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Comment author: bogus 27 June 2017 01:21:47AM *  0 points [-]

the programs that people tend to use for satisfying them become less physical and more social in nature: society in effect reserves its highest rewards for those most practiced in social, rather than physical, cognition. The essay implies that he regards this as being, in at least some sense, contingent: in principle, society could be set up so that physical cognition played a greater role in the satisfaction of higher Maslow-needs

It seems hard to envision a society wherein belonging and esteem could be satisfied via physical cognition, at least until we can make building an AIBO pet dog robot in one's garage a common enough pasttime. So, the only realistic possibility for a meaningful change is in how self-actualization is pursued. But is it actually true that "social" paths to self-actualization are less collectively desirable than "physical" paths to the same?
Well, for a start, there are certainly "fine things in life" that are best understood in social terms; for a handy example that fits squarely in the realm of art, consider so-called "literary" fiction. Now I obviously cannot claim that writing literary fiction could ever be considered an "achievement" of the purest sort (in my preferred sense), since its value is not something that can be generally assessed in any widely-agreed upon way. And yet, it is certainly the case that, to the extent that works of literary fiction are widely considered to be valuable accomplishments, this is due to what they imply about the social universe, as opposed to the physical one!

The belief that I am implicitly denying here seems to be, as quoted directly from the parent comment: "To effectively create value requires skill in analytical/"near-mode" thinking" (emphasis added). And that's certainly true in many cases (it's also true, as you rightly point out, that many of the "finer things in life" are far from entirely social!) but not in general. This matters here, because it seems to lead you to incorrect conclusions about what exactly makes "self-actualization" value-creating and collectively desirable. It's not the absence of "social cognition" in its entirety but rather, of a few undesirable aspects of social interaction that are rather more pervasive at the level of "esteem" and "belonging". Vassar's essay is even quite clear that these aspects exist, and are important to his point!

Comment author: komponisto 29 June 2017 10:33:19AM *  0 points [-]

It seems hard to envision a society wherein belonging and esteem could be satisfied via physical cognition

Not hard to envision at all; only hard, perhaps, to implement. It shouldn't take all that much imagination to summon the thought of a society in which people were better rewarded with status (and all its trappings) for things like solving mathematical problems, or composing complexly-structured music, as opposed to all the various generalized forms of pure politics that determine the lion's share of status in the world we know, than they actually are in the world we know.

In fact, we can look around and find historical examples of societies where that was the case. In my Otium comment I pointed to one: Imperial Germany (pre-WWI). That was a place where a figure like Max Reger could achieve high status in general culture -- without even needing to be a Nietzschean superman to do so. All he had to do was follow the rules of society, which happened to permit someone with those kinds of compositional aspirations to become a celebrity.

My radical belief is that the fact that this is the same culture that also produced leading figures in every other field of creative intellection (and a place where shops in university towns sold pictures of professors in postcard form), and indeed is credited by Tyler Cowen with "deliver[ing] the goods in terms of innovation", is not a coincidence.

This is an extreme example -- in fact the best I know of, at least at the level of entire nations -- but the phenomenon is a matter of degree.

Well, for a start, there are certainly "fine things in life" that are best understood in social terms; for a handy example that fits squarely in the realm of art, consider so-called "literary" fiction.

Yes. Narrative fiction is the least physically-oriented of the arts. Its existence is most of the reason for the qualifier "at least certain forms [of art]" in my comment on Sarah's blog.

Note that it is also the only art-form that is widely appreciated at anything like a sophisticated level by the "rationalist community" as a whole. This is a problem. (Basically, it reflects an implicit belief that only STEM is about physical cognition; since all art is assumed to be almost wholly social, LWers opt for the "least pretentious" variant, i.e. the most socioculturally "accessible" form to them, namely fiction, specifically fanfiction.)

It's not the absence of "social cognition" in its entirety

I never said it was. What made you think otherwise?

Above, I specifically said that arts synthesized physical and social cognition, and implied that that was important to their value.

The problem I'm talking about is the absence of physical cognition, not the presence of social cognition.

Comment author: gjm 25 June 2017 04:11:25PM 2 points [-]

OK. Then I have a confession and three complaints. The confession is that when I wrote what I did above, I hadn't noticed that you offered that link as further explanation of the term "physical cognition". The complaints are (1) that having now followed the link, I think it leaves the meaning of "physical cognition" still less than perfectly clear; and, in so far as it does explain what the term means, (2a) it actually seems not so far from "real-world achievement" and (2b) I think it probably doesn't include music and art. (Whereas in your usage it seems like it must.)

