Open Thread: July 2009

Here's our place to discuss Less Wrong topics that have not appeared in recent posts. Have fun building smaller brains inside of your brains (or not, as you please).

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Eliezer_Yudkowsky said:

It is only the Mind Projection Fallacy that makes some people talk as if the higher levels could have a separate existence - different levels of organization can have separate representations in human maps, but the territory itself is a single unified low-level mathematical object. Suppose this were wrong. Suppose that the Mind Projection Fallacy was not a fallacy, but simply true. Suppose that a 747 had a fundamental physical existence apart from the quarks making up the 747. What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe? If you can't come up with a good answer to that, it's not observation that's ruling out "non-reductionist" beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence. If you can't say what predictions the "non-reductionist" model makes, how can you say that experimental evidence rules it out?

This comes from a post from almost a year ago, Excluding the Supernatural. I quote it because I was hoping to revive some discussion on it: to me, this argument seems dead wrong.

The counter-argument might go like this:

Reductionism is anything but a priori logically necessary-- it's something that must be verified with extensive empirical data and inductive, probabilistic reasoning. That is, we observe that the attributes of many entities can be explained with laws describing their internal relations. Occam's razor tells us that we don't need both the higher and lower order model to actually exist, so we unify our theory. The repeated experience of this success leads us to extrapolate that this can be done with all entities. Perhaps some entities present obstacles to this goal, but we then infer that their irreducibility is in the map (our model for understanding them) not in the territory (the entity itself.) But again, we infer this by assuring ourselves that they just haven't been explained YET--which implies it's reasonable, based on inductive reasoning from the past, to assume that they will be reduced. Or we describe some element of the entity's complexity that makes "irreducibility in practice" something to be expected. We therefore preserve its reducibility in principle.

But we do not (it seems to me) merely exclude its irreducibility based on a priori necessity. Why would we? It's perfectly conceivable. Eliezer describes in an earlier post the "small, hard, opaque black ball" that is a non-reductionist explanation of an entity. He claims its just a placeholder, something that fools us into thinking there's a causal chain where nothing has actually been clarified.

But it's perfectly conceivable that such a "black ball" could exist. I suppose there's no way to prove that it's irreducible, and not just unreduced as of yet, in the same way that one can't prove a negative. But this just presupposes that the default position ought to be reductionism. We should assume innocent until proven guilty. But which is innocent in this case: reducible or non-reducible?

So what if we come across something that appears to be a "black ball"? We attempt with all our mental and technological acuity to analyze it in terms or more fundamental laws, and every attempt fails. I would argue this is a good example of empirical evidence against materialist reductionism. We indeed have an entity that obeys laws which we can describe and predict--it just has laws that can't be reconciled with the physical laws of everything else, and when interacting with anything else, violates them.

Occam's razor is indeed strong here: we recognize that, given the faintest hope of reduction, we should throw out irreducibility in favor of having as few types of "stuff" as possible. This happens in the case of "elan vital." But it seems perfectly conceivable to me that there might be an entity that's truly a black ball.

But now we get to the dilemma: if the staid conventional normal boring understanding of physics and the brain is correct, there's no way in principle that a human being can concretely envision, and derive testable experimental predictions about, an alternate universe in which things are irreducibly mental. Because, if the boring old normal model is correct, your brain is made of quarks, and so your brain will only be able to envision and concretely predict things that can predicted by quarks. You will only ever be able to construct models made of interacting simple things. People who live in reductionist universes cannot concretely envision non-reductionist universes. They can pronounce the syllables "non-reductionist" but they can't imagine it.

Now this seems so massively incorrect that I fear I'm misunderstanding Eliezer. Does anyone have any feedback? I'd love to make a post about this, once I generate some karma.

if the boring old normal model is correct, your brain is made of quarks, and so your brain will only be able to envision and concretely predict things that can predicted by quarks.

I didn't get the 'and so' above at first, but I think it makes sense for the following reason: you can only ever "construct models made of interacting simple things" (possibly elaborated upon and abstracted to such an extent that they no longer seem simple or physical) in that universe because any model you could possibly make in that universe would be causally determined by and entangled with the quarks in your brain. The verbalization and high-level understanding of the model is just another way of explaining what is going on with the quarks in your brain (it explains nothing additionally), and so whatever the 'irreducibly mental' things in your model are, the chain of causal unpacking and explicating ultimately bottoms out with descriptions of quarks, etc., by hypothesis. When you think "non-reductionist", there is a purely reductionist explanation of what you are thinking. If there is just one level, then the explanation for everything is on that level or can be reduced to that level, so you can't concretely envision, as Eliezer says, something that can't be reduced.

