An Agent is a Worldline in Tegmark V 2018-07-12T05:12:20.629Z
Mathematical Mindset 2018-07-11T03:03:11.689Z
Musical setting of the Litany of Tarski 2017-03-23T11:18:17.423Z
Meetup : Washington DC Kennedy Center Meetup with Michael Vassar 2013-04-18T05:07:13.227Z
MIT Challenge complete 2012-09-29T15:54:16.358Z
Daniel Kahneman on Charlie Rose [video] 2012-02-29T22:42:02.488Z
Video: Skepticon talks 2011-11-26T07:23:57.551Z
Meetup : Skepticon IV meetup: Saturday night 2011-11-18T20:56:28.425Z
Skepticon IV meetup: planning 2011-11-15T02:16:52.963Z
Knox and Sollecito freed 2011-10-03T20:24:14.748Z
MIT Challenge: blogger to attempt CS curriculum on own 2011-09-27T23:01:59.515Z
Open Thread: August 2011 2011-08-03T02:48:24.254Z
Experiment: Knox case debate with Rolf Nelson 2011-07-08T08:22:17.723Z
Sequence translations: Seeking feedback/collaboration 2011-05-28T22:24:25.727Z
Inverse Speed 2011-03-27T05:57:36.035Z
The Importance of Mathematics (Gowers) 2011-03-04T20:32:37.911Z
A Thought on Pascal's Mugging 2010-12-10T06:08:00.687Z
Inherited Improbabilities: Transferring the Burden of Proof 2010-11-24T03:40:17.056Z
Rationality Quotes: July 2010 2010-07-01T21:24:12.091Z
Open Thread: July 2010 2010-07-01T21:20:42.638Z
Open Thread June 2010, Part 2 2010-06-07T08:37:52.236Z
Bayes' Theorem Illustrated (My Way) 2010-06-03T04:40:21.377Z
Advancing Certainty 2010-01-18T09:51:31.050Z
Previous Post Revised 2009-12-14T06:56:50.528Z
The Amanda Knox Test: How an Hour on the Internet Beats a Year in the Courtroom 2009-12-13T04:16:20.840Z
You Be the Jury: Survey on a Current Event 2009-12-09T04:25:13.746Z


Comment by komponisto on An Agent is a Worldline in Tegmark V · 2018-07-13T19:38:43.180Z · LW · GW

From the perspective taken in this post, "location" means observer-moment: the entire submanifold of "simultaneous" locations in your sense is represented by a single point in the space I mean.

(To be sure, both your space and mine are "Tegmark V" spaces; "Tegmark V" here is not a specific mathematical object, but an interpretation-type.)

A subsequent post may provide helpful context.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-29T10:33:19.608Z · LW · GW

It seems hard to envision a society wherein belonging and esteem could be satisfied via physical cognition

Not hard to envision at all; only hard, perhaps, to implement. It shouldn't take all that much imagination to summon the thought of a society in which people were better rewarded with status (and all its trappings) for things like solving mathematical problems, or composing complexly-structured music, as opposed to all the various generalized forms of pure politics that determine the lion's share of status in the world we know, than they actually are in the world we know.

In fact, we can look around and find historical examples of societies where that was the case. In my Otium comment I pointed to one: Imperial Germany (pre-WWI). That was a place where a figure like Max Reger could achieve high status in general culture -- without even needing to be a Nietzschean superman to do so. All he had to do was follow the rules of society, which happened to permit someone with those kinds of compositional aspirations to become a celebrity.

My radical belief is that the fact that this is the same culture that also produced leading figures in every other field of creative intellection (and a place where shops in university towns sold pictures of professors in postcard form), and indeed is credited by Tyler Cowen with "deliver[ing] the goods in terms of innovation", is not a coincidence.

This is an extreme example -- in fact the best I know of, at least at the level of entire nations -- but the phenomenon is a matter of degree.

Well, for a start, there are certainly "fine things in life" that are best understood in social terms; for a handy example that fits squarely in the realm of art, consider so-called "literary" fiction.

Yes. Narrative fiction is the least physically-oriented of the arts. Its existence is most of the reason for the qualifier "at least certain forms [of art]" in my comment on Sarah's blog.

Note that it is also the only art-form that is widely appreciated at anything like a sophisticated level by the "rationalist community" as a whole. This is a problem. (Basically, it reflects an implicit belief that only STEM is about physical cognition; since all art is assumed to be almost wholly social, LWers opt for the "least pretentious" variant, i.e. the most socioculturally "accessible" form to them, namely fiction, specifically fanfiction.)

It's not the absence of "social cognition" in its entirety

I never said it was. What made you think otherwise?

Above, I specifically said that arts synthesized physical and social cognition, and implied that that was important to their value.

The problem I'm talking about is the absence of physical cognition, not the presence of social cognition.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-26T10:10:59.099Z · LW · GW

Like others, you seem to be interpreting my comments as if they were stating conclusions intended to be only one or two inferential steps away (from your current epistemic state). This is not at all necessarily the case!

In particular, when I state a proposition X, I expect readers not only to ask themselves whether they already think X is true (i.e. conditioned on all their knowledge before my statement), but also to ask themselves why I might believe X. To engage, in other words, in at least a cursory search for inferential chains leading to X -- resulting in either the discovery of an inferential chain that they themselves agree with (in which case communication has been approximately successful), or a hypothesis about what my error is (which can then be discussed, and confirmed or disconfirmed).

This mental motion seems to be missing from your (and, even more severely, others') reactions to my comments. It's as if I were expected to be modeling your epistemic state, without any corresponding expectation that you be modeling mine. Yet, insofar as I've stated a specific belief, you have some specific information about mine, whereas I have only background information about yours. This will of course change once you reply -- I will get more specific information about yours -- but the dialogue will be more efficient if your reply attempts to integrate and respond to the information you have about my epistemic state, rather than merely providing information about yours (as is the case when your reply takes the form "you have made one or more assumptions that I don't share", as here, for example).

Now, to get back to the object level:

Vassar (the author of the essay) puts a division between the two "lowest" levels, which he calls "physical" (meaning that they are concerned with our physical needs and wants) and the next two, which he calls "social" (meaning that they are concerned with our interactions with others). The topmost level ("self-actualization") I think Vassar classifies as "social", which I think mostly indicates that his terminology isn't great.

