Wrong Questions

by Eliezer Yudkowsky2 min read8th Mar 2008129 comments

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Philosophy of Language
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Where the mind cuts against reality's grain, it generates wrong questions—questions that cannot possibly be answered on their own terms, but only dissolved by understanding the cognitive algorithm that generates the perception of a question.

One good cue that you're dealing with a "wrong question" is when you cannot even imagine any concrete, specific state of how-the-world-is that would answer the question.  When it doesn't even seem possible to answer the question.

Take the Standard Definitional Dispute, for example, about the tree falling in a deserted forest.  Is there any way-the-world-could-be—any state of affairs—that corresponds to the word "sound" really meaning only acoustic vibrations, or really meaning only auditory experiences?

("Why, yes," says the one, "it is the state of affairs where 'sound' means acoustic vibrations."  So Taboo the word 'means', and 'represents', and all similar synonyms, and describe again:  How can the world be, what state of affairs, would make one side right, and the other side wrong?)

Or if that seems too easy, take free will:  What concrete state of affairs, whether in deterministic physics, or in physics with a dice-rolling random component, could ever correspond to having free will?

And if that seems too easy, then ask "Why does anything exist at all?", and then tell me what a satisfactory answer to that question would even look like.

And no, I don't know the answer to that last one.  But I can guess one thing, based on my previous experience with unanswerable questions.  The answer will not consist of some grand triumphant First Cause.  The question will go away as a result of some insight into how my mental algorithms run skew to reality, after which I will understand how the question itself was wrong from the beginning—how the question itself assumed the fallacy, contained the skew.

Mystery exists in the mind, not in reality.  If I am ignorant about a phenomenon, that is a fact about my state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself.  All the more so, if it seems like no possible answer can exist:  Confusion exists in the map, not in the territory.  Unanswerable questions do not mark places where magic enters the universe.  They mark places where your mind runs skew to reality.

Such questions must be dissolved.  Bad things happen when you try to answer them.  It inevitably generates the worst sort of Mysterious Answer to a Mysterious Question:  The one where you come up with seemingly strong arguments for your Mysterious Answer, but the "answer" doesn't let you make any new predictions even in retrospect, and the phenomenon still possesses the same sacred inexplicability that it had at the start.

I could guess, for example, that the answer to the puzzle of the First Cause is that nothing does exist—that the whole concept of "existence" is bogus.  But if you sincerely believed that, would you be any less confused?  Me neither.

But the wonderful thing about unanswerable questions is that they are always solvable, at least in my experience.  What went through Queen Elizabeth I's mind, first thing in the morning, as she woke up on her fortieth birthday?  As I can easily imagine answers to this question, I can readily see that I may never be able to actually answer it, the true information having been lost in time.

On the other hand, "Why does anything exist at all?" seems so absolutely impossible that I can infer that I am just confused, one way or another, and the truth probably isn't all that complicated in an absolute sense, and once the confusion goes away I'll be able to see it.

This may seem counterintuitive if you've never solved an unanswerable question, but I assure you that it is how these things work.

Coming tomorrow:  A simple trick for handling "wrong questions".

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How do you apply this approach to questions like "to what extent was underconsumption the cause of the Great Depression?" No conceivable experiment could answer such a question, even given a time machine (unlike, say, "Who shot JFK?") but I think such questions are nevertheless important to our understanding of what to do next.

The best answer I have to such questions is to posit experiments in which we rewind history to a particular date, and re-run it a million times, performing some specific miracle (such as putting money into a billion carefully-chosen wallets) on half a million of those occasions, and gather statistics on how the miracle affects economic indicators.

3pnrjulius9yI have a somewhat better way. Place economics on a sufficiently rigorous empirical foundation, so that it is (let us say) somewhere near the level of quantum physics. Having done this (monumental) task, we can now answer questions about historical events in economics as well as we can answer questions about historical events in physics---e.g. "Why is that laser red?" "Why did those interference fringes form here and not there?"

I can take a shot at a couple of these. For free will, suppose it turns out that neural activity is not fully determined by mechanistic principles, but is in some cases determined by thermal/quantum noise. And yet, it turns out that out of that noise, certain neural activity patterns appear seemingly magically. Neurons A, B and C fire together to make a decision, even though the most detailed investigation shows that whether they would fire or not was purely random. And yet these correlations appear persistently, too often for random statistical correlati... (read more)

1wizzwizz46moAnd what if we end up being able to predict what goes on in this "other realm"? This just pushes the problem back behind the curtain, instead of confronting it.

"to what extent was underconsumption the cause of the Great Depression?"

Tabooing the word "cause", one finds that this question is a disguise for something like "Given the economic data of the period immediately preceding the Great Depression, can we prevent an economic collapse by making sure we don't underconsume?"

As I was putting the "free will" question to myself, I decided to re-frame it as "would an AI have free will" Answer: obviously not, it's an optimization process. Then I thought: an AI is different from a trivial arithmetic solver, the AI's search strategy is not fully determined by the goal. What would an AI be like whose strategy was wholly undetermined? It would thrash around randomly. So, insight: the uncertainty in our strategy is another name for our ignorance of the search domain. At the one end, zero information, total randomness. At the other, full information, determinism. In the middle, a "free" (meaning: ignorant) choice of search strategies which corresponds to the feeling of free will.

Interesting corollary: more knowledgeable people must be less free. To them, strategies we might try are obviously useless.

more knowledgeable people must be less free.

Larry Niven plays with this idea in Protector... the idea being that if you're really smart, the right solution presents itself so rapidly that you simply don't have any choices.

I suspect this is nonsense in any practical sense. Sure, any increase in intelligence will force you to close off some options which you now realize are bogus, but it will likely also make you aware of options you weren't previously able to recognize.

In my own experience, increased understanding leads to a net gain of options. Perhaps the curve is hyperbolic, but if so I live on the ascending slope.