I wish I had time to make this clearer, but I don't have any more time today.

If there is just one level, then the explanation for everything is on that level or can be reduced to that level, so you can't concretely envision, as Eliezer says, something that can't be reduced.

I'm pretty sure that just can't be right. (His argument, that is. I think your interpretation of it is dead on.) We are not limited to imagining the sorts of things our brain is causally determined by. And the way you just put it seems completely backwards. Even if everything reduces to quarks, it's only in principle-- our brains are hard wired to create multiple levels of models, and could never conceive of an explanation of a 747 in terms of quarks.

Look at it this way. Can a painting have a subject? Can it be "about" something? Of course. Certainly there's nothing supernatural about this, but there's also nothing legitimate on the level of quarks that could be used to differentiate between a painting that has a subject and a painting that is just random blobs. I can imagine, after all, two paintings, almost identical in their coordinate-positioning of quarks, which have completely different subjects. I can also imagine two paintings, very different in terms of coordinates of quarks (perhaps painted with two different materials) which have the same subject. So while everything reduces down to quarks, it's the easiest thing in the world to explain a painting's about-ness on a separate level from quarks, and completely impossible to envision an explanation for this about-ness in terms of quarks.

I'm just not sure what about a "black ball" misses the mark of conceivability.

I can imagine, after all

You want to be very careful every time you find yourself saying that.

and completely impossible to envision

And that too.

Eliezer, in Excluding the Supernatural, you wrote:

Ultimately, reductionism is just disbelief in fundamentally complicated things. If "fundamentally complicated" sounds like an oxymoron... well, that's why I think that the doctrine of non-reductionism is a confusion, rather than a way that things could be, but aren't.

"Fundamentally complicated" does sound like an oxymoron to me, but I'm not sure I could say why. Could you?

I'm having the same difficulty. Aren't quarks (or whatever is the most elemental bit of matter) fundamentally complicated? What's meant by "complicated"?

(Sorry for being so chatty.)

Aren't quarks (or whatever is the most elemental bit of matter) fundamentally complicated?

Are you actually implying that quantum mechanics is remotely comparable in complexity to paintings and artistic "subjects"? Please direct me to the t-shirt that summarizes all of artistic critique.

This is probably wrong. The important point is that physics isn't a mind, and less so human mind or your mind, so it doesn't care about your high-level concepts, which makes their materialization in reality impossible. Even though the territory computes much more data than people, it's data not structured in a way human concepts are.

To loqi and Nesov:

Again, both of your responses seem to hinge on the fact that my challenge below is easily answerable, and has already been answered:

Tell me the obvious, a priori logically necessary criteria for a person to distinguish between "entities within the territory" and "high-level concepts." If you can't give any, then this is a big problem: you don't know that the higher level entities aren't within the territory. They could be within the territory, or they could be "computational abstractions." Either position is logically tenable, so it makes no sense to say that this is where the logical incoherence comes in.

To loqi: Where do we draw the line? Where is an entity too complex to be considered fundamental, whereas another is somewhat less complex and can therefore be considered simple? What would be a priori illogical about every entity in the universe being explainable in terms of quarks, except for one type of entity, which simply followed different laws? (Maybe these laws wouldn't even be deterministic, but that's apparently not a knockdown criticism of them, right? From what I understand, QM isn't deterministic, by some interpretations.)

To Nesov: Again, you're presupposing that you know what's part of the territory, and what's part of the map, and then saying "obviously, the territory isn't affected by the map." Sure. But this presupposes the territory doesn't have any irreducible entities. It doesn't demonstrate it.

Don't get me wrong: Occam's razor will indeed (and rightly) push us to suspect that there are no irreducible entities. But it will do this based on some previous success with reduction-- it is an inference, not an a priori necessity.

Where do we draw the line?

I don't know. I wasn't supporting the main thread of argument, I was responding specifically to your implicit comparison of the complexity of quarks and "about-ness", and pointing out that the complexity of the latter (assuming it's well-defined) is orders of magnitude higher than that of the former. "About-ness" may seem simpler to you if you think about it in terms that hide the complexity, but it's there. A similar trick is possible with QM... everything is just waves. QM possesses some fundamental level of complexity, but I wouldn't agree in this context that it's "fundamentally complicated".

