What do we already have right?

post by EndlessStrategy · 2013-11-24T22:03:06.646Z · score: 5 (12 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

I was just wondering. Human minds are messed up in 1001 ways, but are there a few rational principles that most people already have down? Of course, the answers to this question are probably so extremely obvious that I haven't even considered them. But I ask all the same.

53 comments

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comment by summerstay · 2013-11-25T18:11:37.172Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One rational ability that people are really good at that is hard (i.e. we haven't made much progress in automating) is applying common sense knowledge to language understanding. Here's a collection of sentences where the referent is ambiguous, but we don't even notice because we are able to match it up as quickly as we read: http://www.hlt.utdallas.edu/~vince/data/emnlp12/train-emnlp12.txt

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-11-25T00:00:12.516Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Obvious answer: humans are very, very good at figuring out what's in the environment and how it is going to behave. They've got multiple tools for this - vision and visual processing, hearing and auditory processing, smell, and basic logical inference (eg, the last three times the bush was rustling, there was a tiger in there, and the bush is rustling, therefore there's probably a tiger in there). Another couple concrete examples are tracking the flight of a baseball, or the expected outcome of throwing a football. Frankly, pretty much any sport activity is a great example of how to turn information into actions that maximize a result.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-11-25T15:41:39.746Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience, humans aren't that good at "tracking the flight of a baseball, or the expected outcome of throwing a football" intuitively.

In baseball for instance, it's common for outfielders to misjudge the flight of a ball coming in their general direction if they base their judgement solely off the ball's trajectory. Fielders are taught to get aquainted with the different sounds the ball makes when it hits the bat in order to better judge the initial velocity of the ball. They are also taught to error on the side of caution -- taking a step or two back for instance, when a ball is hit their way and they are unsure of the trajectory, so as not to let the ball get behind them and cause a signifcantly bad result. You, of course, have some intuition about how to catch a baseball or throw a football...but you learn the techniques to do it at an optimized level.

There are some people who seem to have a more acute intuitive understanding of physics in action on the sports field. (i.e. natural born talents) But I think it is more common (ar at least as common) that elite players have aquired a keen sense of actions that yield a maximized result through repetition and focused practice.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T16:21:55.764Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sports are designed to be hard but possible. That's what makes them interesting.

Perhaps we should be looking at more ordinary skills, like walking-- or, for people with some familiarity with it, walking over rough terrain.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-11-25T01:23:15.425Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Law of Non-Contradiction. Try going against this law and you may find how figured-out, in the bag, dusted and done it is. Tremendously useful.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T08:46:20.054Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Law of Non-Contradiction is manifestly false in the arena of legal reasoning, at least in common-law jurisdictions such as the United States. Given just about any desired conclusion, one can come up with a logically valid legal argument in favor of it.. (I can't speak for how things are done in civil law jurisdictions, such as France.)

comment by lfghjkl · 2013-11-25T12:07:56.770Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless you're dealing with Intuitionistic logic:

Semantically, intuitionistic logic is a restriction of classical logic in which the law of excluded middle and double negation elimination are not admitted as axioms.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-11-25T12:26:58.991Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In intuitionistic logic, it is still the case that nothing can be both true and false.

comment by lfghjkl · 2013-11-25T14:05:30.905Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, misread your comment and thought you referred to the law of excluded middle. The problem with reading while I should be sleeping.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-11-25T04:19:46.169Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes--and you learn them as a parent when you realize the need to tell your kid something that's automatic to you such as "don't run into the street without looking", "eat your vegetables", and "wash your hands after you go to the bathroom."

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T09:08:19.635Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My mom actually taught me "Never wash your hands after peeing in a public restroom, because the faucet handles are dirtier than your body."

