High School Lecture - Report

post by Xece · 2012-09-23T02:06:02.191Z · score: 19 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 13 comments

This post is a followup report to this.

 

On Friday's lecture, I was able to briefly cover several topics as an introduction. They centred around rationality (what it is), truth (what it is and why we should pursue it), and Newcomb's Paradox.

The turnout was as expected (6 out of a total 7 group members, with 1 having other obligations that day). Throughout the talk I would ask for some proposed definitions before giving them. It is unfortunate when I asked what "truth" is, mysterious answers such as "truth is the meaning of life", and "truth is the pursuit of truth". When asked what they meant by their answers, they either rephrased what they said with the same vagueness or were unable to give an answer. One member, however, did say that "Truth is what is real", only to have other members ask what he meant by "real". It offered a rather nice opportunity for a map-and-territory tangent before giving some version of "The Simple Truth".

I used the definitions given in 'What Do We Mean By "Rationality"?' to describe epistemic and instrumental rationality, and gave several examples as to what rationality is not (Dr. Spock, logic/reason, etc). As a practice, I introduced Newcomb's Paradox. There was ample debate with an even split between one-box and two-boxers. Due to time constraints, we weren't able to come to a conclusion (although the one-boxing side was making a stronger argument). By the end of lunch period, everyone seemed to have a good grasp that rationality is simply making the best decision to achieve one's goals, whatever they may be.

Overall, I'd say it was successful. My next turn is on October 3rd, and apart from a little review, I'm going to go over the 5-second level, and use of words. Saying what they mean is something we as a group need to work on.

13 comments

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comment by ScottMessick · 2012-09-24T02:42:23.590Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder how it would be if you asked instead "When should we say a statement is true?" instead of "What is truth?" and whether your classmates would think them the same (or at least closely related) questions.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-24T20:05:55.698Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

philosophy landmines.

I hope that phrase serves you well.

comment by tgb · 2012-09-24T12:07:07.402Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. It seems to me that we as a culture expect "What is truth?" to have a mysterious answer and we expect the asker to be looking for the best sounding answer.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-23T08:21:01.992Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How did you manage to discuss the Newcomb's paradox without deviating into free will and inside/outside view?

comment by Xece · 2012-09-23T18:08:05.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They just accepted the "god" used to phrase the problem as a perfect predictor. Most of the debate/discussion was centred around the fact whether or not it was more "logical" to choose both boxes (no debate on its definition, thankfully). The one-boxer's main argument was that given the god is a perfect predictor, the best choice was to one-box, as it would be impossible for two-boxing to yield $1,001,000.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-23T18:18:33.526Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The one-boxer's main argument was that given the god is a perfect predictor, the best choice was to one-box, as it would be impossible for two-boxing to yield $1,001,000.

"But the million is either there or not, might as well go for it!" -- how do you reconcile this with the "impossible for two-boxing to yield $1,001,000" without discussing free will?

comment by Xece · 2012-09-23T19:03:54.715Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be honest, I didn't. I let them talk it out and the issue of free will never came up.

comment by Nighteyes5678 · 2012-09-25T21:55:03.753Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I did discussion groups like these, one useful term I introduced was a "canned answer". This is any answer that can be supplied without any original thought or analysis, as if they just went into the cellar of their mind and pulled out a can. Introducing this term as a negative thing and banning "canned answers" puts focus on taking a moment to think before speaking. It got to the point where I was able to just look at someone and twist my hand - they'd instantly stop and think. The group also became self-policing and started asking, "that seemed a little fast; do you think it was canned?" to check themselves.

It's a term I found useful. I hope your group continues to go well!

comment by Xece · 2012-09-25T22:52:02.286Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is this more or less the same thing as Cached Thoughts?

comment by Nighteyes5678 · 2012-09-26T00:43:57.502Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's certainly related. Cached Thoughts have always suggested repeating a meme, to me, which is different than supplying a ready-made answer. For example: Cached Thoughts rely on the conclusion coming from outside of your mind, and merely accepted as truth without any analysis. Canned Answers can be your own conclusions from earlier, thoughtlessly applied to a situation they might not be relevant to, or just used as an escape so new thought doesn't have to be done.

But yeah, quite similar. Good to know I originally came up with someone found here. Go ego boost. ^_^

comment by palladias · 2012-09-23T06:04:41.956Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if this came up or will come up, but if " rationality is simply making the best decision to achieve one's goals, whatever they may be" what is the discipline that helps us check the goals we're optimizing for are the right ones?

comment by Slackson · 2012-09-23T09:44:05.714Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To achieve your goals you're going to want to identify and define them first. Assuming one has inadequate knowledge of one's goals, a rational decision would be to clarify that knowledge to a point, whatever those goals happen to be.

comment by shminux · 2012-09-23T08:24:25.312Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

rationality is simply making the best decision to achieve one's goals, whatever they may be

That would be the instrumental rationality.

what is the discipline that helps us check the goals we're optimizing for are the right ones?

That would be the epistemic one. According to the OP, both were discussed:

I used the definitions given in 'What Do We Mean By "Rationality"?' to describe epistemic and instrumental rationality