You have overlooked a distinction that, while not explicitly stated in the essay itself, is nevertheless crucial to understanding the point Vassar is making: the distinction between people's needs, themselves, and the programs that they use to satisfy them. The pathology that Vassar is complaining about is the fact that as one ascends the hierarchy of needs, the programs that people tend to use for satisfying them become less physical and more social in nature: society in effect reserves its highest rewards for those most practiced in social, rather than physical, cognition. The essay implies that he regards this as being, in at least some sense, contingent: in principle, society could be set up so that physical cognition played a greater role in the satisfaction of higher Maslow-needs (belonging, esteem, self-actualization).

This is the background for my assertions about art -- which I made first not here, but on Sarah Constantin's blog Otium, in a comment thread that, again, I linked in my original comment here (and is thus assumed to be fully loaded into the context of this discussion):

[T]here’s a widespread misunderstanding to the effect that the “finer things in life” (art etc., particularly as contrasted with STEM) fall exclusively into the realm of social cognition; and this is just so, so, so, false. I feel like a whole array of cultural pathologies can be traced to this misunderstanding...

This could even have existential implications of a sort...the problem is — and this is what Michael was talking about in his essay — that society doesn’t reward physical cognition with Maslow-advancement. As a result, by the time people get up to Level 5, their focus has basically shifted to social cognition, and they “enjoy the finer things in life” in predominantly if not exclusively that way. As a result, they are cognitively unequipped to do the very things that people on Level 5 are supposed to be doing (“figuring out where the monkey tribe should go next”, i.e. solving x-risk etc.), or at least unpracticed...

I basically feel that if we, as a society, understood better that art (at least certain forms, most notably music) was just as much about physical cognition as social (and basically as much about physical as STEM is), that would at least reflect (and could even cause) a stronger presence of physical cognition along the gradient of social advancement.

So: from this it should be evident that not only do I think that certain arts are heavily physical-cognition-loaded, but, furthermore, the very failure to understand this is, in my view, itself a manifestation of the pathology that Vassar's essay was (in large part) about.

(Just as an aside: in case there is any doubt about my interpretation of Vassar, here is an e-mail I wrote to him in March 2013:

Dear Michael,

I'm wondering if you think the following is a fair paraphrase of your Edge essay from January:

To effectively create value requires skill in analytical/"near-mode" thinking. Unfortunately, society does not do a good job of Maslow-rewarding people for developing such skill, with the result that too few people at the higher Maslow-levels are analytically skilled, and too few analytically skilled people are at the higher Maslow-levels.

This seems like precisely the problem that the rationalist community exists in order to address. [...]

To which he replied, in full:

That's the main point of the essay.


Thus, I think it was somewhat logically rude of you to ask, in a tone of incredulity,

But now you want to say that artistic endeavour belongs in the category of "physical cognition"? Really?

and to follow that by an un-self-conscious affirmation of the conventional assumption that I had, very knowingly, denied.

"Really?" Yes, really. Not only am I aware that conventional wisdom assumes the contrary, but I specifically cited the conventionality of that assumption as an example of the Maslow-pathology described by Vassar. Yes, I know people think that

what distinguishes music from finger exercises is vague fuzzy socially-mediated things like "beauty" and "taste" which seem to me much more like "weirdness, gravitas and sexiness" than like "solidity and shape"

-- this (I claim) is a problem!

Now, it's understandable that you might be curious about why I believe what I believe in this realm. And, to a large extent, I'm perfectly happy to discuss it. (After all, on my beliefs, it's in my interest to do so!) But the inferential chains may be long, and my communication style is a high-context one. Even if I have made a mistake in my reasoning, it is not likely to be identified efficiently by means of a discussion that takes it as plausible that I might have arrived at my conclusions randomly.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-25T08:52:54.495Z · LW · GW

With no more context than your earlier comment where (so far as I know) you first used the term [...] I am just saying that it seems unreasonable to complain of someone "rounding off concepts" when you have made no apparent effort to clarify what you do mean

In my original comment, I linked to the essay that was the source of the concepts of "physical" and "social cognition" as I used them in that comment. Without the context of that essay, there is no reason to expect my remarks in this discussion to be intelligible.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T11:00:25.066Z · LW · GW

The expected return from a reader doing something like that is way too low, even in a community like this one. Most new ideas are wrong, and if your idea is wrong then people trying to traverse the same inferential path will get nowhere

I disagree with these statements. (Even in the case of "most new ideas are wrong", I would ADBOC.)

You're basically just stating the view that "false positives are a bigger problem than false negatives", which I already disagreed with explicitly (as applied to this context) in my previous comment.

why shouldn't you write an good explanation

Because what constitutes a "good explanation" is strongly reader-dependent, and I don't have good enough models of most readers to know in advance what will satisfy them. It's worth it to try being very foundational sometimes, but not all the time. It's also worth it for readers to sometimes practice the skill of traversing inferential paths more nimbly.

if your position is that we should more vigorously encourage an interest in artistic pursuits

I wouldn't presume to take such a detailed position on how you should relate to your child. (Though I can think of someone you might want to talk to, about not only this but the whole subject of "what to do" with children who are, or who are at "risk" of being, "gifted" -- the best way to get into contact with that person would probably be through Jonah Sinick.)

My concern here is only to explain (insofar as is possible within the number of words I'm willing to expend) something about what the value of traditional artistic pursuits is, and, in particular, the ways in which it's similar to the value of less traditional artistic pursuits like programming. I think you (like many, no doubt, in the LW audience) have bad priors about this due to insufficient exposure in early life (perhaps for socioeconomic reasons -- as you said above, "My parents didn't have the time or money to deliberately cultivate these kinds of interests in me when I was a child). I myself also had relatively little deliberate exposure (for the same reasons), but, exceptionally, was drawn in the relevant direction by an unusually strong intrinsic attraction (such that, had I come from an upper-class background, I would very likely have been involved at a much higher level much earlier). As a result, I think I am in the position of perceiving something about this that most LW readers are probably missing (insofar as they seem to want to reduce interest in these pursuits, implicitly and even explicitly, as we've seen here, to some kind of mere class signal -- indeed, a form of conspicuous consumption).

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T10:39:24.312Z · LW · GW

From the fourth paragraph:

These programs seem to have been disfavored by history's great scientific innovators, who tend to make statements like "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble..." or "What do you care what other people think", which sound like endorsements of physical over social cognition. 

