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Comment author: shev 20 January 2017 10:10:46AM 1 point [-]

Well, Numberphile says they appear all over physics. That's not actually true. They appear in like two places in physics, both deep inside QFT, mentioned here.

QFT uses a concept called renormalization to drop infinities all over the place, but it's quite sketchy and will probably not appear in whatever final form physics takes when humanity figures it all out. It's advanced stuff and not, imo, worth trying to understand as a layperson (unless you already know quantum mechanics in which case knock yourself out).

Comment author: casebash 20 January 2017 12:42:04PM 0 points [-]

All I ever covered in university was taking the Scrodinger equation and then quantum physics did whatever that equation said.

Comment author: casebash 20 January 2017 09:45:36AM 0 points [-]

Infinite sums/sequences are a particular area of me. I would love to know about how these sums appear in string theory - what's the best introduction/way into this? You said these sums appear all over physics. Where do they appear?

In response to On Arrogance
Comment author: AmagicalFishy 20 January 2017 02:50:49AM *  3 points [-]

There's a lot of nuance to this situation that makes a black-and-white answer difficult, but let's start with the word arrogance. I think the term carries with it a connotation of too much pride; something like when one oversteps the limits of one's domain. For example, the professor saying "You are probably wrong about this" is an entirely different statement (in terms of arrogance) than the enthusiast saying "You are probably wrong about this," because this is a judgement that the professor is well qualified to make. While I can see a person not liking this, I don't think this kind of straight-forwardness is wrong, or arrogant.

The Professor

When I think of an arrogant professor, I don't simply think of a person whose knowledge of a field far superceeds my own. I think of something more than that. I think of a person who seems to have an inflated sense of self-worth because of their knowledge. That is, I think of a person who is overstepping the bounds of their domain; a professor who not only says "You're wrong, and don't have an even basic understanding of quantum mechanics," but does it with an air of regal superiority that implicitly says "Not only are you wrong, but you are not, as a person, worth taking seriously or teaching because you are wrong." That kind of professor is taking the expertise he has in quantum physics and applying it to something well outside quantum physics (in this case, a person's worth). If this is the kind of professor you were describing, then I'd certainly say there's arrogance here. Otherwise, I don't think the professor is being arrogant by saying something like "You don't possess even a basic understanding of the core concepts of quantum physics." Admittedly, a more constructive way to go about this would be to at least show why this is true. As someone who does have an understanding of quantum physics, there's a lot of material that one could easily show an enthusiast that'd be well beyond their current knowledge.

A bit of nuance: Using this same standard for arrogance, the real answer is something like "it depends on what they were talking about." For example, some philosophical theories that emerge from quantum mechanics can be understood and thought about by the laymen (key word: some; many arise from a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics, and thus can easily be debunked with knowledge about quantum mechanics). If the professor and enthusiast were talking about one of these theories, then the professor dismissing this legitimate theory would, in fact, be arrogant (because it would be a step outside of the professor's bounds).

In the case that the professor doesn't admit to being a professor, indeed it would seem arrogant—but only because it seems as if the incognito professor is overstepping his bounds. That is, since no one knows the professor is a professor, there's no reason to assume quantum physics is within his area of expertise. (This may also be somewhat pedantic, but in something like quantum physics, because of this gap in knowledge, it'd be very obvious who the professor was to an audience that doesn't know quantum physics, even if it wasn't made explicitely clear beforehand.)

The Enthusiast

We can apply the same standards of arrogance to the enthusiast. I've seen many people who are simultaneously engaging, calm, polite and arrogant. If a professor, someone whose studied the field very rigorously, with mathematics that would take the enthusiast years to learn, claims that the enthusiast doesn't have a working knowledge of quantum physics—then it's probably true. If the professor says "If you knew enough about quantum physics, you'd see why this idea is strictly wrong," and the enthusiast is still convinced he's correct, then I'd say the enthusiast is stepping outside of his bounds (i.e. - is being arrogant). Again, admittedly, if the professor doesn't explain why the enthusiast is wrong, it's difficult for the enthusiast to gauge whether or not whatever is being spoken of is a legitimate theory or one that dissolves with sufficient knowledge of quantum mechanics.