5pnrjulius9yDo you feel any less free because it never occurs to you to bash your head against a wall, or slit your throat with a steak knife? I certainly don't; it would be a terrible inconvenience to have to go through all the really stupid options of things I could do at any given moment before arriving at the reasonable ones. How much more so, then, for a superintelligence; it does not have to wonder about the stupid questions we humans often ask, but instead can focus on the really interesting decisions that remain to be made. (If you imagine that the space of possible decisions is finite, perhaps it could run out eventually... but my sense is that no intelligence small enough to fit in our universe can run out of possible decisions in our universe.)
0TheOtherDave9yIt does occasionally occur to me to kill myself, and in my really bad periods I do experience myself as prevented from choosing an eminently desirable path by my own earlier precommitments. But that's neither here nor there. Leaving the particulars aside... if there exists some question Q such that intelligence I1 finds Q difficult to answer and I2 finds Q easy to answer because I2 is a superintelligence with respect to I1, then I2 may well at some point consider Q, answer Q, and then move on to the next thing. Or, of course, it might never do so, depending on the relevance of Q to anything that occurs to I2.... as you say, the space of possible decisions is enormous. I fail to see what follows from this. Can you unpack your thinking a bit, here?
3RichardKennaway9y-- Rafael Lefort, "The Teachers of Gurdjieff", ch. XIV Quoted before here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/26y/rationality_quotes_may_2010/1y4h]. When you have a purpose, you must act to achieve it. If you do not, you did not have that purpose. If you are driving a car, you are not free to do anything you like with the steering wheel. You must use it to direct the car along your intended route. You are only faced with choosing when you do not know the right choice. When you do know, you no longer have that choice. You cannot make your choice and have it still.

This reminds me of logical positivism.

Here's a question: "Are there such things as wrong questions, and is there some sort of test to help me identify them?"

Interestingly, I couldn't imagine any concrete, specific state of how-the-world-is that would answer that question.

3pnrjulius9yNo, we can manage this where the positivists could not. A good heuristic test for a wrong question: We've been trying to resolve it for thousands of years, and there are two (or more) camps that vehemently insist their solution is exactly right, but none of them have any evidence that would persuade an impartial observer. Free will certainly qualifies, as does "Why does anything exist?", as does the Hard Problem of consciousness. One might think that religion qualifies as well---but in this case, the atheist camp actually has some pretty good evidence.

Jason Brennan,

Suppose the state of how-the-world-is is that over time, beings with certain biased decision-making algorithms have evolved. As products of evolution, the algorithms are pretty good for making sure the beings running them have offspring, but are less good at obtaining representations of the "true" state of the world or at processing complex information. Such beings are likely to form queries which contain false assumptions, category errors, or other flaws.

The screwy concept in "Why does anything exist at all?" is not existence, it is "why." There's nothing wrong with "why" as such, it just doesn't apply to existence. That's what makes for wrong questions: pairing up words that don't apply to each other, such as "What is the sound of blue?"

"Why" only applies when there is an alternative that could have been, but nothingness can't be (as soon as it tries it becomes something) so there's no alternative to existence.

Ian: I don't follow. Why is it that there simply couldn't have been, well, nothing at all. No reality of any form in any way at all in any sense existing. No subjective experiences and nothing to experience and no one to do the experiencing?

Just... nothing.

So I'm not sure the "why" question is invalid for existance. Sure seems like a reasonable question. In other words, how is it that you figure that the question of existance is such that "why?" or "how is it that existance came to exist?" or "how is it that anything at all exists?" or any question of that form is invalid?

Hal, in effect you're saying "Our world exists because it is an information pattern, and all information patterns exist". But why do they all exist?

Psy-Kosh: let's Taboo "exist" then... What does it exactly mean? For me, it's something like "I have some experiences, whose cause is best modeled by imagining some discrete object in the outer world". The existence or non-existence of something affects what I will feel next.

Some further expansions: "why": how can I predict one experience from another? "world": all the experiences we have? (Modeled as a discrete object... But I can't really imagine what can be modeled by the fact that there is no world.)

So the questi... (read more)

Latanius: I was including the issue of subjective experience. As in "Why is there any subjective experience at all?" ie, why is there ANYTHING, including subjective experience. Your answer doesn't leave me with a "okay, now the question has been answered" sense.

Actually, as near as I can tell, you're trying to answer a different question, specifically, it looks like you're trying to address the question of "how do I know my experiences in any way correlate with the Real World(tm)? Maybe I'm just hallucinating everything? Maybe ther... (read more)

Mitchell, that's a good point. My scenario might be considered evidence that all information patterns exist, and that we live among them, but can not really answer the question of why this is true.

One issue is that the question of "why", and of reasons why things are true, has many different interpretations and variations. Sometimes just giving evidence for something can be considered to answer a "why" question. For example, if someone asks for reasons why Macs are better than PCs, he is usually asking for evidence that Macs are better. But in other cases, people want more, and certainly someone asking why anything exists would be one of those.

Psy-Kosh: Maybe I really tried to approach the meaning of the question from the direction of subjective experience. But I think that the concept of "existence" includes that there is some observer who can decide if that thing we're talking about does really exist or doesn't, given his/her stable existence.

Maybe that's why the question can't be easily answered (and maybe has no answer at all) because the concept of "world" includes us as well. So if we want to predict something about the existence of the world (that is what the word &quo... (read more)

Psy-Kosh: "So I'm not sure the "why" question is invalid for existance. Sure seems like a reasonable question. In other words, how is it that you figure that the question of existance is such that "why?" or "how is it that existance came to exist?" or "how is it that anything at all exists?" or any question of that form is invalid?"

I believe that, like all concepts, we get "why" by abstracting away from our experiences in this universe, and that it is therefore this universe that gives the concept... (read more)

I believe that you are correct about the concept of existence, that it is not a real thing, but rather an artifact of our perception.

Which is why positivists say that something is only real if it can be perceived, directly or indirectly. They say that we only need to take into account things that can be perceived, because if it affects us, we are perceiving it.

Now that I think of this again, I see one possible flaw, if something is imperceptible now, it might still become perceptible later. For physical objects there might be a law to protect us, but our knowledge of non-physical (i.e. mental) objects leave much to be desired.

The state of affairs (not State of Affairs) wherein nothing exists cannot possibly by inconsistent, for it contains nothing. The question is, why this populated, consistent world (presumably it is not inconsistent) and not the other?

Perhaps this question is a wrong question because nothing, in fact, does exist. I'm envisioning something beyond the multiverse, alternate realities that are exactly that, other realities, totally disjoint from ours, inaccessible in every possible and impossible way. Like the universe under your fingernail... except it's not un... (read more)

To my mind, I have free will to the degree that there is an "I". My decision is determined by my environment and my self. Were there, hypothetically, some other individual in my place they might well make a different decision. So I determine my actions, and can therefore be said to have free will.

It is true that my state follows from my history and my genetics (arguably a part of my history, in a sense), but I assert that this is irrelevant because of our main reasons for caring about "free will." In my experience, people care about whe... (read more)

And if that seems too easy, then ask "Why does anything exist at all?", and then tell me what a satisfactory answer to that question would even look like.

And no, I don't know the answer to that last one. But I can guess one thing, based on my previous experience with unanswerable questions.

