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comment by Dagon · 2019-06-17T16:03:16.065Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This was one of my favorite stories as a young semi-rationalist. Over the years, I've gone back to it maybe half a dozen times, each with a realization that it's less relevant and insightful than I remember it. The story does an EXCELLENT job at reifying the emotions and sadness of upcoming loss, and the belief that not knowing may be better than knowing about something out of reach.

Unfortunately, it's fiction - a story provides no evidence that such a thing is possible, and no evidence of what the effects could be if it were. It's just one path through a false universe that the author uses to make a point. It does a HORRIBLE job at noting that the lessons are flat-out wrong in most real contexts. In reality, it's often worth sacrifice to improve your capabilities. It's very often better to know the truth, even if painful. And it's flat-out guaranteed that any intelligence you're enjoying now will fade and cease in a ludicrously short number of decades.

I do recommend it, and it's part of the canon for good reason. But don't generalize it as evidence for anything real, and don't accept it's "lessons" as necessarily applicable to any decisions you're going to make.

Useful reference: [LW · GW]

comment by KyriakosCH · 2019-06-17T16:24:15.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I entirely agree with you. The story isn't hard scifi at all, and this much is clear :)

It still is one of the gloomiest pieces of literature ever written, and it does manage to move the reader...

comment by Dagon · 2019-06-17T16:58:00.212Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I found it gloomy when I was younger. Now I find it merely an interesting take on somehow increasing some aspects of IQ and perception without increasing the rational aspects (acceptance of truth, action in pursuit of goals) of a mind. Also, I'm far more aware of the metaphor for life: youth is stupid and unknowing, we learn things and understand more as we age, then we wither and die. This is perhaps gloomy, but perhaps simply the way of things.

And the question that would make it relevant to less wrong and rationality is: it moves the reader, sure. Does it move the reader toward truth and rational models of the universe, or in some other direction? Simply increasing one's view of hypothesis-space is good enough to be worthwhile, but there's a LOT of works which do that. How does this one excel?

comment by KyriakosCH · 2019-06-17T18:03:46.436Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A good question. I would think that while the story doesn't have much to offer regarding conscious mental calculation and systems, it still includes a set of powerful allegories (in my article I did mention one of them: Algernon seems to stand for the somatic part, with the person turning into a purely mental entity; another allegory seems to be about the need to stop extrapolating thoughts to prevent an overload) which can, consciously or not, bring about changes to the reader's rationality.

I don't think the story has much to do with youth and experience. After all, as we all know (unless we are youths ;) ) while some knowledge only can be had by experience and thus only be gotten in time, the more theoretical types of knowledge are available to highly intelligent youths as well, eg an elementary school pupil can be already exceptionally good at math.