QM possesses some fundamental level of complexity, but I wouldn't agree in this context that it's "fundamentally complicated".

I see what you mean. It's certainly a good distinction to make, even if it's difficult to articulate. Again, though, I think it's Occam's Razor and induction that makes us prefer the simpler entities-- they aren't the sole inhabitants of the territory by default.

I would assert that, by definition, a meaningful concept is reducible to some other set of concepts. If this chain of meaning can be extended to unambiguous physics, then their "materialization in reality" is certainly possible, it's just a complicated boundary in Thingspace.

Certainly-- that was somewhat sloppy of me. In my defense, however, a priori and conceivability/imaginability are pretty inextricably tied. Additionally, you yourself used the word "envision."

your brain will only be able to envision...

It would perhaps be helpful if you could clarify what you meant when you said:

If you can't come up with a good answer to that, it's not observation that's ruling out "non-reductionist" beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence.

Your usage doesn't seem to fit into the Kantian sense of the term-- the unity of my experience of the world is not conditioned by everything being reducible. What do you mean when you say irreducibility is a priori logically incoherent?

See blog post links in Priors. A priori incoherent means that you don't need data about the world to come to a conclusion (i.e. in this case the statement is logically false).

This doesn't really answer the question, though. I know that a priori means "prior to experience", but what does this consist of? Originally, for something to be "a priori illogical", it was supposed to mean that it couldn't be thought without contradicting oneself, because of pre-experiential rules of thought. An example would be two straight lines on a flat surface forming a bounded figure-- it's not just wrong, but inconceivable. As far as I can tell, an irreducible entity doesn't possess this inconceivability, so I'm trying to figure out what Eliezer meant.

(He mentions some stuff about being unable to make testable predictions to confirm irreducibility, but as I've already said, this seems to presuppose that reducibility is the default position, not prove it.)

Some comic relief, with a serious point:

The famous cartoon of two mathematicians going over a proof, the middle step of which is "then a miracle occurs".

If reductionism is false in the way you've described, then it seems that we can start at the level of quarks and work our way back up to the highest level, but that at some point there must be a "magical stuff happens here" step where level N+1 cannot be reduced to level N.

Indeed, an irreducible entity (albeit with describable, predictable, behavior) is not much better than a miracle. This is why Occam's Razor, insisting that our model of the world should not postulate needless entities, insists that everything should be reduced to one type of stuff if possible. But the "if possible" is key: we verify through inference and induction whether or not it's reasonable to think we'll be able to reduce everything, not through a priori logic.

This is a good example of how the "natural" concepts are actually quite elaborate, paying utmost attention to tiny details that are almost invisible in other representations. But these details are in fact there, in the territory. The fact that they are small in one representation doesn't belittle their significance in another representation. And the fact that one object is placed in one high-level category and a "slightly" different object is placed in another category results from exactly these "tiny" differences. You can't visualize these differences in terms of quarks directly, but in terms of other high-level categories it is exactly what you are doing: keeping track of the tiny distinctions that are important to you for some reason.

That sounds right, but that sounds like I am (or at least could) visualize these levels as separate, since to keep track of the tiny differences that end up being important is impossible for my mind to do. This seems to necessitate that imagining irreducibility is not only possible, but natural (and perhaps unavoidable?).

This is not to say that irreducibility is logical, and our reason may insist to us that the painting is indeed reducible to quarks, whether or not we can imagine this reduction. But collapsing the levels is not the default position, a priori logically neccessary.

That sounds right, but that sounds like I am (or at least could) visualize these levels as separate, since to keep track of the tiny differences that end up being important is impossible for my mind to do. This seems to necessitate that imagining irreducibility is not only possible, but natural (and perhaps unavoidable?).

I'm not entirely clear on what you are saying above. Your mind keeps many overlapping concepts that build on each other. It's also incapable of introspecting on this process in detail, or of representing one concept explicitly in terms of an arbitrary other concept, even if the model in the mind supports a lawful dependence between them. You can only visualize some concepts in the context of some other closely related concepts. Notice that we are only talking about the algorithm of human mind and its limitations.

