Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? 2017-11-28T22:31:05.362Z


Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-02T22:23:28.851Z · LW · GW

I asked if anyone here has a criticism (including a reference they endorse). No one seems to. Apparently you personally are unfamiliar with the matter and expect me to open by assuming your ignorance and teaching you? Should I want to teach you? What value do you have to offer? If you want to be taught about CR, why don't you join the FI forum and ask for help there? Will you read books and otherwise put in the work?

You have not specified what you think "induction" is which makes you difficult to talk with. I know you'll try to blame me for not already knowing what you think (even though there are dozens of variants of induction and I got heavily flamed recently for suggesting LW should have any canonical ideas and targets for criticism), but e.g. you seem to claim induction is a method of theory generation when SI is a method of theory preference not generation. Induction in general has never adequately specified which theories to generate (some variations of induction recommend you generate the theories the evidence point to, but evidence doesn't point and there are infinitely many theories compatible with the evidence). Inductivists are broadly more interested in saying the evidence supports/justifies theory X over theory Y, not that the evidence led them to generate theory X but not theory Y (which doesn't get them very far in debates with someone who did generate theory Y, and wants to judge ideas by their content instead of their source or generation method). What I seem to be dealing with, as usual, is it's hard to talk to someone who doesn't understand their own position in much detail and changes it as convenient in the moment.

You also decided to interpret CR as being "like" evolution. I don't know why. I have a general policy of being clear that it's literally evolution, and people misinterpret in this way routinely. I certainly specified "literally" above. Perhaps you should quote specific things you're replying to and then try to engage with them more precisely. That's what we do at the FI forum and it improves discussion quality dramatically.

You also decided to try to learn CR from a few brief comments, which is not a method you should reasonably expect to succeed. Perhaps you're used to epistemology that simplistic from your experiences at LW?

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T19:47:20.088Z · LW · GW

Verbalizing your entire framework/worldview is too hard, but CR manages to verbalize quite a lot of epistemology. Does LW have verbalized epistemology to rival CR, which is verbalized in a reasonably equivalent kinda way to e.g. Popper's books? I thought the claim was that it does. If you don't have an explicit epistemology, may I recommend one to you? It's way, way better than nothing! If you stick with unverbalized epistemology, it really lets in bias, common sense, intuition, cultural tradition, etc, and makes it hard to make improvements or have discussions.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T18:57:25.724Z · LW · GW

I have asked LW to specify terms (preferably pre-written not ad hoc) – an alternative to Paths Forward – and no one has.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T18:40:14.635Z · LW · GW

There are of course pre-existing criticisms of Hegel, e.g. by Popper in OSE. People have written that.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T18:37:42.048Z · LW · GW
From your post I take that you believe "you need to offer any epistemology at all under which the arguments you're currently making are correct" to be true?
If it is you should be able to explain how you came to believe that claim.

Epistemology is the field that tells you the methods of thinking, arguging, evaluating ideas, judging good and bad ideas, etc. Whenever you argue, you're using an epistemological framework, stated or not. I have stated mine. You should state yours. Induction is not a complete epistemological framework.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T18:35:27.073Z · LW · GW


Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-12-01T06:55:04.734Z · LW · GW

CR offers a general pupose epistemology. Epistemology is the most important field (because thinking methods are used by every other field), and CR has the only known general purpose epistemology that isn't known to be wrong.

You asked for an elevator pitch, I provided one, and you then wrote "I don't see anything of value so far" while not engaging with it (you responded to some addenda by guessing I'm grossly ignorant for some reason which is unclear to me). And yes of course SI rejects empirically refuted ideas first, so what? There are still infinitely many ideas left over after that.

I have ordered his response to critics and will read it.

I hope you will also write which responses you consider mistaken, and why, clearly, with quotes and details. Someone should, out of the many people who disagree with Popper and claim to be thinkers, don't you think?

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-30T18:28:18.076Z · LW · GW

You seem to have at least one typo and also to suggest you disagree without directly saying so. Can you please clarify what you're saying? Also I don't know how you expect me to explain all the steps involved with CR to you given your ignorance of CR – should I rewrite multiple books in my reply, or will you read references, or do you want a short summary which omits almost everything? If you want a summary, you need to give more information about where you're coming from, what you're thinking, and what your point and perspective are, so I can judge which parts to include. I don't know what you doubt or why, so I don't know how to select information for the summary you want. I also don't know what a "supposedly true" proposition is.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-30T18:24:40.553Z · LW · GW

Those don't learn. The coders are the knowledge creators and the machine does grunt work.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-30T07:13:30.231Z · LW · GW

CR has arguments refuting induction – it doesn't work, has never been done, cannot be done. Induction is a myth, a confusion, a misconception that doesn't even refer to a well-defined physically-possible process of thought. (This is partly old – that induction doesn't work has been an unsolved problem for ages – but CR offers some improved critical arguments instead of the usual hedges and excuses for believing in induction despite the probelsm.) Deduction is fine but limited.