And she's a doctor.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-11-25T14:40:44.032Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the advice is as much about the chance that you inadvertantly touch the toilet as your own urine. Afterall, urine being sterile means your hands are probably dirtier going into the process than coming out, at least with regards to bacteria.

comment by arundelo · 2013-11-25T15:06:10.722Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to The Straight Dope, the problem is germs on the skin.

comment by gothgirl420666 · 2013-11-29T18:35:49.330Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This can't be true, otherwise giving someone head would be fatal.

comment by satt · 2013-11-30T15:45:42.642Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Judging by the article, the deadliness arises when the bacteria make it to the bloodstream. So, although giving head may spread the germs, they're not going to kill anyone unless some supremely vicious throatfucking is going on. (Cf. meningococcal bacteria, which can cause fatal septicaemia & meningitis, but do no harm to the 10%-25% of people asymptomatically harbouring the bacteria in their noses & throats.)

comment by faul_sname · 2013-11-24T22:53:22.326Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • If something happens, that's evidence that it can happen.
  • If something has happened a bunch in the past, that's good evidence that it will happen again in the future.
  • Anything that goes by the label of "common sense"
comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-11-24T23:43:02.576Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything that goes by the label of "common sense"

... and is correct.

comment by faul_sname · 2013-11-25T00:12:29.271Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Touche.

comment by Fivehundred · 2013-11-25T00:33:08.726Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may be prattling on about something I don't know jack about, but I don't think all philosophers accept induction as a valid principle.

comment by faul_sname · 2013-11-25T17:24:32.075Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

are there a few rational principles that most people already have down?

Most people aren't philosophers who reject the principle of induction.

comment by Fivehundred · 2013-11-25T19:43:20.127Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wasn't the question about what they have right?

comment by faul_sname · 2013-11-26T00:19:59.193Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. And, conditional on induction being valid, everyone who doesn't reject induction gets it right. And very few people reject induction.

comment by Nate_Gabriel · 2013-11-25T01:29:44.679Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure there are philosophers who say they don't, but I guarantee you they act as if they do. Even if they don't know anything about electronics, they'd still expect the light to come on when they flip the switch.

comment by Fivehundred · 2013-11-25T02:23:19.195Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's... not really an argument. Of course everyone has to act pragmatically; we wouldn't even be able to think if we didn't. But that's quite different from establishing the validity of the principle itself.

comment by Nate_Gabriel · 2013-11-25T03:47:44.193Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, it doesn't establish that induction is always valid, so I guess we might not really be disagreeing. But, pragmatically, everyone basically has to assume that it usually works, or is likely to work in whatever the particular case is. I think it's a good enough heuristic to be called a rational principle that people already have down.

comment by Fivehundred · 2013-11-25T05:38:29.825Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, forget it.

comment by Fhyve · 2013-11-25T06:56:45.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I disagree with "common sense." In my experience, when questioning people about what they mean by common sense, I find that they usually mean "general principles that seem like obviously correct to me." And that doesn't even guarantee that they are correct.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T09:48:13.419Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's one that many people understand but some don't.

On subjects in which you personally are not a Ph.D. level expert, attempting to evaluate object-level arguments will generally lead you astray, because some people are really, really good at sounding convincing. The best you can do is to simply accept the majority view of the experts in the age in which you live; if their arguments really were as convincing as they seem, then the experts would probably have accepted them.

On the other hand, choosing the right experts is a huge problem in and of itself.

comment by Emile · 2013-11-25T13:25:13.103Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, choosing the right experts is a huge problem in and of itself.

Eh, choosing people who have academic credentials (from major establishments) in the topic in question should bring you close enough to the truth (or at least, as close as you can be without putting in at least as much work as they did). Sure, you'll get it wrong sometimes (listening to theologians on religion), but it's likely to be more correct than trusting your own judgement, or than trusting experts from the wrong domain (physicists talking about diet, biologists talking about cosmology, science fiction authors talking about consciousness, etc.).

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-11-25T14:05:27.164Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Academic knowledge if often pretty narrow. Recently I was searching for a way of describing human movement. It turns out that while biologists do have large controlled vocabularies for describing spiders, I couldn"t find a controlled vocabulary for the task that's done by good biologists.

It seems that the frameworks that are out there were done by dance theorists and aren"t well updated to the 21st century. And by that I mean it"s not trival to express everything in an XML file.

If you want to know which genes express which proteins than biologists are the right people to ask. On the other hand there a lot in biology, where biologists don"t know very much.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-11-26T11:23:24.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Recently I was searching for a way of describing human movement.

