This time there were no robes, no hoods, no masks.  Students were expected to become friends, and allies.  And everyone knew why you were in the classroom.  It would have been pointless to pretend you weren't in the Conspiracy.

    Their sensei was Jeffreyssai, who might have been the best of his era, in his era.  His students were either the most promising learners, or those whom the beisutsukai saw political advantage in molding.

    Brennan fell into the latter category, and knew it.  Nor had he hesitated to use his Mistress's name to open doors.  You used every avenue available to you, in seeking knowledge; that was respected here.

    "—for over thirty years," Jeffreyssai said.  "Not one of them saw it; not Einstein, not Schrödinger, not even von Neumann."  He turned away from his sketcher, and toward the classroom.  "I pose to you to the question:  How did they fail?"

    The students exchanged quick glances, a calculus of mutual risk between the wary and the merely baffled.  Jeffreyssai was known to play games.

    Finally Hiriwa-called-the-Black leaned forward, jangling slightly as her equation-carved bracelets shifted on her ankles.  "By your years given, sensei, this was two hundred and fifty years after Newton.  Surely, the scientists of that era must have grokked the concept of a universal law."

    "Knowing the universal law of gravity," said the student Taji, from a nearby seat, "is not the same as understanding the concept of a universal law." He was one of the promising ones, as was Hiriwa.

    Hiriwa frowned.  "No... it was said that Newton had been praised for discovering the first universal.  Even in his own era.  So it was known."  Hiriwa paused.  "But Newton himself would have been gone.  Was there a religious injunction against proposing further universals?  Did they refrain out of respect for Newton, or were they waiting for his ghost to speak?  I am not clear on how Eld science was motivated—"

    "No," murmured Taji, a laugh in his voice, "you really, really aren't."

    Jeffreyssai's expression was kindly.  "Hiriwa, it wasn't religion, and it wasn't lead in the drinking water, and they didn't all have Alzheimers, and they weren't sitting around all day reading webcomics.  Forget the catalogue of horrors out of ancient times. Just think in terms of cognitive errors.  What could Eld science have been thinking wrong?"

    Hiriwa sat back with a sigh. "Sensei, I truly cannot imagine a snafu that would do that."

    "It wouldn't be just one mistake," Taji corrected her.  "As the saying goes:  Mistakes don't travel alone; they hunt in packs."

    "But the entire human species?" said Hiriwa.  "Thirty years?"

    "It wasn't the entire human species, Hiriwa," said Styrlyn. He was one of the older-looking students, wearing a short beard speckled in grey.  "Maybe one in a hundred thousand could have written out Schrödinger's Equation from memory.  So that would have been their first and primary error—failure to concentrate their forces."

    "Spare us the propaganda!" Jeffreyssai's gaze was suddenly fierce.  "You are not here to proselytize for the Cooperative Conspiracy, my lord politician!  Bend not the truth to make your points!  I believe your Conspiracy has a phrase:  'Comparative advantage.'  Do you really think that it would have helped to call in the whole human species, as it existed at that time, to debate quantum physics?"

    Styrlyn didn't flinch.  "Perhaps not, sensei," he said.  "But if you are to compare that era to this one, it is a consideration."

    Jeffreyssai moved his hand flatly through the air; the maybe-gesture he used to dismiss an argument that was true but not relevant.  "It is not what I would call a primary mistake.  The puzzle should not have required a billion physicists to solve."

    "I can think of more specific ancient horrors," said Taji. "Spending all day writing grant proposals.  Teaching undergraduates who would rather be somewhere else.  Needing to publish thirty papers a year to get tenure..."

    "But we are not speaking of only the lower-status scientists," said Yin; she wore a slightly teasing grin.  "It was said of Schrödinger that he retired to a villa for a month, with his mistress to provide inspiration, and emerged with his eponymous equation.  We consider it a famous historical success of our methodology.  Some Eld physicists did understand how to focus their mental energies; and would have been senior enough to do so, had they chose."

    "True," Taji said.  "In the end, administrative burdens are only a generic obstacle.  Likewise such answers as, 'They were not trained in probability theory, and did not know of cognitive biases.'  Our sensei seems to desire some more specific reply."

    Jeffreyssai lifted an eyebrow encouragingly.  "Don't dismiss your line of thought so quickly, Taji; it begins to be relevant.  What kind of system would create administrative burdens on its own people?"