Perhaps it would help (since I think I've lost you as well) to relate this all back to the original question: is all levels reducing down to a common lowest level a priori logically necessary? My contention is that it's possible to reduce the levels, but not logically necessary-- and I support this contention with the fact that we don't necessarily collapse the levels in our reasoning, and we can't collapse the levels in our imagination. If you weren't disagreeing with this, then I've just misunderstood you, and I apologize.

There are at least 3 ways for anti-reductionism to be not only clearly consistent, but with some plausibility, true - in the sense that there is empirical as well as conceptual evidence for every position (This is connected to a quote I posted yesterday):

  • Ontological monism: The whole universe is prior to its parts (see this paper)

  • No fundamental level: The descent of levels is infinite (see that paper)

  • "Causation" is an inconsistent concept (I'm one free afternoon and two karma points away from a top-level post on this ;)

I have not been able to imagine a pair of (painting+context with a subject)s which have two completely different subjects but are almost identical in their coordinate-positioning of quarks.

You can, though? Can you give an example?

Well, wouldn't a painting of the Mona Lisa, and a computer screen depicting said painting, have very different quarks, and quark patterns? While two computer screens depicting some completely different subject would be much more similar to each other? This is what I was trying to get at.

The two computer screens depicting completely different subjects have almost everything in common, in that they are of the same material. However, where they differ -- namely, the color of each pixel -- is where all the information about the painting is contained. So the screens have enough different information (at the quark level) to distinguish what the paintings are about.

So I don't think you are getting at why "about-ness" isn't related to the quarks of the painting. I think a better example is a stick figure. A child's stick figure can be anybody. What the painting is about is in her head, or your head, or in the head of anyone thinking about what the painting is about.

So it's not in the quarks of the painting at all. "About-ness" is in the quarks of the thoughts of the person looking at the painting, right? (And according to reductionism, completely determined by the quarks in the painting, the quarks of the observer, and the quarks of their mutual environment.)

Above, you wrote:

there's also nothing legitimate on the level of quarks [of the painting] that could be used to differentiate between a painting that has a subject and a painting that is just random blobs

Thus I agree with this statement as it is written, because I think the difference in the subjects of the paintings are found instead in the thoughts of the beholder. Would you agree that there is a legitimate difference at the level of quarks between the thought that a painting has a subject and the thought that a painting is just random blobs?

The two computer screens depicting completely different subjects have almost everything in common, in that they are of the same material. However, where they differ -- namely, the color of each pixel -- is where all the information about the painting is contained. So the screens have enough different information (at the quark level) to distinguish what the paintings are about.

But the two screens with two different subjects are probably more similar than a screen and a painting with the same subject, in terms of coordinates of quarks. Additionally, it's not clear to me that there's a one-to-one correspondence between color and quarks. Even establishing a correspondence between color and chemical make up is extremely difficult, due to the influence of natural selection in how we see color (I remember Dennett having a cool chapter on this in CE.)

I don't want to make our disagreement sound more stark than it actually is. I agree that the about-ness is in the mind of the beholder, and the stick figure is a good example as well... but I think this just emphasizes my point. Let me put it this way: Given the data for the point-coordinates of the three entities, could a mind choose which one had which subject? No, even though the criteria is buried abstrusely somewhere in there. The point being that the models are inextricably separate in the imagination, and its therefore not clear to me why its a priori logically necessary that they all collapse into the same territory (though I agree that they do, ultimately).

Maybe I've misunderstood you and you're not talking about what "about" means. Are you talking about how it seems impossible that we can decode the quarks into our perception of reality? And thus that while you agree everything is quarks, there's some intermediate scale helping us interpret that would be better identified as 'fundamental'? (If I'm wrong just downvote once, and I'll delete, I don't want to make this thread more confusing.

Haha if I just downvoted it, then I wouldn't be able to explain what I do mean.

I'm simply attempting to disagree with the logical necessity of reductionism. I said this earlier, I thought it was pretty clear:

My contention is that it's possible to reduce the levels, but not logically necessary-- and I support this contention with the fact that we don't necessarily collapse the levels in our reasoning, and we can't collapse the levels in our imagination.

So, the fact that a painting has a subject is a good example of this: I can't imagine the specific differences between a) the quark-configuration that would lead to me believing its "about a subject", versus b) the quark-configuration that would lead to me believing its just a blob. I can believe that quarks are ultimately responsible, but I'm not obligated to do so by a priori logical necessity.

