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A lot of truths in EY's post. Though I also agree with Hopefully Anon's observations -- as is so often the case, Eliezer reminds me of Descartes -- brilliant, mathematical, uncowed by dogma, has his finger on the most important problems, is aware of how terrifyingly daunting those problems are, thinks he has a universal method to solve those problems.

Eliezer, I don't think your comments would slight sensible philosophers, since many professional philosophers themselves make comparable or more biting criticisms about the discipline (Rorty, Dennett, Unger, now the experimental philosophy movement, et al., going back to the positivists, and, if you like, the Pyrrhonists and atomists). I'm afraid not only have philosophers already written extensively on meta-ethics, but they've also generated an extensive literature on anti-philosophy. They've been there, done that -- too! I think Tyrell McAllister is quite right to say that since philosophy largely consists of folks who can't agree on the most workable models, your functional interests will tend to be frustrated by philosophy. Like your estimable hero Dick Feynman (who, according to Len Mlodinow, averred that "philosophy is bullshit"), it'd be better for you simply to get on with your tasks at hand, and not expect much help from philosophy -- to find the worthwhile stuff you'd have to become one. Maybe you can do that after the FAI builds you an immortal corporeal form.

but where is the equivalent statement by a (seventeenth-century) Western philosopher?

Descartes, ca. 1628:

Rules for the Direction of the Mind

Rule One The aim of our studies should be to direct the mind with a view to forming true and sound judgments about whatever comes before it.

[...] We have reason to propose this as our very first rule, since what makes us stray from the correct way of seeking the truth is chiefly our ignoring the general end of universal wisdom and directing our studies towards some particular ends. I do not mean vile and despicable ends such as empty glory or base gain [...] I have in mind, rather, respectable and commendable ends, for these are often more subtly misleading....


We ought to read the writings of the ancients, for it is of great advantage to be able to make use of the labors of so many men. We should do so both in order to learn what truths have already been discovered and also to be informed about the points which remain to be worked out in the various disciplines. But at the same time there is a considerable danger that if we study these works too closely traces of their errors will infect us and cling to us against our will and despite our precautions.


Eliezer, I grasp the obvious utility of probability -- I pay for a variety of insurance policies, after all. But there are many claims (many of which you share with us on a daily basis) that you treat as having a probability of 1. About those claims, I find your assertion that you do not "believe" them to be a purely verbal distinction.

Eliezer said:

I'm a Bayesian. I assign probabilities, not "believe". I penalize hypotheses by their unshared complexity and update based on evidence. If probabilities come out even, then I don't "suspend judgment", I judge that the probabilities are even, and plan accordingly.

For an avowed admirer of Orwell's famous essay on English, I am surprised to see you resort to distinctions without differences. Whatever you call it (n.b. the euphemism "judge" in the last sentence quoted above), you draw a line between some claims you work with and your motor cortex acts on, and other claims you don't. That is, in plain English, you believe some claims are true and others are false.

Did you just believe that Descartes was modeling "cognitive-process flow" because some psychologist told you so? Or is possible that Descartes was, y'know, prescribing how rationalists should approach belief, rather than how we generally do?

Rather than just "applause lights", sloganeering often is a cue to group-identification. Cf. postmodern text generators.

Eliezer: "How could anyone not notice this?"

Because the human brain -- like many simpler programs -- generally finds basic beliefs more practical than an infinite regress?

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