Can CR be not only a starting point but also the only process necessary?


Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-29T20:10:18.651Z · LW · GW

I'm literally asking you to specify your epistemology. Offer some rival to CR...? Instead you offer me Occam's Razer which is correct according to some unspecified epistemology you don't want to discuss.

CR is a starting point. Do you even have a rival starting point which addresses basic questions like how to create and evaluate ideas and arguments, in general? Seems like you're just using common sense assumptions, rather than scholarship, to evaluate a variant of Occam's Razor (in order to defend induction). CR, as far as I can tell, is competing not with any rival philosophy (inductivist or otherwise) but with non-consumption of philosophy. (But philosophy is unavoidable so non-consumption means using intuition, common sense, cultural defaults, bias, etc., rather than thinking about it much.)

If you want stories about my discussions with DD, ask on the FI forum, not here.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-29T09:36:34.589Z · LW · GW
I don't really see why I would need a coherent/perfect/complete epistemology to make this kind of argument or come to that conclusion.

Epistemology tells you things like what an argument is and how to evaluate whether ideas are good or bad, correct or incorrect. I'm saying you need to offer any epistemology at all under which the arguments you're currently making are correct. Supposedly you have an induction-based epistemology (I presume), but you haven't been using it in your comments, you're using some other unspecified epistemology to guide what you think is a reasonable argument.

The current topic is epistemology, not the color of the sky, so you don't get to gloss over epistemology as you might in a conversation about some other topic.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-29T06:08:24.393Z · LW · GW

None of this is relevant to specifying the prior epistemology you are using to make this argument, plus you begin with "simple models" but don't address evaluating explanations/arguments/criticisms.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Any Good Criticism of Karl Popper's Epistemology? · 2017-11-29T02:02:55.605Z · LW · GW

Popper didn't change views significantly but LScD is harder to understand, and philosophy is more than hard enough to understand in general. Popper is in low repute because he disagreed with people, and advocated some things (e.g. that induction is imposisble) that they consider ridiculous (which isn't an answer to him). Plus most people go by secondary sources. My colleague surveyed over 100 textbooks and found none of them accurately represented Popper's views – they're broadly similar to the SEP.

(a) Simply ignores Popper's appraoch to fallibilism and conjectural knowledge. It's saying CR doesn't work given infallibilist premises that Popper disputes. (Note the demand for proof.) CR accepts fallibility (which has very compelling logical arguments) and then takes it seriously by e.g. developing a fallibilist theory of knowledge rather than demanding certainty of refutation (which is impossible).

(b) Yes you can repair criticism by modifying an idea or by criticizing the criticism (which is essentially modifying the idea by adding a footnote to address the criticism, which adds content that wasn't there previously). How is that a criticism? Also I don't know why you think fallibilism = probability. Uncertainty frequently isn't numeric. "We may be mistaken in some way we haven't thought of" isn't a probability, the future growth of knowledge is *unpredictable*.

(c) Again there's no understanding of Popper's views here. The thing you're complaining about is somethign Popper emphasized, explained, and addressed. And you don't say what about Popper's position on the matter is weak or subjective (neither of which are part of Popper's own account, and "weak" sounds suspiciously like "fallibile", while "subjective" sounds suspiciously contrary to Popper's theory of Objective Knowledge, which FYI is one of his book titles. I didn't find the weakness or subjectivism when I read Popper, and you haven't told me where to look with any specificity.)


Elevator pitch:

CR solves the fundamental problems of epistemology, like how knowledge can be created, which induction failed to solve. It's a very hard problem: the only solution ever devised is evolution (literally, not analogously – evolution is about replicators, not just genes). In terms of ideas, evolution takes the form of guesses and criticism. CR develops much better criticisms of induction than came before, which are decisive. CR challenges the conventional, infallibilist conception of knowledge – justified, true belief – and replaces it with a non-skeptical, non-authoritarian conception of knowledge: problem-solving information (information adapted to a purpose). Although we expect to learn better ideas in the future, that doesn't prevent our knoweldge from having value and solving problems in the current context. This epistemology is fully general purpose – it works with e.g. moral philosophy, aesthetics and explanations, not just science/observation/prediction. The underlying reason CR works to create knowledge is the same reason evolution works – it's a process of error correction. Rather than trying to positively justify ideas, we must accept they are tentative guesses and work to correct errors to improve them.