What if we take "X exists" to simply mean "X was not made up, i.e., not a fiction, hallucination, illusion, or delusion"? Then the question becomes "Why is anything not a fiction, hallucination, illusion, or delusion at all?"... (read more)

0Philip_W8yExistence is not the property that all things that are not made up have. There are an uncountably infinite amount of conceivable universes which have not been conceived and also don't exist. You're confusing "not X" and "the (phenomenological) opposite of X". So you would say numbers exist? "Five exists" sounds like a type error to me - it's a mathematical concept, not an object. I don't get what you're trying to say here. You've befuddled the question, not dissolved or answered it. While I don't follow your reasoning exactly, it sounds like an argument against the validity of the null set. I hope you're somewhat mathematically inclined, because what follows below is an attempt to express what's wrong with your reasoning: Consider the program if(N=0){ return 1}; where N is the sum over the array n_a containing the amounts in existence n_i of all objects a_i which belong to the set A of objects relevant to the question, and the returned value is the truth value of the statement "nothing is A". For example: Let A = the set of all circular squares. Then A = {null}, n_a = {null} N = sum n_i over all i = 0. Therefore "nothing is a circular square" is true. "Why is there something rather than nothing?" then becomes "Why is n_i not equal to 0 for all objects a_i?". (note: Tegmark multiverses can also be considered objects). When dissolving a question you are trying to find the truth. Specifically, you're trying to find the true state of your mind which caused the question to arise. When you start using definitions, you don't look at your mind anymore. As for the original question, I obviously don't have the answer, but a path that sounds plausible to me is that, information-theoretically, "everything existing" and "nothing existing" are identical: a fully connected graph is the same as a fully unconnected one. Humans don't think this way naturally because there's a physical difference between connected and unconnected neurons, and because we're working solidly i

Some people were talking about The Ship of Theseus -- the question "If a ship's parts are replaced one-by-one over time, after each part is replaced is it still the same ship?" First thing that came to my mind was that this was a wrong question. I saw it fundamentally as the same mistake as the Blegg/Rube problem -- they know every property about the ship that's relevant to the question, and yet still there feels like a question left unanswered.

Am I right about this?

7Oscar_Cunningham8yYep.

How many nothings do you expect to exist? Zero of them?

And if that seems too easy, then ask "Why does anything exist at all?", and then tell me what a satisfactory answer to that question would even look like.

And no, I don't know the answer to that last one. But I can guess one thing, based on my previous experience with unanswerable questions. The answer will not consist of some grand triumphant First Cause. The question will go away as a result of some insight into how my mental algorithms run skew to reality, after which I will understand how the question itself was wrong from the beginning—ho

