If we consider an actual territory (a) say, Paris, Dresden, Warsaw, and build up a map (b) in which the order of these cities would be represented as Dresden, Paris, Warsaw; to travel by such a map would be misguiding, wasteful of effort. In case of emergencies, it might be seriously harmful. We could say that such a map was 'not true', or that the map had a structure not similar to the territory (...). We should notice that:

A) A map may have a structure similar ot dissimilar to the structure of the territory.

B) Two similar structures have similar 'logical' characteristics. Thus, if in a correct map, Dresden is given as between Paris and Warsaw, a similar relation is found in the actual territory.

C) A map is not the territory.

D) An ideal map would contain the map of the map, the map of the map of the map, etc. endlessly. (...) We may call it self-reflexiveness.

Languages share with the map the above four characteristics.

A) Languages have structure, thus we may have languages of elementalistic structure such as 'space' and 'time', 'observer' and 'observed', 'body' and 'soul', 'senses' and 'mind', 'intellect' and 'emotions', 'thinking' and 'feeling', 'thought' and 'intuition', etc., which allow verbal division or separation. Or we may have languages of non-elementalistic structure such as 'space-time', the new quantum languages (...); also the mathematical languages of 'order', 'relation', 'structure', 'function', 'variable', 'invariant', 'difference', 'addition', 'division' (...).

B) If we use languages of a structure non-similar to the world and our nervous system, our verbal predictions are not verified empirically, we cannot be 'rational' or adjusted. We would have to copy the animals in their wasteful and painful 'trial and error' performances, as we have done through human history. In science we would be handicapped by semantic blockages, lack of creativeness, lack of understanding, lack of vision, disturbed by inconsistencies, paradoxes, etc.

C) Words are not the things they represent.

D) Language also has self-reflective characteristics. We use language to speak about language (...).

-- Alfred Korzybski: Science and Sanity

Note that the major relevant historical disagreement is not over any of these ideas, but over what the true territory is. Most medieval maps (pre-1300) were deliberately warped not to represent their territory as it looked in the physical world, but to show "spiritual truths". Jerusalem would be at the center, each city's size would be proportional to its importance in God's plan, and distances and directions would be warped to make a particular set of points draw the figure of a cross on the map. Similarly, maps of medieval cities would not s... (read more)

0PhilGoetz3yThe notion of the non-elementalistic is important--that was the basis of structuralism--but it reinforces the old view that these operationalizations of our observations were unfortunate but necessary concessions to the limitations of observation, rather than that, e.g., space-time really is the lattice the Universe is laid upon. I doubt there's a real difference between these views mathematically, but I think there is conceptually.
1Nomad4yI'm vaguely worried by the way 'elementalistic' structure and 'non-elementalistic' structure are separated in part A. It seems to have the connotation (I'm not sure if it was intended or not) that the elementalistic structures are better and the non-elementalistic structures are arbitrary. However, there's a reason why science - especially physics - have increasingly moved over towarda mathematical points of view and the sorts of language you've included under non-elementalistic. They really are better at describing the natural world: e.g. you lose out on key concepts if you insist on completely dividing 'space' and 'time' rather than appreciating the way they interact. This sort of feeds into part (B). He describes languages as being similar or non-similar to the world and our nervous system, but the truth is that once you move beyond the ancestral environment the world is very different to our nervous system. To choose in favour of the languages similar to the nervous system over those similar to the world is ultimately to choose in favour of our own biases.

Rationality Quotes Thread February 2016

by elharo 1 min read2nd Feb 201697 comments


Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • Post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.