This position should not be judged by how nice or strong it sounds; it logically works OK unlike every rival. Decisive issues for why something can't work at all, like induction faces, have priority over how intuitive you find something or whether it does everything you'd like it to do (for example, CR is difficult to translate into computer code or math, which you may not like, but that doesn't matter if no rival epistemology works at all).

I expect someone to bring up Solomonoff Induction so I'll speak briefly to that. It attempts to answer the "infinite general patterns fit the data set" problem of induction (in other words, which idea should you induce from the many contradictory possibilities?) problem with a form of Occam's Razor: favor the ideas with shorter computer code in some language. This doesn't solve the problem of figuring out which ideas are good, it just gives an arbitrary answer (shorter doesn't mean truer). Shorter ideas are often worse because you can get shortness by omitting explanation, reasoning, background knowledge, answers to critics, generality that isn't necessary to the current issue, etc. This approach also, as with induction in general, ignores critical argument. And it's focused on prediction and doesn't address explanation. And, perhaps worst of all: how do you know Occam's Razor is any good? With epistemology we're trying to start at the beginning and address the foundations of thinking, so you can't just assume common sense intuitions in our culture. If we learn by induction, then we have to learn and argue for Occam's Razor itself by induction. But inductivists never argue with me by induction, they always write standard English explanatory arguments on philosophical topics like induction. So they need some prior epistemology to govern the use of the arguments for their epistemology, and then need to very carefully analyze what the prior epistemology is and how much of the work it's doing. (Perhaps the prior epistemology is CR and is doing 100% of the work? Or perhaps not, but that needs to be specified instead of ignored.) CR, by contrast, is an epistemology suitable for discussing epistemology, and doesn't need something else to get off the ground.

(If you'd like more detail, see the reading recommendations linked at the bottom of my post.)

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Hero Licensing · 2017-11-22T21:18:15.417Z · LW · GW

There are a ton of interesting comments on this post in the comments at

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Competent Elites · 2008-09-27T17:13:10.000Z · LW · GW

Such is the hideously unfair world we live in

What's unfair? You're saying merit succeeds, that merit isn't a mixed blessing. Seems fair to me.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Against Modal Logics · 2008-08-29T06:23:20.000Z · LW · GW

There is a tradition of philosophy with value.

Many famous and modern philosophers are distractions from this. The same was true in the past. Each generation, most philosophers did not carry on the important, mainstream (in hindsight) tradition.

If you can't tell which is which, to me that suggests you could learn something by studying philosophy. Once you do understand what's what, then you can read exclusively good philosophy. For example, you'd know to ignore Wittgenstein, as the future will do. But the worthlessness of some philosophers does not stop people like William Godwin or Xenophanes from having valuable things to say (and the more recent philosophers who are carrying on their tradition).

Comment by Elliot_Temple on The Gift We Give To Tomorrow · 2008-07-18T02:59:35.000Z · LW · GW


Once hunting music was created, females could select mates not just by how well they hunted directly (which they often didn't directly observe), but also by the quality of their hunting music. A man's hunting music provided extra information about his knowledge of hunting. Once females started selecting mates partially in this way, there was evolutionary selection pressure on men to start making music for the purpose of attracting a mate.

Female taste in music did not correspond to hunting music absolutely perfectly; it was just flawed rules of thumb. This left room for males to deviate from only making sounds to mimic the hunt. So males started competing with each other to make music that best attracted females, at the cost of making it less like hunting. Once males started doing this, females started selecting the males that were best at competing with the other males, rather than the males with the music that sounded most like hunting. So music became a useless display (useless for survival) used in sexual selection, like the peacock's tail. Musical development after that point didn't have anything to do with hunting, which is why the origins aren't obvious today.

How's that?