    "A system that failed to support its people adequately," said Styrlyn.  "One that failed to value their work."

    "Ah," said Jeffreyssai.  "But there is a student who has not yet spoken.  Brennan?"

    Brennan didn't jump.  He deliberately waited just long enough to show he wasn't scared, and then said, "Lack of pragmatic motivation, sensei."

    Jeffreyssai smiled slightly. "Expand."

    What kind of system would create administrative burdens on its own people?, their sensei had asked them.  The other students were pursuing their own lines of thought. Brennan, hanging back, had more attention to spare for his teacher's few hints.  Being the beginner wasn't always a disadvantage—and he had been taught, long before the Bayesians took him in, to take every available advantage.

    "The Manhattan Project," Brennan said, "was launched with a specific technological end in sight: a weapon of great power, in time of war.  But the error that Eld Science committed with respect to quantum physics had no immediate consequences for their technology. They were confused, but they had no desperate need for an answer.  Otherwise the surrounding system would have removed all burdens from their effort to solve it.  Surely the Manhattan Project must have done so—Taji?  Do you know?"

    Taji looked thoughtful.  "Not all burdens—but I'm pretty sure they weren't writing grant proposals in the middle of their work."

    "So," Jeffreyssai said.  He advanced a few steps, stood directly in front of Brennan's desk.  "You think Eld scientists simply weren't trying hard enough.  Because their art had no military applications?  A rather competitive point of view, I should think."

    "Not necessarily," Brennan said calmly.  "Pragmatism is a virtue of rationality also.  A desired use for a better quantum theory, would have helped the Eld scientists in many ways beyond just motivating them.  It would have given shape to their curiosity, and told them what constituted success or failure."

    Jeffreyssai chuckled slightly.  "Don't guess so hard what I might prefer to hear, Competitor.  Your first statement came closer to my hidden mark; your oh-so-Bayesian disclaimer fell wide...  The factor I had in mind, Brennan, was that Eld scientists thought it was acceptable to take thirty years to solve a problem.  Their entire social process of science was based on getting to the truth eventually. A wrong theory got discarded eventually—once the next generation of students grew up familiar with the replacementWork expands to fill the time allotted, as the saying goes.  But people can think important thoughts in far less than thirty years, if they expect speed of themselves."  Jeffreyssai suddenly slammed down a hand on the arm of Brennan's chair.  "How long do you have to dodge a thrown knife?"

    "Very little time, sensei!"

    "Less than a second!  Two opponents are attacking you!  How long do you have to guess who's more dangerous?"

    "Less than a second, sensei!"

    "The two opponents have split up and are attacking two of your girlfriends!  How long do you have to decide which one you truly love?"

    "Less than a second, sensei!'

    "A new argument shows your precious theory is flawed!  How long does it take you to change your mind?"

    "Less than a second, sensei!"


    Sweat was forming on Brennan's back, but he stopped and actually thought about it—


    "No sensei!  I'm not finished thinking sensei!  An answer would be premature!  Sensei!"

    "Very good!  Continue!  But don't take thirty years!"

    Brennan breathed deeply, reforming his thoughts.  He finally said, "Realistically, sensei, the best-case scenario is that I would see the problem immediately; use the discipline of suspending judgment; try to re-accumulate all the evidence before continuing; and depending on how emotionally attached I had been to the theory, use the crisis-of-belief technique to ensure I could genuinely go either way.  So at least five minutes and perhaps up to an hour."

    "Good!  You actually thought about it that time!  Think about it every time!  Break patterns!  In the days of Eld Science, Brennan, it was not uncommon for a grant agency to spend six months reviewing a proposal.  They permitted themselves the time!  You are being graded on your speed, Brennan!  The question is not whether you get there eventually!  Anyone can find the truth in five thousand years!  You need to move faster!"

    "Yes, sensei!"

    "Now, Brennan, have you just learned something new?"

    "Yes, sensei!"

    "How long did it take you to learn this new thing?"

    An arbitrary choice there...  "Less than a minute, sensei, from the boundary that seems most obvious."

    "Less than a minute," Jeffreyssai repeated.  "So, Brennan, how long do you think it should take to solve a major scientific problem, if you are not wasting any time?"

    Now there was a trapped question if Brennan had ever heard one.  There was no way to guess what time period Jeffreyssai had in mind—what the sensei would consider too long, or too short.  Which meant that the only way out was to just try for the genuine truth; this would offer him the defense of honesty, little defense though it was.  "One year, sensei?"

