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Comment author: Ab3 05 March 2012 07:07:55PM 0 points [-]

I understand why elan vital is a mysterious answer, but what makes the question mysterious? Isn't the question "why does living matter move?" a perfectly intelligible one, and the point is simply that we can do a lot better in answering it than "elan vital"?

Comment author: Ab3 09 February 2012 07:00:47PM *  1 point [-]

I would like to suggest that the concept of "beauty" in art, relationships and even evolutionary biology seems to satisfy EY's criteria of being a mysterious answer.

If I ask, "how does the male peacock attract female peacocks" and one answers "because his tail is big and beautiful", haven't they failed to answer my question? Beauty in this response is a 1- curiosity stopper, 2- has no moving parts, 3- Is often uttered by people with a great deal of pride (the painting is so beautiful!), and 4- leaves the phenomenon a mystery (In the case of the peacock, I still don't really know why female peacocks like big colorful tails).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 February 2012 01:55:24AM 2 points [-]

What I'm saying is that the important thing is what I can do with my beliefs. If the "principle of falsifiability" does some valuable thing X, then in worlds where the PoF doesn't do X, I should be willing to discard it. If the PoF doesn't do any valuable thing X, then I should be willing to discard it in this world.

Comment author: Ab3 09 February 2012 06:53:00PM 0 points [-]

It seems we have empirical and non-empirical beliefs that can both be rational, but what we mean by “rational” has a different sense in each case. We call empirical beliefs “rational” when we have good evidence for them, we call non-empirical beliefs like the PoF “rational” when we find that they have a high utility value, meaning there is a lot we can do with the principle (it excludes maps that can’t conform to any territory).

To answer my original question, it seems a consequence of this is that the PoF doesn’t apply to itself, as it is a principle that is meant for empirical beliefs only. Because the PoF is a different kind of belief from an empirical belief, it need not be falsifiable, only more useful than our current alternatives. What do you think about that?

Comment author: [deleted] 05 February 2012 07:27:32AM *  2 points [-]

How can I believe in the principle of falsifiability that is itself unfalsifiable?! I feel as though something has gone wrong in my thinking but I can't tell what.

You have just refuted the contention that all warranted beliefs must be falsifiable in principle. Karl Popper, who introduced the falsifiability criterion and pushed it as far if not further than it can go, never advocated that all beliefs should be falsifiable. Rather, he used falsifiability as the criterion of demarcation between science and non-science, while denying that all beliefs should be scientific. His contention that falsifiability demarcates science does imply, as he recognized, that the criterion of falsifiability is not itself a scientific hypothesis.

Rational beliefs are not necessarily scientific beliefs. Mathematics is rational without being falsifiable. The same is true of philosophical beliefs, such as the belief that scientific beliefs are falsifiable. But rational beliefs that are not scientific must be refutable, and falsifiable beliefs are a proper subset of refutable beliefs. Falsifiable beliefs are refutable in one particular way: they are refutable by observation statements, which I think are equivalent to EY's anticipations. Science is special because it is 1) empirical (unlike mathematics) and 2) has an unusual capacity to grow human knowledge systematically (unlike philosophy). But that does not imply that we can make do with scientific beliefs exclusively, one reason being the one that you mention about criteria for the acceptance of scientific theories.

The broader criterion of refutability doesn't necessarily involve refutation by observation statements. How would you refute the falsifiability criterion? It would be false if science it were the case that scientists secured the advance of science by using some other criteria (such as verification).

It's a mistake to conflate the questions of whether a theory is scientific and whether it's corroborated (by attempted falsifications). Or to conflate whether it's scientific or it's rationally believable. Theories aren't bad because they aren't science. They're bad because they're set up so they resist any form of refutation. Rational thought involves making your thinking vulnerable to potential refutation, rather than protecting it from any refutation.In science, the mode of refutation is observation, direct connection to sensory data. But it won't do (as you've realized by trying to apply falsifiability to itself) to limit one's thinking entirely to that which is falsifiable.