... (read more)
1Swimmer9638yThe fact that this linked to a PDF that wasn't behind a paywall made me very happy... It looks interesting. Currently converting the saved .pdf to .epub and putting it on my iPhone for later reading. Thanks!
-2MugaSofer8yOK, firstly, I'm curious as to whether the question actually feels dissolved to you now? Secondly, that linked ... piece ... is terrible. Really terrible. I wrote a truly marvelous rebuttal, which this comment box is too small to contain, partly because I was quoting heavily and partly because there's just so much wrongness. I'll probably stick it in Discussion.
-1MugaSofer8yActually, on reflection, I find my main criticism is pretty simple: The author has dissolved the wrong damn argument. It is perfectly true that, having explained both A and B, A-and-B does not require a separate explanation. However, the actual problem is not that he cannot explain A-and-B, it's that he can only explain A and B by describing how they are produced by other things, which he does not explain. This is, I had thought, pretty basic philosophy; although, to be fair, it's so damn long I can't blame anyone for not realizing that's his core argument. Also, yes, the word "thing" is pretty vague. No, this does not render all sentences containing it meaningless. Especially when it's part of the compound word "anything".
0satt8yDidn't originally see this comment. (That's what I get for leaving a tab open for hours before bothering to reply.) Your second paragraph differs from my understanding [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8qp5] of Maitzen's core argument, but it's possible I misread him. Maitzen doesn't say all sentences containing "thing" or "anything" are meaningless. On p. 62 he writes, People automatically attach an implicitly understood meaning to the word "things" (or "anything") when it shows up in everyday sentences, and that often works OK. But given the atypical question "Why is there anything?", it's not obvious which meaning they should substitute in, and their brains start flailing. Or so Maitzen speculates.
0MugaSofer8yNo worries, I was offline anyway. Came back to find both your comments. This is why my original, obscenely long comment contained quotes for every point. The closest he comes to answering the actual question is this... ... which, naturally, misses the point. Yes, we can imagine something infinitely old and fractally complex existing - although there may be some technical reason why it's impossible, I don't know of any - but we can also, counterfactually, imagine it not existing, and declaring it's turtles all the way down does not explain why this counterfactual is not true (in fact, I think it probably is true, because blah blah complexity bah blah Occam's Razor.) Except that you don't need to substitute in something specific for "anything", since it's just the set of all things - including all those possible things he lists. This might be clearer if we said "everything" or "something"?
0satt8yI think I understand better where you were [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8qn5] coming from now. Your complaint (about how solving the A and B vs. A-and-B issue doesn't address the infinite regress issue) seems like it's basically answered by TOD [http://lesswrong.com/user/TheOtherDave/]. Talking about "the set of all things" can be quite [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_set] problematic [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_paradox] in itself! But brushing abstract set theory paradoxes aside, I think once you pin down "the set of all things" or "everything" or "something" tightly enough, you have effectively substituted in something specific: you've given me enough information to discern precisely what you're asking about, and rendered the question well-posed. At that point TOD's reply kicks in.
-2MugaSofer8ySorry, I of course meant the set of all actual things. I guess I'll have to reply to that, then. That link is to a list of all his comments. Could you point me at where he refuted me?
0satt8yNo problem. Apologies, I meant to link to this specific comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8qv3].
1TheOtherDave8yNote that MugaSofer replied to that comment.
0satt8yIndeed, and I think their line of argument is a reformulated cosmological argument [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument]. I'm still thinking on it, though.
0TheOtherDave8yYeah... dunno if they're actually arguing that a First Cause must exist, or simply differentially focusing their attention on how to talk about the FC in cases where we somehow-or-other expect it does exist without spending time examining the "chain of turtles",.
-1MugaSofer8yI don't know about you, but I've mostly been thinking about cases where the universe is somehow infinitely old*, with no temporal "first cause" (and thus no bottom turtle, metaphorically speaking.) EDIT: *or in a causal loop.
-1MugaSofer8yAh, thanks. I've already replied to that by now, but we're still haggling over the details. I assume you were referring to this paragraph?
0satt8yThat paragraph and the one after it, yeah. But as you say, you've already replied to it. I'll probably post a reply to your reply in a bit.
0lukeprog8yYou might be misinterpreting Maitzen's argument. His newer article, Questioning the Question [http://philosophy.acadiau.ca/tl_files/sites/philosophy/resources/documents/Maitzen_QTQ.pdf] , may be clearer. And, the volume in which it appears [http://www.amazon.com/Puzzle-Existence-Something-Routledge-Metaphysics/dp/0415624657] may be of interest to you.
-1MugaSofer8yThanks for the link; it's certainly possible I went astray somewhere, it's a pretty long article. I'll respond more fully when I've read the linked article.
0satt8yThe question certainly feels dissolved. Maitzen's basic argument reads like a reasonable one to me: either the questioner supplies some actual semantic content for the word "anything" in "Why is there anything?", or they don't. If they do, the question presumably has a naturalistic answer (even if science don't know that answer). If they don't, the question's ill-posed, and dissipates in a cloud of underspecification. (Strictly speaking, only the latter counts as dissolving the question, but then it's only the latter form of the question that ties people up in philosophical knots, so I'm counting it.) Of course, the argument might be really terrible even though it passes my smell test. I'll keep an eye out in Discussion for your counterargument.
-1MugaSofer8yHuh. Fair enough. Well, here's my counter-dissolution rephrasing: "Why is there everything? Including the things you assume exist when providing a naturalistic explanation of, say, penguins?" As you know, I actually ended up posting a pared-down version here, but I would have posted a link here anyway.
1TheOtherDave8yIf someone asks me a question too general for me to answer in a non-facile way, like "Why do people do what they do?" or "Why do we make buildings out of the materials we make them out of?" or "Why do we write with the things we write with?", I have two basic strategies I can adopt if I want to answer it. One option is I can try to answer the question in its general form, which generally results in facile non-answers, like "Because of their various properties and the constraints of their environment," which turns out to answer all three of those questions equally well (or poorly). Or I can try to replace the general question with a series of representative specific questions, which I then try to answer, in the hopes of either thereby jointly exhausting the original set, or of thereby finding a general strategy for answering specific questions that I'm confident can be applied to members of the original set as I encounter them. Of course, someone smarter than me might be able to skip the specific-questions stage altogether and construct such a general strategy or itemized explanation solely by analyzing the general question... but if I'm not that smart, I'm not that smart. If someone responds to the break-it-down-to-specifics strategy by insisting that the specific questions are irrelevant, the way Maitzen describes , they are in effect asking me a question and then refusing to let me try and answer it. I have no problem saying that their question is meaningless, because they are asking it meaninglessly. That said, I agree with you that the question needn't be meaningless. Someone who doesn't approach it the way Maitzen's foolish interlocutor does could ask it meaningfully. So, OK. You ask: If I try to answer that question generally, I get "Everything that exists, exists as a consequence of the way everything that existed a moment earlier existed, and all of that stuff existed as a consequence of the way everything existed a moment before that, and so on a
-1MugaSofer8y'fraid so. I think it would be more helpful to explain why the properties and constraints of their environments led to the actual result, wouldn't it? Rather than describing what kind of explanation how a result might have, in general terms. For example, buildings are made out of the materials we make them out of because we choose materials that won't collapse, people do what they do because (insert general theory of psychology here) and so on and so forth. Apparently I'm even less smart, because I have no idea what you're saying here :( Right, but I'm asking for an explanation of that whole stack of turtles - not how an individual turtle stays up, or even how every turtle stays up, but why the universe is not in the counterfactual no-turtle state. Maitzen makes a similar argument, which I rebutted in my earlier comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8qum]: The usual naturalist strategy for this is to describe how other things that exist result in X, but of course this fails when applied to everything that exists.
