there are so many beautiful things about this post. i have only a smallish idea what you are talking about a good deal of the time, but i can easily understand this: "To form accurate beliefs about something, you really do have to observe it."
your posts here have helped solidify this for me. this is true, i feel strongly, for all great art, for reliable science, and for joy in living. observation is everything.
this sentence: "One of the chief morals of the mathematical analogy between thermodynamics and cognition is that the constraints of probability are inescapable; probability may be a "subjective state of belief", but the laws of probability are harder than steel."
man. this is one of those sentences i'll be meditating on for a while. god that's a good one. just simply as a piece of writing, that is nice work. i'm going to put it on a t-shirt or something. maybe a bumper sticker, see how many accidents i can cause on the way home...
this reminds me of The Dumpster.
also, i can't help but think of the concept of the Collective Unconscious, and the title of an old Philip K Dick story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
ok, without reading the above comments... (i did read a few of them, including robin hanson's first comment - don't know if he weighed in again).
dust specks over torture.
the apparatus of the eye handles dust specks all day long. i just blinked. it's quite possible there was a dust speck in there somewhere. i just don't see how that adds up to anything, even if a very large number is invoked. in fact with a very large number like the one described it is likely that human beings would evolve more efficient tear ducts, or faster blinking, or something like that. we would adapt and be stronger.
torturing one person for fifty years however puts a stain on the whole human race. it affects all of us, even if the torture is carried out fifty miles underground in complete secrecy.
here here, living out what is not true is much more painful - and not just in the long run. it is more painful every day.
i grew up a christian. there is a parable about a man who gives up everything he has in order to find the "pearl of great price" which he knows is buried in a field. so he sells everything to buy the field, and then he is able to legally dig up the treasure. in other words he's done the work and has the right to the reward. i know this will sound crazy to most christians, but giving up christianity was my way of selling everything i had to find the pearl of great price.
daaaaaaamn that's a good post. sums up exactly the way i feel about things. i'm not a scientist, but i do engage in observation, more as a poet than anything else in terms of what i end up doing or creating with that observation. the things i believe are the things i've observed. it wasn't always that way for me, but it is now.
i recently sat and listened to robert bly read lots of poetry. he talked a bit in an offhand way about writing poetry, and what he said was, if the last line you just wrote makes sense to you, cross it out.
somehow poets go straight to worship, if they are really operating at top form. but this worship poets engage in is not irresponsible, not if it is good. it might be hard to figure out which poetry hits this mark, but i have a sneaky suspicion that a rationalist in top form would be well suited to see it happening, perhaps moreso than many poets.
i can't help but see a few interesting ironies in this post.
the "mutants" in the world of the x-men are people who all have one and only one common "genetic" mutation. and that mutation is the ability to mutate, as you put it, "in one generation". that is itself the essential mutation that is common to all "mutants". the fact that they can move from normal human to super powered mutant in the space of one generation (their own lifetime) is exactly the point.
in other words, "control over lightning" is not the metaphor. shooting laser beams out of the eyes, or teleporting or flying or... whatever, none of those things are the metaphor. the metaphor is the ability to mutate in the space of one lifetime. and the stories they spin from that wellspring often have to do with the fallout, the blessings and curses that come from what the ability to mutate means for any particular individual.
it's a metaphor that works quite well, as long as you don't take it too literally. (pun not intended but i can't help noting it.) everyone wants to be able to adapt to circumstances within the course of their own lifetime in a way that puts them on top of their situation. an entire religion - buddhism - seems to rotate around this central idea. mostly buddhists seem to be saying that only in rare circumstances does one soul "mutate" into a state in which that soul truly achieves enlightenment. most of us have to keep spinning on the great wheel and reincarnating until we get it right. i'm not a buddhist so i may be getting this wrong, at least in terms of emphasis.
for you, your "super power" or "mutation" is your understanding of scientific models or rational ways of thinking. it seems to me that you have achieved quite a bit along these lines. you started thinking about these things at a young age, coincidentally (or not?) about the same time stan lee's mutants discover their powers, as a budding teenager. (hopefully i'm remembering your recent post correctly.) in my sparsely informed viewpoint, entirely based on the posts i've read here, you have been driven by something intrinsic to you to understand the world in just the way you do now. everything led you to the point you are at now. there were things that were obvious to you at a young age that were not, i assure you, obvious to most other people.
you might phrase that very differently, and with much greater precision, and without all the biases and faulty logic that i'm sure infect my own thinking.
if you think about it though, you'll see that in some way you are a kind of mutant. you are the exception, not the rule. you started to think about things, at a young age, in a way that most people never get to. it may be that you come from a long line of such thinkers. the further out i push the metaphor, the shakier it gets. at the end of the day it's about discovering your own inherent powers and using them in a way that is, hopefully, best for you and for the people around you.
that is AWESOME. your girlfriend rocks.
i think that you've built quite an audience here. i wouldn't normally be curious about a book like that, but in your case i'll be VERY interested to see what you come up with. i'd think the traffic you guys get here would be a big plus for any publisher, but what do i know? i'm just a guy planning to buy your book.
the blog/blook is great, but i have to admit many times i wish i had it in a more accessible format, like the small "for popular press" kind of book you mention. something i can ruminate over. i'm planning to work through as much as i can and teach my daughter as much as i am able. i think about that almost every time i come here. also, hoping that you definitely include the material on Orwell and Belief in Belief. those two series stand out for me, and probably my all time fave from around that time period, the post you did titled explain/worship/ignore, i have that one bookmarked.