The First Fundamental

post by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-17T01:31:06.776Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW · 20 comments


Why is it, that some people read a mere fraction of The Sequences and achieve something like 'rationality', where others read the whole thing and get nothing. Why is it that I have ostensibly novel thoughts on 'rationality' reading a book on the history of science, but a physics Ph.D reads that same book and gets little from it but fun trivia? The following is my best current hypothesis, for the first thing that needs to be taught for someone to even pursue 'rationality'. (This text is edited in to provide context that should have been there when I first posted.)

Paths are walked one foot after the other, by careful repetition. Crossbow is closer to Mars than pen. Zeno's wisdom of measurement must be considered carefully to achieve Erasmus's glory. The artists thieving eyes permit no wasted motion. All the world is stolen by their dedication. It is easy to confuse that which is stolen with that which New Caledonia's cartographer made, in telling the difference you'll map while you travel and cut with no blade.

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comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-17T08:37:48.217Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

By the way, I'll go ahead and post the intended interpretation either on January 21st of this year, or when the thing is solved. Whichever comes first.

And since an unfortunate number of people accused me of some lame trickery like "have other people generate meaning and then take credit for it", I've gone ahead and written a short description of the intended interpretation, which I've hashed and will post at that time.

SHA256: e81de961bd3cbe96bfa4f249fa63a920fa68fa6db1680701768941d04a2431ff

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-22T04:10:56.679Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW


So here's the hashed text, though I'll freely admit it's an incomplete description:

The problem is that they haven't interpreted the crossbow line correctly. It's about distance. Once you know it's about distance, Zeno's paradoxes all deal with distance, in particular knowing the precise distances between things. Erasmus's glory was attained through his relentless dedication in all things, always having a notion of where the goal was and how to move towards it. The artists eyes and stealing, is in fact a reference to Steve Jobs "great artists steal". The great artists became great by carefully observing nature directly and noting its secrets, instead of focusing on the inaccurate crap someone came up with which was printed in books. They were instructed in every moment, by everything around them, and pursued the art no matter where they were. And they did in fact succeed in the basic goal of learning to draw everything (i.e, the whole world 'stolen'). It is easy to confuse things produced by a true observation of the world, with those which have just been copied from expectation after expectation, maps of maps. Hence the island that doesn't exist but hops from map to map. In telling the difference, you'll be able to see past magical aims and false expectations, instead noticing and being instructed by the world as you navigate through it, and cutting even while you don't formally take up the sword. Instead of cutting with every motion of blade-wielding, you cut in every moment even beyond that.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/j4hnx70exrp9nbx/riddleanswer short.txt?dl=0

(Just so you have the exact file to verify.) Lets start with the text I added in after first posting:

Why is it, that some people read a mere fraction of The Sequences and achieve something like 'rationality', where others read the whole thing and get nothing. Why is it that I have ostensibly novel thoughts on 'rationality' reading a book on the history of science, but a physics Ph.D reads that same book and gets little from it but fun trivia?

So, I'll go ahead and say that my personal hypothesis here is as simple as aim. A physicist might see having to read about alchemy for class as an imposition, and even if they don't they carefully scan it for physics-insight. How you look for things in the pursuit of your goals, determines a lot of how this vague thing we think of as 'noticing' works for you. The cipher goes a little deeper than that.

Paths are walked one foot after the other, by careful repetition. Crossbow is closer to Mars than pen. Zeno's wisdom of measurement must be considered carefully to achieve Erasmus's glory. The artists thieving eyes permit no wasted motion. All the world is stolen by their dedication. It is easy to confuse that which is stolen with that which New Caledonia's cartographer made, in telling the difference you'll map while you travel and cut with no blade.

To walk a path you need to know where you're going, repetition implies the thing described in the rest happens more than once. 'Crossbow is closer to Mars than pen' demonstrates a principle, it's grammatically distinct from the rest of the composition. (In retrospect I think this may have been a mistake.) That principle is really as simple as you being able to make such distance comparisons at all. The notion of distance is important as we move into Zeno. Zeno's paradoxes deal with the distance between things, as they become infinitely small and everywhere in between. Erasmus's glory was probably the wrong wording, I should have said "Erasmus's diligence" or something else. Because glory implies his achievements, but actually I wanted to focus on his methods.