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T10:02:34.974Z · LW · GW

As I said above,

populism seems anticorrelated with both good aesthetics and good science

Thus, by "a society that tied status more closely to such skills", I do not mean the typical conditions leading to, and resulting from, a peasant revolt.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T09:49:54.831Z · LW · GW

Do you think you use the term physical cognition in the way it's used in the literature?

"The literature" that is relevant here consists of Michael Vassar's 2013 Edge essay.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T09:46:27.760Z · LW · GW

I don't understand what "physical cognition" in this context points to

See here. (This was linked in the original comment...)

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-24T09:44:34.396Z · LW · GW

I do mean ballet and piano, and also the kind of "the kind of hacking background that Wei Dai has".

I did not expect this to be completely outside of your hypothesis space, in the way it appears to be. This is worth reflecting on.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T11:49:37.427Z · LW · GW

Creating a distinct new concept in one's mind is an expensive operation (with both short term and long term costs), so I think it's only to be expected that people will try to match a supposedly new concept to an existing one and see if they can get away with just reusing the existing concept.

Right, but I was reacting to a prior history with that particular commenter, who has been especially prone to doing this (very often where, in my view, it isn't appropriate).

But also: I regard concept-creation as being a large part of what we're in the business of doing, here. (At least, it's a large part of what I'm here for.) That's what theorization is, and I think we're here to theorize (maybe among other things). So it's a cost that I think one has signed up to bear in a context of this sort.

For the most part, it's great if one has the motivation to write up a thorough exposition of a new concept, starting from very elementary premises (although there's also the negative aspect of potentially reinforcing a norm of this level of effort being generally expected every time one wants to introduce a new concept). However, one doesn't always have that motivation (or time, etc.), so it should be allowed sometimes to just point and say "look over here; if you think about this for a while, you may traverse the same inferential path I have, which leads to this conclusion."

Indeed, that's basically exactly what I want out of this forum: a place where people can state inferentially-distant conclusions you might not hear elsewhere (without necessarily needing to justify them from first principles -- such requirements might, after all, be part of why they're not heard elsewhere!). This, of course, requires a community where a certain amount of epistemic trust has been built up, but I think that happened already (c. 2009-11).

For epistemic norms designed to avoid false positives, there are skeptics' forums, and scientific journals. And your grandmother (to paraphrase Feynman). Here, we could use more of the opposite approach (avoiding false negatives). Who else specializes in that (high-quality speculation)? It's basically an empty niche.

Clearly there are distinct skills within what you call physical cognition, and all those skills are not equally valuable

Perhaps I can "strike a chord" with you in particular by talking about value uncertainty in this context. Even to the extent it's clear that not all of the "subskills" are equally valuable (which I don't necessarily concede, in part because its not even clear to me what the right decomposition into subskills is!), it's not necessarily clear which ones are more valuable, and by how much.

To be honest, I'm a little bit suspicious of the whole approach of trying to decompose something like music (or the "physical cognition" involved therein) into its component subskills, with the aim of measuring their relative values. The reason for this is that I doubt anyone currently understands either music, psychology, or 'values' well enough to do this -- at least, at any level of detail much beyond what I've already done by pointing to the physicality of music. To me, the relation between physicality of this sort and certain especially valuable forms of thought (precise, imaginative) is intuitively obvious, and I think consideration and investigation into the matter will reveal this to others; but I don't think this translates easily into something like "music study trains Cognitive Skill S X% more effectively than [rival activity]", especially where we can be confident that S is ontologically sound, and X numerically accurate, "enough".

What is on more solid ground at the moment is the heuristic, correlational case that it is better to be the kind of person who is interested and experienced in things like music than the kind of person who isn't. And it's better to live in the kind of society where such pursuits are enjoyed and admired than in the kind where they're not.

It would be nice to have a more detailed idea of why this is the case -- but I think the study of music, and the other activities in this reference class, is itself a conceptual prerequisite for more fully understanding the phenomenon.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T09:53:36.821Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the link; that'll be useful to refer to.

Of course, I on the contrary do think the hierarchy of needs is suggestive of this, as evidenced by the fact that I specifically interpreted it that way!

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T09:33:35.065Z · LW · GW

Is this approximately right?

Probably close enough for present purposes.

I still think that if someone is doing math or programming, they already have their dose of "games with nature" there.

Of course, but these pursuits themselves are often described as artistic in character, especially by their most elite practitioners.

I update that if actual upper-class people want their child to play piano, there may be actually a very healthy instinct behind that. (Or may be just blindly copying what their neighbors do.)

They probably are copying what their neighbors do, but it is a good fortune if their neighbors happen to do that.

Of course, the effect is dependent on how good the piano instruction is, which is dependent on the level of musical culture of the surrounding society.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T09:22:54.772Z · LW · GW

Mao prohibited farm ownership and no amount of understanding the actual skill of baking or growing crops would have convinced him that private ownership is a good idea.

What makes you so sure of this? More to the point, what makes you sure that a society that tied status more closely to such skills wouldn't have promoted someone better than Mao to the top?

Lysenko's success is also not simply about lack of farming knowledge but about having an intellectual climate that's not well-fitted from separating true theories from those that aren't.

The point here is to get into the reasons why intellectual climates have the properties they do, with respect to the ability to develop and identify true theories.

To be sure, societies could have multiple failure modes, and I am open to the possibility that the USSR and Maoist China may have been bad for reasons entirely unconnected to the relationship between status and physical cognition. However, the populist character of both makes me doubt this, as populism seems anticorrelated with both good aesthetics and good science.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T08:36:40.249Z · LW · GW

It seems like the ideal leisure activities, then, should combine the social games with games against nature.

Exactly! Hence arts (and sports).

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T08:25:51.483Z · LW · GW

Generally speaking, whenever we think of something as being "technical", we're talking about the involvement of physical cognition. Art is social, yes, but it is also highly technical.

(in the sense in which I understand "physical cognition" -- the body is intimately involved

That is not what I meant -- as the excerpt you quoted was intended to communicate.

Musical composition is one of the archetypal instances of a physical-cognition-loaded activity (in the sense that I mean), and yet there your physical tools are a pencil/pen and paper (or, sometimes, indeed, a mouse).

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T08:12:16.838Z · LW · GW

I would describe this more generally as real-world achievement, which is a lot clearer than a label like "physical cognition"

There you go again, compulsively trying to round concepts off to something else!