    "Do you think it could be done in one month, Brennan?  In a case, let us stipulate, where in principle you already have enough experimental evidence to determine an answer, but not so much experimental evidence that you can afford to make errors in interpreting it."

    Again, no way to guess which answer Jeffreyssai might want... "One month seems like an unrealistically short time to me, sensei."

    "A short time?" Jeffreyssai said incredulously.  "How many minutes in thirty days?  Hiriwa?"

    "43200, sensei," she answered.  "If you assume sixteen-hour waking periods and daily sleep, then 28800 minutes."

    "Assume, Brennan, that it takes five whole minutes to think an original thought, rather than learning it from someone else.  Does even a major scientific problem require 5760 distinct insights?"

    "I confess, sensei," Brennan said slowly, "that I have never thought of it that way before... but do you tell me that is truly a realistic level of productivity?"

    "No," said Jeffreyssai, "but neither is it realistic to think that a single problem requires 5760 insights.  And yes, it has been done."

    Jeffreyssai stepped back, and smiled benevolently.  Every student in the room stiffened; they knew that smile.  "Though none of you hit the particular answer that I had in mind, nonetheless your answers were as reasonable as mine.  Except Styrlyn's, I'm afraid.  Even Hiriwa's answer was not entirely wrong: the task of proposing new theories was once considered a sacred duty reserved for those of high status, there being a limited supply of problems in circulation, at that time.  But Brennan's answer is particularly interesting, and I am minded to test his theory of motivation."

    Oh, hell, Brennan said silently to himself.  Jeffreyssai was gesturing for Brennan to stand up before the class.

    When Brenann had risen, Jeffreyssai neatly seated himself in Brennan's chair.

    "Brennan-sensei," Jeffreyssai said, "you have five minutes to think of something stunningly brilliant to say about the failure of Eld science on quantum physics.  As for the rest of us, our job will be to gaze at you expectantly.  I can only imagine how embarrassing it will be, should you fail to think of anything good."

    Bastard. Brennan didn't say it aloud.  Taji's face showed a certain amount of sympathy; Styrlyn held himself aloof from the game; but Yin was looking at him with sardonic interest.  Worse, Hiriwa was gazing at him expectantly, assuming that he would rise to the challenge.  And Jeffreyssai was gawking wide-eyed, waiting for the guru's words of wisdom.  Screw you, sensei.

    Brennan didn't panic.  It was very, very, very far from being the scariest situation he'd ever faced.  He took a moment to decide how to think; then thought.

    At four minutes and thirty seconds, Brennan spoke.  (There was an art to such things; as long as you were doing it anyway, you might as well make it look easy.)

    "A woman of wisdom," Brennan said, "once told me that it is wisest to regard our past selves as fools beyond redemption—to see the people we once were as idiots entire.  I do not necessarily say this myself; but it is what she said to me, and there is more than a grain of truth in it.  As long as we are making excuses for the past, trying to make it look better, respecting it, we cannot make a clean break.  It occurs to me that the rule may be no different for human civilizations.  So I tried looking back and considering the Eld scientists as simple fools."

    "Which they were not," Jeffreyssai said.

    "Which they were not," Brennan continued.  "In terms of raw intelligence, they undoubtedly exceeded me.  But it occurred to me that a difficulty in seeing what Eld scientists did wrong, might have been in respecting the ancient and legendary names too highly.  And that did indeed produce an insight."

    "Enough introduction, Brennan," said Jeffreyssai.  "If you found an insight, state it."

    "Eld scientists were not trained..."  Brennan paused.  "No, untrained is not the concept.  They were trained for the wrong task.  At that time, there were no Conspiracies, no secret truths; as soon as Eld scientists solved a major problem, they published the solution to the world and each other.  Truly scary and confusing open problems would have been in extremely rare supply, and used up the moment they were solved.  So it would not have been possible to train Eld researchers to bring order out of scientific chaos.  They would have been trained for something else—I'm not sure what—"

    "Trained to manipulate whatever science had already been discovered," said Taji.  "It was a difficult enough task for Eld teachers to train their students to use existing knowledge, or follow already-known methodologies; that was all Eld science teachers aspired to impart."