In all likelihood it is this dedication by which the most exceptional scholars came into their own strength even with all of the world arrayed against them. Between the chatter of business, the sting of bitter poverty, or the disruptions of vagrancy. The life of Erasmus was one of wanderlust; born without a silver spoon and drawn from city to city and country to country by the promises of those who claimed they'd house him. These hopes always came to nothing, even as he each time believed and was beguiled by them. Yet somehow he continued the work. Through unceasing stability in effort, by a constant activation of energy in moments where others do nothing, Erasmus managed to write more in the same condition than others in the same place would hope to read. Having occupied every station in life, from highest court to lowest ghetto he wrote us the most complete description of civil manners in his age. He gave to us such knowledge of the world in that time that he will forever stand among the first literary heroes. How this quality was obtained he tells us, implicitly, by noting that the "Praise of Folly", among his best work, was written on the road to Italy. Of this he said: ne totum illud tempus quo equo fuit insidendum illiteratis fabulis terreretur: "lest the hours which he was obliged to spend on horseback should be tattled away without regard to literature".

(This is a modernized excerpt from a Samuel Johnson esasy.)

Erasmus's ceaseless dedication allowed him to pursue literature and the arts even among an environment wholly unsuited. The artist, whose craft relies on imitating or subverting the works of nature, is instructed in all moments by everything they see. "Good artists copy, great artists steal" goes the famous saying. Which is meant to direct towards the great artists, whose craft was more focused deeply on naturalism. The artists did in fact 'steal' the world, figuring out how to do everything in classical compositions and more. It's easy to confuse this sort of grounded investigation, and in fact your aims, with the magical expectations that others lay down. (eg. That Bayesian Mathematics will give you superpowers. Philip Tetlock for example insists it does no such thing.) This line was actually one of the bigger mistakes in the composition, because on reflection I don't think it's in telling the difference that you get the benefits outlined.


So how does Zeno's measurement come up? The basic answer is that in being able to judge the distance between things at every intermediate point on your path, you can run a life strategy something like gradient descent. And so long as you don't get trapped in a local maxima you'll probably do pretty well that way. This also lets you pursue something far away, even when your immediate environment doesn't necessarily seem to permit it. Mapping while you travel, is noticing and having insights on life as you walk through it, rather than just on reflection (which is a much weaker time to be able to notice). This might sound trivial but I find many people seem not to do this. Cutting with no blade is finding ways to make action towards your goals even without an ostensible 'weapon' to 'cut' with in the sense of The Book of Five Rings. (This is a fairly central thing in The Sequences, so I think it's okay to assume it as background material.)

The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him.

Or as I put it to a friend in trying to explain the essence of things:

I think the core of it though is summed up in that phrase: permit no wasted motion.
If you structure yourself to be taught The Art at every moment you can be, trying to find it even in the impositions and annoyances, less of your life will be aimless. If you know the goal and always where to step in its service (by always having a notion of the distance between your next step and the goal), then much fewer actions are careless or without consideration. If you maintain that ceaseless activation of energy, always stepping when you can step and always looking for the ways in which you can cut without your sword, then you'll have more purpose in your motions. By always knowing the goal, and always connecting it to what you see, you will get more from everything you encounter.
This is the first lesson, all else comes after.
comment by zulupineapple · 2018-01-25T13:34:42.414Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

See, the problem with your idea of obfuscation, is that the hidden truth isn't that interesting. If I had tried to interpret your original (I didn't) and if I had succeeded (by some magic, presumably), I would have been quite disappointed.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-21T17:26:56.818Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Will post today, want to post a bit more than just the short description so it'll be coming after I accomplish a few tasks in my personal life

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-17T02:21:28.012Z · score: 16 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So, judging from Hypothesis sending me a quote from an alchemy book a few days ago, we might want to try interpreting this in a somewhat similar manner to this quote:

The king's crown should be pure gold. and a chaste bride should be married to him. Take the ravenous grey wolf that on account of his nature is subjected to bellicose Mars, but by birth is a child of old Saturn, and that lives in the valleys and mountains of the world and is possessed of great hunger. Throw the king's body before him that he may have his nourishment from it. And when he has devoured the king, then make a great fire and throw the wolf into it so that he burns up entirely; thus will the king be redeemed. If this is done thrice, then the lion has conquered the wolf, and nothing more to eat will be found in him; thus is our body completed at the start of our work. - Valentine's first "key" to the stone, Of the Great Stone