"Real-world achievement" is considerably less clear as a way of pointing to what I am trying to point to than "physical cognition". It evokes all kinds of distracting side-issues about what constitutes the "real world". (Is pure mathematics "real-world achievement"? et cetera, et cetera).

I can't tell what the point of your second paragraph is. Is it just an attempt to provide reassurance (to whom?) about the value of humanities academia, in the face of what you took to be a "boo humanities academia!" from me (in my comment on Otium)? Or are you seeking to dispute my contention that physical cognition is underpracticed and undervalued there (in which case it would tend to look like your proposal to substitute "real-world achievement" for "physical cognition" was an attempt to muddy the waters in preparation for an equivocation)?

All this notwithstanding, I'm grateful for the pointer to the Eric Raymond essay, as it is relevant to what I was talking about with respect to Maslow and so forth. (In particular, it serves as anecdotal information about, and confirmation of, the distinction between Levels 4 and 5.)

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-23T07:14:39.084Z · LW · GW

Maybe it would help if we taboo art. What do you mean with the term when ballet and playing the piano are art but the kind of hacking you find at a hackerspace isn't?

I was not, in fact, using the term in such a way, but you failed to notice this! This is cliché-rounding.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-22T11:42:35.142Z · LW · GW

You seem to have misunderstood my comment as some kind of salvo in a STEM vs. arts rivalry, with the result that your comment reads like a counter-attack in such a battle. This is probably due to cliché-rounding.

In point of fact, a perceived opposition between STEM and arts is a manifestation of the very thing I was complaining about. Thus, to have written the kind of comment that you appear to be responding to would have been the very last of my intentions.

I would direct your attention to the sentence immediately following the excerpt you quoted:

That is, the "standings" did not consist simply of an ordered list (array), but rather a highly complex weighted graph of some sort, that took into account the details of the trajectories of "gameplay"

This, in other words, acknowledges a kind of competitive aspect of art, one more complex than that in (most) sports. Something similar is the case in STEM.

In no sense did I imply that STEM is more "about winning" than art. You seem to be addressing me as if I had said or implied such a thing, which suggests that you simply mis-parsed my comment in that respect.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-22T11:18:42.052Z · LW · GW

Why do artistic pursuits constitute practice in physical cognition as opposed to social cognition? It seems obvious to me that artistic pursuits are (among other things) a type of status signaling, so I'm confused why you're contrasting the two

Artistic pursuits involve a synthesis of physical and social cognition. (This is essential to their nature and is what makes them special among human activities.) There is certainly a social aspect, but it's crucial that that isn't all there is. That there is also a physical aspect is also pretty obvious, if you consider what is involved in playing an instrument, for example -- but importantly, it goes beyond that, to encompass the ways one thinks about something like music (in terms of motion, as well as ideas like connectedness, and so on).

Generally speaking, whenever we think of something as being "technical", we're talking about the involvement of physical cognition. Art is social, yes, but it is also highly technical.

Many people, unfortunately, underappreciate the physical, or technical, side of artistic thought. This is what I was warning against in my comments on Otium.

The amount of talent, time, and effort needed to achieve recognition or a feeling of accomplishment seem too high, compared to other possible pursuits.

This is actually not really true, but it's understandable that you might perceive it that way. Even so, the time and effort are part of the point: anything fulfilling this role has to involve extensive amounts of interaction with the objects or processes in question.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-22T10:42:46.048Z · LW · GW

Basically, Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a myth, and everyone would be better off forgetting about it entirely.

Not necessarily; it depends on what one's default or alternative theory would be. Let's be Bayesian, after all.

As I interpret it, "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" is little more than the claim that people's goals depend on their internal sense of security and status (in addition to whatever else they might depend on).

When I speak about it, I'm usually talking about something like a spectrum of exogenous vs. endogenous motivation: at one end you have someone being chased by a wild animal (thus maximally influenced by the environment), and at the other, the Nietzschean "superhuman" who lives only according to their own values, rather than channeling or being a tool of anyone or anything else (thus minimally influenced by the environment in some sense, although obviously everything is ultimately a product of some external force).

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-22T09:41:34.198Z · LW · GW

The first and last sentences of the parent comment do not follow from the statements in between.

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-21T11:44:28.428Z · LW · GW

That sort of subject is inherently implicit in the kind of decision-theoretic questions that MIRI-style AI research involves. More generally, when one is thinking about astronomical-scale questions, and aggregating utilities, and so on, it is a matter of course that cosmically bad outcomes are as much of a theoretical possibility as cosmically good outcomes.

Now, the idea that one might need to specifically think about the bad outcomes, in the sense that preventing them might require strategies separate from those required for achieving good outcomes, may depend on additional assumptions that haven't been conventional wisdom here.

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-21T11:19:24.152Z · LW · GW

What Alex said doesn't seem to refute or change what I said.

But also: I disagree with the parent. I take conventional wisdom here to include support for MIRI's agent foundations agenda, which includes decision theory, which includes the study of such risks (even if only indirectly or implicitly).

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-21T04:22:03.735Z · LW · GW

As the expression about knowing "how the sausage is made" attests, generally the more people learn about it, the less they like it.

Of course, veganism is very far from being an immediate consequence of disliking factory farming. (Similarly, refusing to pay taxes is very far from being an immediate consequence of disliking government policy.)

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-21T04:04:10.362Z · LW · GW

Decision theory (which includes the study of risks of that sort) has long been a core component of AI-alignment research.

Comment by komponisto on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-20T23:05:52.919Z · LW · GW

I feel a weird disconnect on reading comments like this. I thought s-risks were a part of conventional wisdom on here all along. (We even had an infamous scandal that concerned one class of such risks!) Scott didn't "see it before the rest of us" -- he was drawing on an existing, and by now classical, memeplex.

It's like when some people spoke as if nobody had ever thought of AI risk until Bostrom wrote Superintelligence -- even though that book just summarized what people (not least of whom Bostrom himself) had already been saying for years.

Comment by komponisto on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-20T22:05:05.983Z · LW · GW

Piano and ballet seem like upper-class costly signalling. "I am so rich I can spend tons of time doing unproductive activities."

Well, no need to speculate about a future Malthusian dystopia, since it appears to be already here, psychologically!