I'll elaborate a bit. Here is what that essay says about physical and social cognition. (The only actual instance of those terms is at the end of the second quoted paragraph, but I think the preceding stuff is necessary to make sense of that.)

Maslow suggests that at one level of description a human consists of five programs. One escapes immediate danger, one seeks comfort and physical security, one finds a social context in which to be embedded, one builds esteem within that context, and one directs big-picture intentionality. As a general rule, when a given program reports satisfaction the next program is turned on and starts competing in its more subtle game.

Some of those programs allocate attention to things that can be understood fairly rigorously, like a cart, a plow, or a sword. Other programs allocate attention to more complicated things, such as the long-term alliances and reproductive opportunities within a tribe. The former programs might involve situational awareness and detailed planning, while the latter programs might operate via subtle and tacit pattern detection and automatic obedience to crude heuristics. If so, the latter programs might be fairly easily hacked. They might also offer a less fertile ground for the emergence of a Universal Turing Machine. Mechanical metaphors of solidity and shape might constitute a good substrate for digital, and thus potentially abstract cognition, while social metaphors for continuous and vague properties like weirdness, gravitas and sexiness might constitute a poor foundation for universal cognition. These programs seem to have been disfavored by history's great scientific innovators, who tend to make statements like "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble..." or "What do you care what other people think", which sound like endorsements of physical over social cognition.

So. We start with Maslow's hierarchy. Vassar (the author of the essay) puts a division between the two "lowest" levels, which he calls "physical" (meaning that they are concerned with our physical needs and wants) and the next two, which he calls "social" (meaning that they are concerned with our interactions with others). The topmost level ("self-actualization") I think Vassar classifies as "social", which I think mostly indicates that his terminology isn't great.

And he says that attempts to address needs and wants higher up in the Maslow hierarchy tend to involve vague fuzzy socailly-mediated things, which may "be fairly easily hacked" and "constitute a poor foundation for universal cognition" by comparison with activity directed at the lower levels, which tend to involve precise specific details and "constitute a good substrate for digital, and thus potentially abstract, cognition". And, finally, he says that the lower-level ones seem to be endorsed over the higher-level by the likes of Newton and Feynman.

All fair enough (though I'm not at all convinced). But now you want to say that artistic endeavour belongs in the category of "physical cognition"? Really? Perhaps the purely mechanical aspects of playing an instrument do, but what distinguishes music from finger exercises is vague fuzzy socially-mediated things like "beauty" and "taste" which seem to me much more like "weirdness, gravitas and sexiness" than like "solidity and shape", and which I think land squarely in the category of "social cognition" according to Vassar's distinction.

My point (2a) is less important than (2b) which is why I've focused on the latter, but now a word or two about (2a). If I am understanding Vassar right, what distinguishes "physical cognition" is that its goals are located in the physical world and can be evaluated without reference to social context (moral norms, fashions, the approval of the elite, ...). And if I am understanding bogus right, this is pretty close to what he means by "real-world". Not quite the same, but closer (as it seems to me) than anything that would put artistic endeavours in the "physical" category.

Comment author: komponisto 26 June 2017 10:10:59AM *  0 points [-]

Like others, you seem to be interpreting my comments as if they were stating conclusions intended to be only one or two inferential steps away (from your current epistemic state). This is not at all necessarily the case!

In particular, when I state a proposition X, I expect readers not only to ask themselves whether they already think X is true (i.e. conditioned on all their knowledge before my statement), but also to ask themselves why I might believe X. To engage, in other words, in at least a cursory search for inferential chains leading to X -- resulting in either the discovery of an inferential chain that they themselves agree with (in which case communication has been approximately successful), or a hypothesis about what my error is (which can then be discussed, and confirmed or disconfirmed).

This mental motion seems to be missing from your (and, even more severely, others') reactions to my comments. It's as if I were expected to be modeling your epistemic state, without any corresponding expectation that you be modeling mine. Yet, insofar as I've stated a specific belief, you have some specific information about mine, whereas I have only background information about yours. This will of course change once you reply -- I will get more specific information about yours -- but the dialogue will be more efficient if your reply attempts to integrate and respond to the information you have about my epistemic state, rather than merely providing information about yours (as is the case when your reply takes the form "you have made one or more assumptions that I don't share", as here, for example).