    Brennan nodded.  "Which is a very different matter from creating new science of their own.  The Eld scientists faced with problems of quantum theory, might never have faced that kind of fear before—the dismay of not knowing.  The Eld scientists might have seized on unsatisfactory answers prematurely, because they were accustomed to working with a neat, agreed-upon body of knowledge."

    "Good, Brennan," murmured Jeffreyssai.

    "But above all," Brennan continued, "an Eld scientist couldn't have practiced the actual problem the quantum scientists faced—that of resolving a major confusion.  It was something you did once per lifetime if you were lucky, and as Hiriwa observed, Newton would no longer have been around.  So while the Eld physicists who messed up quantum theory were not unintelligent, they were, in a strong sense, amateurs—ad-libbing the whole process of paradigm shift."

    "And no probability theory," Hiriwa noted.  "So anyone who did succeed at the problem would have no idea what they'd just done.  They wouldn't be able to communicate it to anyone else, except vaguely."

    "Yes," Styrlyn said.  "And it was only a handful of people who could tackle the problem at all, with no training in doing so; those are the physicists whose names have passed down to us.  A handful of people, making a handful of discoveries each.  It would not have been enough to sustain a community.  Each Eld scientist tackling a new paradigm shift would have needed to rediscover the rules from scratch."

    Jeffreyssai rose from Brenann's desk.  "Acceptable, Brennan; you surprise me, in fact. I shall have to give further thought to this method of yours."  Jeffreyssai went to the classroom door, then looked back.  "However, I did have in mind at least one other major flaw of Eld science, which none of you suggested.  I expect to receive a list of possible flaws tomorrow.  I expect the flaw I have in mind to be on the list. You have 480 minutes, excluding sleep time.  I see five of you here.  The challenge does not require more than 480 insights to solve, nor more than 96 insights in series."

    And Jeffreyssai left the room.

    New Comment
    56 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:11 PM

    "A short time?" Jeffreyssai said incredulously. "How many minutes in thirty days? Hiriwa?"

    "28800, sensei," she answered. "If you assume sixteen-hour waking periods and daily sleep, then 19200 minutes."I would have expected the answers to be 43200 (30d 24h/d 60/h) and 28800 (30d 16h/d 60/h), respectively. Do these people use another system for specifying time? It works out correctly if their hours have 40 minutes each.

    Aside from that, this is an extremely insightful and quote-worthy post. I have^W^W My idiotic past-selves had a bad tendency to cognitively slow down in the absence of interesting and time-critical problems to solve. Accordingly, I find the hints about how to debug those tendencies very interesting. I find it rather quaint that those people still spend a significant part of their time sleeping, however.

    So, Eli, how many of the insights in these posts did you have before writing them, and how many in the process of writing them?

    Brennan and friends beat both Achilles and the Tortoise with many lengths.

    Might one cause of the slowness be the concept of "discovery"? It has entirely too much of Moses coming down the mountain with tablets, and entirely too little of "first draft". Scientists would be tempted to genuflect - even the theory's originator.

    So how can we practice bringing order out of scientific chaos?

    It might be that most of us were born too early to become students of the Bayesutsukai, because we've already been exposed to too many answers or hints. There's plenty of existing science that we don't know, of course, but we'll never have the experience of discovering evolution ourselves. Maybe we should be training six-year-olds.

    We can get some practice on made-up worlds; a bigger version of Zendo. I'm sure this is better than no training, but we are not products of these made-up worlds, so I don't think it would be as effective for teaching us to be cognitive scientists.

    Zendo should be a national sport.

    I looked up zendo on wikipedia and it looks awesome. Is there some way it (or a similar, less visual variant) could be played on the internet among a group of lesswrongers, like the Rationalist Diplomacy games? I could create a number-or-verbal-based version of arbitrary complexity that could be played over IRC or in a thread. I have some time on my hands, so I'll start on a number based version (using strings of numbers that may or may not have the buddha-nature). Anyone else who is interested in a game, please let me know.

    Did you ever get anywhere with this? I'd love to work on such a game. You can contact me via the same handle on twitter or

    I played a game with strings of numbers here. If you'd like to play another, create an account on the forum and make a thread for it. I'd be happy to play again, it was fun the first time.

