you want, above all else, to actually flip the switch—without quotation and without consolation prizes just for trying—that you will actually put in the effort to actually maximize the probability.

But if all you want is to "maximize the probability of success using available resources", then that's the easiest thing in the world to convince yourself you've done.  The very first plan you hit upon, will serve quite well as "maximizing"—if necessary, you can generate an inferior alternative to prove its optimality.  And any tiny resource that you care to put in, will be what is "available".  Remember to congratulate yourself on putting in 100% of it!

Don't try your best.  Win, or fail.  There is no best.

 

Part of the sequence Challenging the Difficult

Next post: "Use the Try Harder, Luke"

Previous post: "New Improved Lottery"

Comments (39)

Sort By: Old
Comment author: Florent 01 October 2008 09:19:29AM 17 points [-]

Remember Morpheus, in The Matrix movie, saying to Neo :

"Come on! Stop trying to hit me, and hit me!"

That seemed pretty efficient.

Comment author: poor&dumb 01 October 2008 09:24:52AM 0 points [-]

There are many things worth just "trying your best". I try to understand many of Eliezer's posts and when I succeed (once in a long while) I find it very rewarding. I understood this one. And the one about the zebra. Son it's not a complete waste of my time. (Some would say: "your employer's time". Whatever) However, if I were to put enough effort into it to understand his posts always, I'd probably be fired for one of two reasons: wasting too much paper printing articles not related to work, or not doing any work. (Either that or I would have to have my own Internet connection, my own computer and so on, but I'd rather eat) So I'm quite happy with just trying.

Comment author: DanielLC 06 September 2010 04:05:22PM 4 points [-]

But you're not "trying your best". That implies you're trying to convince yourself that you're trying your best. You know it's not worth doing. You're just trying the optimal amount.

Comment author: Mikko 01 October 2008 09:52:15AM 1 point [-]

I think Yoda's comment is more an user's guide to mental machinery than reflection on reality. To create something new, you first create a vision. Vision without failure is in many ways more powerful than vision with failure. (Obviously, in most other ways it is worse.) Creating new things is difficult even without you second-guessing yourself even before you begin.

Comment author: Will_Pearson 01 October 2008 11:16:52AM 0 points [-]

I personally evaluate people saying they will try to do X, as if X is not always their highest priority, and other things might take precedence so the resources aren't always available to do X.

"I'm going to try to prove P != NP", means they might give up at some point and do something else when progress seems unlikely. With regards to FAI, I think the phrasing of your commitment to building it that would be most acceptable to the public without saying try would be "I'm going to figure out if building FAI is possible, and if it is build it".

I regard people saying, "I'm going to build a FAI that stably recursively self-improves," as somewhat similar to people saying, "I'm going to build a worm whole device".

Comment author: alexandros2 01 October 2008 11:19:34AM 0 points [-]

sometimes, when you can not come up with a realistic plan to actually 'do' something, isn't it the best course of action to go brute-force and try to do whatever you can in the area in the hope that a path will eventually become available?

I heard a similar argument about our rush to cure cancer when we don't really understand DNA yet. Wouldn't it be more efficient to devote a lot of effort to understanding DNA, see what comes up and then go towards curing cancer? Arguably this top-down approach to medicine (what chemical can I throw at this disease?) is a source of a lot of negative side-effects of modern medicine. Maybe a bottom-up (how does this disease work? what does it effect? how does that work?) approach will take longer but give better results and produce more reusable knowledge.

Of course, this is easy to say, but when your relative is dying of cancer you have little time to ponder on the way information is encoded in DNA.

Perhaps there is a good analogy with forward-chaining and backward-chaining here? when backward-chaining is not giving you any solutions, maybe it would be beneficial to start examining the current situation and the alternative paths forward in the hope of one of them giving a path towards the goal?

of course none of this goes against the main point, that claiming to try is already making excuses for failure and therefore not really attacking the problem at full strength.

Comment author: Will_Pearson 01 October 2008 11:22:31AM 0 points [-]

Hole, even. Damn homophones.

Comment author: Stuart_Armstrong 01 October 2008 11:45:13AM 8 points [-]

The quote still annoys me, despite your interpretation. Maybe for very important things, we must avoid "trying" and really do all we can.