5TheOtherDave8yBut that simply isn't an adequate explanation for why we build materials out of the materials we make them out of. This can be easily demonstrated by listing the materials that go into the construction of any building in your town and ranking those materials by how resistant to collapse they are. You will find that lots of the materials involved -- glass, gypsum board, fiberglass insulation, etc, etc, etc. -- are not resistant to collapse; we pick those materials for other reasons. Of course, someone might complain that I'm being unfair here... of course "because they won't collapse" isn't an explanation of why we choose all the materials we build buildings with, just why we choose sturdy materials like wood or metal or cement to build the framework of a building. Duh. And, well, yes, this is precisely my point. If I want to usefully answer a question like "Why do we make buildings out of the materials we make them out of?" the most satisfying way to do so is to break it down into more specific questions. "We build frameworks out of these materials because..." "We build windows out of these materials because..." "We build interior walls out of these materials because..." and so forth. And if someone interrupts us to impatiently say "No, no, no, I don't want to hear about frameworks and windows and interior walls, I asked about buildings!!! I want to know why we build buildings out of the materials we build them out of!!! All parts of a building!!!" all we can really do is encourage them to be less impatient, because we can't usefully answer the question the way they insist on having it answered. Well, for example, suppose Sam asks me "how do I choose what kinds of wine go with what kinds of main course?" I might reply "Well, if I'm serving beef, I serve these wines, and if I'm serving fish, I serve those wines," etc etc etc. Then Sam, who is much much smarter than me, looks at all of that and goes "Oh! I see. The general rule is to calculate at the ratio be
0MugaSofer8yWell, I suppose the answer in that case is really to point to our cognitive alogorithms and say "because they say those are the correct materials" ;) Well, sure, if you don't know the answer you can't answer; and if you only know a needlessly complex answer, naturally that's the best answer you can give. I'm not sure how that bears on the questions, though. But we have all three "types" of answer as far as I can see, and they're all answering a different question - talking about internal structure of the pile rather than how it got there. (1) "Turtles are held up by other turtles below them." (2) "The top turtle is supported by the second-from-the-top turtle; the second-from-the-top turtle is supported by the third-from-the-top turtle; the third-from-the-top turtle is supported by the fourth-from-the-top turtle ..." and so on ad infinitum. (3) "It's an infinite stack of turtles, each held up by the one below it." What we really want is (4) "We live in a thought experiment and infinite turtles is a common metaphor for recursive buck-passing."
0TheOtherDave8ySure. Which is an equally good (or poor) answer to "Why do we write on the materials we write on?" (shrug) If I were actually looking at the stack of turtles, and Sam gave me answer #4 I would stare incredulously at Sam. If he then gave me grounds for believing #4 and I confirmed it, I would ultimately say "Holy crap! You're right!" And if Sam said "Of course. Say, why did you choose to answer the question in such a piecemeal way as #2? It seems inefficient." the only answer I could give would be "Because I'm not nearly as smart as you are, Sam." Which is to say, your #4 is part of my #3. Your #3 is also part of my #3, in that if I were in that world staring at the stack of turtles, I would not be smart enough to infer that it's an infinite stack of turtles... on what grounds would I conclude that? But Sam's sibling Pat, who is not quite as smart as Sam, might somehow just know the stack was infinite rather than merely longer than I was able to see. None of which changes the fact that if I'm not as smart as Sam or Pat, the best I can do is #2. And if someone interrupts #2 by saying "no, no, no, I don't care about the turtles, I'm asking about the stack!", they are asking a question and refusing to listen to the best answer I'm capable of offering. They would do better to ask someone smarter, like Sam or Pat. And if nobody smart enough to give answer #3 is available, they do best to either listen to my answer, or give up on the question.
0MugaSofer8yYup. To be fair, it's also pretty much useless unless I can actually explain how said cognitive alogarithm works. To be fair, if there's a literal infinitely-high stack of turtles, I'm not even sure where you're standing, let alone how you can observe it's length. Maybe Sam's just familiar with the anecdote? I still think #4 is distinct from #3, because it explains the presence of the stack as well as it's internal structure - which is what was being asked, originally. No amount of #2 will ever replace #4, because they answer different questions. Still, I suppose it sort of implies #3, so #3 is a subelement of #4, at that. Anyway, we seem to have reached agreement that there is something I'm looking for that #2 does not provide, which will likely require someone smarter than either of us to solve. So I guess the Question stands as, well, an open question.
2TheOtherDave8yMy assumption was that I can't observe its length, since I can't observe infinite quantities. Hell, I can't even observe a ten-mile-long stack of turtles without artificial aids. That said, I can infer the length of a stack of turtles by any number of means, even if I can't observe it in its entirety. And if my world contained infinite stacks of turtles, there might well be ways to infer the length of such a stack. Beats me what they might be, but then I'm not as smart as Pat. That would hardly be compelling grounds for believing I exist inside a thought experiment. Well, yes and no. I think you're disregarding the many, many real-world cases in which starting down the path of #2 leads me to a real understanding of the situation. For example, if I pick a turtle and start climbing down, I might discover that after 3,456,338 turtles there's an elephant who is walking along on empty space, and the stack isn't infinite after all. And now I know what holds the turtles up. Of course, I can now ask what holds the elephant up, but that's a different question, and all the same considerations come into play. If I don't know ahead of time that the problem is infinite and unbounded (and how would I know that?), I don't know that strategy #2 won't answer it. Though of course, being smarter than I am and therefore having more useful insights is always helpful.
-1MugaSofer8yI'm just using a time-honored technique for simulating characters smarter than me: cheat like crazy. See also: Sherlock Holmes. Oh, absolutely. I just meant that such understanding wouldn't look like #2. Arguably, it's a special case of "what holds [list of 3,456,338 turtles] up?" Returning to the original question of which this is a metaphor, momentarily, the elephant would be roughly equivalent to the Big Bang.
1TheOtherDave8ySherlock Holmes is a lousy simulation of a hyperintelligent theorist, FWIW. But OK, if you're just talking about fictional characters, then most of my objections are moot. Agreed. At the #2-level, it's not. But you're right that at the #3 level, it could easily be. Incidentally, it's not a stack of 3,456,338 turtles, it's just a stack that bottoms out 3,456,338 turtles down from where I started. Or something like that, yeah.
0MugaSofer8yCheap to run, though, computationally speaking. Well, in the original anecdote the stack topped out with a (precariously balanced?) flat Earth, so I just sort of assumed you started at the top. In bastardised mathematical terms, it's usually a ray, and finding a bottom makes it a line segment. Well, it's a matter of detail, isn't it? If I already understand brains, pointing to the cognitive alogarithm is sufficient; if I already understand the Big Bang, tracing history back to it is sufficient; if I already understand how elephants stay up, following the turtles down to one is sufficient.