    Areas of my expertise: this. There exists a card game called Eleusis, and a simpler variant , Eleusis Express, which are played with standard playing cards and which were purpose-built for precisely this purpose; simulating the scientific method, with emphasis on the non-incremental regimes of scientific progress. These rules can be found here, Express here, and the BoardGameGeek page for the game is here. Expanding this to larger card numbers, etc. should be an easy modification to make, and I would happily do so if there were interest. I can attest that the game is quite fun.

    Well, there's always the HPMOR method: have someone invent a fictional universe (preferably hidden-world fantasy) and have people with a scientific education discover magic and try to understand how it works and how to exploit it.

    Along with zendo, mao might be a good game for practicing - you and the other mao players are scientists, while the grandmaster is the universe’s laws - you can induce the laws either by observing the other “scientists”, or by testing things out (possibly on accident). Jeffreyssai might say this reeks of competition, though - a possible fix would be to have all the “scientists” working on the same team.

    Seriously, agreeing with Caledonian.

    I remember Eliezer wrote an earlier essay to the effect that GR is a really simple theory, in some information-theoretic sense, and therefore we should optimize our theories based on their information-theoretic complexity. But what's being missed here is that GR (and SR and Newtonian physics and arithmetic . . .) are simple stated on its own terms. That's WHY it's a paradigm shift. If you tried to state GR strictly as a modification of Newtonian mechanics in a global coordinate system, you would either fail, or you would end up with something incredibly complex that would appear implausible by information-theoretic counts.

    The bits that you fail to count, when looking at a simple theory, are the bits required to represent the entire worldview, which don't seem like they're information because they're just how you look at the world.

    What you're trying to do is find a local optimization in theory-space, but all you're working with is a projection of theory-space onto the sub-space that is our current way of thinking, and then you find your objective function is not quite zero, but you wave your hands and say, "Hey! It's lower than what we had before! Why did it take people 30 years to reach this not-quite-minimum when all they had to do was descend the gradient?" I think a lot of people would rather just wait around for someone to come along with an answer that really does minimize the objective function.

    Somehow you have to hit upon the right projection of theory-space that happens to include all the right variables. If you have a mistress, I invite you to retire to a cottage with her for a month and see if that helps.

    There's a particular kind of groupthink peculiar to scholarly fields. In my review of "The Trouble with Physics", I pointed to two (other) specific examples of recent advances that were stymied for long periods of time by scholarly groupthink. There are many others.

    But I think Eli has hit on another important mechanism. Few learners these days are expected to rediscover important concepts, so we get no training in this ability. I don't see how turning scientific knowledge into a body of secrets will address the problem, but it's a valuable insight. I'd offer solving puzzles and breaking codes as alternative training for finding the patterns that nature is hiding from us. More scientists should spend their time entering puzzle contests, hunting geocaches, and attacking cryptosystems.

    And could someone provide an interpretation of the cast of characters here? I enjoyed the list that was presented for a previous article.

    While I very much enjoy programming (look at my creations come to life!) and have been known to conduct experiments in video games to discover their rules, I am almost entirely disinterested in puzzles for their own sake.

    I'm a programmer, though, not a scientist, but if puzzles that were largely free of context where solving them could be used to accomplish some goal were a large part of science curricula, I'd be concerned about possible side effects.

    Not that I don't think there may be some merit to be mined here.

    Chris Hibbert hits on a good point.

    Many of the top physicists on the Manhattan Project drove the military crazy because they spent their downtime cracking safes and picking locks and going into places "they weren't supposed to go", which is exactly the sort of behavior you need to exhibit, when trying to explore unknown territory.

    It works out correctly if their hours have 40 minutes each.

    WOW I should not be doing mental arithmetic after 3AM.

    I think I may have worked out the correct answer earlier, then, at 3AM, forgotten that 28800 was the 16-hour figure instead of the 24-hour figure. The embarrassing part is not just typing the calculation into Google, but who knew?

    Oh, well, I've never been all that good at arithmetic (as opposed to math).

    Eliezer: what's the "crisis-of-belief" technique you're refering to there? the whole "try to take a while visualizing what if you're wrong/the other view is right, nevermind whether it is or not, just try to figure out what the world would be like, what you'd do if you found out that was really really true, etc etc, to leave yourself an 'out'"? or was that something entirely different, or is that just a made up phrase with no specific technique in mind in particular?

    scott: Many? I thought the whole safecracking thing was basically just Feynman. What others did "naughty" stuff and what did they do?