But when giving up is a reasonable option, or when resources are scarce, trying is exactly what we need to do. When I was younger, I tried being an historian, and tried being a mathematician. I failed in the first one, and succeeded in the second. I could have done more for the first - I could have put in all possible efforts, forgone sleep and other distractions, etc... But it would have been dumb. If things are hard, and not that important, superficial trying is exactly what is called for.

Luke's response to Yoda should have been "I will try and lift it out using the force. If that fails, I will try and lever it out. If that fails, I will build a crane and try and lift it out. If that fails, I will try and find out if there's another way of getting off the planet..."

Comment author: Aron 01 October 2008 11:56:20AM 0 points [-]

Apparently Luke didn't have to try for very long: http://www.cracked.com/article_16625_p2.html

We'll likely see how long someone can spend straining to lift the starship out of the swamp with no success before giving up. More zebras than jedi masters in this near,near galaxy.

Comment author: KatjaGrace 01 October 2008 12:05:15PM 6 points [-]

To say that you will achieve anything worth achieving is to arrogantly imply that you believe yourself better than those around you who accept their exempting limitations. Thus it is necessary to say that you are 'trying', as a clear message that you understand that you won't actually succeed. The danger is of then forgetting not to merely 'try'.

Comment author: sammy 01 October 2008 12:48:25PM 0 points [-]

To say that you will try instead of do just indicates to the receiver of the message that there is a relatively large probability of failure.

Comment author: burger_flipper2 01 October 2008 01:46:09PM 0 points [-]

I wonder if a sinecure isn't a similar pitfall for someone who's out to save the world.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 01 October 2008 02:08:00PM 2 points [-]

I wonder if nerdish literalism is a problem here. Saying "I will do X" when I can't rationally assign a high probability to success feels like dishonest overconfidence - and if I fail, it'll have been an outright lie.

Comment author: Ian_C. 01 October 2008 02:33:40PM 0 points [-]

When Yoda said "there is no try," I took it more literally. In the absence of human concepts there is no "try," there is only things that act or don't act. Let go of your mind and all that.

Comment author: Anittah_Patrick 01 October 2008 03:47:51PM 1 point [-]

Just do it?

Git 'er done?

Let's get it done?

Comment author: pdf23ds 01 October 2008 04:11:49PM 0 points [-]

Will, I think a "worm whole" device would be pretty challenging too, and perhaps even worthwhile. You could use the basic techniques to create a "finger whole" device for victims of industrial (or kitchen) accidents.

Comment author: Ken5 01 October 2008 04:25:29PM 0 points [-]

Stuart: "Luke's response to Yoda should have been "I will try and lift it out using the force. If that fails, I will try and lever it out. If that fails ...""

Then Luke would have succeeded at rescuing his craft, but made no progress in learning The Force, and the Dark Side would have ruled the galaxy. :-)

Nick: "I wonder if nerdish literalism is a problem here. Saying "I will do X" when I can't rationally assign a high probability to success feels like dishonest overconfidence - and if I fail, it'll have been an outright lie."

No, that's the point exactly. Your body will adapt its own behavior to be in accord with your mind. (It's the old "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right".) It's easy to demonstrate: run 10 miles saying "I'm a great runner, I'm strong, I'm fast, ...", and then next week run 10 miles saying "I hate running, I'm weak, I'm hungover, I'm slow, ...". Your body doesn't want to live the lie, so it *makes* your internal monologue true. When you commit completely to something, you can accomplish much more than you think you can. (Damn, I sound like a cheesy motivational speaker.)

Comment author: Caledonian2 01 October 2008 04:29:58PM 0 points [-]

Yoda's point was that the Force did not make distinctions such as 'size', and that it was Luke's preconceptions and biases that were preventing him from lifting the fighter.

Luke saw a difference between lifting small rocks and lifting the fighter, and his perceptions caused his attempts to fail. Yoda was trying to teach him that the only real obstacle was his disbelief and the failure to react correctly resulting from the disbelief.

For Jedi, there really isn't such a thing as 'trying'. There is only success, and not permitting yourself to succeed.

This would be a lot easier to explain if you people understood more about Taoism.

Comment author: pdf23ds 01 October 2008 04:39:25PM 0 points [-]

For Jedi, there really isn't such a thing as 'trying'. There is only success, and not permitting yourself to succeed.

I wonder how that works in a Jedi fight to the death.

Comment author: Alan_Crowe 01 October 2008 04:40:53PM 2 points [-]

Wearing my mechanical engineer's hat I say "Don't be heavy handed.". Set your over-force trips low. When the switch is hard to flip or the mechanism is reluctant to operate, fail and signal the default over-force exception.