Allow me to refer you to this comment of mine, and the ensuing discussion, on Sarah Constantin's blog. Artistic pursuits may be "upper-class", but they are not unproductive. They serve to keep the upper classes practiced in physical cognition, counteracting a tendency to shift entirely into social modes of cognition (gossip and status-signaling games) as one ascends the social ladder. This is very important for the quality of decisions they make as leaders of society. (See here for more on the distinction between physical and social cognition -- which, incidentally, I myself would identify with the famous "near" and "far" modes respectively, though not everybody goes along with that.)

The fact that there has been such a decline in interest and participation in high culture among the upper classes is very worrying, and something I would not particularly hesitate to link to the intellectual decadence that we see in general society. (Ever notice how hard it is to engage in reasoning in public? Or the stigmatization -- including self-stigmatization -- of so-called "nerds"? These are facets of the decadence I'm talking about.)

Now, you refer (rightly, I think) to sports as being "useful". But sports are just a more primitive version of arts; they are useful for basically the same reason, but require, on average, less intellectual ability and more physical ability. (Cf. this comment of mine on Zack Davis's blog.) The most interesting of each, of course, are typically somewhat demanding in both ways.

In particular, if you "get" sports (and programming/CS or math) and want to understand what arts are about, try thinking of it like this: imagine a version of sports where it was actually true that "it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, but only how you play the game". That is, the "standings" did not consist simply of an ordered list (array), but rather a highly complex weighted graph of some sort, that took into account the details of the trajectories of "gameplay".

If the upper classes strongly favor sports over arts, you're probably living in a crassly militaristic society like ancient Sparta, Rome, or the 20th-century USA. You don't usually find the exact opposite, but when arts at least have a strong presence (pre-WWI European powers), your society has a chance at getting interesting things done (e.g. scientific and technological innovation).

The worst situation to be in, however, is where the upper classes stop participating in either, and instead spend all of their time in passive consumption and in gossipy status games; then not only is your society probably headed for collapse, but you won't even produce much value along the way. (Cf. the fall of Rome, this is where the USA and similar countries now seem headed.)

Now, if you're thinking "even if true, none of this pertains to the present discussion, because LW readers aren't part of the upper classes" (which, indeed, is an implication of the parent comment), this is wrong. LW readers are rich programmers; people like Wei Dai and Viliam can pick up the phone (or, more likely, dash off an email) and get themselves a six-figure job starting next week, if somehow they don't already have one. With this level of resources (distributed in whatever way within a portfolio of financial, social, and intellectual capital), there is no excuse for conceiving oneself at any level below 4 of the Maslow hierarchy. Probably 5, really. No excuse, that is, except for toxic memeplexes spawned by evil egregores, that say that LW readers are destined only to be servants of the Man.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-06-06T05:45:55.879Z

You don't seem to be addressing what I said very much if at all, but rather to mostly be giving your reaction to 18239018038528017428's comments. This is demonstrated by the fact that you take for granted various assumptions that it was the purpose of my comment to call into question.

In particular, the speech is not being allowed "to the chagrin of all other users". I am notably non-chagrinned by the speech being allowed, and I advocate that people be less chagrinned by such speech being allowed.

Needless to say, to be allowed is not to be approved.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-30T07:14:30.266Z

Positive reinforcement for noticing your confusion. It does indeed seem that we are working from different models -- perhaps even different ontologies -- of the situation, informed by different sets of experiences and preoccupations.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-30T07:00:48.547Z

communities where conversations are abrasive attract a lower caliber of person than one where they aren't. Look at what happened to LW.

To whatever extent this is accurate and not just a correlation-causation conversion, this very dynamic is the kind of thing that LW exists (existed) to correct. To yield to it is essentially to give up the entire game.

What it looks like to me is that LW and its associated "institutions" and subcultures are in the process of dissolving and being absorbed into various parts of general society. You are basically endorsing this process, specifically the aspect wherein unique subcultural norms are being overwritten by general societal norms.

The way this comes about is that the high-status members of the subculture eventually become tempted by the prospect of high status in general society, and so in effect "sell out". Unless previously-lower-status members "step up" to take their place (by becoming as interesting as the original leaders were), the subculture dies, either collapsing due to a power vacuum, or simply by being memetically eaten by the general culture as members continue to follow the old leaders into (what looks like) the promised land.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T22:02:31.554Z

All of these are reasonable points, given the fixed goal of obtaining and sharing as much truth as possible.

Is the implication that they're not reasonable under the assumption that truth, too, trades off against other values?

What the points I presented (perhaps along with other things) convinced me of was not that truth or information takes precedence over all other values, but rather simply that it had been sacrificed too much in service of other values. The pendulum has swung too far in a certain direction.

Above, I made it sound like it the overshooting of the target was severe; but I now think this was exaggerated. That quantitative aspect of my comment should probably be regarded as heated rhetoric in service of my point. It's fairly true in my own case, however, which (you'll hopefully understand) is particularly salient to me. Speaking up about my preoccupations is (I've concluded) something I haven't done nearly enough of. Hence this very discussion.

But people don't choose goals.

This is obviously false, as a general statement. People choose goals all the time. They don't, perhaps, choose their ultimate goals, but I'm not saying that truth-seeking is necessarily anybody's ultimate goal. It's just a value that has been underserved by a social context that was ostensibly designed specifically to serve it.

Most people certainly care much more about not being attacked physically than discovering truth.

But not infinitely much. That's why communicational norms differ among contexts; not all contexts are as tightly regulated as politics, diplomacy, and law. What I'm suggesting is that Less Wrong, an internet forum for discovering truth, can afford to occupy a place toward the looser end of the spectrum of communicational norms.

This, indeed, is possible because a lot of other optimization power has already gone into the prevention of violence; the background society does a lot of this work, and the fact that people are confronting each other remotely over the internet does a fair portion of the rest. And contrary to Maxwell's implication, nobody is talking about removing any Chesterton Fences. Obviously, for example, actual threats of violence are intolerable. (That did not occur here -- though again, I'm much less interested in defending the specific comment originally at issue than in discussing the general principles which, to my mind, this conversation implicates.)

The thing is: not all norms are Chesterton Fences! Most norms are flexible, with fuzzy boundaries that can be shifted in one direction or the other. This includes norms whose purpose is to prevent violence. (Not all norms of diplomacy are entirely unambiguous, let alone ordinary rules of "civil discourse".) The characteristic of fences is that they're bright lines, clear demarcations, without any ambiguity as to which side you're on. And just as surely as they should only be removed with great caution, so too should careful consideration guide their erection in the first place. When possible, the work of norms should be done by ordinary norms, which allow themselves to be adjusted in service of goals.