So I'm not contending anything about what the most fundamental level is. I'm just saying that non-reductionism isn't inconceivable.

I can believe that quarks are ultimately responsible, but I'm not obligated to do so by a priori logical necessity.

This is a slippery concept. With some tiny probability anything is possible, even that 2+2=3. When philosophers argue for what is logically possible and what isn't, they implicitly apply an anthropomorphic threshold. Think of that picture with almost-the-same atoms but completely different message.

The extent to which something is a priori impossible is also probabilistic. You say "impossible", but mean "overwhelmingly improbable". Of course it's technically possible that the territory will play a game of supernatural and support a fundamental object behaving according to a high-level concept in your mind. But this is improbable to an extent of being impossible, a priori, without need for further experiments to drive the certainty to absolute.

Of course it's technically possible that the territory will play a game of supernatural and support a fundamental object behaving according to a high-level concept in your mind. But this is improbable to an extent of being impossible, a priori, without need for further experiments to drive the certainty to absolute.

Not quite sure what you're saying here. If you're saying:

1)"Entities in the map will not magically jump into the territory," Then I never disagreed with this. What I disagreed with is your labeling certain things as obviously in the map and others obviously in the territory. We can use whatever labels you like: I still don't know why irreducible entities in the territory are "incredibly improbable prior to any empirical evidence."

2)"The territory can't support irreducible entities," you still haven't asserted why this is "incredibly improbable prior to any empirical evidence."

I can believe that quarks are ultimately responsible, but I'm not obligated to do so by a priori logical necessity.

I feel that someone should point out how difficult this discussion might be in light of the overwhelming empirical evidence for reductionism. Non-reductionist theories tend to get... reduced. In other words, reductionism's logical status is a fairly fine distinction in practice.

That said, I wonder if the claim can't be near-equivalently rephrased "it's impossible to imagine a non-reductionist scenario without populating it with your own arbitrary fictions". Your use of the term "conceivable" seems to mean (or include) something like "choose an arbitrary state space of possible worlds and an observation relation over that space". Clearly anything goes.

You're simply expanding your definition of "everything" to include arbitrary chunks of state space you bolted on, some of which are underdetermined by their interactions with every previous part of "everything". I don't have a fully fleshed-out logical theory of everything on hand, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that what you're saying isn't logically invalid. Either way, it's pointless. If there's no link between levels, there's no way to distinguish between states in the extended space except by some additional a priori process. Good luck acquiring or communicating evidence for such processes.

That said, I wonder if the claim can't be near-equivalently rephrased "it's impossible to imagine a non-reductionist scenario without populating it with your own arbitrary fictions".

Ah, that's very interesting. Now we're getting somewhere.

I don't think it has to be arbitrary. Couldn't the following scenario be the case?:

The universe is full of entities that experiments show reducible to fundamental elements with laws (say, quarks), or entities that induction + parsimony tells us ought to be reducible to fundamental elements (since these entities are made of quarks, we just haven't quite figured out the reduction of their emergent properties yet)... BUT there is one exception in this universe, a certain type of stuff whose behavior is quantifiable, yet not reducible to quarks. In fact, we have no reason to believe this certain type of stuff is even made of the fundamental stuff everything else seems to be. Every experiment would defy reducing this entity down to quarks, to the point that it would actually be against Occam's Razor to try and reduce this entity to quarks! It would be a type of dualism, I suppose. It's not a priori logically excluded, and it's not arbitrary.

I think we might separate the ideas that there's only one type of particle and that the world is reductionist. It is an open question as to whether everything can be reduced to a single fundamental thing (like strings) and it wouldn't be a logical impossibility to discover that there were two or three kinds of things interacting. (Or would it?)

Reductionism, as I understand it, is the idea that the higher levels are completely explained by (are completely determined by) the lower levels. Any fundamentally new type of particle found would just be added to what we consider "lower level".

So what does it say about the world that it is reductionist? I propose the following two things are being asserted:

(1) There's no rule that operates at an intermediate level that doesn't also operate on the lower levels. This means that you can't start adding new rules when a certain level of organization is reached. For example, if you have a law that objects with mass behave a certain way, you can't apply it to everything that has mass but not quarks. This is a consistency rule.

