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Chris_Hibbert comments on Cascades, Cycles, Insight... - Less Wrong

13 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 November 2008 09:33AM

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Comment author: Chris_Hibbert 24 November 2008 05:59:29PM 0 points [-]

Tyrrell, it seems to me that there's a huge difference between Fermi's model and the one Robin has presented. Fermi described a precise mechanism that made precise predictions that Fermi was able to state ahead of time and confirm experimentally. Robin is drawing a general analogy between several historical events and drawing a rough line connecting them. There are an enormous number of events that would match his prediction, and another enourmous number of non-events that Robin can respond to with "just wait and see."

So I don't really see Eli as just saying that black swans may upend Robin's expected outcomes. In this case, Eli's side of the argument is that he's arguing for a force multiplier that will change the regime of progress, like Fermi's. Unfortunately for Eli's argument, he hasn't yet produced the mathematical model or the detailed physical model that would let us put numbers on the predictions. So this particular little story just argues for plausibility of the model that says take off might happen at some point. Eli has been arguing for a little while that the regime change projection has more plausibility than Robin thinks, but Robin has already granted some plausibility, so he doesn't have to cede any more ground (as you say) because of this argument. Robin can just say that this is the kind of effect that he was already taking into account, and we are still waiting for Eli to show likelihood.

As far as general models of repeated insight, the best I can do is point to Smolin's model of the progress of fundamental physics as presented in "The Trouble with Physics." He shows how breakthroughs from Copernicus, Galileo, Bacon, Newton, Maxwell, and Einstein were a continuous series of unifications. From my blog (linked above) "The focus was consistently on what pre-existing concepts were brought together in one of two ways. Sometimes the unification shows that two familiar things that are thought of as distinct are really the same thing, giving a deeper theory of both. (the Earth is one planet among several, the Sun is one star among many.) Other times, two phenomena that weren't understood well are explained as one common thing (Bacon showed that heat is a kind of motion; Newton showed that gravity explained both planetary orbits and ballistic trajectories; Maxwell showed that electricity and magnetism are the different aspects of the same phenomenon.)"

Einstein seems to have consciously set out to produce another unification, and succeeded twice in finding other aspects of reality to fold together with a single model. AFAICT, it hasn't been done again on this scale since QED and QCD.