    I was wondering the same thing, and did a search of this web site to see if I could find any definition. I could not, but it brought to mind a problem I've come across many times.

    Assuming "Eld-Scientists" referred to, are the scientists of the real world, I would describe the "crisis-of-belief" in this way. Modern scientists say things like "Science does not care what you believe".

    However, actually, what they generally mean by such a thing is "I do not need to acknowledge your hypothesis, because it disagrees with what I know to be true."

    The crisis lies in the fact that "what one knows to be true" is actually only belief. While an Eld-Scientist MIGHT be correct in dismissing a hypothesis because it conflicts with what "he knows to be true," he is using an incorrect method of reasoning.

    The true scientific method requires that you fully understand and acknowledge multiple hypotheses and test them against empirical evidence. What often happens instead, with modern science, is, for instance, a scientist will say, something like "I don't fully understand the leading theory, but I know it is true... And yours is not it, therefore I do not need to acknowledge or understand your theory." This is the crisis of belief that is going on among modern science.

    Well, Klaus Fuchs was spying for the Russians. I imagine that the military would have put that in the "naughty" category. ;-)

    Cyan: Well, okay then. Although I don't think that really falls into the same category as "Feynman cracking safes because, hey, safes are neat, how they work is neat, and figuring out how to get into one is neat, and oh by the way your safes aren't that safe"

    Chris, (rot-13'd): V vzntvar "Wrsserlffnv" vf n ersrerapr gb Unebyq Wrsserlf.

    "[...] or those whom the beisutsukai saw political advantage in molding."


    This. Is. Awesome. If you weren't busy with FAI, you could make a fortune selling this stuff to universities.

    Hrm, speaking of insights, here's a part of one... Or more some vague notions I've had based on some other ideas plus this plus self observation:

    To "rapid fire think", sometimes it helps to almost be in a bit of a chaotic environment, maybe, in which there's lots of "rapid fire" stuff going on. I'm not claiming any cog sci concept or anything, just a bit based on self observation and stuff others seem to have noted. Maybe the "classroom in a dojo" model, on its own, isn't really the right one either.

    Maybe we want more something that's hybrid dojo, monestary, and con, with some sort of oscilating schedule, so that there'd be periodic, well, periods of a couple days to "sit down and chew on stuff". Heck, my understanding is that this notion (well, the con aspect) was kind of the motivation for the creation of Penguicon in the first place. ie, the OSS bunch noticed "hey, the rapid fire adapt/reshapin in the face of chaos that seems to work in SF cons may be something we want to get in on and take advantage of ourselves"

    Not to generalize from fictional evidence, but merely to point out one conception of this sort of thing, Charles Stross's story "Dechlorninating the Moderator" is basically a "what if the physics community got stuff done via physics cons that are socially similar to SF cons?" (incidentally, the key tech development that was relevant to the story was tabletop size accelerators based on laser wakefield acceleration)

    Also, I've noticed in myself I can't handle too much, well, "overstimulation" for lack of a better word, but at least it feels like my mind is firing faster in a slightly more chaotic environment/situation, as long as I can "find a place in it." (Sorry for vagueness, but I fully concede these are vague notions, just tossing it out as something to work with or to destroy as utterly absurd, while I think on it more)

    Anyways, I've also noted in myself that it's much easier to grab myself and basically say "actually consider other argument rather than just try to defend my own position at all costs" if I have a bit of time to breath and distance myself from the situation and so on. So, based on that, if one wanted to make some sort of school/dojo/hidden secret center in an undisclosed location, I'd think one might want to have it structured so that it would be regularly oscilating between chaotic hyperactivity and almost "relaxing retreat."

    Anyways, just tossing out that thought/potentially either useful or useless insight since it seemed relevant here.

    These explanations are mostly psychological. Social explanations seem as important to me.

    The speculative fiction I have read has the sexual partner helping to protect the scientist's health by pulling the scientist back into a normal, grounded state of mind after the scientist solves the difficult abstract problem -- not serving as an inspiration. In Greg Bear's Eon for example, scientist Patricia Vasques asks mission leader Gregg Lanier for sex after she solves an extremely difficult problem to prevent her from lingering longer than necessary in the state she needed to get into to solve the problem.

    I know my Dad, who was not a scientist but was an engineer with a demanding job, used time with his family to pull him back into a healthier, less cerebral state of mind (which was not always the most pleasant experience for his family).