(2) Any rule that applies to an intermediate level is reducible to rules that can be expressed with and applied at the lower level. For example, we have the rule that two competing organisms cannot coexist in the same niche. Even though it would be very difficult to demonstrate, a reductionist worldview argues that in principle this rule can be derived from the rules we already apply to quarks.

When people argue about reductionism, they are usually arguing about (2). They have some idea that at a certain level of organization, new rules can come into play that simply aren't expressible in the lower levels -- they're totally new rules.

Here's a thought experiment about an apple that helped me sort through these ideas:

Suppose that I have two objects, one in my right hand and one in my left hand. The one in my left hand is an apple. The one in my right hand has exactly the same quarks in exactly the same states. But somehow, for some reason, they're different. This implies that there is some degree of freedom between the lower level and the higher level. Now it follows that this free state is determined in some way; to determine an apple in my left hand and a non-apple in my right, either by some kind of rule or randomly, or both. In any case, we would observe this rule. Call it X. So the higher level, the object being an apple or non-apple, depends upon the lower levels and X.

(a) Was X there all along ? If so, X is part of the lower level and we just discovered it, we need to add it in to our lower level theory.

(b) What if X wasn't "there" all along? What if for some reason, X only applies at intermediate levels? ...either because

       (i) X is inconsistently applied or because 

       (ii) X is not describable as a  function of lower level terms

The case (a) doesn't assert anything about the universe, it just illustrates a confusion that can result from not understanding what "lower level" means. I don't think (b) in either part is logically impossible because you can run a simulation with these rules.

Until you require (and obviously you want to) that the universe is a closed system. Then I don't think you can have b(i) or b(ii). A rule (Rule 1) that is inconsistently applied (bi) requires another rule (Rule 2) determining when to apply it. Rule 1 being inconsistent in a system means that Rule 2 is outside the system. If a phenomenon cannot be described by the states of the system (the lower level) (bii) then it depends on something else outside the system. So I think I've deduced that the logical impossibility of reductionism depends upon the universe being a closed system.

If the physical universe isn't closed -- if we allow the metaphysical -- then non-reductionism is not logically impossible.

Where does randomness come in? Is the universe necessarily deterministic because of (bii) being impossible, so that the higher levels must depend deterministically on the lower levels? (I'm talking about whether a truly stochastic component is possible in Brownian motion or the creation of particles in a vacuum, etc).

Another thing to think about is how these ideas affect our theories about gravity. We have no direct evidence that gravity satisfies consistency or that it is expressible in terms of lowest level physics. Does anyone know if any well-considered theories are ever proposed for gravity that don't satisfy these rules?

Reductionism, as I understand it, is the idea that the higher levels are completely explained by (are completely determined by) the lower levels. Any fundamentally new type of particle found would just be added to what we consider "lower level".

Oh! Certainly. But this doesn't seem to exclude "mind", or some element thereof, from being irreducible-- which is what Eliezer was trying to argue, right? He's trying to support reductionism, and this seems to include an attack on "fundamentally mental" entities. Based on what you're saying, though, there could be a fundamental type of particle, called "feelions," or "qualions"--the entities responsible for what we call "mind"--which would not reduce down to quarks, and therefore would deserve to be called their own fundamental type of "stuff." It's a bit weird to me to call this a reductionist theory, and its certainly not a reductionist materialist theory.

Everything else you said seems to me right on-- emergent properties that are irreducible to their constituents in principle seems somewhat incoherent to me.

its certainly not a reductionist materialist theory

In what way would these "feelions" or "qualions" not be materials? Your answer to this question may reveal some interesting hidden assumptions.

It's a bit weird to me to call this a reductionist theory

Are you sure it's weird because it's not reductionist? Or because such a theory would never be seen outside of a metaphysical theory? So you automatically link the idea that minds are special because they have "qualions" with "metaphysical nonsense".

But what if qualions really existed, in a material way and there were physical laws describing how they were caught and accumulated by neural cells. There's absolutely no evidence for such a theory, so it's crazy, but its not logically impossible or inconsistent with reductionism, right?

what if qualions really existed, in a material way and there were physical laws describing how they were caught and accumulated by neural cells. There's absolutely no evidence for such a theory, so it's crazy, but its not logically impossible or inconsistent with reductionism, right?