There are other points to consider, as well, that I haven't even gotten into. For example, it looks conceivable that, in the future, technology, and the way it interacts with society, will make privacy and secrecy less possible; and that social norms predicated upon their possibility will become less effective at their purposes (which may include everything up to the prevention of outright violence). In such a world, it may be important to develop the ability to build trust by disclosing more information, rather than less.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T10:42:51.560Z

I don't think "Did you know symptoms X and Y are signs of clinical mental illness Z?" is appreciably different from "You very possibly have mental illness Z", which is the practical way that "You have mental illness Z" would actually be phrased in most contexts where this would be likely to come up.

Nevertheless, your first and third paragraphs seem right.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T08:09:48.696Z

Because you've publicly expressed assent with extreme bluntness

Who said anything about "extreme"?

You are unreasonably fixated on the details of this particular situation (my comment clearly was intended to invoke a much broader context), and on particular verbal features of the anonymous critic's comment. Ironically, however, you have not picked up on the extent to which my disapproval of censorship of that comment was contingent upon its particular nature. It consisted, in the main, of angrily-expressed substantive criticism of the "Berkeley rationalist community". (The parts about people killing themselves were part of the expression of anger, and need not be read literally.) The substance of that criticism may be false, but it is useful to know that someone in the author's position (they seemed to have had contact with members of the community) believes it, or is at least sufficiently angry that they would speak as if they believed it.

I will give you a concession: I possibly went too far in saying I was grateful that downvoting was disabled; maybe that comment's proper place was in "comment score below threshold" minimization-land. But that's about as far as I think the censorship needs to go.

Not, by the way, that I think it would be catastrophic if the comment were edited -- in retrospect, I probably overstated the strength of my preference above -- by my preference is, indeed, that it be left for readers to judge the author.

Now, speaking of tone: the tone of the parent comment is inappropriately hostile to me, especially in light of my other comment in which I addressed you in a distinctly non-hostile tone. You said you were curious about what caused me to update -- this suggested you were interested in a good-faith intellectual discussion about discourse norms in general, such as would have been an appropriate reply to my comment. Instead, it seems, you were simply preparing an ambush, ready to attack me for (I assume) showing too much sympathy for the enemy, with whatever "ammunition" my comment gave you.

I don't wish to continue this argument, both because I have other priorities, and also because I don't wish to be perceived as allying myself in a commenting-faction with the anonymous troublemaker. This is by no means a hill that I am interested in dying on.

However, there is one further remark I must make:

Your comment makes you come across as someone who has led a very sheltered upper-class existence

You are incredibly wrong here, and frankly you ought to know better. (You have data to the contrary.)

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T05:53:06.184Z

My other comment should hopefully clarify things, as least with regard to politicization in particular.

To spell out the implications a bit more: the problem with political discourse, the reason it kills minds, is not that it gets heated; rather, it freezes people's mental categories in ways that prevent them from making ontological updates or paradigm shifts of any kind. In effect, people switch from using physical cognition to think about arguments (modus ponens, etc.), to using social cognition instead (who wins, who loses, etc.). (Most people, of course, never use anything but social cognition in arguments; politics makes even "nerds" or "intellectuals" behave like typical humans.)

It is in fact possible for "heated" or even "nasty" discourse to be very information-rich; this makes sense if you realize that what counts as "nasty" depends on social norms. If you encounter discourse from a different social context (even, for example, simply because the speaker has misunderstood the social context and its norms!) you may read it as "nasty", despite the fact that the author was specifically intending to communicate content.

Now, of course I don't consider 18239018038528017428's comment to be optimally worded -- but then, I wouldn't, because I didn't write it. This is the important thing to understand: there is value to be had in getting detailed input on the mental states of people unlike oneself.

I agree that Duncan deserves positive reinforcement for engaging with this critic to the extent he did. But I think it was actually good for him epistemically to do so, not just as a demonstration of his willingness-to-bend-over-backwards, and thus, good social nature.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T05:18:15.339Z

Your principal mistake lies here:

"socially punishing them by making claims in a certain way, when those claims could easily be made without having that effect

Putting communication through a filter imposes a cost, which will inevitably tend to discourage communication in the long term. Moreover, the cost is not the same for everyone: for some people "diplomatic" communication comes much more naturally than for others; as I indicate in another comment, this often has to do with their status, which, the higher it is, the less necessary directness is, because the more people are already preoccupied with mentally modeling them.

I'm frustrated by your comment, komponisto

If we're engaging in disclosures of this sort, I have felt similarly about many a comment of yours, not least the one to which I am replying. In your second paragraph, for example, you engage in passive aggression by deceptively failing to acknowledge that the people you are criticizing would accuse you of the exact same sin you accuse them of (namely, equating "trans people disproportionately have certain traits" and "boo trans people"). That's not a debate I consider myself to be involved in, but I do, increasingly, feel myself to be involved in a meta-dispute about the relative importance of communicative clarity and so-called "niceness", and in that dispute, come down firmly on the side of communicative clarity -- at least as it pertains to this sort of social context.

I read your comment as a tribal cheer for the other, "niceness", side, disingenuously phrased as if I were expected to agree with your underlying assumptions, despite the fact that my comments have strongly implied (and now explicitly state) that I don't.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T04:10:27.731Z

See this comment; most particularly, the final bullet point.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-29T04:06:09.821Z

What convinced you of this?

A constellation of related realizations.

  • A sense that some of the most interesting and important content in my own field of specialization (e.g. the writings of Heinrich Schenker) violates, or is viewed as violating, the "norms of discourse" of what I took to be my "ingroup" or "social context"; despite being far more interesting, engaging, and relevant to my concerns than the vast majority of discourse that obeys those norms.

  • A sense that I myself, despite being capable of producing interesting content, have been inhibited from doing so by the fear of violating social norms; and that this (which is basically a form of cowardice) is likely to also be what is behind the stifled nature of norm-conforming discourse referred to above.

  • A sense that the ability to look beyond discourse norms (and the signaling value of violation or conformity thereto) and read texts for their information content is extremely intellectually valuable, and in particular, makes texts originating in outgroup or fargroup cultures much more accessible -- the epistemic usefulness of which should go without saying.