    Does anyone else suspect that the last full paragraph is meant to give us the assignment for tomorrow morning?

    As for my answers, I think that the particulars of this paradigm shift have to enter into it on some level— because as Eliezer pointed out earlier, the Schrödinger's Cat thought experiment really should have suggested the possibility of superimposed observers to someone, and from there the MWI doesn't seem too remote.

    So I'd have to ascribe the delay in the MWI proposal in great part to the fact that it doesn't immediately cohere with our subjective experience of consciousness, and that the physicists were culturally separated from other disciplines (including even philosophy and literature) that were proposing less naive interpretations of consciousness.

    Yes, Patrick. I believe that is the intent.

    I don't have 480 minutes to commit to the task. Here is a list after only a handful of minutes:

    Some possible flaws of Eld science:

    • An emphasis on publishing works for personal credit in peer reviewed journals, thereby encouraging one to protect one's research from others working in the same field who might be nearing similar conclusions.
    • Rewarding success with long term, permanent positions of rank within the establishment that cannot be lost due to a failure to continue to produce insights.
    • Lethargy in the reframing of materials intended for the education of new researchers. (Specifically, reframing them with new, established insights within a particular field.)
    • An emphasis on social unity that discourages individuals from defending positions that seem to be too far out of acceptable norms.

    I'll think about more during dinner.

    Others :

    • Almost no tracking of mistakes, failures, or even negative results for that matter.

    We know it's bad, yet we keep sweeping valuable knowledge under the rug just because it's embarrassing. Confirmation bias anyone ?

    • No clear valuation of the work's utility.

    One consequence is that researchers are kind of expected to know what they will find before they even begin, a form of weak insurance on productivity. This discourages to venture in the unknown.

    Patrick, that was my interpretation. I had time to come up with one proposal. (I'm not able to commit full-time to being a student of bayescraft at this point.)

    Z. M. Davis, thanks for the pointer.

    As far as "failures of Eld Science" go, I think not working on AGI is probably the greatest, by a very, very long way....

    I recently decided to try reading this blog to see what the fuss was and this leapt out at me:

    "At that time, there were no Conspiracies, no secret truths; as soon as Eld scientists solved a major problem, they published the solution to the world and each other. Truly scary and confusing open problems would have been in extremely rare supply, and used up the moment they were solved."

    It occurs to me that Mr Yudkowsky is proposing that having science (or scientific fields) incorporate something like a "hidden secret" of the sort mystery religions use would actually be beneficial for science or the world. It's not the first time I've heard the idea connected to him.

    Also, I've heard interpretations of Noam Chomsky's early publishing tactics in linguistics described in roughly this way (not publishing enough to replicate his work, letting special people in on the secret who then publish papers based on it, immunizing his theories from disconfirming argument by explaining that critical papers aren't criticizing the full true theory (the one he was working on but hadn't yet published to people not specially selected and sworn to secrecy)). I'm not sure if this is is true or not. It's academic gossip mostly.

    But it might explain why linguistics is in such a "pre science" state even now, with many competing paradigms co-existing in the community so that linguists spend much time re-arguing fundamentals and relatively less solving puzzles about language. At the same time, Chomsky's citation tree is breathtakingly large. Tenuous conclusion on the mystery cult tactic from this example: good for Chomsksy, bad for linguistics?

    Other than modeling experiments, it's hard to even test the theory because the object of study would be scientific communities and it would be difficult and (ahem!) ethically dubious to experiment on them... but the thought is worrisome when bearing in mind that the payoffs of the dynamic are (on first glance) structured like an N-person prisoner's dilemma with no obvious regulatory agent.

    If this is a failure mode of scientific disciplines, it would tend to occur where someone unilaterally broke with the cultural norms of academic science.

    EDIT in 2023: To augment the link, with a residual broken one, and a better link to a hopefully more stable archive that helps maintain the reliable infrastructure that supports Bacon's Project.

    Jennifer - He doesn't seriously want us to lock up our science libraries for good. He's using fiction to make a point about how people react to scarcity, and mysterious information:

    And no, I'm not seriously proposing that we try to reverse the last five hundred years of openness and classify all the science secret. At least, not at the moment. Efficiency is important for now, especially in things like medical research. I'm just explaining why it is that I won't tell anyone the Secret of how the ineffable difference between blueness and redness arises from mere atoms for less than $100,000 - Ahem! I meant to say, I'm telling you about this vision of an alternate Earth, so that you give science equal treatment with cults. So that you don't undervalue scientific truth when you learn it, just because it doesn't seem to be protected appropriately to its value. Imagine the robes and masks. Visualize yourself creeping into the vaults and stealing the Lost Knowledge of Newton. And don't be fooled by any organization that does use robes and masks, unless they also show you the data.