Now, to get back to the object level:

Vassar (the author of the essay) puts a division between the two "lowest" levels, which he calls "physical" (meaning that they are concerned with our physical needs and wants) and the next two, which he calls "social" (meaning that they are concerned with our interactions with others). The topmost level ("self-actualization") I think Vassar classifies as "social", which I think mostly indicates that his terminology isn't great.

You have overlooked a distinction that, while not explicitly stated in the essay itself, is nevertheless crucial to understanding the point Vassar is making: the distinction between people's needs, themselves, and the programs that they use to satisfy them. The pathology that Vassar is complaining about is the fact that as one ascends the hierarchy of needs, the programs that people tend to use for satisfying them become less physical and more social in nature: society in effect reserves its highest rewards for those most practiced in social, rather than physical, cognition. The essay implies that he regards this as being, in at least some sense, contingent: in principle, society could be set up so that physical cognition played a greater role in the satisfaction of higher Maslow-needs (belonging, esteem, self-actualization).

This is the background for my assertions about art -- which I made first not here, but on Sarah Constantin's blog Otium, in a comment thread that, again, I linked in my original comment here (and is thus assumed to be fully loaded into the context of this discussion):

[T]here’s a widespread misunderstanding to the effect that the “finer things in life” (art etc., particularly as contrasted with STEM) fall exclusively into the realm of social cognition; and this is just so, so, so, false. I feel like a whole array of cultural pathologies can be traced to this misunderstanding...

This could even have existential implications of a sort...the problem is — and this is what Michael was talking about in his essay — that society doesn’t reward physical cognition with Maslow-advancement. As a result, by the time people get up to Level 5, their focus has basically shifted to social cognition, and they “enjoy the finer things in life” in predominantly if not exclusively that way. As a result, they are cognitively unequipped to do the very things that people on Level 5 are supposed to be doing (“figuring out where the monkey tribe should go next”, i.e. solving x-risk etc.), or at least unpracticed...

I basically feel that if we, as a society, understood better that art (at least certain forms, most notably music) was just as much about physical cognition as social (and basically as much about physical as STEM is), that would at least reflect (and could even cause) a stronger presence of physical cognition along the gradient of social advancement.

So: from this it should be evident that not only do I think that certain arts are heavily physical-cognition-loaded, but, furthermore, the very failure to understand this is, in my view, itself a manifestation of the pathology that Vassar's essay was (in large part) about.

(Just as an aside: in case there is any doubt about my interpretation of Vassar, here is an e-mail I wrote to him in March 2013:

Dear Michael,

I'm wondering if you think the following is a fair paraphrase of your Edge essay from January:

To effectively create value requires skill in analytical/"near-mode" thinking. Unfortunately, society does not do a good job of Maslow-rewarding people for developing such skill, with the result that too few people at the higher Maslow-levels are analytically skilled, and too few analytically skilled people are at the higher Maslow-levels.

This seems like precisely the problem that the rationalist community exists in order to address. [...]

To which he replied, in full:

That's the main point of the essay.

)

Thus, I think it was somewhat logically rude of you to ask, in a tone of incredulity,

But now you want to say that artistic endeavour belongs in the category of "physical cognition"? Really?

and to follow that by an un-self-conscious affirmation of the conventional assumption that I had, very knowingly, denied.

"Really?" Yes, really. Not only am I aware that conventional wisdom assumes the contrary, but I specifically cited the conventionality of that assumption as an example of the Maslow-pathology described by Vassar. Yes, I know people think that

what distinguishes music from finger exercises is vague fuzzy socially-mediated things like "beauty" and "taste" which seem to me much more like "weirdness, gravitas and sexiness" than like "solidity and shape"

-- this (I claim) is a problem!

Now, it's understandable that you might be curious about why I believe what I believe in this realm. And, to a large extent, I'm perfectly happy to discuss it. (After all, on my beliefs, it's in my interest to do so!) But the inferential chains may be long, and my communication style is a high-context one. Even if I have made a mistake in my reasoning, it is not likely to be identified efficiently by means of a discussion that takes it as plausible that I might have arrived at my conclusions randomly.

Comment author: gjm 23 June 2017 10:13:44PM 0 points [-]

"Real-world achievement" is considerably less clear as a way of pointing to what I am trying to point to than "physical cognition". It evokes all kinds of distracting side-issues about what constitutes the "real world". (Is pure mathematics "real-world achievement"? et cetera, et cetera).