0satt8yI think at this point the question in play is "What was the First Cause?", rather than "Why is there anything?", and the two are distinct for practical purposes. Bill Maher might get hung up on the second, but I'd be surprised if he got hung up on the first, given that it's such an old argument [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kal%C4%81m_cosmological_argument] against naturalism. What justifies my saying that we've ended up at the cosmological argument? I think it follows from accepting Maitzen's dissolution. There's a chain of turtles, and we'd like to explain the chain. Maitzen points out that instead of trying to explain the chain in itself, we need only explain each individual turtle. Once you or I accept Maitzen's argument we just have to explain the first turtle, because every subsequent turtle is explained by its predecessor. And asking "what explains the first turtle?" (with the implication that the first turtle, or whatever implicit zeroth turtle hides behind it, is supernatural) is pretty much the cosmological argument. Granted, Maitzen doesn't address that argument in his essay, but I don't see a problem with that; it's a separate argument IMO with its own well-known counterarguments [https://www.google.com/search?q=cosmological+argument+counterarguments].
-1MugaSofer8yWell, we're mostly discussing Maitzen's answer to the of the First Cause, the Infinitely Old Universe. Unless a First Cause is somehow (magic?) self-explanatory, it doesn't answer the question of "Why is there anything?" - but the same applies if you replace a First Cause with an infinite string of causes, or even a future cause + time travel.
0JohnH8yHave you seen Gods as Topological Invarients [http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.6902]? Note the date submitted as it is relevant. Anyways the whole question seems a confusion: either the answer will be something that does exist or it will be something that does not exist, if it exists it would appear to be part of "anything" and therefore the question is not addressed, and if it does not exist then that appears to be contradictory.
-1MugaSofer8yThat's not exactly a confusion, that's a paradox. And a faulty one; something might (somehow) "explain itself" or, more likely, we could discover a logical reason things had to exist. Or we might have some unknown insight into rationality and dissolve the question, I suppose, but that's not really helpful. The point is it's still an open question; the good Mr. Maitzen has not helped us.
0JohnH8yApplying Greek thought to "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" is an attempt to get at something that "explain(s) itself", I am sure you are familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas and his five ways. I suppose you are also familiar with Divine Sophia in Gnosticism? Saying we have a logical reason for things existing seems to be on that same level of reasoning and appears to just add another turtle to me.
-1MugaSofer8yYup. Being a theist, I suspect God is in some way the cause of everything, although I'm not really smart enough to understand how that could be. I leave the answer to some future genius (or, more likely, superintelligent AI.) Really? But logic, as a mathematical construct, "exists" (in the sense that it exists at all) independently of physical objects; a calculator on mars will get the same result as one on Earth, even if they have no causal connection. Logic seems like it can explain things in terms of platonic mathematical structure, not contingent physical causes.
0PrawnOfFate8yLogic is independent of particular objects (multiply realisable), but there is is no evidence that it exists immaterially
-1MugaSofer8yNot entirely sure what "exists" even means in cases like this, but yeah, then I guess you're restricted to self-causing entities in that case, whatever that might mean.
0satt8yI disagree. If I go looking for a First Cause and discover an infinite string of causes instead, that's reality's way of telling me that there just isn't a First Cause, and the premise of my investigation was simply wrong. Equivalently, then, discovering an infinite string of causes indicates that the question "What is the First Cause?" (and hence "Why is there anything?", since that question reduces to the First Cause question once one accepts Maitzen's argument) is a wrong question, since it hinges on a false premise.
-1MugaSofer8y"What is the First Cause?" is not the same question as "Why is there anything?". An infinite string would answer the former, not the latter.
2satt8yThis is true in the absence of further assumptions. But once you or I assume Maitzen's argument is true (and I think we both do) the second becomes a mere instantiation of the first. This is false if Maitzen's argument is true. Conditional on Maitzen's argument, an infinite string answers the former and hence the latter. I could justify this by repeating what I've written in my two comments upthread, but it might be more productive if I give a different argument. How do we usually answer "Why is there X?"? I think we usually pick out X's most salient cause. "Why is there an ambulance outside my neighbour's house?" "Because the neighbour had a heart attack." We're basically saying, "here's the most interesting antecedent node in the causal graph, and had we deleted or substantially altered it, there wouldn't have been X". If we'd deleted the "neighbour's heart attack" node, there wouldn't be an "ambulance outside neighbour's house" node. This gives me a way to interpret "What's the First Cause?", or "Why is there anything?", or "Why is there everything?", or "Why isn't the universe in the counterfactual no-turtle state?" (to paraphrase you [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8rb9]). These questions are asking for a node in the causal graph that's antecedent to everything. But how can I do that if the causal graph is an infinitely long string? There's no such node!
1PrawnOfFate8yThere is still the question of why there is an infinitely long string.
1satt8yThat question fails in the same way as the others. It's asking for a causal node which, if altered or deleted, would turn the infinite string of causal nodes into a finite one. But no node in an infinitely long string has that power, so the question's implicit assumption is false.
2PrawnOfFate8yA why question has more possible anwers than efficient causality.
0satt8yThis might be true of "Why" questions in general but I'm talking about the more specific class of questions that start "Why is there". Can you think of examples of the latter that have a sensible answer that isn't a salient cause?
1PrawnOfFate8ySure. "Why are there airbags in cars" is answered with "to protect the occupants". it would be inane to give a a causal answer, such as "because someone fitted airbags".
1ArisKatsaris8y"to protect the occupants" is merely syntactically simpler than "because of the builder's desire to protect the occupants." -- the two statements equally well indicate causality.
-1MugaSofer8yTo be fair, this could be phrased as "because someone decided they were the best way to protect the occupants, and fitted them." However, I would define an answer to a "why is there" question more broadly - what explains why the universe is not in the counterfactual situation of this not being there? If you count any causal antecedent as an answer, you can't explain causal loops, and you can only explain parts of infinite chains, not the whole.
0satt8yI agree with you about this. (And also agree with you & ArisKatsaris's response to PrawnOfFate's airbag example.) I suspect we just differ in our reactions to this inability to explain: you think it's a bug while I think it's expected behaviour. Any causal chain eventually has to (1) end, (2) loop back on itself, or (3) go on forever without looping. So it's inevitable that if I try to locate the universe's cause, I'll get a counterintuitive answer. I'll find that it either just sprang into existence without being caused, that it caused itself, or that there's a never-ending procession of turtles. None of these feel like Real Explanations, but (at least?) one of them must be the case. So I already know, a priori, that the universe's causal chain has no Real Explanation. If I think one exists, that just means I've failed to notice my confusion. Asking "Why is there everything?" and its equivalents is a failure to notice confusion.
1PrawnOfFate8yWhat do you think you are confused about? You have grounds for thinking the question has no answer, but those are not per se grounds for thinking there was never a question.
0satt8yAbout the reason the universe exists. I'm using "confusion" as shorthand for not having an explanation that feels adequate on a gut level (which leads to a sensation of confusion), whether or not that confusion is justified. I don't doubt the question's existence. I doubt the question is worth asking.
0PrawnOfFate8yBecause?
0satt8yBecause I already know [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8s83] the three possible answers that question can have, and I already know none of them will feel adequate. As my only motivation for asking the question would be getting an answer that feels adequate, there's no point in asking it.
0PrawnOfFate8yRealising that you can't answer it can set boundaries on your knowledge.
0satt8yMy conclusion that I can't answer it follows from my existing knowledge of those boundaries, however, so I don't learn novel boundaries from that conclusion.
1TsviBT8yBy time you are saying things like "Well I'm confused, but... ...and therefore, it must be the case that A, B, or C", you should worry that you have already baked your confusion into your formulation of the question.
-1MugaSofer8yOr there could be a fourth explanation neither of us has thought of.
1satt8y"There could be an (n+1)th explanation neither of us has thought of" is a fully general counterargument [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Fully_general_counterargument] to any argument by cases.