Hmm... excellent point. Here I do think it begins to get fuzzy... what if these qualions fundamentally did stuff that we typically attribute to higher-level functions, such as making decisions? Could there be a "self" qualion? Could their behavior be indeterministic in the sense that we naively attribute to humans? What if there were one qualion per person, which determined everything about their consciousness and personality irreducibly? I feel that, if these sorts of things were the case, we would no longer be within the realm of a "material" theory. It seems that Eliezer would agree:

By far the best definition I've ever heard of the supernatural is Richard Carrier's: A "supernatural" explanation appeals to ontologically basic mental things, mental entities that cannot be reduced to nonmental entities. This is the difference, for example, between saying that water rolls downhill because it wants to be lower, and setting forth differential equations that claim to describe only motions, not desires. It's the difference between saying that a tree puts forth leaves because of a tree spirit, versus examining plant biochemistry. Cognitive science takes the fight against supernaturalism into the realm of the mind. Why is this an excellent definition of the supernatural? I refer you to Richard Carrier for the full argument. But consider: Suppose that you discover what seems to be a spirit, inhabiting a tree: a dryad who can materialize outside or inside the tree, who speaks in English about the need to protect her tree, et cetera. And then suppose that we turn a microscope on this tree spirit, and she turns out to be made of parts - not inherently spiritual and ineffable parts, like fabric of desireness and cloth of belief; but rather the same sort of parts as quarks and electrons, parts whose behavior is defined in motions rather than minds. Wouldn't the dryad immediately be demoted to the dull catalogue of common things?

Based on his post eventually insisting on the a priori incoherence of such possibilities (we look inside the dryad and find out he's not made of dull quarks), I inferred that he thought fundamentally mental things, too, are excluded a priori. You seem to now disagree, as I do. Is that right?

Where things seem to get fuzzy is where things seem to go wrong. Nevertheless, forging ahead..

fundamentally mental things

If they are being called "fundamentally mental" because they interact by one set of rules with things that are mental and a different set of rules with things that are not mental, then it's not consistent with a reductionist worldview (and it's also confused because you're not getting at how mental is different from non-mental). However, if they are being called fundamentally mental because they happen to be mechanistically involved in mental mechanisms, but still interact with all quarks in one consistent way everywhere, it's logically possible.

Also you asked if these qualions could be indeterministic. It doesn't matter if you apply this question to a hypothesized new particle. The question is, is indeterminism possible in a closed system? If so, we could postulate quarks as a source of indeterminism.

If they are being called "fundamentally mental" because they interact by one set of rules with things that are mental and a different set of rules with things that are not mental, then it's not consistent with a reductionist worldview...

Is it therefore a priori logically incoherent? That's what I'm trying to understand. Would you exclude a "cartesian theatre" fundamental particle a priori?

(and it's also confused because you're not getting at how mental is different from non-mental). However, if they are being called fundamentally mental because they happen to be mechanistically involved in mental mechanisms, but still interact with all quarks in one consistent way everywhere, it's logically possible.

What do you mean by mechanical? I think we're both resting on some hidden assumption about dividing the mental from the physical/mechanical. I think you're right that it's hard to articulate, but this makes Eliezer's original argument even more confusing. Could you clarify whether or not you're agreeing with his argument?

If they are being called "fundamentally mental" because they interact by one set of rules with things that are mental and a different set of rules with things that are not mental, then it's not consistent with a reductionist worldview..

I deduce that the above case would be inconsistent with reductionism. And I think that it is logically incoherent, because I think non-reductionism is logically incoherent, because I think that reductionism is equivalent with the idea of a closed universe, which I think is logically necessary. You may disagree with any step in the chain of this reasoning.

What do you mean by mechanical?

I think you guessed: I meant that there is no division between the mental and physical/mechanical. Believing that a division is a priori possible is definitely non-reductionist. If that is what Eliezer is saying, then I agree with him.

To summarize, my argument is:

[logic --> closed universe --> reductionism --> no division between the mental and the physical/mechanical]

Given the data for the point-coordinates of the three entities, could a mind choose which one had which subject?

Yes, and it does.

Could you explain? If I were presented with a data sheet full of numbers, and told "these are the point coordinates of the fundamental building blocks of three entities. Please tell me what these entities are, and if applicable, what they are about" I would be unable to do so. Would you?

Given a computer that can handle the representation and convert it into form acceptable by the interface of your mind, this data can be converted into a high-level description. The data determines its high-level properties, even if you are unable to extract them, just like a given number determines which prime factors it has, even if you are unable to factor it.