For me, I don't see how "physical cognition" is better, because just what "physical" means here is as unclear to me as what "real-world" means in bogus's comment, and in rather similar ways. Is doing pure mathematics "physical cognition"? What about physics?

With no more context than your earlier comment where (so far as I know) you first used the term, I'd have taken "physical cognition" to mean something like "applying one's brain directly to the real world in ways involving planning and subtlety and the like", with playing a musical instrument being an example. But I now have the impression that you intend it more broadly than that, perhaps including e.g. musical composition (even if done in one's head). But exactly what you mean remains unclear to me, as does why (if I'm understanding you right) you consider "physical cognition" a more fruitful category of things to lump together than "real-world achievement".

(Note for the avoidance of doubt: I am not claiming that "physical cognition" is not a more fruitful category, nor that bogus's thinking in this area is better than yours, nor anything of that kind. I am just saying that it seems unreasonable to complain of someone "rounding off concepts" when you have made no apparent effort to clarify what you do mean, and that your specific objection to "real-world achievement" seems to apply equally to "physical cognition".)

Comment author: komponisto 25 June 2017 08:52:54AM *  0 points [-]

With no more context than your earlier comment where (so far as I know) you first used the term [...] I am just saying that it seems unreasonable to complain of someone "rounding off concepts" when you have made no apparent effort to clarify what you do mean

In my original comment, I linked to the essay that was the source of the concepts of "physical" and "social cognition" as I used them in that comment. Without the context of that essay, there is no reason to expect my remarks in this discussion to be intelligible.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 23 June 2017 09:57:34PM *  1 point [-]

However, one doesn't always have that motivation (or time, etc.), so it should be allowed sometimes to just point and say "look over here; if you think about this for a while, you may traverse the same inferential path I have, which leads to this conclusion."

I don't think that's a reasonable expectation or norm. The expected return from a reader doing something like that is way too low, even in a community like this one. Most new ideas are wrong, and if your idea is wrong then people trying to traverse the same inferential path will get nowhere, and not even know if its their own fault or not. If you write it down then people can figure out where you went wrong and point it out. Even if your idea is right and your reader can be sure of that, why shouldn't you write an good explanation once, which will then save time for potentially hundreds or thousands of readers? By trying to save that time for yourself, you cause other people to waste their time, and then you end up having to answer their confusions and perhaps not even save time for yourself.

You could make an exception to this if you just had a new idea and you want to find out if anyone else already had a similar idea or can see an obvious flaw in it, before deciding to invest more time into explaining it fully, but that doesn't seem to be what you're doing here.

Perhaps I can "strike a chord" with you in particular by talking about value uncertainty in this context. Even to the extent it's clear that not all of the "subskills" are equally valuable (which I don't necessarily concede, in part because its not even clear to me what the right decomposition into subskills is!), it's not necessarily clear which ones are more valuable, and by how much.

I have some uncertainty here, but not that much. I took one semester of piano and one semester of electronic music in high school, and it was intuitively clear that the return from that time spent wasn't nearly as valuable as say reading science fiction or economics textbooks. There's obviously a lot of individual differences here, so if my kid naturally has an interest or talent in music or art and wants to study it, I'm not going to stop her. But if your position is that we should more vigorously encourage an interest in artistic pursuits, I'm going to need more evidence and/or better arguments.

To me, the relation between physicality of this sort and certain especially valuable forms of thought (precise, imaginative) is intuitively obvious, and I think consideration and investigation into the matter will reveal this to others;

This is totally unclear to me. I guess even if it's true, it would be hard for me to figure out on my own since I probably haven't studied music enough to be familiar with the kind of "physicality" that you're talking about. Nor do I understand what forms of thought you're suggesting is related to such physicality. "Precise, imaginative" is pretty vague.

What is on more solid ground at the moment is the heuristic, correlational case that it is better to be the kind of person who is interested and experienced in things like music than the kind of person who isn't. And it's better to live in the kind of society where such pursuits are enjoyed and admired than in the kind where they're not.

I agree with the latter, but I think it's just because in every society there will be some people who naturally enjoy artistic pursuits and almost everyone at least enjoy consuming art, so if art isn't being enjoyed and admired, something must have gone terribly wrong to have caused that. On an individual level, such a correlation, if it exists, can be easily explained by the fact that "better" people have more resources available to pursue artistic interests. Again if you're making the case that artistic pursuits cause people to become better (compared to other pursuits they could spend the time on), you'll have to give more evidence and/or better arguments.