Can you tell me some more about that? (PM is fine if it's not relevant to LessWrong.) I have worked on procedural animation for sign languages, based on the HamNoSys notation, and I am interested in extending it to more general movement and more general applications.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-11-28T08:49:37.229Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In studying bioinformatics, so I have a general interest in movment that goes beyond any specific project.

At the moment one of my projects is to build a new constructed language. A logical language like Lojban but better than Lojban.

Lojban takes a lot of semantic distinctions that exist in natural language for granted and doesn't reorganise them.

One example would be months. You don't need a seperate word for every month. It's much better to call them with compound words like month-4 and month-6. At the moment my design provides for 5 letter compound words for months and week days that use numbers. That reorganisation cuts down the number of words that you have to learn. It puts you never in the situation to ask yourself whether July or June comes first.

As part of that semantic reorganisation I think talking about human movement is in need of reorganisation. It's hard to describe some Salsa steps in English. Example sentence: "Keep your weight of the heel of your right foot while your move your left foot so that's in an angle of twenty degrees in front of your right foot and that the foot touches the ground with the toes."

That sentence is quite long. I could imagine that a semantic reorganisation would allow your to cut the sentence to a third or a fourth. Because it's hard to use English language to describe the movements I don't have Anki cards to learn Salsa steps.

If I would have a language that would allow me to describe this precisely I could make Anki cards for it. That means I get a benefit for using the language. This gives people incentives to learn the language.

Of course I don't want the language to be specialized on Salsa steps. I want the language to capture as much human movement as possible. Having an academic ontology would help because I could simply copy the structure of that ontology and make the words shorter and integrate them with general concepts I created elsewhere in the language.

An area where I already did the reorganisation are relationships. If you look at mathematical graph theory you see that it borrows concepts such as parent and child. If you design a language from the ground up that doesn't make sense. You start with the graph theory. That allows you to have a word for node A is connected to node B that doesn't define whether node A is the child or the parent.

In a graph parent gets a three letter word. A biological parent (as defined by inheriting something) gets an additional letter and is a 4 letter word. And you can add the same letter to turn graph child into biological child. Father is then simply a male parent with means that it adds a 2 letter syllable at the end. The design allow to also easily have a 6 letter word for my older parent.

A word like grand-grand-grantparent gets replaced by a 6 letter word with parent plus the syllable for the word three.

HamNoSys notation seems very interesting. I will try to make the language able to express those distinctions.

comment by Plasmon · 2013-11-28T09:16:20.617Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't need a seperate word for every month. It's much better to call them with compound words like month-4 and month-6

That is exactly how months work in Mandarin Chinese.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-11-25T14:38:12.147Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Physical Therapists would also fit in there as well. But yeah, biology is huge considering it would theoretically include medicine, which itself has a multitude of sub-disciplines which don't necessarily know much about each other.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-11-25T20:41:22.544Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I type "notation for systems of physical therapy" into Google the top results I get are Eshkol-Wachman Movement Notation, Benesh Movement Notation and Laban Movement Analysis.

They are system made by dancers. They are general enough that they can also be used for describing non dancing movement.

In case I have missed something, do you know of a general system used by physical therapists which an controlled vocabularies that available online?

There a lot of money that goes in diagnosis equipment like fMRI"s, but not much for recording human movement in a analyzable way. Computer game designers who worked at Microsoft did work on the issue for kinect, but kinect isn't really designed to be used for research purposes.

You can"t throw 10,000 dollar worth of high resolution camera's at it to get clearer data. It would be nice if there would be open source bioinformatics software available for tasks like that. I think we could learn a lot about how humans work by analyzing data like that instead of investing so much money into fMRI scanners and gene sequencing.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-25T20:47:08.861Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

not much for recording human movement in a analyzable way

Look at motion capture for computer animation, both for games and for movies?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-11-26T03:50:54.712Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I understand it right most of the software keeps the motion data in a pretty raw form. At 0.01 s the hand is that location A while at 0.02 s the hand is at location B. It doesn"t describe the timeframe of 0.01 till 0.60 as moving the arm to the right.

