The Mountaineer's Fallacy

post by Alex Power (alex-power) · 2021-07-17T23:45:54.154Z · LW · GW · 11 comments

I'm sure this has a name, but I can't remember it. So I have given it a new name. The Mountaineer's Fallacy.

The Mountaineer's Fallacy is the suggestion that climbing Mount Everest is a good start on a trip to the moon.

In one sense, you are making progress on a key metric: distance from the moon. But in another, more accurate sense, you are wasting a lot of time and effort on something that has no chance of helping you get to the moon.

11 comments

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comment by GuySrinivasan · 2021-07-18T02:38:32.162Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mountaineer's Fallacy Fallacy - working on the real problem ineffectually when the right move is working on adjacent problems that might be pointless in order to chip away at the edges until the key components of solving the real problem are actually visible and tractable.

But yeah the OG MF is common.

comment by Andrew Vlahos (andrew-vlahos) · 2021-07-18T05:56:01.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you give an example of this happening in the real world? I don't quite see what it applies to.

Replies from: Teerth Aloke
comment by Teerth Aloke · 2021-07-18T11:34:37.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Narrow AI and General AI may be the sort of thing in mind.

comment by gwern · 2021-07-22T02:59:38.159Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Has anyone pointed out to Chollet yet that scaling up bottle rockets is a great way to go to space?

comment by Zachary Robertson (zachary-robertson) · 2021-07-18T20:30:49.656Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure this has a name, but I can't remember it. So I have given it a new name. The Mountaineer's Fallacy.

The Einstellung effect seems to be relevant. This refers to a person's predisposition to solve a given problem in a specific manner even though better or more appropriate methods of solving the problem exist. In particular, you can characterize the effect as having the wrong working hypothesis. Specifically, a wrong working hypothesis for an approach.

Question: What's a reasonable approach to get to the moon? Fallacy: We can climb things. Therefore a good start is to climb the tallest thing. Thus, working on finding or building a tall thing will eventually take us to the moon. Accordingly, a good feasibility test would be to climb Mount Everest.

comment by johnswentworth · 2021-07-18T13:06:09.181Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love this.

comment by Pattern · 2021-07-20T18:20:56.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
In one sense, you are making progress on a key metric: distance from the moon.

This seems like it'd be less than 1%. (Or at least, 10%.)

comment by Ericf · 2021-07-18T15:26:13.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kind of an extreme version of getting stuck at a local maximum?

Replies from: Pattern
comment by Pattern · 2021-07-20T18:21:53.519Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aiming for a local maximum. (The best place to build a rocket launch probably isn't Mount Everest, though I could be wrong about that.)

Replies from: Ericf
comment by Ericf · 2021-07-21T11:19:14.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aside from the logistics issues of getting the rocket up there, the top of Everest is actually a great place to launch from. Less gravity, less air resistance, and reasonably close to the Equator (27⁰ - the same as Florida).

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2021-07-19T09:45:02.665Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An idea that climbing Everest has something to do with the trip to the moon is in many ways an antithesis to the concept of mountaineering, so I don't think this name choice is fortunate.