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 11:00:25AM *  1 point [-]

The expected return from a reader doing something like that is way too low, even in a community like this one. Most new ideas are wrong, and if your idea is wrong then people trying to traverse the same inferential path will get nowhere

I disagree with these statements. (Even in the case of "most new ideas are wrong", I would ADBOC.)

You're basically just stating the view that "false positives are a bigger problem than false negatives", which I already disagreed with explicitly (as applied to this context) in my previous comment.

why shouldn't you write an good explanation

Because what constitutes a "good explanation" is strongly reader-dependent, and I don't have good enough models of most readers to know in advance what will satisfy them. It's worth it to try being very foundational sometimes, but not all the time. It's also worth it for readers to sometimes practice the skill of traversing inferential paths more nimbly.

if your position is that we should more vigorously encourage an interest in artistic pursuits

I wouldn't presume to take such a detailed position on how you should relate to your child. (Though I can think of someone you might want to talk to, about not only this but the whole subject of "what to do" with children who are, or who are at "risk" of being, "gifted" -- the best way to get into contact with that person would probably be through Jonah Sinick.)

My concern here is only to explain (insofar as is possible within the number of words I'm willing to expend) something about what the value of traditional artistic pursuits is, and, in particular, the ways in which it's similar to the value of less traditional artistic pursuits like programming. I think you (like many, no doubt, in the LW audience) have bad priors about this due to insufficient exposure in early life (perhaps for socioeconomic reasons -- as you said above, "My parents didn't have the time or money to deliberately cultivate these kinds of interests in me when I was a child). I myself also had relatively little deliberate exposure (for the same reasons), but, exceptionally, was drawn in the relevant direction by an unusually strong intrinsic attraction (such that, had I come from an upper-class background, I would very likely have been involved at a much higher level much earlier). As a result, I think I am in the position of perceiving something about this that most LW readers are probably missing (insofar as they seem to want to reduce interest in these pursuits, implicitly and even explicitly, as we've seen here, to some kind of mere class signal -- indeed, a form of conspicuous consumption).

Comment author: ChristianKl 24 June 2017 10:34:02AM 0 points [-]

It's relevant in the way that it doesn't use the term "physical cognition"?

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 10:39:24AM 0 points [-]

From the fourth paragraph:

These programs seem to have been disfavored by history's great scientific innovators, who tend to make statements like "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble..." or "What do you care what other people think", which sound like endorsements of physical over social cognition. 



Comment author: Lumifer 23 June 2017 02:33:54PM *  1 point [-]

what makes you sure that a society that tied status more closely to such skills wouldn't have promoted someone better than Mao to the top?

There have been enough revolutions and (temporarily successful) peasant revolts to demonstrate how that usually turns out. Lenin famously said that "Any cook should be able to run the country" and I don't think it worked well.

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 10:02:34AM 0 points [-]

As I said above,

populism seems anticorrelated with both good aesthetics and good science

Thus, by "a society that tied status more closely to such skills", I do not mean the typical conditions leading to, and resulting from, a peasant revolt.

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 June 2017 01:03:57PM 0 points [-]

Do you think you use the term physical cognition in the way it's used in the literature? Or do you think you use it in a different way?

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 09:49:54AM 0 points [-]

Do you think you use the term physical cognition in the way it's used in the literature?

"The literature" that is relevant here consists of Michael Vassar's 2013 Edge essay.

Comment author: Lumifer 23 June 2017 02:28:35PM *  0 points [-]

So what do you mean, then? I don't understand what "physical cognition" in this context points to. What is the word "physical" doing in there?

as the excerpt you quoted was intended to communicate

It failed.

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 09:46:27AM *  0 points [-]

I don't understand what "physical cognition" in this context points to

See here. (This was linked in the original comment...)

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 June 2017 01:49:00PM 0 points [-]

I was not, in fact, using the term in such a way, but you failed to notice this!

The first line of your post is a quote about teaching ballet and piano to children as opposed to the kind of hacking background that Wai Dai has. Why use the term "art" when you don't mean ballet and piano, without making it explicit that you don't mean it?

Comment author: komponisto 24 June 2017 09:44:34AM 0 points [-]

I do mean ballet and piano, and also the kind of "the kind of hacking background that Wei Dai has".

I did not expect this to be completely outside of your hypothesis space, in the way it appears to be. This is worth reflecting on.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 23 June 2017 09:46:20AM *  2 points [-]

There you go again, compulsively trying to round concepts off to something else!

