All of Suspended Reason's Comments + Replies

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Hey Cobblepot. Super useful link. I was not aware of that concept handle, "conceptual fragmentation"—helps fill in the picture. Not surprising someone else has gotten frustrated with the endless "What is X?" philosophizing.

It sounds to me like this idea of "successful" looks a lot like the "bettabilitarian" view of the American pragmatists, like CS Peirce—the cash value of a theory is how it performs predictively. Does that sound right to you? Some links to evolutionary epistemology—what "works" sticks around as theory, what fails to work gets kicked out.

M... (read more)

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Yes, Sally Haslinger and philosophers in her orbit are the go-to citations on a "therapeutic" engineering program. The idea is removing what Cappelen and Plunkett call "moral defects" from our language. I'm a little more skeptical of such programs to top-down re-engineer words on moral considerations, for reasons hopefully obvious to a reader of dystopian sci-fi or James C. Scott. I advocate instead doctrines of non-intervention & illumination:

  • The doctrine of non-intervention. Concepts should—in part because they can only, with any efficacy—be engineer
... (read more)
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

You might be interested in a post I wrote on some of the ethical problems of top down conceptual engineering: https://spilledreality.tumblr.com/post/620396933292408832/engineering-doctrines

I scold Cappelan & co a bit for exhibiting some of the high modernist tendencies James Scott critiques so well, and argue for a doctrine of non-interventionism

4Aapje5moOne good way to think about concepts might be as a goods with network effects in a marketplace. So there is a cost to learning a concept (the price of the concept) and the concept has to be considered useful enough for people to freely adopt it. Yet not all goods are bought freely, but they can be forced on people, as well, just like concepts can. The more people use the same concept, the higher the network effect value, similar to how beneficial it is for people to use the same fuel in their car. Yet those network effects also reduce diversity, but not all. It's sufficiently beneficial to have separate options for diesel and gas, despite the costs of having two different fuels. And just like with goods, network effects are not homogeneous, but there tend to be 'bubbles'. Aviation fuel is died to be able to tax it separately, which works because planes don't tend to use regular gas stations nor do cars fuel up at airports. Jargon has value because of these bubbles (and the lack of understanding by people outside of the bubble can be a feature, just like people choose what goods to buy in part to keep themselves in a certain bubble). Etc. One might therefor compare centralized and top-down conceptualizing to central planning and expect to see somewhat similar downsides.
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Hmmm, after giving it a day, I feel like I may have unfairly or unproductively bombarded you here, so know I won't be offended if I don't get a response. 

I'll try to read some of the recommendations, and perhaps in a while I can come back to this conversation with more of value to contribute.

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Appreciate the thorough response; there are some good recs here. I haven't read any of Chrysippus, and my knowledge of the Epicureans is limited to their moral philosophy (alongside that of the Stoics). That said, I can't help but get the feeling you're negging me a little with the references to skeptics, continentals, and professorial assistance! Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm less a rationalist than my presence here might imply—Bourdieu's symbolic capital and ethology's signaling theory are interchangeable in my book.  Also fortunately or unfortu... (read more)

1peak.singularity4mo"Puzzle-playing" reminds me of Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [https://www.amazon.com/Structure-Scientific-Revolutions-50th-Anniversary/dp/0226458121/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&qid=1526661138&sr=8-2&keywords=structure+of+scientific+revolutions+kuhn&linkCode=ll1&tag=samzdat-20&linkId=785402215d61d7f889dc8790887eea75] : https://samzdat.com/2018/05/19/science-under-high-modernism/ [https://samzdat.com/2018/05/19/science-under-high-modernism/] So, that's just academia for you, except it might be worse in the Philosophy department, for all the reasons that you outline ?
Meaning is Quasi-Idempotent

It's the set of notes that lead up to Philosophical Investigations! I haven't read PI so I unfortunately can't give good advice in choosing between them.

It sounds like you're right where you need to be though. I'd be curious your takeaways once you finish Investigations!

Meaning is Quasi-Idempotent

Some of your comments here are quite Wittgensteinian, so I recommend his Blue Book or Tractatus, but I'd imagine you've already encountered his ideas.

Literary theory has had about a hundred-year discourse over this question, though they're interested in literary, textual meaning specifically. Still, pretty much all of the proposals to come out of that discourse are what I've called "narrow and conquer" strategies—meaning is just and solely what the author intended, or the reader understood, or some aggregate of all reader understandings (perhaps all native... (read more)

2Chris_Leong5moI'm currently reading through Investigations and I've read the secondary literature on Tractatus, but what's the Blue Book about?
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Thanks for the thorough reply! This makes me want to read Aristotle. Is the Nichomachean preface the best place to start? I'll confess my own response here is longer than ideal—apologies!

