Born August 1991 (extrapolate age from there). Doesn't identify with gender (also does not identify as nonbinary) but presents male out of habit/convenience. Lives alone. Carries on imaginary conversations out loud to think due to lack of inner monologue. Aspiring aspiring rationalist.

Wiki Contributions


I understand that you do not assume Beauty's experiences are identical on Monday and Tuesday. Rather, my understanding is that you assume that "the set of things it is possible for Beauty to experience on Monday" is identical to "the set of things it is possible for Beauty to experience on Tuesday". Is my understanding incorrect?

I raised this objection on Ksvanhorn's initial post, though it came rather late, so I'm not sure if anyone saw it. You'll have to forgive me in advance, as most of this math is beyond my current level of familiarity.

In the original post, Ksvanhorn states:

The statement of the problem implies that the distributions for PM and PT, conditional on H being false, are identical, but not necessarily independent.

My understanding is that Neal's solution assumes that the sets of possible experience streams for Sleeping Beauty before answering the question are identical on both Monday and Tuesday. Furthermore, this "stream of experiences" includes events of arbitrarily small significance (one example given was the movement of a fly on the wall).

If my understanding is correct (and given that I don't understand most of the math involved, it's certainly possible that it's not), it seems to be trivial to disprove this assumption. Through the course of the experiment, time passes. Sleeping Beauty ages. If something as insignificant as a fly on the wall or a change in heart rate is relevant enough to be included in these calculations, then Sleeping Beauty's aging over the course of two should also be.

She cannot be two days older on Monday, and she cannot be one day older on Tuesday. All of her internal bodily functions proceed as normal. Her fingernails grow. Her hair grows. Any kind of wound condition that required healing will have progressed. Does she eat? Go to the bathroom? If we can condition on a nebulous "everything" that can include basically insignificant differences in experience, I can think of any number of much less insignificant differences that are affected by the passage of time, and thus cannot be identical on both Monday and Tuesday.

I feel like you might be appealing to consequences here a bit. Whether or not it is tractable in theory to follow the rule as an absolute (that is, to the letter) is a different problem from whether or not people will actually choose to do so.

It seems that Scott is more concerned about finding a formulation that can be followed to the letter in theory, while at the same time he has already conceded that most people will not choose to do so regardless of the formulation (and will thus follow the spirit instead).

You make a good point. I didn't sufficiently define what good or "honorable" debate looks like, so that's a massive hole in my reasoning. Thanks for bringing that up!

I very much appreciate your feedback, thank you!

I'm completely in agreement with you as to your proposed structure of article-writing, and in thinking about future pieces, I've visualized them in exactly those terms. As it happens, I actually did exactly that for this piece, since it grew from a separate piece that was getting very off-topic.

That said, my Glide Meditations aren't really meant to be a "cohesive" body of work in the sense that they build off of each other to reach a final conclusion. They're more like individual reading responses similar to something you'd write for a class, more a stream-of-consciousness than anything else, and they're mostly intended to track my own progress in processing what I read, rather than being directly aimed at providing fresh insight (though it'd be nice if they accomplished both!). I realize that's probably not what most people are looking for here, particularly from someone without an otherwise representative body of work, so I'll just have to accept that.

Thank you again for taking the time to comment, especially since negative feedback can so often be either mean-spirited (which yours certainly was not) or worse, unsaid, which doesn't help anyone. I appreciate you taking the time!

I think this post beautifully (though indirectly) illustrates a few things:

  • the importance of debating only those "in front of you"
  • the importance of separating personal ideas from group ideas
  • the relative futility of debating against or on behalf of a group

In the first example you give, the error in pointing out a motte-and-bailey is that a motte-and-bailey hasn't actually occurred in the context of the conversation. If we bring up the bailey before it has actually been presented as an argument, we imply that we expect the other person to use it, and by extension, that they will argue in bad faith. The appropriate defense then (assuming you're telling the truth) is: "There may be some people who make that argument, but I haven't and I'm not going to, because I don't agree with it. Let's focus on the arguments each of us is actually making, okay?"