    "Other than modeling experiments, it's hard to even test the theory because the object of study would be scientific communities and it would be difficult and (ahem!) ethically dubious to experiment on them..."

    "You used every avenue available to you, in seeking knowledge; that was respected here."


    Brandon: If we're still discussing possible failures, I'd like to chuck in one of my own.

    • They didn't know that they were looking for a better theory.

    The students in this story have the incredible advantage that they are starting from a wrong theory and know this for certain, and not merely suspect or hold as a general philosophy-of-science principle 'there's probably a better theory than the current one'. This gives them several things psychologically: 1) the willingness to scrap painfully won insights and theories in favor of something new and 2) saves them from spending all their time and effort patching up the old theory.

    I know in the past when I've tried my hand at problems (logic puzzles come to mind) that I am far more motivated and effective when I am assured that there is in fact a correct answer than when I am unsure the question is even answerable.

    And a quick note to those who think I'm echoing Brennan: I am, here, but my point differs in that I don't think it was a matter of 'training'.

    I think if you abducted all the old greats, gave the necessary experimental data, and gave them a few months to produce the new theory before they were dragged out to the shed and shot, then they could do it just as well as these students. It's all about motivation.

    It's not a matter of competency at paradigm shifts, if you will; it's accepting that one needs to happen now and you are the one who needs to do it. But there's no normal way to convince a scientific community of this; isn't it true that most new paradigms fail to pan out?

    I have but one reply, which is "If you're so smart, why ain'cha rich?"

    Because he's got more important things to do with his life, like reducing "the chance of us all dying, conditional on somebody building a powerful AI".

    What does Eld mean? Elder science?


    Google is your friend:

    That'll teach me to just use Wikipedia.

    The best teacher I ever had was my computer science teacher from grades 11-12, and it seems he used many of the same improvements that are shown here.As soon as we had the learned the basic syntax we needed to write a program, he started giving us problems that are well beyond what any of us would expect ourselves to solve, things that may already have been finished in the programming community, but we were learning it as if we were the ones creating the algorithms. There is a thrill to looking at an impossible problem, with almost no help, except the assistance of your classmates, and trying to figure it out before an imminent deadline. Strangely, we always made it in time. :) You never forget the answer, because your mind was changed in the process of coming up with it, and with each breakthrough the next next one seems easier.

    However, there is a problem, my class had a pretty high dropout rate, even of those who were eager to program in the first place, so I am guessing that most people really cannot cope with an environment like that unless they are brought into it at an early age. What would it be like if we took a page out of one of your stories (the title escapes me), brought preschoolers out into the mountains with a herd of sheep, and put them in a situation where they needed to invent addition? After that, a few nudges would put them on the track to invent every other facet of the mathematical system, and eventually they might be strong enough that they could catch up with the more advanced stuff our way.

    There is a series of textbooks for grade/high school math called Art of Problem Solving that focus heavily on deriving one's own solution to the problem given evidence and maybe a hint or two. Not useful for those of us who are already out of school but could be used to train young'uns.

    Reminds me of this quote from Nisemonogatari:

    From John D. Cook:

    The main difficulty I’ve seen in tutoring math is that many students panic if they don’t see what to do within five seconds of reading a problem, maybe two seconds for some. A good high school math student may be able to stare at a problem for fifteen seconds without panicking. I suppose students have been trained implicitly to expect to see the next step immediately. Years of rote drill will do that to you.

    A good undergraduate math student can think about a problem for a few minutes before getting nervous. A grad student may be able to think about a problem for an hour at a time. Before Andrew Wiles proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, he thought about the problem for seven years.

    Comment removed for posterity.

    [This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

    Cool story, great insights, but I gotta say, huge planning fallacy on Jeffreyssai's part. Giving rigid deadlines on breakthroughs without actual experience with them or careful consideration of their internal mechanisms, and when the past examples are few and very diverse.

    I do agree that speed is important, but maybe let's show some humility about things that humans are apparently hard-wired to be bad at.