A bit of nuance: It's easy with quantum mechanics, since so much of it is based in physics and mathematics in ways where the metric for correct or incorrect are fairly straight-forward and clear. If the professor were an economist, the lines defining what the bounds are could be much blurrier.

In the case that the professor doesn't admit to being a professor, the enthusiast might not have a way of knowing whether or not bounds are being overstepped, and the bystanders would probably see the professor as being arrogant. Though, I reiterate: Especially in something like quantum physics, the party who has the expertise would be apparent.

To come back to your distinction between over-confidence and dismissive behavior, I think these things are both addressed by considering arrogance to be synonymous with an overstepping of one's bounds. Dismissive behavior is relevant only insofar as it implies this overstepping. For example, does it indicate that the professor thinks less of the enthusiast as a person? Maybe the professor is being dismissive because the enthusiast's vehemence is blinding? Similarly, over-confidence is relevant only insofar as it implies an overstepping of one's bounds (this is a bit easier, because "over-confidence" is almost synonymous with "stepping over the bounds of your knowledge-limitations.")

Kind-of Disclaimer:

1) I might be underestimating the amount of knowledge you intended for your enthusiast. In my experience (I am not a professor), I've never met a physics-enthusiast who has a working knowledge of the actual physics with which they are enthused—and the types of physics that people find most interesting are usually the ones that require the most knowledge (i.e. - string theory, quantum mechanics, etc.; few non-physicists are that enthused with Newtonian Mechanics!).

2) "Overstepping one's bounds" might be a bad term. I'm willing to use a better one, it's just the one that came to mind. I hope it's clear what I mean from the context.

In response to comment by AmagicalFishy on On Arrogance
Comment author: casebash 20 January 2017 08:03:30AM *  0 points [-]

"This may also be somewhat pedantic, but in something like quantum physics, because of this gap in knowledge, it'd be very obvious who the professor was to an audience that doesn't know quantum physics, even if it wasn't made explicitely clear beforehand." - I met one guy who was pretty convincing about confabulating quantum physics to some people, even though it was obvious to me he was just stringing random words together. Not that I know even the basics of quantum physics. He could actually speak really fluently and confidently - just everything was a bunch of non-sequitors/new age mysticism. I can imagine a professor not very good at public speaking who would seem less convincing.

On Arrogance

4 casebash 20 January 2017 01:04AM

Arrogance is an interesting topic.

Let's imagine we have two people who are having a conversation. One of them is an professor in quantum mechanics and the other person is an enthusiast who has read a few popular science articles online.

The professor always gives his honest opinion, but in an extremely blunt manner, not holding anything back and not making any attempts to phrase it politely. That is, the professor does not merely tell the enthusiast that they are wrong, but also provides his honest assessment that the enthusiast does possess even a basic understanding of the core concepts of quantum mechanics.

The enthusiast is polite throughout, even when subject to this criticism. They respond to the professors objections about their viewpoints, to the best of their ability throughout, trying their best to engage directly with the professors arguments. At the same time, the enthusiast is convinced that he is correct - equally convinced as the professor in fact - but he does not vocalise this in the same way as the professor.

Who is the most arrogant in these circumstances? Is this even a useful question to ask - or should we be dividing arrogance into two components - over-confidence and dismissive behaviour?

Let's imagine the same conversation, but imagine that the enthusiast does not know that the professor is a professor and neither do the bystanders. The bystanders don't have a knowledge of quantum physics - they can't tell who is the professor and who is the enthusiast since both appear to be able to talk fluently about the topics. All they can see is that one person is incredibly blunt and dismissive, while the other person is perfectly polite and engages with all the arguments raised. Who would the bystanders see as most arrogant?

Comment author: Viliam 08 December 2016 12:40:01PM *  1 point [-]

This part caught my attention [emphasis mine]:

In general, he says, the movement fights for our right to control our own lives; when we need assistance to effect our choices, assistance should be available to us as a matter of right. If the choice is to end our lives, he says, we should have assistance then as well. But [...] it is differential treatment -- disability discrimination -- to try to prevent most suicides while facilitating the suicides of ill and disabled people. [...] The case for assisted suicide rests on stereotypes that our lives are inherently so bad that it is entirely rational if we want to die.

This is an example of a frequent pattern where people defend their decisions by citing abstract priciples, and trying to make a debate about those abstract principles, while the real issue is actually their selective application.

