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TimS comments on Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) - Less Wrong

111 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 July 2007 10:59PM

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Comment author: TimS 06 February 2012 02:32:17AM 0 points [-]

Fine, you want to be contrary. What experience would falsify the partial definition of scientific theory that I have labelled "the principle of falsifiability"? If no such experience exists, does this call into doubt the usefulness of the principle?

Comment author: gwern 06 February 2012 02:40:05AM 1 point [-]

What experience would falsify the partial definition of scientific theory that I have labelled "the principle of falsifiability"?

Are you even trying here? Here's what would falsify falsifiability: observing superior predictions being made by unfalsifiable theories, theories which have no reason to work but which do. Imagine a Christianity which came with texts loaded with prophetic symbolism which could be interpreted any way and is unfalsifiable, but which nevertheless keep turning out literally true (writes my hypothetical self, as he is tormented by Satanic wasps with the faces of humans prior to the sea turning into blood or something like that). In such a universe, falsifiability would be pretty useless.

Comment author: TimS 06 February 2012 02:53:12AM 0 points [-]

Isn't that essentially the best case for things like Nostradamus? Even assuming that the prophecies are accurate, they aren't useful because they are so vague. The moment that the predictions are specific enough to be useful, they could be falsified.

What use is it to call that science? How could it possibly produce superior predictions in a world in which science works at all?

Comment author: gwern 06 February 2012 02:54:52AM 0 points [-]

What use is it to call that science? How could it possibly produce superior predictions in a world in which science works at all?

Yes, that is rather the question you should be answering if you want to criticize the desirability of falsifiability as being unfalsifiable itself...

Comment author: TimS 06 February 2012 03:14:28AM *  0 points [-]

I don't understand where we disagree, so let me clarify my position: A prophecy that is so vague that it can't be disproved is so vague that it doesn't tell you what will happen ahead of time. Calling that a prediction abuses the term to the point of incoherency.

Yes, that's almost entirely a definitional point. Definitions aren't necessarily empirical statements. They are either useful or not useful in thinking carefully. Thus, the fact that they cannot be falsified is not a relevant thing to say, in the same way that it isn't useful to object that the Pythagorean theory can't be falsified.

If you intend to invoke some other critique of Popper and his use of falsifiability to distinguish science from non-science, please by more explicit, because I don't understand your argument.