Up close and personal with the world

post by dominicq · 2020-09-25T06:52:28.302Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · LW · GW · 2 comments

Explicitly building models of the world is often done through understanding the mechanics of how things work, the relations between them, causal effects and more. But I don't put enough emphasis on quantifying. I'm not talking about doing Fermi estimates because I do them and my rationalist(-adjacent) friends do them. There is a difference between Fermi-estimating quantities and knowing them from heart. I think there is value in the latter.

It is good to know, on an intuitive level, how a force of 100 newtons feels like. To have an intuitive grasp of how much a volt is, and how some number of amperes feels like. Take acceleration and velocity, for example. You have a very intuitive grasp of them because of the experience of driving and looking at the speedometer. The idea is to expand the same intuition to other units of measurement. You want to feel what the numbers mean. When you do this, you get very up close and personal to your model of the world. Things are not abstract, black boxes anymore.

Tech-savvy dads were right all along when they were impressed by some specific number related to fuel consumption, or torque, or clamping pressure, or whatever, and I failed for not being interested in what seemed like random numbers and units. I understood the mechanism and the underlying idea, wasn't that enough? But it wasn't, because I was not fluent, I did not own the model in my head. It didn't yet get that quality of ordinariness [LW · GW] that I now seek.

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comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2020-09-25T19:10:51.634Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems like this is easier when you deal with "ordinary" amounts of stuff, not too little and not too big. I don't mean "mind-bogglingly, philosophical big". The trouble is already in the 10^-5-ies. And I'm saying this because I take good apochromatic optics for granted, so can't be too opposed to more pessimistic estimates.

I was so frustrated when I had to read up on phytohormones in non-flowering plants (and on the flowering, since they are better studied). It's a crazy vinaigrette of units used to express what is usually quite low concentrations, with a few exceptions like pollen. How can one compare ng/g dry material to, say, mg/g wet material, when it is clear that these aren't just two convertible figures but two different ways of measurement? (With who knows how many plants used to squeeze it out in either case.)

BTW, ChristianKI adviced me to read Husserl, but I haven't yet (although what little I have read seems interesting and relevant).

comment by betulaster (raman-malykhin) · 2020-09-25T13:58:16.921Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is interesting. I wonder how this would apply to the literature on investing mistakes (esp. amateur investors like people who get burned on Robinhood). 

If your idea is correct, IMO people then must be thinking about investing money using priors, concepts and feelings from their own spending experience. Maybe some patterns of systemic bias/mistakes associated with trying to use the "feeling for what N dollars buys and feels like spending" can be teased out.