Creating a distinct new concept in one's mind is an expensive operation (with both short term and long term costs), so I think it's only to be expected that people will try to match a supposedly new concept to an existing one and see if they can get away with just reusing the existing concept. I suggest that if you don't want people to do that, you should define your new concept as clearly as possible, give lots of both positive and negative examples, explain how it differs from any nearby concepts that people might try to "round off" to, and why it makes sense to organize one's thinking in terms of the new concept. (It would also help to give it a googleable name so people can find all that information. Right now, Google defines physical cognition as "Physical cognition, or 'folk physics', is a common sense understanding of the physical world around us and how different objects interact with each other." which is obviously not what you're talking about.)

I think I've avoided rounding off your physical cognition to an existing concept, but I still don't understand how the concept is defined exactly or why it's a useful way of organizing one's thinking as it relates to the question of what kinds of children's activities are most valuable. Clearly there are distinct skills within what you call physical cognition, and all those skills are not equally valuable, nor does practicing one physical cognition skill improve all physical cognition skills equally (e.g., if you practice math skills you improve math skills more than piano skills, and vice versa). Given that, why does it make sense to group a bunch of different skills together into "physical cognition" and then say that practicing piano is valuable because it exercises physical cognition? Wouldn't it make more sense to talk about exactly what skills are improved by practicing piano, and how valuable the increase of those specific skills are?

Comment author: komponisto 23 June 2017 11:49:37AM *  1 point [-]

Creating a distinct new concept in one's mind is an expensive operation (with both short term and long term costs), so I think it's only to be expected that people will try to match a supposedly new concept to an existing one and see if they can get away with just reusing the existing concept.

Right, but I was reacting to a prior history with that particular commenter, who has been especially prone to doing this (very often where, in my view, it isn't appropriate).

But also: I regard concept-creation as being a large part of what we're in the business of doing, here. (At least, it's a large part of what I'm here for.) That's what theorization is, and I think we're here to theorize (maybe among other things). So it's a cost that I think one has signed up to bear in a context of this sort.

For the most part, it's great if one has the motivation to write up a thorough exposition of a new concept, starting from very elementary premises (although there's also the negative aspect of potentially reinforcing a norm of this level of effort being generally expected every time one wants to introduce a new concept). However, one doesn't always have that motivation (or time, etc.), so it should be allowed sometimes to just point and say "look over here; if you think about this for a while, you may traverse the same inferential path I have, which leads to this conclusion."

Indeed, that's basically exactly what I want out of this forum: a place where people can state inferentially-distant conclusions you might not hear elsewhere (without necessarily needing to justify them from first principles -- such requirements might, after all, be part of why they're not heard elsewhere!). This, of course, requires a community where a certain amount of epistemic trust has been built up, but I think that happened already (c. 2009-11).

For epistemic norms designed to avoid false positives, there are skeptics' forums, and scientific journals. And your grandmother (to paraphrase Feynman). Here, we could use more of the opposite approach (avoiding false negatives). Who else specializes in that (high-quality speculation)? It's basically an empty niche.

Clearly there are distinct skills within what you call physical cognition, and all those skills are not equally valuable

Perhaps I can "strike a chord" with you in particular by talking about value uncertainty in this context. Even to the extent it's clear that not all of the "subskills" are equally valuable (which I don't necessarily concede, in part because its not even clear to me what the right decomposition into subskills is!), it's not necessarily clear which ones are more valuable, and by how much.

To be honest, I'm a little bit suspicious of the whole approach of trying to decompose something like music (or the "physical cognition" involved therein) into its component subskills, with the aim of measuring their relative values. The reason for this is that I doubt anyone currently understands either music, psychology, or 'values' well enough to do this -- at least, at any level of detail much beyond what I've already done by pointing to the physicality of music. To me, the relation between physicality of this sort and certain especially valuable forms of thought (precise, imaginative) is intuitively obvious, and I think consideration and investigation into the matter will reveal this to others; but I don't think this translates easily into something like "music study trains Cognitive Skill S X% more effectively than [rival activity]", especially where we can be confident that S is ontologically sound, and X numerically accurate, "enough".

What is on more solid ground at the moment is the heuristic, correlational case that it is better to be the kind of person who is interested and experienced in things like music than the kind of person who isn't. And it's better to live in the kind of society where such pursuits are enjoyed and admired than in the kind where they're not.

It would be nice to have a more detailed idea of why this is the case -- but I think the study of music, and the other activities in this reference class, is itself a conceptual prerequisite for more fully understanding the phenomenon.

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