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Comment by sam_b on The Meaning of Right · 2008-08-03T00:09:00.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Just so I'm certain - why does this post end "A=A", and why does the author feel the need to apologise for that ending?

(I think I know the answer to both questions - but there seems to be a rather large coincidence involved, which is why I ask.)

Comment by sam_b on When (Not) To Use Probabilities · 2008-07-24T07:09:24.000Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Was this speaker a believer in Discworldian probability theory? Which states, of course, that million-to-one chances come up 100% of the time, but thousand-to-one chances never. Maybe those numbers weren't plucked out of the air.

All we have to do is operate the LHC while standing on one foot, and the probability of the universe exploding will be nudged away from million-to-one (doesn't matter which direction - whoever heard of a 999,999-1 chance coming up?) and the universe will be saved.

Comment by sam_b on Lawrence Watt-Evans's Fiction · 2008-07-16T23:38:58.000Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think these characters are trying to be "rationalists", even a misguided idea of "rationalists"? I don't watch Star Trek, but as far as I know Mr Spock never describes himself as a rationalist. He may use words like 'logical' and 'probability', but - unless there's something I don't know, which is very possible - he does not come out and say 'I am a rationalist', or claim to adhere to any of the principles that make up rationality. I'm similarly unaware of any character that explicitly sets out to be a rationalist, and repeatedly fails.

As far as I can tell, Mr Spock and his character type aren't portrayed wrongly as rationalist, they're portrayed correctly as introverted, stubbornly skeptic and/or overestimating their own intellect. Nothing more. When Spock says "Captain, we have a 94.92% chance of dying" when the chance of dying is 10%, I don't believe the scriptwriter's message is "probability is a crap science", I believe it's "Spock's understanding of probability is crap, and he vastly overestimates it".

Comment by sam_b on Against Devil's Advocacy · 2008-06-11T10:03:14.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is devil's advocacy just another get-out-of-argument-free card, like "Well, that's just my opinion" and "I guess we'll have to agree to disagree"? That is, something you say when you've "lost" the argument, or are about to lose, and want to withdraw without conceding social status (from the debate-as-game perspective) or altering your opinion (from the debate-as-truth-seeking perspective). That certainly looks like Phillip's use of it above, although he's obviously joking.

Even if you start out by saying "I'm just playing devil's advocate", as Phillip suggests in the beginning, you could in fact be counting on the fact that if your argument dominates, you can gradually play down your devil's advocacy and let it be known that you've managed to persuade yourself as well.

So I remain suspicious of declarations of devil's advocacy. People who deploy get-out-of-jail-free cards in arguments are the same kids who refused to lie down when they were shot in a playground game of Cowboys and Indians, always shouting "I've got bulletproof armour!" or some such. A game where one or more players can win or withdraw but never lose is clearly broken.

Comment by sam_b on Thou Art Physics · 2008-06-06T15:37:55.000Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The question "do we have free will", which as I understand it is more precisely described as "does the fact that you only ever get to make one choice and experience one outcome make choice an illusion", has two important properties. One, it's completely unanswerable, there being no imaginable evidence that would shift your belief one way or the other. And two, whether your belief is right or wrong has no direct consequences, positive or negative.

A rationalist might see this as a bad thing - a "wrong question" - and so ignore it. But a philosopher might look on this as a biscuit tin that never runs out of biscuits.

Comment by sam_b on Living in Many Worlds · 2008-06-05T13:59:10.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Quantum immortality seemed to work when I was imagining my consciousness as a thread running through the many worlds, one that couldn't possibly enter a world where I was dead. But if I understand rightly, consciousness is not like this, it is not epiphenominal, it is not a thread that runs through one world and not the others, it is splitting along with the world around me and the rest of my body.

So if I undergo the classic 50/50 decaying radioactive particle + gun experiment, it would seem to me that I have a 50% chance of my consciousness surviving and a 50% of it going ping out of existence when the bullet pulverises my brain.

If that even makes sense, then I've managed to understand a lot more of the quantum mechanics and zombie sequences than I thought I had.

I was hoping someone would bring up quantum immortality because that was what came to mind at the end of the post. Shooting myself in the head, on the assumption that quantum immortality will make the gun jam every time, would be a great party piece but it would certainly count as a strange strategy.

Comment by sam_b on To Spread Science, Keep It Secret · 2008-03-28T10:00:20.000Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This post assumes a very positive view of humanity. It assumes that people aren't studying science in large enough numbers because the knowledge isn't exciting and attractive enough. The alternative assumption is that people aren't studying science because they're thick, or lazy, or both.

In Britain, fewer and fewer young people are choosing to study science at A-level (16-18) and university, despite the increased number of them continuing education after compulsory education ends (16). This is mainly blamed on them choosing to do new, 'soft' options, of which Media Studies is the primary scapegoat (but a Google for 'Mickey Mouse degrees' or a flick through the prospectus of a lower-order university will find plenty of others). This can't be attributed to the non-secret nature of science, because Media Studies is just as non-secret. If the open nature of science was really the problem, it would be a problem shared by every single subject from science to media studies to plumbing apprenticeships, and enrolment would be falling in every subject, not just science.

I don't actually disagree with the main point of the post - that secret knowledge is more attractive - but it wouldn't solve the problem of lack of interest in science. If science went cultish, they would see a short-term increase in interest, but then media studies academics would hide their 'knowledge' as well, and we'd be back where we started. Even if the knowledge was secret I've no doubt that most young people would consider the secret media studies knowledge more attractive than the secret science knowledge. "The chanting isn't as weird, and the robes are better, and even under those hoods you can tell the Physics cult is a total sausagefest."