  • A sense that a generalized version of this principle holds: the ability to conform to discourse norms, despite their information-obstructing nature, yet still succeed in communicating, functions as a signal of high status or tight embeddedness within a community, achieved via countersignaling. In particular, it cannot be successfully imitated by those not already of similar status or embeddednees: the attempt to imitate Level 4 results in Level 1.

  • A sense that discourse norms, and norms of "civility" generally, are the result of optimization for a purpose entirely distinct from the efficient transmission of information. Namely, they are there to reduce the risk of physical violence; in fact they specifically trade off communicative efficiency for this. Hence: politics, diplomacy, law -- the domains in which discourse is most tightly "regulated" and ritualized being specifically those most concerned with the prevention of physical violence, and simultaneously those most notorious for hypocrisy and obscurantism. This, by contrast, does not seem to be what an internet forum concerned with truth-seeking (or even an associated real-life community of minimally-violent individuals living in a society characterized by historically and globally high levels of trust) is supposed to be optimizing for!

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-28T07:36:41.019Z

norms of good discourse are more important than the content of arguments

In what represents a considerable change of belief on my part, this now strikes me as very probably false.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-28T07:11:52.744Z

For the record: at the risk of being a lonely dissenter, I strongly disagree with any notion that any of this discussion should have been censored in any way. (I was even grateful for the current impossibility of downvoting.)

Five years ago, or even two, my opinion would have been quite different. By this point, however, I have undergone a fairly massive update in the direction of thinking people are far, far too sensitive about matters of "tone" and the like. These norms of sensitivity are used to subtly restrict information flow. Ultimately Duncan and everyone else are better off knowing about the numerically-pseudonymous commenter's opinion in all of its gory detail. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more they engage with this individual, the better; especially since the natural tendency will be to go in the opposite direction, circle the wagons, and dismiss the critic as a low-status outsider -- a behavior pattern that doesn't need more practice, IMHO.

(At any rate, the individual seems contemptuous enough of their targets that I would expect them to disengage on their own before the full value of discussion with them has been extracted.)

Comment by komponisto on On "Overthinking" Concepts · 2017-05-27T23:48:49.453Z · LW · GW

I agree, and wish to state for the record, that to be told one is "overthinking" is about the least helpful (certainly least actionable) criticism one can receive.

In many cases, the one who says this wishes to communicate that their knowledge is tacit, and to contrast this with the other's attempt to use explicit reasoning. But tacit knowledge does not magically appear when you stop "thinking"!

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-27T22:58:56.325Z

What is the best way? It's not like you can trick them into it.

A more serious issue, I would have thought, would be that the "professional help" won't actually be effective.

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-27T22:58:47.767Z

Here's what it looks like to me, after a bit of reflection: you're in a state where you think a certain proposition P has a chance of being true, which it is considered a violation of social norms to assert (a situation that comes up more often than we would like).

In this sort of situation, I don't think it's necessarily correct to go around loudly asserting, or even mentioning, P. However, I do think it's probably correct to avoid taking it upon oneself to enforce the (epistemically-deleterious) social norm upon those weird contrarians who, for whatever reason, do go around proclaiming P. At least leave that to the people who are confident that P is false. Otherwise, you are doing epistemic anti-work, by systematically un-correlating normative group beliefs from reality.

My sense was that you were sort of doing that above: you were seeking to reproach someone for being loudly contrarian in a direction that, from your perspective (according to what you say), may well be the right one. This is against your and your friends' epistemic interests.

(A friendly reminder, finally, that talk of "being a total jerk" and similar is simply talk about social norms and their enforcement.)

Comment by komponisto on [deleted post] 2017-05-27T09:30:29.908Z

I do not reach the point of telling the...humans I know that they're e.g. dumb or wrong or sick or confused

If you'll allow me, I would like to raise a red-flag alert at this sentence. It seems poorly worded at best, and in worse scenarios indicative of some potentially-bad patterns of thought.

Presumably, as a member of a community of aspiring rationalists, not to mention the staff of CFAR, telling the people you know when (you think) they're wrong or confused is, or should be...your daily bread. (It goes without saying that this extends to noticing your own confusion or wrongness, and encouraging others to notice it for you when you don't; the norm, as I understand it, is a cooperative one).

Telling people when they might be sick is (if you'll forgive me) hardly something to sneeze at, either. They might want to visit a doctor. Health is, for understandable reasons, generally considered important. (This includes mental health.)

As for dumb, well, I simply doubt that comes up often enough to make the statement meaningful. Whatever may be said about the rationalist community, it does not appear to draw its membership disproportionately from those of specifically low intelligence. Your acquaintances -- whatever their other characteristics -- probably aren't "dumb", so to tell them they are would simply be to assert a falsehood.

So: may I be so bold as to suggest either a reformulation of the thought you were trying to express, or even a reconsideration of the impulse behind it, in the event that the impulse in question wasn't actually a good one?

Comment by komponisto on Musical setting of the Litany of Tarski · 2017-03-29T04:44:47.471Z · LW · GW

"Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"

Comment by komponisto on Musical setting of the Litany of Tarski · 2017-03-28T06:11:25.754Z · LW · GW

It plays back at the link! (Synthesized rendering, but not too bad.)

This was the point of putting it on MuseScore (otherwise I would have just linked a PDF I had already typeset with Finale).

how does this compare to your other work?

If we take this piece to be broadly similar to works like this or this (yes I know: as if), then my other work might be compared to something like this or this.

At least, it will once it exists. (I currently only really have an undergraduate portfolio's worth of "other work", and barely that. In progress!)

Comment by komponisto on LW mentioned in influential 2016 Milo article on the Alt-Right · 2017-03-20T03:44:00.083Z · LW · GW

The first link is MM saying what EY would later say in No Safe Defense, Not Even Science.

Comment by komponisto on Dreaming of Political Bayescraft · 2017-03-07T01:25:18.674Z · LW · GW

Oh, you meant "might made right".

Comment by komponisto on Dreaming of Political Bayescraft · 2017-03-07T01:02:38.100Z · LW · GW

might makes right

Might is perhaps a necessary condition for right, but I would not be inclined to call it a sufficient one.

Comment by komponisto on Are we running out of new music/movies/art from a metaphysical perspective? · 2017-03-06T07:10:14.764Z · LW · GW

This is also why the distinction between "triad" and "modality" is rather beside the point, in practical usage.

