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

Comment author: thomblake 13 May 2011 09:37:08PM -2 points [-]

I think we do owe them respect for this

I disagree. If Isaac Newton believes I owe him something, he can call my lawyer, but I'm pretty sure I didn't agree to anything of the sort.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:43:08AM 0 points [-]

You owe him respect and there's nothing you can do about it. He is better dead than you are alive.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2011 07:45:48PM 0 points [-]

Think just how hard it is to cook competently from recipes if you're a newbie.

I'm not sure this is a good example because I've had great success cooking out of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. However, this does not negate your point about difficulty, because kitchen cooking is not necessarily representative of the difficulty of things in general.

I think we do owe them respect for this

Yes, this is one of those other points that I'm not disputing.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:42:37AM 0 points [-]

Weird that you think you're not disputing it when you consistently disrespect them with every post.

Comment author: thomblake 13 May 2011 12:15:17AM 2 points [-]

How much actual control over the world does your knowledge enable you to exert, outside of these highly contrived situations provided by the modern society?

Why would I want to assert control over the world outside of that context? I am in that context - that's part of my point. I am a better human in part because I am a human with a computer and a car and a cellphone and the Internet. My descendants might be better in part because they are robots/cyborgs/uploaded/built out of nanobots. And we are all better because we are connected and able to perform tasks together that no lone 'survivalist' can.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:41:58AM 0 points [-]

Better according to you, and you alone.

Comment author: thomblake 12 May 2011 10:55:55PM 0 points [-]

attributes to them intellectual errors of which they were not guilty in reality

Don't worry, we're not going to hang anybody for it.

especially if this means feeling superior to people whose work was the basis and foundation of this contemporary knowledge

But I am superior to them. I have a better understanding of the world. I can access most of human knowledge from a device that I keep in my pocket. I can travel hundreds of miles in a day. I have hot running water in my house. Yes, all these things are true because I "just happen" to live in this time. It makes me better than those who came before, and worse than those who will come after. Similarly, I am better than I was yesterday, and hopefully I am worse than I will be tomorrow.

Let us not forget Themistocles's taunt: "I should not have been great if I had not been an Athenian, nor would you, were you an Athenian, have become Themistocles." Perhaps Kelvin would have been greater than I had he been born in this time. But sadly he was not.

Rationality is no place for false humility, and we should not revere those who came before as though they were wiser than us. Be aware of your power and grow more powerful.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:41:25AM 0 points [-]

You aren't superior to them; and the guys who believed in elan vital were definitely better than you. At least they left the house and took showers every now and then.

Comment author: thomblake 12 May 2011 09:58:45PM -2 points [-]

bashing people who held them centuries ago as dimwits who sought to mysticize the questions instead of elucidating them is sheer arrogant ignorance.

I don't think that's what Eliezer is doing here (Except maybe Kelvin, but he deserved it).

The point is not to bash the people who held these beliefs; the point is to see how we can do better.

And for the most part, there isn't a point to "grappling with the real complexity of the history of ideas". From this particular parable, we see more clearly that a hypothesis must constrain our anticipated experiences, and as a side note nothing is inherently mysterious. Moving on.

Ignorance is not the source of my arrogance. It is deserved pride.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:40:17AM 0 points [-]

No, it's just arrogance.

Comment author: CuSithBell 13 May 2011 05:33:09PM 0 points [-]

I suppose that's probably right - I guess people are more likely to think "science supports a materialistic worldview (but can't explain everything)" (except when, like, quantum mechanics or superstrings or whatever come into play). So, less "non-materialst", but still an appreciable degree of "curiosity stopping". Hmm.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:39:46AM 0 points [-]

They don't stop curiosity because anyone can verify (or falsify) the theories themselves if they so choose.

Comment author: omeganaut 11 May 2011 07:13:23PM 1 point [-]

While I understand how there are some questions that cannot be completely answered, I feel as though you have chosen to ignore the fact that science at that time was inadequate to really understand the underlying science. Even today there is no complete understanding of any field, just educated guesses based on experiments and observations. Elan vital was just one theory of attempting to describe why life happens, and it was based on the fact that life had something more than un-living matter. However, further experiments altered this theory. Would you say the same thing about Quantum Theory, or the Electromagnetic Spectrum, or even E=mc^2? So far, those theories, while truthful when modeling current events, have not been conclusively proven. However, by aggressively insinuating that anyone who uses a theory that has not be uncategorically proven as fact is lacking in rational thought, then you belittle the field of science and all that it has achieved.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:36:40AM 0 points [-]

"Elan vital" is a label which stands in for the statement "Living things have certain properties."

Thus, the theory becomes "Living things have certain properties because they have certain properties."

Comment author: MatthewB 27 December 2009 09:03:45AM 3 points [-]

I went and read up on Phlogiston a little bit, and this makes sense to me now. The Nitrogen (absence of Oxygen) is a good analogy for what is a very weird theory (Phlogiston - I can see why Steam-Punks are so drawn to this esoteric and wildly insane theory - and I can see why at the time it made sense to Stahl even though it was wildly wrong... The terminology tends to sound really ludicrous: Phlogisticated or Dephlogisticated... Uh, huh...)

I can now see where my analogy with the proton is off, as well.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:34:11AM 0 points [-]

What about it is esoteric or "wildly insane"?

Comment author: DanielLC 27 December 2009 06:15:00AM 2 points [-]

Nitrogen would be phlogiston-saturated air, in which nothing would burn. Coal would be full of phlogiston and burn easily in any air that isn't phlogiston-saturated.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:33:12AM *  0 points [-]

So phlogiston is, then, literally any substance in the entire universe other than oxygen. Actually that's not even true. Phlogiston is also oxygen, as long as it is either too concentrated or not concentrated enough for combustion to occur; and even this depends on pressure, temperature and the presence and proportion of other substances.

Real useful theory there.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 August 2007 05:29:08PM 13 points [-]

People with the benefit of hindsight failing to realize how reasonable vitalism sounded at the time is precisely why they go ahead and propose similar explanations for consciousness, which seems far more mysterious to them than biology, hence legitimately in need of a mysterious explanation. Vitalists were merely stupid, to make such a big deal out of such an ordinary-seeming phenomenon as biology - consciousness is different.

This is precisely one of the ways in which I went astray when I was still a diligent practitioner of mere Traditional Rationality, rather than Bayescraft. The reason to consider how reasonable mistakes seemed without benefit of hindsight, is not to excuse them, because this is to fail to learn from them. The reason to consider how reasonable it seemed is to realize that not everything that sounds reasonable is a good idea; you've got to be strict about things like yielding increases in predictive power.

Comment author: srcs 27 October 2017 05:27:01AM 0 points [-]

Feel free to provide a complete theory of consciousness at any time.

View more: Next