0PrawnOfFate8yIt's valid too. Which is one reason not to put p=1.0 on anything.
0satt8yMost fully general counterarguments are valid, taken at face value. This does not mean they're worth giving much weight. For example, someone could answer any argument I post on LW with "but satt, it's always possible you are wrong about that!" Which would be correct but rarely helpful. Similarly, although I'm sympathetic to the idea of never assigning p=0 or p=1 to anything, any well-specified model I make is going to leave something out. So for me to make any inferences at all, I have to implicitly assign p=0 or p=1 to something. If I started throwing out models on that basis I'd have nothing left.
-2MugaSofer8yYou don't know why that objection is wrong? Because it is. It's not a valid argument we reject anyway, it's an invalid argument. There's an important difference between "valid" and "valid, taken at face value." If the objection is invalid, answer it! Let your arguments screen off your labels.
1satt8yAlright, call it "invalid" and "wrong" if you like. I'm not trying to make some clever-clever semantic nitpick about the meanings of the words "valid" & "invalid"; I'm trying to communicate why "but satt, it's always possible you are wrong about that!" is all but useless to me. I'll try it again without using the words "valid" & "invalid": although the BS,IAPYAWAT! counterargument is literally true (which gives it a veneer of reasonable-soundingness) it rarely tells me anything new, because when I post something on LW I usually already know I could be wrong. Being told BS,IAPYAWAT! isn't substantial evidence for me being wrong, because someone can just as easily say it whether I'm wrong or not. Exactly. OK, gimme a sec.
-2MugaSofer8yAh, I think I see. Sat, we're not saying that the fact you might be wrong invalidates all arguments ever, because you can never be totally certain. We're saying it invalidates the argument "X is wrong, therefore Y", unless you have a proof that X and Y are the only possibilities.
0satt8yI know. Nonetheless, if someone says to me "there could be an (n+1)th explanation neither of us has thought of" without elaborating, that does amount to a but-you-might-be-wrong-about-that argument (even if not intended as such). I don't have a proof, just the plausibility argument I gave earlier [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8ue5]. A plausibility argument is not a proof, but this plausibility argument is so straightforward I find it pretty convincing.
-1MugaSofer8yBut - it doesn't matter how plausible your axioms are if they give paradoxical results! Is it really more plausible that there's an invisible flaw in our reasoning than that we've failed to think of another possibility? Hell, there are unlimited possibilities! It could be a duck, for example. That doesn't make any sense as an answer, but neither do those three answers. So why are we privileging them?
0satt8yOne way I differ is that the results don't feel paradoxical to me. They feel a bit counterintuitive, but not so much so that my internal paradox alarm goes off. I'll bite that bullet, sure. Some people find quantum mechanics paradoxical because it directly contradicts a deep intuition that any & every physical object necessarily has to have an unambiguous position & velocity. That philosophical intuition is simply false; it's a flawed insistence that the universe conform [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_projection_fallacy] to a flawed induction. The right course of action is to throw out the intuition, not the axioms [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_formulation_of_quantum_mechanics#Postulates_of_quantum_mechanics] , despite the apparently paradoxical results. I think I'm applying the same basic decision rule here: when a robust formalism clashes with an informal, inductive philosophical intuition, let the formalism bulldoze the intuition.
0MugaSofer8yI don't think the "intuition" that we probably didn't make a mistake in our proof is analogous to the "intuition" that objects have unambiguous positions & velocities. More to the point, I could say the same thing about your "intuition" that there are no other possible explanations for the universe.
1satt8yI agree! Maybe I made the analogy too ambiguous by trying to keep it concise. Being more explicit, here are four intuitions: 1A. There is an unambiguous position & velocity for every object. 1B. Every object obeys Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. 2A. All concrete things have intelligible, psychologically satisfying explanations for what caused them to exist. 2B. Every causal chain must go on forever, have a loop, or bottom out in an uncaused cause. I was drawing the analogy 2A:2B::1A:1B, rather than 2B:2A::1A:1B. 2B is backed by a straightforward, semi-formal plausibility argument (if not an outright formal proof [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8uef]); 2A is a gut-level induction from observing things in everyday life. 1B is backed by the formalism of QM; 1A is a gut-level induction from observing things in everyday life. I'd disagree, since 2B is backed by something at least resembling a formal argument, whereas 2A is backed by my gut insisting "it's just common sense!"
0MugaSofer8yExcept that my point isn't that 2B, true or false, is a statement about causal chains, not explanations. If it were rephrased as "everything is either explained by an "uncaused cause", a causal loop, or an infinite causal chain" we would see that it fails to address the question. As for whether things need explanations ... if there's no reason for the way things are, why aren't they otherwise? Why am I still confused after hearing your answer?
1satt8yI'm not sure I follow the first paragraph (the two sentences seem to contradict each other). The answer to this, for me, follows from how I interpret "why are there"-type questions [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8rrk]. If there's no reason why things are as they are, there's no counterfactual change that could have been made to render things "otherwise". As a concrete example, I'm not allowed to ask "why didn't the Big Bang happen in some other way?" (if I understand orthodox cosmology correctly). There's no pre-Big Bang initial condition that could've been any different.
-1MugaSofer8yLet me rephrase this in terms of your strength as a rationalist: why are you not more confused by the fictional universe where something (could be the universe, could Hinduism, could be a magic indestructible rock) wasn't always there/created in a time loop? Compared to reality, that is? These "explanations" are notable only in that they perfectly "explain" any possible state of reality.
1satt8yI'm still not really following but I'll try to answer your question as best I can. And wasn't created by an infinite series of preceding things? (I'm guessing your question is intended to ask about a thing for which none of my 3 possibilities hold, and omitting one of those possibilities from your question was an oversight.) If so, I don't even know how to conceptualize that fictional thing in that fictional universe. So (at least in this respect) I am more confused by your hypothetical than by reality.
-1MugaSofer8yWhy yes, yes it is. Arguing that someone else is wrong, therefore you are right is a well-known cheap debating trick. Would you care to explain why I'm wrong, rather than sorting my argument into a low-status category?
2satt8yWhen I was [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8thz] complaining [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8udp] about the "but satt, it's always possible you are wrong about that!" argument, I wasn't complaining about all arguments that have "you are wrong, satt, therefore I am right" as a conclusion. I'm only taking issue with people mumbling "well, have you ever considered you might be wrong?" without elaborating. There's nothing wrong with someone arguing I might be wrong about something. But they should at least give a hint as to why I'd be wrong. In this case, "there could be a fourth explanation neither of us has thought of" amounts to saying "there could be a fourth possible terminal state for a causal chain". Well, sure, it's always possible. But why should I assign that possibility any substantial probability? Causal chains are pretty basic, abstract objects — directed graphs. I'm not talking about a set of concrete objects, where a fourth example could be hiding somewhere in the physical world where no one can see it. I'm not talking about some abstruse mathematical object that's liable to have weird properties I'm not even aware of. I'm talking about boxes connected by arrows. If there were some fourth terminal state I could arrange them to have I'd expect to know about it. What I've just said might be mistaken. But you haven't given any specifics as to where or how it goes wrong, so your comment is just another form of "but satt, it's always possible you are wrong about that!", which doesn't help me [http://lesswrong.com/lw/og/wrong_questions/8udp].