Especially it doesn"t have a well defined vocabulay for what moving a arm means. If you do moleculary biology you can download an ontology file in owl or obo which gives you a controlled vocabulary for describes moleculary biology. Even controlled vocabulary to describe emotional states makes it into OBO Foundary.

If you want to make progress with science you need to have detailed language with specific meaning.
But you are right, the movie industry and the game industry did produce some useful tools in that area. Much more than the medicine/biology/bioinformatics folks.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-11-26T04:10:51.922Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Especially it doesn"t have a well defined vocabulay for what moving a arm means.

Motion capture by itself probably doesn't.

However things like skeletal animation systems probably do.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-11-25T20:46:29.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry, I guess I was making an assumption and merely adding to the noise.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-11-25T16:13:39.284Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

theologians on religion

I think there is value in listening to theologians on religion.

The annoying mistake is made when proponents of a religion cite theologians as evidence of their presupposition of god's existence. Just because they can tell us about every nook and cranny of a particular religious tradition doesn't mean they have anything useful to say about if said religious tradition relates to reality.

comment by Emile · 2013-11-25T22:14:20.647Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, I hesitated about Theologians but it was the best counter-example I could find. I would probably believe Theologians rather than Internet Atheists about what a Holy Book claims, what positions a religion holds, how a book should be interpreted, etc. I'll believe a biblical scholar or an ancient historian above both though.

comment by Brillyant · 2013-11-25T22:25:31.289Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do not mess with Internet Atheists. Ha. :)

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T18:46:49.986Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Religion is a weird case, not least because there are a lot of different, mutually exclusive religions. On the question of any specific religion, the majority of people in the world will claim that it is false. As a wise guy once said, we're all atheists, some people just disbelieve in more gods than others.

comment by Fivehundred · 2013-11-26T02:24:13.296Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems to be a nonsequitur. If they're citing theologians to make their argument, then they aren't presupposing God's existence at all?

comment by Brillyant · 2013-11-26T14:44:27.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess it depends on how broadly you define "theologian". My definition would begin with those who study a religion suspending judgement on the question of whether the presupposition of the particular god existing is true.

For instance, whether or not they believe it, I expect X Christian theologian to be able to clearly articulate the doctrine of Original Sin and Substitional Atonement.

I think non-scholarly Christian proponents often come along and cite X theologian as proof of the existence of Adam or the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It is a mistaken idea of what theologians, according to my definition and understanding, do.

There are people who make argument to support the presupposition of God...but I don't know if they fall into the category of theology.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T18:54:04.492Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, usually that works pretty well.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T00:39:16.893Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a common belief that governments exist for the sake of their citizens rather than the other way around, or at least Sarah Hoyt said that the former idea came as a shock to her probably some time in the seventies) when she was living in Portugal. I think a very high proportion of people, maybe a majority, believe the former now.

comment by Randy_M · 2013-11-25T14:44:07.022Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that a rational principle that describes the behavior of governments that exist, or a rational principle that should be followed in setting up and evaluating governments?

That is, is it a predicitive statement, or an ethical principle? (Or am I confusing latter and former again?)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-11-25T16:25:02.628Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe it's a semi-asprirational principle. It's not followed very consistently, but it shapes behavior for the better.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-11-25T09:14:49.233Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things usually are exactly what they appear to be - "if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck" - but there are indeed several categories in which we can expect this not to be true. For example, if something seems to good to be true, it probably is.

(For bonus points, try convincing someone to apply that last maxim to mainstream religion or, for something that would be more controversial here, anyone reading this who expects a "Rapture of the Nerds" to occur in their lifetime.)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-25T00:11:14.251Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How common do the ideas need to be? Does the scientific method count?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-11-25T14:08:26.876Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think deciding whether or not to do a controlled experiment for a question that you have is a fairly complex question. Most of the time in our life when we face questions we don't use the scientific method to answer them.

comment by EndlessStrategy · 2013-11-25T03:43:58.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, ideally some of the ideas would be non-obvious. I think the scientific method would count.