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I understand why elan vital is a mysterious answer, but what makes the question mysterious? Isn't the question "why does living matter move?" a perfectly intelligible one, and the point is simply that we can do a lot better in answering it than "elan vital"?


I would like to suggest that the concept of "beauty" in art, relationships and even evolutionary biology seems to satisfy EY's criteria of being a mysterious answer.

If I ask, "how does the male peacock attract female peacocks" and one answers "because his tail is big and beautiful", haven't they failed to answer my question? Beauty in this response is a 1- curiosity stopper, 2- has no moving parts, 3- Is often uttered by people with a great deal of pride (the painting is so beautiful!), and 4- leaves the phenomenon a mystery (In the case of the peacock, I still don't really know why female peacocks like big colorful tails).


It seems we have empirical and non-empirical beliefs that can both be rational, but what we mean by “rational” has a different sense in each case. We call empirical beliefs “rational” when we have good evidence for them, we call non-empirical beliefs like the PoF “rational” when we find that they have a high utility value, meaning there is a lot we can do with the principle (it excludes maps that can’t conform to any territory).

To answer my original question, it seems a consequence of this is that the PoF doesn’t apply to itself, as it is a principle that is meant for empirical beliefs only. Because the PoF is a different kind of belief from an empirical belief, it need not be falsifiable, only more useful than our current alternatives. What do you think about that?


Thank you for your thoughts.

What are the criteria that we use for accepting or refuting rational non-empirical beliefs? You mention that falsifiability would be refuted if some other criteria “secured the advance of science.” You also mention that we should give up the refutability criterion if “sheer dogmatism conduces to the growth of knowledge.” It sounds like our criteria for the refutability of non-empirical beliefs are mostly practical; we accept the epistemic assumptions that make things “work best.” Is there more to it than this?


Thanks for the reply Dave. Are you saying I should not look at falsifiability as a belief, but rather a tool of some sort? That distinction sounds interesting but is not 100% clear to me. Perhaps someone should do a larger post about why the principle should not be applied to itself.

I have also thought of putting the problem this way: Eliezer states that the only ideas worth having are the ones we would be willing to give up. Is he willing to give up that idea? I don't think so..., and I would be really interested to know why he doesn't believe this to be a contradiction.


I understand that having beliefs that are falsifiable in principle and make predictions about experience is incredibly important. But I have always wondered if my belief in falsifiability was itself falsifiable. In any possible universe I can imagine it seems that holding the principle of falsifiability for our beliefs would be a good idea. I can't imagine a universe or an experience that would make me give this up.

How can I believe in the principle of falsifiability that is itself unfalsifiable?! I feel as though something has gone wrong in my thinking but I can't tell what. Please help!


I think it depends on that, and only that, and should be completely disconnected from any social criteria such as "being contagious."

Also, Eliezer writes, "If your model of reality suggests that the outputs of your thought processes should not be contagious to others, then your model says that your beliefs are not themselves evidence, meaning they are not entangled with reality."

This seems false. Should LW thinkers take it as a problem that our methods are usually completely lost on, for example, fundamentalist scientologists? In fact, I don't think it's a stretch to claim that most people do not subscribe to LW methods, does that suggest a problem with LW methods? Do LW methods fail the test of being contagious and therefore fail the test of being reliable methods for acquiring evidence?


Great article, I have only this one comment:

"If your beliefs are entangled with reality, they should be contagious among honest folk."

Haven't true and false beliefs both proven to be contagious among honest folk? Just as we should not use a machine that beeps for all numbers as evidence for winning lottery numbers, we should not use whether or not a belief is contagious as evidence of its truth.


Is this group still active in St. Louis? I'm new to LW and would like to participate in a group doing a systematic study of the sequences. Anybody out there?


Thank you Komponisto! Apparently, my brain works similar to yours on this matter. Here is a video by Richard Carrier explaining Bayes' theorem that I also found helpful.

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