You can always wiggle it, or lubricate it and try again, provided you haven't forced it and broken it. For me, trying is about running the compiler with the switches set to retain debugging information and running the code in verbose mode. It is about setting up a receiver down-range. Maybe the second rocket will blow up, just like the first did, but at least I will still be recording the telemetry.

I think that Plan A will be stymied by Problem Y, but I try it anyway, before I try to solve Problem Y. My optimistic side is hoping Problem Y might not actually matter, while my pessimistic side thinks Problem X is lurking in the shadows, ready to emerge and kill Plan A whether I solve Problem Y or not.

I *try* in order to gain information.

It is usually important to procede with confidence. When things go wrong they throw off fragments of broken machinery and fragments of information. Suprised, we fail to catch the flying fragments of information, and must try again, forewarned.

Two meanings of the word "try" fight for mind share.

To try: to position oneself in the right spot to catch the flying fragments of information flung out from failure.

To try: The psychological mechanism that lets us fail through faint-heartedness, again and again, but never quite understand why.

Two meanings sharing a word is a common problem with natural language. The particular danger I see for Eliezer is when the second meaning hides the first.

He says he isn't ready to write code. If you don't try to code up a general artificial intelligence you don't succeed, but you don't fail either. So you can't fail earlier and harder than you ever expected and cannot suspect that the singular is far. If you won't try, you'll never know.

Comment author: Caledonian2 01 October 2008 06:12:50PM 1 point [-]

I wonder how that works in a Jedi fight to the death.

Since they only use the Force for knowledge and defense, the one who sacrifices his defense to attempt an attack will be the one that loses. (See the old story about the duel between two samurai, one of which specialized in finding weaknesses in defenses and exploiting them, the other of which specialized in perfect defenses.)

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 01 October 2008 06:29:45PM 4 points [-]

He says he isn't ready to write code. If you don't try to code up a general artificial intelligence you don't succeed, but you don't fail either.

Would people stop saying that! It is highly irresponsible in the context of general AI! (Well, at least the self-improving form of general AI, a.k.a., seed AI. I'm not qualified to say whether a general AI not deliberately designed for self-improvement might self-improve anyways.)

Noodling around with general-AI designs is the most probable of the prospective causes of the extinction of Earth-originating intelligence and life. Global warming is positively benign in comparison.

Eliezer of course will not be influenced by taunts of, "Show us the code," but less responsible people might be.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 October 2008 08:24:12PM 0 points [-]

"The very best you can possibly do is the point at which the real work begins."

Comment author: Pete2 01 October 2008 11:07:53PM -2 points [-]

It took you 28 years to realize this?

Comment author: Jef_Allbright 01 October 2008 11:20:09PM -1 points [-]

It seems you've missed the point here on a point common to Eastern Wisdom and to systems theory. The "deep wisdom" which you would mock refers to the deep sense there is no actual "self" separate from that which acts, thus thinking in terms of "trying" is an incoherent and thus irrelevant distraction. Other than its derivative implication that to squander attention is to reduce one's effectiveness, it says nothing about the probability of success, which in systems-theoretic terms is necessarily outside the agent's domain.

Reminds me of the frustratingly common incoherence of people thinking that they decide intentionally according to their innate values, in ignorance of the reality that they are nothing more nor less than the values expressed by their nature.

Comment author: Dagon 02 October 2008 12:19:00AM 0 points [-]

This seems a dumb semantic mistake, not a deep truth. You're confusing "going to" as a prediction and "going to" as a statement of intent. You might prefer the word "intend" if that's what you mean. And however you phrase it, there is uncertainty in both your chance of success, and limits to the amount of effort and risk you'll undertake to accomplish this particular mission.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 02 October 2008 12:28:02AM 0 points [-]

You're confusing "going to" as a prediction and "going to" as a statement of intent.

Thanks for bringing this up. My comment above can be read as basically complaining about this double meaning.

Reminds me of the importance of overconfidence to business success, somehow....

Comment author: rw 02 October 2008 12:40:31AM -1 points [-]

"You have to enter a special mode, the quotation mode, to talk about your beliefs. By default, we just talk about reality."

This is a false dichotomization. Everything is reality! Speaking of thoughts as if the "mental" is separate from the "physical" indicates implicit dualism.