-2MugaSofer8yIf someone demonstrates all the known options are wrong, that doesn't mean it's a wrong question, it means we don't have an answer yet. Allow me to elaborate. You are taking it as axiomatic that there are no other possible answers - which, indeed, has a high prior probability, since neither of us can think of any others. Thus, you conclude that there is something wrong with this argument. I, on the other hand, feel that this little proof should cause us to update our prior that these are the only possibilities. Does that answer your question?
-1satt8yThat's one possibility. Another is that a satisfactory answer doesn't exist because the question is just broken...but now we start going around in circles. Not really; I still don't know why I shouldn't take it as axiomatic that there are no other possible answers. But you have nicely summarized what we disagree about.
-1MugaSofer8yIndeed. Well, if you're taking it as axiomatic, there's no argument I could make that could persuade you otherwise, right? So I guess I may as well tap out. Still, at least we managed to pinpoint our disagreement, eh?
0satt8yWholly agreed!
0GloriaSidorum8yIf propositional calculus (simpler than it sounds [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propositional_calculus#Alternative_calculus] is a good way of describing causality in the territory, I very much doubt there is a fourth option. If I'm doing logic right: 1.¬A is A's cause(1)∨A is A's cause (1)(By NOT-3) 2.A has a cause→ ¬A is A's cause(1)∨A is A's cause(1)(By THEN-1) 3.A has a cause→ ¬A is A's cause(1)∨A is A's cause(1)→A has a cause ∧¬A is A's cause(1)∨A is A's cause(1)(By AND-3) 4.A has a cause→A has a cause ∧¬A is A's cause(1)∨ A is A's cause(1)(Modus Ponens on 3) 1. ¬A has a cause∨A has a cause⊢A has a cause ∧ A is A's cause(1)∨¬A is A's cause* (By NOT-3) 6.¬A has a cause∨A has a cause ∧ A is A's cause(1)∨¬A is A's cause(1)(Modus ponens on 5) Which, translated back into English, means that something either has a cause apart from itself, is it's own cause*,or has no cause. If you apply "has a cause apart from itself" recursively, you end up with an infinite chain of causes. Otherwise, you have to go with "is it's own cause(1)", which means the causal chain loops back on itself or "has no cause" which means the causal chain ends. Nothing thus far, to my knowledge, has been found to defy the axioms of PC, and thus, if PC were wrong, it would seem not only unsatisfying but downright crazy. I believe that I could make at least a thousand claims which I believe as strongly as "If the Universe defied the principles of logic, it would seem crazy to me." and be wrong at most once, so I assign at least a 99.9% probability to the claim that "Why is everything" has no satisfying answer if "It spontaneously sprang into being", "Causality is cyclical." and "an infinite chain of causes" are unsatisfying. (1)Directly or indirectly
0RichardKennaway8yA problem, or a strength, depending on the context, with this sort of argument is that it does not depend on the meaning of the phrase "X is caused by Y". Logically, any binary relation forms chains that are either infinite, lead to a cycle, or stop. If the words "X is caused by Y" indeed define a binary relation, then the argument tells you this fact about that relation. If the concept being groped for with the words is vague, ill-defined, or confused, then the argument will be working from a wrong ontology, and the precision and soundness of the argument may distract from noticing that. Hume denied causation, in favour of correlation; Pearl asserts causation as distinct but as far as I can see takes it as unproblematic enough for his purposes to leave undefined. The discussion here [http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=1156] suggests the concept of causation is still unclear. Or if there is a clear concept, people are still unclear what it is.
-2MugaSofer8yAs I have stated elsewhere, we would still like to know why the universe is not in a counterfactual no-infinite-chain (or loop) state. If this cannot be answered with propositional calculus, then that's propositional calculus' fault for containing ontological paradoxes. Note that this applies in all situations featuring infinite chains or loops, not merely those contaning everything that exists.
1PrawnOfFate8yThe paraphrase introduces some efficient causality without removing all the teleology. The point I was making is that a preceding cause is not the only kind of answer to a "why" question.
1satt8yI'd say the causality was there all along and MugaSofer & ArisKatsaris just made it explicit. Causality can become teleology by operating through a mind, but it remains causal for all that.
1PrawnOfFate8yThere is some evidence of that within the universe, but it is not a conceptual identity. The big Why question could still have an answer that is irreducibly teleological. The universe as a whole has to have some unique properties.
0satt8yNote that I think of teleology as a subset of causation rather than as coextensive with causation. I don't think I can imagine how this could work. A teleological answer to "why does the universe exist?" implies (at least to me) some goal-seeking agent that makes the universe happen, or orients it towards some particular end. But making stuff happen or pushing it in a particular direction is causality. I agree, but I don't see why the universe would have to be uniquely irreducibly teleological instead of, say, uniquely acausal (being the only entity that just springs into existence without a cause).
1PrawnOfFate8yThinking in a certain way doesn't prove anything. The evidence for teleology being reducible to causality comes from within the universe, like the evidence for everything being finite, or for everything being contained in some larger structure. If you canno explain how agent-based causally-reducible teleology is the only possible kind, irreducible teleology remains a conceptual possibility. I doesn't. That is only one of the unique properties it could have.
1satt8yYes. It's always possible for me to be simply wrong; something might exist even if I think that something is logically impossible. But (1) by induction from within-the-universe evidence, I find it very unlikely, and (2) even if I wanted to include irreducible teleology in my model, I wouldn't know how. So it's expedient for me to treat it as an impossibility. I'm content to agree to disagree with you on this one!
0PrawnOfFate8yThat doesn't have any bearing at all. An inhabitant of an infinite universe could notice that every single thing in it is finite, but would be completely wrong in assuming that the universe they are in is finite. You take your assumption --which is presumable not justfiable apriori-- that the past causes the future, and invert it.
0satt8yThis sounds like just as much of an a priori assumption as my working assumption that it does have some bearing. Yes, induction can lead to incorrect conclusions. But this is not a very strong argument against any given induction. I change my existing model so that the future causes the past within my model? I'm not sure how to do that either. I picture flipping the direction of every arrow in my causal graph, but that doesn't introduce any irreducible teleology; I'm still left with an ordinary causal graph when I finish.
-3PrawnOfFate8yInduction only ever works, inasmuch as it works, across tokens of the same type. Parts and wholes are almost always of different types. Trying to derive properties of wholes from properties of part is the fallacy of composition [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition].
0MugaSofer8ySorry, which argument is this? He makes several.
0satt8yThe argument that once the elements in the string are individually explained, the string as a whole is explained. Edit: maybe I should call it the Hume-Edwards principle [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmological_argument#Existence_of_infinite_causal_chains] instead.
-1MugaSofer8yAh. Well, I agree with it in principle; I just think he misapplies it.
0[anonymous]8yhttp://xkcd.com/1155/ [http://xkcd.com/1155/] :-)
1TheOtherDave8yI spent an embarrassingly long time after that xkcd trying to devise "compact" directions to my house from various places.
0satt8yTheOtherDave's answer seems close enough to what I'd have said here that I'll just point at what he wrote!
-1MugaSofer8yThen I guess I'll have to point at my reply to him ;)

I find that all questions fall into one of 3 categories:

  1. Well defined: These questions are clear, and contain all the basic information you need to answer them, with little or no need to infer what the questioner meant. Word problems are a good example, and so is someone asking for directions or asking what you would like for dinner.

  2. Poorly defined: These are problems that you don't know how to solve, at least at first. Maybe you have to learn what the questioner means, or maybe you have to acquire some fundamental understanding in order to evaluate seve

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A key requirement of free will is to be unexplainable. If we can explain free will then it's no longer "free will" - it's just a process, deterministic or probabilistic, that can be followed step by step.

Even if current science cannot explain it, the idea that it can be explained already disqualifies it from being free will.

So, the state of affairs where we have free will is to have some component in our decision making process that is complex enough and yet fundamentally unexplainable.