For which Hypothesis sent me the following interpretation:

https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/364899268215046157/401491954392629270/DOC-20180112-134346.jpg

So in a similar vein, my first steps at the interpretation:

Given that we are on LW, and the natural subject is rationality, I would expect the metaphors of the text to refer to rationality techniques, or at least deeper principles of rationality. Candidates of things in this class include:

  • System 1/ System 2
  • Any of the 12 virtues of rationality
  • Any of the great scientists discussed in the sequences
  • "Slack", "Fungibility", "Comparative Advantage" and all the other specialized terms we have come up with
  • General ideas from cognitive science

Let's start with the first line:

Paths are walked one foot after the other, by careful repetition.

This feels like its strongly referring to habit formation/TAPs, with some principles about plans for habit formation ideally consisting of many small steps, instead of large habits such as "exercise more".

Crossbow is closer to Mars than pen.

This is maybe the most confusing sentence to me in the whole paragraph. Crossbow has some connotations of aiming something, but I have no good grasp on what "Mars" could refer to. General connotations of Mars are "Iron" , "War", "Red", but I can't find any obvious parallel term in rationality parlance, except maybe "dedication" or "something to protect".

"pen" probably has something to do with writing and system-2 based thinking, but I don't feel like I can easily understand it without getting at the "Mars" bit.

Zeno's wisdom of measurement must be considered carefully to achieve Erasmus's glory.

Zeno's wisdom probably refers to Zeno's paradox, though I would guess he refers to some deeper insight about how the universe works as a result of Zeno's paradox. The only thing that I ever really learned from Zeno's paradox was "the greeks should really have invented infinitesimal calculus", so maybe it refers to that, but who knows.

I don't know a lot about Erasmus, except that he was a Renaissance Humanist and wrote some things about free will.

Ok, this is taking a bit longer than I had expected, so I will take a break and maybe come back later. Other people are happy to pick up where I left.

comment by taygetea · 2018-01-17T05:23:54.771Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Crossbow is closer to Mars than pen

If you treat war and conflict as directed intentionality along the lines of the Book of Five Rings, then this is something akin to a call to taking actions in the world rather than spilling lots of words on the internet.

comment by mbzrl · 2018-01-17T15:59:32.565Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's how I interpreted this sentence. A little more like "you can't get to Mars by thinking, but by doing," but the war reference makes sense with Mars and the crossbow.

The quote that comes to mind is from Miyamoto Musashi, and appears in several places in R:A-Z:

"The primary thing when you take a sword in your hands is your intention to cut the enemy, whatever the means. Whenever you parry, hit, spring, strike or touch the enemy's cutting sword, you must cut the enemy in the same movement. It is essential to attain this. If you think only of hitting, springing, striking or touching the enemy, you will not be able actually to cut him. More than anything, you must be thinking of carrying your movement through to cutting him. You must thoroughly research this."

comment by JenniferRM · 2018-01-19T06:58:20.395Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"I do not see how a man can work on the frontiers of physics and write poetry at the same time. They are in opposition. In science you want to say something that nobody knew before, in words which everyone can understand. In poetry you are bound to say something that everybody knows already in words that nobody can understand."

-Paul Dirac (to Oppenheimer, regarding Oppie's reported dabbling in poetry)

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-19T08:27:02.188Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like a complete misunderstanding of poetry to me.

comment by JenniferRM · 2018-01-20T22:44:14.989Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I mean... in his defense... Paul Dirac was pretty dumb. He was probably just doing his best ;-)

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-19T18:44:19.818Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Then Joshu said, “Well given, well taken, well killed, well saved.” And he bowed to the hermit.
comment by JenniferRM · 2018-01-20T22:52:32.586Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Likewise!

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-17T01:57:12.509Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like I could spend half an hour trying to understand this, and would be open to giving it a shot, but I feel like I should first ask whether I am not trying to interpret a draft and maybe you accidentally posted something you didn't want to post.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-17T01:58:55.778Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is not a draft, that is the whole text.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-17T02:02:24.160Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Cool, I will give a shot at interpretation then.

comment by Diffractor · 2018-01-17T06:26:06.601Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"It is easy to confuse that which is stolen with that which New Caledonia's cartographer made, in telling the difference you'll map while you travel and cut with no blade." is the easiest one to translate.