You later ask (in effect) whether the refutability criterion is itself even refutable. Would EY be willing, ever, to give it up? He should be, were someone to show that sheer dogmatism conduces to the growth of knowledge. That I can't conceive of a plausible argument to that end doesn't obviate the refutability of the contention

I think that resolves your confusion, but I don't want to imply that Popper uttered the last word—there are problems with neglecting verification in favor of strict falsificationism.

Comment author: Ab3 09 February 2012 06:30:24PM 0 points [-]

Thank you for your thoughts.

What are the criteria that we use for accepting or refuting rational non-empirical beliefs? You mention that falsifiability would be refuted if some other criteria “secured the advance of science.” You also mention that we should give up the refutability criterion if “sheer dogmatism conduces to the growth of knowledge.” It sounds like our criteria for the refutability of non-empirical beliefs are mostly practical; we accept the epistemic assumptions that make things “work best.” Is there more to it than this?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 04 February 2012 04:25:01AM 2 points [-]

Excellent question!

Excellent, because it illustrates the problem with "believing in" the principle of falsifiability, as opposed to using it and understanding how it relates to the rest of my thinking.

Forget that the principle of falsifiability is itself incredibly important. What sorts of beliefs does the principle of falsifiability tell me to increase my confidence in? To decrease my confidence in?

What would the world have to be like for the former beliefs to be in general less likely than the latter?

Comment author: Ab3 04 February 2012 09:51:24PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the reply Dave. Are you saying I should not look at falsifiability as a belief, but rather a tool of some sort? That distinction sounds interesting but is not 100% clear to me. Perhaps someone should do a larger post about why the principle should not be applied to itself.

I have also thought of putting the problem this way: Eliezer states that the only ideas worth having are the ones we would be willing to give up. Is he willing to give up that idea? I don't think so..., and I would be really interested to know why he doesn't believe this to be a contradiction.

Comment author: Ab3 02 February 2012 10:15:56PM 1 point [-]

I understand that having beliefs that are falsifiable in principle and make predictions about experience is incredibly important. But I have always wondered if my belief in falsifiability was itself falsifiable. In any possible universe I can imagine it seems that holding the principle of falsifiability for our beliefs would be a good idea. I can't imagine a universe or an experience that would make me give this up.

How can I believe in the principle of falsifiability that is itself unfalsifiable?! I feel as though something has gone wrong in my thinking but I can't tell what. Please help!

In response to comment by Ab3 on What is Evidence?
Comment author: dlthomas 15 December 2011 09:09:42PM 0 points [-]

It depends on how likely the respective explanations are.

In response to comment by dlthomas on What is Evidence?
Comment author: Ab3 15 December 2011 09:31:30PM 1 point [-]

I think it depends on that, and only that, and should be completely disconnected from any social criteria such as "being contagious."

Also, Eliezer writes, "If your model of reality suggests that the outputs of your thought processes should not be contagious to others, then your model says that your beliefs are not themselves evidence, meaning they are not entangled with reality."

This seems false. Should LW thinkers take it as a problem that our methods are usually completely lost on, for example, fundamentalist scientologists? In fact, I don't think it's a stretch to claim that most people do not subscribe to LW methods, does that suggest a problem with LW methods? Do LW methods fail the test of being contagious and therefore fail the test of being reliable methods for acquiring evidence?

In response to What is Evidence?
Comment author: Ab3 15 December 2011 08:50:46PM 4 points [-]

Great article, I have only this one comment:

"If your beliefs are entangled with reality, they should be contagious among honest folk."

Haven't true and false beliefs both proven to be contagious among honest folk? Just as we should not use a machine that beeps for all numbers as evidence for winning lottery numbers, we should not use whether or not a belief is contagious as evidence of its truth.

Comment author: Ab3 14 December 2011 04:18:52AM 0 points [-]

Is this group still active in St. Louis? I'm new to LW and would like to participate in a group doing a systematic study of the sequences. Anybody out there?

Comment author: Ab3 07 December 2011 06:42:59PM 1 point [-]

Thank you Komponisto! Apparently, my brain works similar to yours on this matter. Here is a video by Richard Carrier explaining Bayes' theorem that I also found helpful.


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