post by [deleted] · · ? · GW · 0 comments

This is a link post for


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by tivelen · 2021-11-21T22:29:05.880Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Knowledge is initially local. Induction works just fine without a global framework. People learn what works for them, and do that. Once the whole globe becomes interconnected, we each have more data to work with, but still most of it is irrelevant to any particular person's purposes. We cannot even physically hold a small fraction of the world's knowledge in our head, nor would we have any reason to.

Differences cannot be "settled" by words, only revealed and negotiated around. We have different knowledge because we have different predispositions, and different experiences that we have learned from, and have created different models as a result. We can create new experiences by talking about our experiences, but we cannot truly impart our experiences as we have had them by doing so.

It's our differences that make humanity more than just 8 billion human clones, and give it its distinct shape. Each difference, each experience, adds to humanity. What would humanity be if everyone agreed on everything, had all the same experiences? An ant colony, with no queen? The equivalent of one human brain, mass-produced in the billions?

Most of us wish humanity took a different, more pleasing shape, with less sharp edges and harsh colors. We try to mold it to our own tastes, remove conflict and suffering and ignorance and disability. We wouldn't be human if we didn't try. But no human being could ever succeed at it. Only humanity possibly could, warts and all.

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2021-11-22T02:33:09.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the neat thoughts. I truly believe some differences can be settled by words because there exist a class of differences that arise due to misperceptions, misunderstandings, etc., and are not grounded in anything substantive otherwise. Otherwise why would LW even exist?

Induction works fine without a global framework only if the inducer can correctly perceive the relationships between what they are observing. Someone lacking such capability, would inevitably become confused in their analysis when they stumble upon some component, at a deep enough level, that has dependent relationship(s) on other things far away in space time or perception. I.e. It works until it doesn’t.

For example, it wasn’t that long ago that no one on this planet understood how neutrinos worked, even though neutrinos are actually quite critical to understanding many interrelated phenomena. Some of which quite vital to understanding physics in general. Not to mention all the dependent fields. And induction by no means guaranteed anything close to the correct conclusion.

Of course folks had hunches, or just pretended to know, and some pretended to be able to induce from what knowledge was at the time available. But in fact no one could really once they hit the wall of confusion surrounding neutrinos.

Which is to say no one on this planet could correctly induce beyond a certain point in anything even if they wanted to do so, regardless of starting topic, from best ways of writing an essay or Buddhist history all the way down to neutrino physics. Everyone’s powers of induction would have failed sooner or later.

It’s just that practically no one bothered to go so deep in their analysis, outside of some small groups, so it was assumed that induction just works.

I imagine the same principle applies in any complex area of knowledge.

Replies from: tivelen
comment by tivelen · 2021-11-22T22:59:58.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Knowing that the sun will come up in the morning is knowledge, and a success of induction. You do not even need to know that the Earth orbits the sun to have that knowledge. There is more to know about the sun, but that is yet more success of induction, and does not erase the previous success as if it were worse than knowing nothing.

An observed pattern in reality works so long as reality is observed to obey the pattern. If the pattern breaks, the previous inductive hypothesis is adjusted. "The sun will rise in the morning" is an excellent inductive prediction that holds to this day, and allows people to live successfully.

Tomorrow the sun could simply not rise in the morning, and we'd find some new pattern about the sun. That wouldn't mean our old pattern was a hunch or pretended knowledge.

Studying neutrinos improves predictions, as does studying the growth cycles of plants. But there is no "global framework", only more data and the abstractions on the data. If it was hunches and pretended knowledge back then, it still is now, and if you are worried about this, I don't know any solution. I don't even see a problem. We will continue learning more, forever, or until we run out of new data, whichever comes first.

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2021-11-23T00:16:37.248Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After some reflection of what you wrote and what I wrote before I think the problem I was trying to articulate is actually an interesting subset of a more general problem, namely the Halting problem, as it applies to humans.

That is, how does one know when to stop inducing on a chain of inductions? Because surely there has to be a threshold, as with the neutrino example, beyond which induction will most likely yield a misleading answer that if taken at face value like every previous stage of induction, will lead down a garden path. Identifying that threshold every time may indeed be impossible without knowing everything.

Replies from: tivelen
comment by tivelen · 2021-11-25T02:51:34.082Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any pattern identified by induction either continues to hold, in which case it is fine to believe it, or it stops holding, in which case it must be adjusted. A generalization is a form of induction, and so acts the same. Could you provide an example of induction leading down a garden path?

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2021-11-25T17:13:28.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can think immediately of Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory following the previously accepted theory of some ’Luminiferous aether’ which was at the time believed to be what light propagated through in a vacuum. Going from Newton -> to ‘Luminiferous aether’ using induction works fine, explains many observable phenomena, and is somewhat elegant too. Compare the next step to Maxwell’s equations which are horrendously baroque and reliant on much more sophisticated math with some really bizarre implications that were difficult to accept until Einstein came along. There doesn’t appear to be any way induction would have led you to the correct result had you been researching this topic in the mid 19th century. In fact many people did waste their lives on the garden path trying to induce onwards from the aether.

comment by oge · 2021-11-21T17:09:46.479Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It'd be nice to have even a sentence-long summary at the end. There are interesting nuggets but I can't find a justified call-to-action.

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2021-11-21T21:12:37.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It’s a topic that likely doesn’t have any realistic call to action, since most of the factors are not within anyone’s control. But perhaps there is and if someone would like to share then feel free.

It was crossposted from my blog to see if anyone had similar thoughts, a wider circulation then that is unnecessary for my intentions.