It's easy to confuse stuff that corresponds with reality with second-hand stuff that is bullshit but doesn't obviously seem like it, in telling the difference you'll have to figure out things as you go and accomplish things when you don't have the tools to do so *properly* (possibly because existing knowledge on how to do the thing is sketchy or inadequate)

comment by x. · 2018-01-17T07:10:11.568Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't mean to make an ass of myself here, and I will go on record as saying that I enjoyed reading this post, but I can't really understand its purpose. Is there some sort of context that I'm missing? Is it part of a series? Is it a joke? Prima facie, the text seems to lack semantic content apart from what can be projected onto it by a willing reader.

comment by namespace (ingres) · 2018-01-17T07:24:16.432Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not providing context is in fact a flaw of the original post. The basic reason I didn't do it is that I felt providing inside-view accurate context might be promising too much. And providing inside-view inaccurate context would feel too much like lying. But in the original context where this sort of riddle is used, there is usually some non-ciphertext to help you out. Oliver Habryka kindly provided some of this, otherwise I probably would have posted it myself.

comment by x. · 2018-01-17T09:59:01.895Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So: while looking through the daily page, I just noticed the icon by this post's title indicating that it was a personal blog entry, and its tone suddenly made a lot more sense. Apologies; I was linked here by the list of recent posts and thought it was intended as a public LW article (by which standards it would, of course, be unreasonably obscurantist!)

(PS. I'll bring this issue up in the LW 2.0 meta chat, because it seems like a rather unfortunate design)

comment by mackhidalgo · 2018-01-17T03:43:08.590Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Very rough ten minutes of generating associations before reading comments, and I had to google some references (pardon formatting, I'm trying to figure it out):

paths are walked one foot after the other, by careful repetition
  • Anki TAPs habits system 1 etc?
  • algorithms

crossbow is closer to Mars than pen
  • that xkcd comic "x is closer to modern day than historical event"
  • Mars is a god, war, planet...
  • crossbow was invented in medieval times
  • pen was invented in?? eh pens have been around since ink, bad lead
  • "pen is mightier than the sword" <- the crossbow (military technology) is closer to war, fighting and further from civilization than the power granted by the "pen" (writing, reason, words, thinking, talking, diplomacy) [real uncertain here]
  • timeline is probably not a great way to look at this?
  • did someone send a crossbow into space (please yes)
  • actually getting more confident re: something about technology and power and goals and shit

Zeno's wisdom of measurement must be considered carefully to achieve Erasmus's glory.
  • Zeno's wisdom of measurement...googling this coms up with the "quantum zeno effect" bc of arrow paradox (per wikipedia): "If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless"
  • heisenberg uncertainty principle
  • Erasmus was a well-known Renaissance humanist apparently
  • conflict over free will with Luther?

The artists thieving eyes permit no wasted motion.
All the world is stolen by their dedication.
  • these two seem to be fairly obviously about science/empiricism
  • "wasted motion" might refer to conservation of momentum
  • all the world is "stolen" (harnessed controlled understood portrayed)

It is easy to confuse that which is stolen with that which New Caledonia's cartographer made, in telling the difference you'll map while you travel and cut with no blade.
  • New Caledonia seems to be an island that was put on maps for a long time but doesn't exist; "that which New Caledonia's cartographer made" might refer to bullshit artistry or honest errors or somewhere in the middle
  • at any rate it stuck around because...maps of maps
  • it's difficult to tell the difference between what is determined empirically and what is a propogating error?
  • "while you travel and cut with no blade" trying to map things for yourself without the correct tools?

So, first pass guessing:

  • importance of (habits repetition procedure algorithms)
  • Mars thing is ???
  • understanding (determinism free will agency) through scientific principles
  • dedication to (empiricism science etc) will "steal" the world (develop complete understanding? control entirely?)
  • map/territory, + warning to carefully differentiate between what's been repeated in error or straight-up invented and what was "stolen" by the "artists" (scientists?), additional warning re: creating your own maps without the proper tools.