I happen to agree. However, the claim of reductionism is that what you've described is the case for ALL entities. I'm trying to figure out why this claim is logically necessary, and any disagreement is a confusion.

The claim is about the absence of high-level concepts in the territory. These appear only the mind, as computational abstractions in processing low-level data. The logical incoherence comes from the disagreement between the definition of high-level concepts as classes of states of the territory, which their role in the mind's algorithm entails, and assumption that the very same concepts obey laws of physics. It's virtually impossible for the convenience of computational abstraction to correspond exactly to the reality of physical laws, and even more impossible for this correspondence to persist. High-level concepts ever change in the minds according to chance and choice, while fundamental laws are a given, not subservient to telepathic teleological necessity.

Edit: changed "classes of low-level concepts" to "classes of states of the territory".

That was a bit confusing, and I have to go now, so I'll try and give a more thorough response later. I'll just say right now that I don't think it's as easy as you claim to differentiate between "higher-level" and "lower-level" entities/concepts/laws, or rather, to decide whether an entity is actually a fundamental thing with laws, or whether its just a concept. You appeal to changeability, but this seems like unsteady ground.

EDIT: Here's a better way of formulating my objection: tell me the obvious, a priori logically necessary criteria for a person to distinguish between "entities within the territory" and "high-level concepts." If you can't give any, then this is a big problem: you don't know that the higher level entities aren't within the territory. They could be within the territory, or they could be "computational abstractions." Either position is logically tenable, so it makes no sense to say that this is where the logical incoherence comes in.

Thus I agree with this statement as it is written, because I think the difference in the subjects of the paintings are found instead in the thoughts of the beholder. Would you say that there is a legitimate difference between the thought that a painting has a subject and the thought that a painting is just random blobs?

But surely there's something in the painting that is causing the observer to have different thoughts for different subjects. But that something in the painting is not anything discernible on the level of quarks. This is why I brought the example up, after all. It was in response to:

if the boring old normal model is correct, your brain is made of quarks, and so your brain will only be able to envision and concretely predict things that can predicted by quarks.

I believe (I could be wrong, since I started this thread asking for a clarification) that the implication of this statement (derived from the context) was that "brains made of quarks can't think about things as if they're irreducibly not made of quarks."

First of all, saying "brains made of quarks can't think [blank] because quarks themselves aren't [blank]," seems to me equivalent to saying that paintings can't be about something because quarks can't be about something. It's confusing the abilities and properties of one level for those of another. I know this is a stretch, but be generous, because I think the parallelism is important.

Second of all, we think about things as if they're not quarks all the time. We can "predict" or "envision" the subject of the painting without thinking about the quark coordinates at all (and such coordinates would not help us envision or predict anything to do with the subject).

So I clearly need some help understanding what Eliezer actually meant. I find no reason to believe that brains made of quarks can't think about things as if they're not made of quarks. (Or rather, Eliezer only seems to allow this if it's a "confusion." I don't understand what he means by this.)

What are some examples of recent progress in AI?

In several of Elizer's talks, such as this one, he's mentioned that AI research has been progressing at around the expected rate for problems of similar difficultly. He also mentioned that we've reached around the intelligence level of a lizard so far.

Ideally I'd like to have some examples I can give to people when they say things like "AI is never going to work" - the only examples I've been able to come up with so far have been AI in games, but they don't seem to think that counts because "it's just a game".

The Roomba is an example that seems to get a bit more respect (although it seems like a much simpler problem than many game AIs to me), but after that I pretty much run out of examples. Maybe I'm just not thinking hard enough because a lot of AI isn't called AI when it becomes mainstream?

Examples that are more 'geeky' would also be good for me, even if they would be dismissed by non-geeky people I meet.

I see 7 upvotes but no answers. Should I conclude that even those who think AI is attainable find nothing to boast of in the record so far?

I usually cite the DARPA Grand Challenge, which I gather was won using such advanced modern methods as particle filtering (a Bayesian technique).

In the previous open thread, there was a request that we put together The Simple Math of Everything. There is now a wiki page, but it only has one section. Please contribute.

People who contribute to the wiki are my heroes.

Do you know who the real heroes are? The guys who wake up every morning, and go into their normal jobs, and get a distress call from the commissioner, and take off their glasses and change into capes and fly around fighting crime. Those are the real heroes.