Similarly, if we make the argument "You belong to this group, and members of this group often use that statement as a motte, but they assert corresponding bailey X when they think they can get away with it", then we are assuming that the other person's beliefs are perfectly in line with our perception of their group's beliefs. This is also incorrect, and on two levels this time: we don't know that this person believes everything the group believes unless they say so, and we don't know if we have an accurate understanding of what their group believes if we are not part of it (or sometimes even if we are!).

We can take this even farther! Suppose the other person belongs to Group X, whose leadership or designated representative (or group of representatives) maintains a publicly-available platform, manifesto, or statement of purpose that clearly lays out what the group as a whole believes. In that case, we might be able to say we understand what the group believes, but we still can't say for sure what the group member in front of us believes, because they still don't necessarily need to agree with everything the group says (though such incongruity can sometimes open up other avenues of debate). In both of the preceding examples, the appropriate defense would be: "I may be a member of Group X [and Group X might as a whole support argument Y], but there are places where Group X and I disagree, including argument Y. Let's focus on the arguments we each make personally, okay?"

It's also important not to get baited into arguing against something we don't personally believe. Unless we're acting in an official capacity as a member of Group X, I think it's totally okay to refuse to engage when someone brings up the group's platform by saying something like "As a member of Group X, I do have an understanding of why some members use Argument Y, but I don't agree with Argument Y, so I'm not going to defend it."

In other words, I think it's fine to point out a motte-and-bailey, but only when someone has actually used it. It seems like the real issue is people pointing it out when it hasn't happened, as Davide_Zagami has already pointed out.

It may be that none of my readers need the lecture at this point, but I've learned to be cautious about that sort of thing, so I'll walk through the difference anyways.

One of my favorite literature professors used to tell me that one should always write under the assumption that each piece one writes is the first piece of one's work that the reader has encountered. Not only does this make one's writing more accessible (because odds are there will be someone for whom that is true!), it also helps us to be internally consistent, because we have to summarize our reasoning rather than take shortcuts because we assume our audience already knows.

Not to commit the fallacy of the golden mean or anything, but the two viewpoints are both metatools in the metatoolbox, as it were. You're better off if you can use both in ways that depend on context and circumstance, rather than insisting that only toolbox reasoning is the universally best context-insensitive metaway to think.

I think you're committing the fallacy of the golden mean. "Metatools" are still tools, and "metatoolboxes" are still toolboxes. If I'm understanding you correctly, and your point is "Toolbox thinking and lawful thinking are metatools in metatoolboxes, and should be used accordingly", then you actually are arguing that toolbox reasoning is the universally best context-insensitive metaway to think.

Heck, right at the very beginning of this essay, you described the toolbox way of thinking as "[having] a big bag of tools that you can adapt to context and circumstance", and you used that same wording almost verbatim to state your main argument about metatools and metatoolboxes. So it would appear that you are ultimately arguing in favor of toolbox thinking, yet for some reason saying you're not. Have I misunderstood something somewhere?

I suddenly have the strangest compulsion to go and summarize the entire Bible in this style... really gave me good laugh. Thank you for this, truly. :)

Maybe your point is that "lie" feels like a natural category in a way that "meta-lie" doesn't, so basing your clear bright moral lines around the latter category feels unduly arbitrary?

You've actually hit the nail right on the head and put my thoughts into words I couldn't quite find, thank you.

Any moral code that contains non-absolute rules (in this case, "Don't lie, except when...") will of course require some amount of arbitrariness to distinguish it from the infinite range of other possibilities, but given the amount of difficulty the prohibition on "meta-lies" introduces if you decide to also uphold the prohibition on gathering object-level information, it definitely feels excessively arbitrary.

Really, the whole thing would work just fine if we were to pick just one of those restrictions: either don't gather object-level information (but be free to meta-lie), or don't meta-lie (but be okay with gathering object-level information). Dealing with both is, as far as I'm concerned, intractable to the point of uselessness.

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