Comment by Elliot_Temple on The Gift We Give To Tomorrow · 2008-07-18T01:02:40.000Z · LW · GW


Humans used to live in small tribes of about 50 people, and prepared for the hunt by looking at their cave paintings of animals they would soon kill. But cave paintings are not a perfect virtual reality aid for imagining a hunt. So they also rubbed their furs in the grass to get the right smell, and they also made sounds to remind themselves of the hunt. Natural selection favored these behaviors because they helped people hunt for food better. Over time, people evolved to desire certain kinds of visual, olfactory, and auditory sensations -- this was natural selection giving people positive feedback for behaviors that made them better hunters. And that's where music (and art) came from.

Is this the kind of thing you wanted?

Comment by Elliot_Temple on The Gift We Give To Tomorrow · 2008-07-17T07:05:56.000Z · LW · GW

You seem very impressed with love, as our entire culture is. Might that be a bias?

It's hard to point to concrete ways that love helps people (cooperation, parenting, and various other things are perfectly possible without love).

It's easy to point to many known ways that love hurts people. First, there are broken hearts and divorces. Then there's external pressure on who we love or not (if you don't love me I'm going to leave you; if you love her, I'm going to leave you). And then there is the theory that my love for you gives you obligations to me. People use love as a claim on others. When people love you they start wanting things from you, like time and attention. People also use your love as a burden for you (if you really loved me, you would...).

All these bad aspects of love are commonly ignored and disregarded, rather than seen as urgent problems that ought to be, and can be, solved. If love is a great thing we ought to be able to get it to stop hurting people so much and so often. That people don't have a problem-solving attitude towards love, and instead close their eyes to its flaws, is a sign that points to people having biased views on love not rational views.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Rebelling Within Nature · 2008-07-14T06:44:31.000Z · LW · GW


Is the unstated premise of your comment that (at least a significant amount of) human psychology is genetic in origin? I agree with you that given some preexisting psychology there are restrictions on what memes are (feasibly) acquired. Without a premise along those lines, I don't see the relevance of what psychology can do. But any argument with that premise cannot address the question of why you attribute things to genes over memes in the first place.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Rebelling Within Nature · 2008-07-14T00:58:15.000Z · LW · GW


"Genes determined the framework which memes exist in" is not an important argument about what sorts of memes we have. I think your intended implication is that genes fundamentally have control over these issues. But genes created brains with the following characteristic: brains are universal knowledge creators. With this established, other parts of the design of brains don't really matter. Memes are a kind of knowledge and so there are no restrictions on what memes are found in humans due to genetics or some aspect of our brain's design.

BTW what is the implication of emotions being memes that would be scary? The most notable consequence I see is that people could be more optimistic about changing the emotional part of their lives, which is a happy thought.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Rebelling Within Nature · 2008-07-13T20:57:45.000Z · LW · GW

Tim Tyler,

Genes and memes are both things on which evolution acts (replicators), but they also have important differences so it's useful to use different words. In particular, the logic of what sort of behaviors would evolve in people is different if you consider memes or genes. The available replication strategies are different if for genes (which require sex and parenting) and memes (which require older people to communicate to younger people).

Whether something is genetic or memetic is also highly relevant to A) how (by what mechanism) it might influence people's behavior B) how difficulty it is for someone to change that trait.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Rebelling Within Nature · 2008-07-13T16:54:20.000Z · LW · GW


You attribute a lot of things to genetic evolution, and nothing to memetic (cultural) evolution. What is the reasoning behind disregarding memes? Is there an argument that none of our emotions, and others things discussed, are memetic?

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Fundamental Doubts · 2008-07-12T14:57:58.000Z · LW · GW

It's worth considering how

And evolution certainly gets a chance to influence every single thought that runs through your mind!

works (if it does). Just because evolution created minds in the first place does not necessarily imply it has retained influence over everything that happens in them. For example, if a person builds a house that doesn't necessarily give him influence over the termites in the walls.

Comment by Elliot_Temple on Do Scientists Already Know This Stuff? · 2008-05-20T17:21:37.000Z · LW · GW

Sir Roger Penrose - a world-class physicist - still thinks that consciousness is caused by quantum gravity. I expect that no one ever warned him against mysterious answers to mysterious questions - only told him his hypotheses needed to be falsifiable and have empirical consequences. Just like Eliezer18.

There's nothing wrong with proposing the hypothesis. The problem is believing and supporting it while it's pending. That it hasn't been refuted yet is no reason to take that side of the issue. (Arguably it has been refuted, because there are known criticism of it which no one has answered, but never mind that.)

Similarly, discarding other open/pending hypotheses because, what, he likes this one? That's obviously unreasonable.