(Like, instead of admitting that I simply choose between some actions A and B depending on how I feel at the moment, I will rather invent two sophisticated ethical explanations, one saying it is right to always do A, the other saying it is right to always do B, and then whenever I have to make a choice, depending on how I feel at the moment I will choose one of these abstract principles, and use it to defend my choice as a special case of always doing the right thing.)


Another -- completely unrelated -- interesting thing is the undertone of the article, where on some level we are observing an interaction between the author and Singer, but on a different level it's like an interaction between {Carol Gill, sister Beth} and Singer, where the author is just a mediator and observer.

Comment author: casebash 08 December 2016 02:59:27PM 0 points [-]

Isn't she consistently arguing that we should prevent suicides, so I don't know how it quite falls into the A and B pattern?

Comment author: Lumifer 07 December 2016 04:27:14PM 7 points [-]

Is that what you wanted to link to?

Comment author: casebash 07 December 2016 10:31:53PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: casebash 07 December 2016 03:25:11PM 3 points [-]

I linked to this article because it is an example of almost a completely foreign way of looking at the world (at least to most Less Wrongers)

[Link] Unspeakable conversations

1 casebash 07 December 2016 03:24PM
Comment author: username2 05 December 2016 09:05:32AM 0 points [-]

Care to clarify the difference? Oxford-style debate isn't any better in this regard. Is there some other form of debate that is?

Comment author: casebash 05 December 2016 10:29:18AM 0 points [-]

By Oxford-style do you mean British parliamentary (BP). In BP a) people speak at a rate that can actually be understood b) debating is about arguments having an impact, not just maximising the number of arguments.

Comment author: Jacobian 29 March 2016 04:13:55PM *  15 points [-]

Phil, I think you're falling into the trap you accuse Pham of: getting confused about words and how people use them. Like you've noticed, Pham doesn't use "rationality" to mean the same thing we do. From the article:

What if those imperialism-driven Europeans, all passionate and roused about Manifest Destiny, were encouraged to stop and reconsider whether their violent plans were rational? We might possibly have a world that isn’t filled to the brim with oppression.

In the article Pham vacillates between using "rational" to mean "reasonably likely to be achieved" and to mean "culturally acceptable". The point of their article is that being told that decolonization is "irrational" (i.e. unlikely to be achieved and/or unpopular) doesn't mean that people shouldn't pursue it as a goal. Let's call these definitions Pham.rationality. They, especially the second one, have very little to do with "representing an accurate picture of reality" or however you want to define LW.rationality.

But it isn't just a sign of how insane the social justice movement is—it has clues to how it got that way. The author came to hate "rationality" because s/he thought "rationality" meant "conventionality".

Let me get this straight: you define Insane = NOT(LW.rationality), see an article that says: SJ = NOT(Pham.rationality), and then happily conclude that SJ = Insane because "rationality".

You could have attacked the article for having an undesirable goal (i.e. abolishing the police). You could have attacked it for jumping between two definitions, and creating a deepity: one interpretation is banal (we should push for decolonialization even if it's unpopular), the other is plain false (we will achieve decolonialization even if it's utterly impossible). You could have attacked the article for incorrect facts, incoherent structure and extremely poor writing. There's enough ammunition there to make whatever denigrating point you want to make about SJ writing.

What you shouldn't get away with is seeing someone else define a word in a confusing/misleading way to make a point and then immediately doing the same thing.

My most charitable interpretation of your post is that you think that:

  • A. Pham is just a stupid person and was thus told by her friends they are irrational (i.e. NOT PhamFriends.rational).
  • B. They have thus decided that being stupid is a virtue.

A is both unfounded speculation and unnecessary ad-hominem, B still fails as a logical argument because Pham doesn't use her friends' definition of rationality in the article.

Phil, I have read a lot of the great stuff that you've posted here on LW, this post does your reputation a disservice.

Comment author: casebash 04 December 2016 08:06:07PM 0 points [-]

I think that you are being extremely generous to the author of the article, which would be a good thing, except that you are being extremely ungenerous to Phil. The most ungenerous part of this comment is when you say that this post does his reputation a disservice. Even if Phil has misunderstood the author, a great deal of the blame has to lie with the author who has written an article that could very easily be understood to be rejecting both kinds of rationality.

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