Not at all. It strongly implicates the distinction between the chord model and the line model of musical data; thinking of the Stufe as a triad has the severely unfortunate effect of encouraging the chord model. This is why almost no one has noticed that Schenkerian theory, like Westergaardian theory, uses the line model. It is for this reason that I am so insistent on the distinction between Stufen and triads, and what you call the "'modal' point of view".

You're basically trying to argue that Schenker's ideas were already understood in the past by people like Rameau

Um, I'm expressly not trying to say this (i.e., that "Schenker's ideas" as a whole were extant

The phrase "as a whole" is absent from my statement. You were trying to argue that some of Schenker's ideas were extant, and I was disputing this in the important cases that were mentioned, in particular the Stufe as generator of content. While it was certainly related to things that had been said earlier by others (including Rameau), neither Schenker's particular idea of Stufe nor, indeed, his idea of content were part of the standard music theory he inherited; had they been, no one would have been struck by the originality and importance of his Harmony.

In retrospect, of course, it is nearly always possible to trace the ancestry even of original ideas; and, in fact, contrary to the current "historical" Zeitgeist which has so strongly influenced your comments, I think this is exactly how earlier ideas should be looked at -- from the perspective of their later descendants (provided the latter are actually a development or improvement of the earlier, which is markedly the case here). However, the consequence of this in this case is that, to whatever extent (e.g.) Rameau anticipated Schenker, it is a credit to Rameau, not a diminishment of Schenker.

But this also makes the theory historically dependent in a rather unorthodox way for a figure on a par with Darwin!

The reason Schenker is on a par with Darwin is not because of the novelty of his ideas; it is because of their fundamentality. As with Darwin's ideas in the case of biology, Schenker's ideas in music are a starting point, a core background assumption, for any reasonable view of music after him.

For instance, Schenker's ideas in and of themselves have little to say about orchestration and texture. If Schenker's works were all we had to go on, we would never know to hear, say, the start of KV332(I), 1st mvmt., as much more than stereotypically "pretty" music

This is a perfect example of what I am talking about when I say that Schenker's ideas have not been understood.

I could just reply by pointing out that the first sentence is simply false. Read the Ninth Symphony monograph; you will find (just for instance) Schenker arguing at length against Wagner's re-orchestrations of Beethoven. Already at that early stage, Schenker seemed to be under the impression that a lot of specific points about orchestration and texture followed from his ideas.

But really, the correct response is of a more general, meta-level character. The source of this type of complaint is a basic failure to understand what it is that one is supposed to be learning when one reads a music theorist -- most of all Schenker. Even if Schenker had not bothered to spell out the specific orchestrational or textural consequences of his ideas on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or any other particular work, even if his only surviving writings were those devoted to the general presentation of his "theory" ( Harmony, Counterpoint, and Free Composition), it would still be entirely wrong to make the claim that you have, whether in general or about K. 332 in particular.

Your criticism is basically analogous to telling a nearsighted person that, if their eyeglasses were "all they had to go on", they would never notice the beauties of the landscape. Well, of course, but eyeglasses are never all that a given individual has to go on; they also have the entire human visual system and cognitive apparatus, not to mention a lifetime's worth of experience that will have imprinted itself upon these latter. The problem is that they're nearsighted, and a distant landscape will, by default, appear as a nondescript blur, limiting their ability to make use of their interpretive and appreciative faculties. Hence, what they need most urgently are corrective lenses. Not a verbal description of the landscape, a textbook on natural history, or research in computer vision that might lead to commercially useful animal- and plant-classification algorithms.

Schenkerian theory is a framework. By default, people do not perceive music; they perceive only a distant, distorted shadow that hints at what music might be. A good music theory is like a corrective lens that allows them to perceive music in its full, vivid glory. The difference between perceiving a piece of music only superficially, as opposed to "all the way through" to the Urlinie, is like the difference between seeing a blurry smear of color, on the one hand, and a picturesque panorama of detail, on the other.

This isn't a perfect analogy, but I hope it conveys something of the reason that "Schenker has little to say about orchestration or texture (or rhythm or ...)" is just the wrong type of criticism of Schenker, even if were true (which it virtually never is). If you learn to hear music the way that Schenkerian theory aims to teach (as in, hearing this way is a skill), you notice more about a piece of music, not less.

There seems to be a certain kind of personality trait, a certain kind of over-concrete literal-mindedness, that prevents people from understanding this, in the specific case of Schenkerian theory, and from expecting this kind of thing of a theory in general. What is remarkable about Schenker is that he possessed the kind of personality that did expect this of a theory, and, as a result, presented a theory of this kind. This is what I mean by he knew how to theorize.

One could also perhaps make an analogy to programming. A theory of music should, in fact, be something like a programming language for music. Saying something of the form "this theory has nothing to say about orchestration (etc.)" is like criticizing a programming language on the grounds that it lacks good libraries. This is a superficial criticism, because if the core of the language is well designed, good libraries can always be written. Similarly, if you have a good theory of music, understanding the various details that might be involved in a given piece of music, such as orchestration, texture, or any number of other things, will take care of itself in the hands of a dedicated listener.

Sure, but the "nonsense" I was talking about is specifically the prescriptivist tendency to take rules from a radically different language, and one that has been dead for thousands of years, viz. Latin - whether involving lexicon, syntax or grammar - and apply them wholesale to English

That's not what was going on here. I wasn't doing something like advocating against "split infinitives" on the grounds that infinitives are a single word in Latin (actually they're a single word in English as well and do not include the word to, a point that few understand but that can be confirmed by comparison with German, where the English preposition to corresponds to the German preposition zu, not to the infinitive ending -en).

Rather, I was correcting apparent ignorance of an actual piece of Latin being used in English. It is a feature of literate discourse that phrases from other languages are used; in such a speech community, one is expected to either have familiarity with the languages, or to learn the foreign vocabulary items (ahem) ad hoc. Something like "per say" is the result of somebody unfamiliar with the phrase in Latin misconstruing it as a phrase in English; this is simply a failure of literacy, nothing more -- which can, of course, be easily corrected (even without studying the rest of Latin). As you may be able to gather, I am rather big on literacy. (As I have already indicated, I am not a fan of Richard Taruskin's version of music history, but his framing of the nature of art music as being basically about a kind of literacy is something I find more or less spot on.)