Comment author: Niko 02 October 2008 02:49:51AM 0 points [-]

To facilitate an outcome it must first 'become' the facilitator.

Comment author: Cyan2 02 October 2008 02:56:18AM 1 point [-]

This is a false dichotomization. Everything is reality!

"Quotation mode" is analogous to an escape character. There's no dualism here.

Comment author: Nate_Barna 02 October 2008 03:04:03AM 0 points [-]

Initially, I also thought this blog entry was faulty. But there indeed seems to be an important difference between having the goal do-A, and succeeding only when A, and having the goal try-A, and succeeding when only a finger (or a hyperactuator in my case) was lifted toward A.

rw: Everything is reality! Speaking of thoughts as if the "mental" is separate from the "physical" indicates implicit dualism.

One may note that if "mental events" M1 and M2 occur as "physical events" P1 and P2 occur, doing surgery at the P-level could yield better Ps for Ms than doing surgery at the M-level.

Comment author: Paavo_Ojala 02 October 2008 04:03:58AM 1 point [-]

This is what i argue a lot about with my girlfriend. Am I really trying? What does it mean when I say, that I'll try to be better listener or whatever? She always calls my bluff. I'm only promising to try. But that is what i mean. I'll do what i can with the resources I have, I won't promise more than I can deliver.

But what about hypnosis? A hypnotist says to his subject, that try to lift your hand, and the subject can't do that. But when he says to lift your hand, the subject will do this. So in Suggestion, saying "try to do this" means "don't do it".

I hope to read a follow-up post about hypnotism, and trying to try. I've only seen abridged display of hypnosis in my medical studies, not the whole thing from start to finish. But the answer about what "trying" means lies there. When hypnotist says "forget the pain" some people really do when they wouldn't be able to it by themselves however much they tried. I guess hypnotist is only a specialist in making people believe that they have to do something, and there is no possibility of failure.

Comment author: Future_light_cone 02 October 2008 07:11:33AM 0 points [-]

If you can answer 'yes' to every "is x possible?" question about the problem, like

Is intelligence possible? Yes. (I am a mind.) Can it be instantiated in a machine? Yes. (Minds are machines.) Is looking at your own mind's code, understanding it, and improving it possible? Yes. (I can understand code, but, alas, my brain is not available for me to hack. A mind made of code doesn't have this limitation.)

you can say "What's the use of trying? It's but a matter of doing it. I will simply do it. I will begin now. I will stop when I'm done." When you know that success is not forbidden by the laws of physics, trying ends and doing begins.

Right now I am doing and at one point in time I will say: "It worked." The only thing that is uncertain is when.

Comment author: Will_Pearson 02 October 2008 02:49:14PM 0 points [-]

If you can answer 'yes' to every "is x possible?" question about the problem, like

Is intelligence possible? Yes. (I am a mind.) Can it be instantiated in a machine? Yes. (Minds are machines.) Is looking at your own mind's code, understanding it, and improving it possible? Yes. (I can understand code, but, alas, my brain is not available for me to hack. A mind made of code doesn't have this limitation.)

you can say "What's the use of trying? It's but a matter of doing it. I will simply do it. I will begin now. I will stop when I'm done." When you know that success is not forbidden by the laws of physics, trying ends and doing begins.

Right now I am doing and at one point in time I will say: "It worked." The only thing that is uncertain is when.

There are questions I can't answer about the problem.

Does human-level intelligence require some sort of changing of the source code in itself, experimentally at a local level? Neurons have no smarts in them implicitly, we share the same type of neurons with babies. What makes us smart is how they are connected. Which changes on a daily basis, if not at shorter time scales. Is it possible to alter this kind of computer system from the outside, to make it "better" if it is changing itself. If you freeze a copy of your software brain, you will change during the time you investigate your own smarts, and any changes you then apply back to you may be incompatible or non-optimal with the changes your brain made to itself.

In short I think is plausible that there are computer systems I cannot understand and improve the software of on a high level rational level. And that my own mind might be one of them.

Comment author: SL5 02 October 2008 07:45:58PM 0 points [-]

Before the project to actually build space flight capability (or nuclear explosives or computers or any other friggin' hard thing) was started, engineers had to have 'yes' to every "is x possible" question. If they had a 'dunno', they had to figure it out, experimentally or/and theoretically. If something was a 'no' - there was no point in trying.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feasibility_study

Comment author: subod_83 15 April 2010 07:45:14PM 8 points [-]

There's a familiar story - maybe you’ve heard it - a story about a proud young man who came to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, "O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge."

Socrates led the young man through the streets of the town - down to the sea - and chest deep into water. Then he asked, "What do you want?"

"Knowledge, O wise Socrates," said the young man with a smile.

Socrates put his strong hands on the man's shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. "What do you want?" he asked again.

"Knowledge," the young man sputtered, "O great and wise Socrates."

Socrates pushed him under again. Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five. Forty. Socrates let him up. The man was gasping. What do you want, young man?"

Between heavy, heaving breaths the fellow wheezed, "Knowledge, O wise and wonderful..."

Socrates jammed him under again. Forty seconds passed. Fifty. "What do you want?"

"Air!" he screeched. "I need air!"

"When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge."

Can you choose to try harder than you actually are? Isn't that like choosing to believe? I always thought you either believe or you don't. We don't have a choice in the matter. Do we?

Comment author: accolade 27 September 2013 01:23:57AM 1 point [-]

[ TL;DR keywords in bold ]

Assuming freedom of will in the first place, why should you not be able to choose to try harder? Doesn't that just mean allocating more effort to the activity at hand?

Did you mean to ask "Can you choose to do better than your best?" ? That would indeed seem similar to the doubtable idea of selecting beliefs arbitrarily. By definition of "best", you can not do better than it. But that can be 'circumvented' by introducing different points in time: Let's say at t=1 your muscle capacity enables you to lift up to 10 kg. You can not actually choose to lift more. You can try, but would fail. But you can choose to do weight training, with the effect that until t=2 you have raised your lifting power to 20 kg. So you can do better (at t=2) than your best (at t=1).

But Eliezer's point was a different one, to my understanding: He suggested that when you say (and more or less believe) that you "try your best", you are wrong automatically. (But only lying to the extent of your awareness of this wrongness.) Because you do better when setting out to "succeed" instead of to "try"; because these different mindsets influence your chances of success.

About belief choice: Believing is not a simply choosable action like any other. But I can imagine ways to alter one's own beliefs (indirectly), at least in theory:

  • Influencing reality: one example is the aforementioned weightlifting: That is a device for changing the belief "I am unable to lift 20 kg" - by changing the actual state of reality over time.
  • Reframing a topic, concentrating on different (perspectives on) parts of the available evidence, could alter your conclusion.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy effects, when you are aware of them, create cases where you may be able to select your belief. Quoting Hery Ford:

    If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.

    If you believe this quote, then you can select whether to believe in yourself, since you know you will be right either way.

  • (Possibly a person who has developed a certain kind of mastery over her own mind can spontaneously program herself to believe something.)

(More examples of manipulating one's own beliefs, there in the form of "expectancy", can be found under "Optimizing Optimism" in How to Beat Procrastination. You can also Google "change beliefs" for self-help approaches to the question. Beware of pseudoscience, though.)

Comment author: Abd 02 November 2012 10:57:19PM -1 points [-]

The usage of "try" was heavily addressed in the training I just did. The approach is to notice why a usage exists. What is the value of adding "try"?

Well, it demolishes the possibility of failure to realize the stated goal. After all, if I say, "I'm going to try to express myself coherently," I can't actually fail, as long as I do something, anything at all. I can give up at the first tiny obstacle, but, hey, I tried. How about "I tried to overcome my procrastination"?

We use "try" to avoid identifying "failure," because we have been trained that failure is Bad. It's not. Failure is inevitable if we undertake anything worth doing that isn't already so easy that we don't need to take any risks, we just do it. I don't "try" to turn on the light in the room, I just flip the switch. (Sure, sometimes a light is burned out or something. But we would never ask someone, "Try to turn on the light." We just ask them to turn it on.)

Failure is an essential part of the learning process, of the development of skill.

Yudkowsky's ability to see beyond his original incomplete vision, and to openly acknowledge the former shortcoming, is part of what identifies him as Yudkowsky. That is not necessarily a common ability, most people become increasingly entangled in what they said before.

Comment author: JanetDoe 14 February 2014 07:38:19PM 0 points [-]

I'd just like to say that this post was one of the most effortless for me to intuitively embrace thus far, seeing as I've read HPMoR and the idea of Doing v. Trying is a common theme. I'll be sure to tap into my mysterious dark side next time I need something actually... taken care of.