Protagoras seems like an example of a Greek philosopher arguing against essences or forms as defined in some “supersensory” realm, and for a more modern understanding of concepts as largely carved up by human need and perception. (Folks will often argue, here, that species are more or less a natural category, but species are—first—way more messy constructed than most peopl... (read more)

8Crotchety_Crank5moThanks for the reply. I'll try to reply comprehensively, sorry if I miss anything. To start with - Aristotle. What Aristotle Taught I'm going to break this into two parts - the part about logic, and the part about concepts. Logic first. Aristotle indeed wrote six works on logic and reasoning, which are most often collectively called the Organon. Most of it is developing a valid system of syllogistic logic. The really nice part about syllogistic logic is that correct syllogisms are indisputably valid (but not indisputably sound) [https://iep.utm.edu/val-snd/]. Aristotle is totally clear about this. He showed - correctly - that logic, correctly applied, makes your conclusions as true as your premises (i.e. logic is valid); but that alone still doesn't entitle you to certainty about your conclusions, as you can't trust your premises any more than you could from the start (i.e., validity is not soundness). In The Parable of Hemlock [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/bcM5ft8jvsffsZZ4Y/the-parable-of-hemlock], ctrl+F "the Greeks." Eliezer's issue isn't with syllogism. It's with something different: the assertion that "all men are mortal" by definition. Aristotle says nothing of the sort, least of all in the Organon; he just uses the statement as a hypothetical premise to demonstrate the form of valid syllogism, the same way you might use a sample like "all frogs are green, Harold is a frog, Harold is green" as a lesson of validity in a logic class, regardless of whether purple dart frogs exist. The text that most clearly shows this is the Topics, where Aristotle characterizes good arguments as constructed by using syllogism (as characterized in the earlier works of the Organon) or enthymematic syllogism, especially when the syllogism begins from established beliefs (endoxa) as premises. Explicitly, these endoxa like "all men are mortal" are not certain or guaranteed to be true; but they are better than wild speculation, especially if you are trying to persuade someone. S
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Hey Crotchety_Crank,

Your name does suit you. I have in fact read (AFAIK good translations of) Plato and the Sophists! Very little Aristotle, and you're correct I fell asleep once or twice during an ancient phil course. Not, however, during the Plato lectures, and my prof—a hot young philosopher recently tenured at NYU—presented a picture of Platonic forms that agrees with my own account. I don't at all mean to imply that reading is the only correct interpretation, but it's a common and perhaps dominant one—several credible sources I've encountered call it ... (read more)

Thanks, I picked the name myself.  This is a new account because I haven't commented before, but I'm long familiar with this community and its thought - and its norms.  Given those norms, I probably should have cooled off a bit before posting that comment.  Let me try again.  I apologize in advance for the length of the below, but charity takes more work and therefore more words.

Fairness to the Ancients

I think we're talking past one another.  Plato was definitely a Platonist, and he definitely employed counterfactual reasoning. &nb... (read more)

The Dark Miracle of Optics

Thank for the tip on fn 7, it's a pull from an Axelrod & Hamilton paper! Updated.

How long have I been doing what?

Edit: I'll give some possible answers, been blogging regularly six or seven years, been lurking LessWrong four years, writing here a few months, and got into game theory six to eight months ago, though haven't had as much time as I'd like to dig around in it. Still really need to ready Schelling, and would love to do reading on multiagent simulation.

The Dark Miracle of Optics

Ah thank you, looks like they all got jammed together in the formatting.

Hope you enjoyed reading!

5Pattern1yI did. It's great to see this all in one place - it connects a lot of dots, and a long, good read. After checking both I discovered [7] doesn't appear on either. Have you been doing this for a long time?
In praise of contributing examples, analogies and lingo

It's always been a bit of a mystery to me why examples are so hard to generate. Once I thought my own struggle to get a handful of good examples together was good evidence my thesis was weak, but I'm less sure of that now.

Even when examples do present themselves they are never "quite right"; there are so often other factors in the outcome, beyond your simply toy model, that it would require much handwaving and disclaimer to persuade relevance.

And yet, as you say, they're butter to argument's bread.

2adamzerner1yYeah, I feel the exact same way.
Sporting vs. Herding: two styles of discourse

Good pointer on nearest unblocked problem; that's a very good analogy and I'll have to think more about it. What kind of solutions might present themselves if we look at it through this frame?


I agree about passive aggression, but I'd also point out that "herding" culture is somewhat different from nurture.

Sporting vs. Herding: two styles of discourse

My intuition would be that having categories would make these behavioral patterns legible and recognizable to others, potentially defanging them. Of course, as soon as they're "spotted," behaviors will shift evasively, but the core problem here seems to be reifying object-level behavior that at some historical point for some people, coincided with predation (e.g. "nice guy behavior") rather than identifying the higher-level, abstract patterns.

Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

Yeah! That was my thought as well. Unfortunately, despite combing through fashion theory, there's not much literature on the subject; I've had to make a lot of it up as I go. I wrote a bit in the essay linked above about it:

In the Upper-Middle Paleolithic Transition, human societies and economies grow increasingly complex. Trade deals and diplomacy are performed among credible spokesmen, and social hierarchies need preservation across interactions between strangers. Fashion enters as a technology for maintaining and navigating the social graph. &
... (read more)
Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

I want to pick at Simler & Hanson's "relevance constraint" as meaningful evidence of a signaling thesis. There is a much simpler explanation for why conversations travel along throughlines of pertinence, which first must be dealt with, and accorded causational influence, before we get carried away with signaling: human cognition is fundamentally associative (see not just Lakoff & Hofstadter but William James). Our thought bounces from one relation to the next; this much is self-evidently clear. Why would two individuals performing co... (read more)

Signaling: Why People Have Conversations

Can you talk more about the movement of signaling frontiers? I'd be super appreciative of an example if possible. I assume your mention of Goodharting is the idea that as soon as something becomes legible as a reliable signal of a quality, it'll be optimized for and cease being reliable. This is the movement of the signaling frontier, I take it?

I've read through the papers you recommended in a previous comment, which I incorporated into The Dark Miracle of Optics, but I'd love to continue this conversation with you. Is there somewhere&... (read more)

3romeostevensit1yThe easiest way to think about it is the creation of new platforms: radio, tv, internet, social media. Each develops its own vocabulary which is initially extremely effective due to the lack of anti-bodies in the general population, leading to rapid spread and fixation in the population (like herpes simplex). Banner ads->google ad words->instagram influencing etc. I'm glad you linked your post, I check LW intermittently and missed it. WRT what exists out there: AFAIK this is pretty close to the frontier and not much game theory etc work has been done yet. The airforce has funded some agent based modeling recently.
3ChristianKl1yLooking at fashion might yield a lot of this pattern. You first have high class people dress a certain way. Afterwards lower class people copy the way of dressing and it stops being a high class signal.
Situating LessWrong in contemporary philosophy: An interview with Jon Livengood

Thank you! I'd be very curious to hear what didn't resonate, since I'm working the ongoing MetaSequences project, but of course you're very busy, so only if you think it'd be valuable for both of us!

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

re: meta-sequences, thank you! It's proven a much bigger and more difficult project than I'd naively imagined, insofar as I began realizing that my own readings of the original or secondary texts were not even remotely adequate, and that I needed to have extensive conversations with people closer to the field in order to understand the intellectual context that makes e.g. the subtle differences in Carnapian linguistics vs that of other logical positivists so salient.

The project will likely end up focusing mostly on language and reality (map and t... (read more)

1peak.singularity4moWhy do you think that "relativism is in some ways the nemesis of LW philosophy" ? (BTW, I hate the way the word is used, "relative" doesn't mean "equal" !) From what I see, LW actually started out focused on Truth as the core value, but then since the community is pretty smart, it figured out that this way led to relativism and/or nihilism (?) and pretty bad outcomes : https://samzdat.com/2018/03/07/everything-is-going-according-to-plan/ [https://samzdat.com/2018/03/07/everything-is-going-according-to-plan/] So, a strategic change of direction has been attempted towards "Winning" as the core value. Did I get that right ?
1Rudi C1yThanks for the long reply. An aside: I think "moderate relativism" is somewhat tautologically true, but I also think it's a very abused and easy-to-abuse idea that shouldn't be acknowledged with these terms. I think that perhaps saying morality is "value-centric" or "protocol-based" (each referring to a different part of "morality". By the second part, I mean a social protocol for building consensus and coordination.) is a better choice of words. After all, relativism implies that, e.g., we can't punish people who do honor killings. This is mostly false, and does not follow from the inherent arbitrariness of morality. On our inability to fight bad epistemics: I think this is somewhat of an advantage. It seems to me that "traditional rationality" was/is mostly focused on this problem of consensus-truth, but LW abandoned that fort and instead saw that smarter, more rational people could do better for themselves if they stopped fighting the byzantine elements of more normal people. So in LW we speak of the importance of priors and Bayes, which is pretty much a mindkiller for "religious" (broadly conceived) people. A theist will just say that his prior in god is astronomical (which might actually be true) and so the current Bayes factor does not make him not believe. All in all, building an accurate map is a different skillset than making other people accept your map. It might be a good idea to treat them somewhat separately. My own suspicion is that there is something akin to the g factor for being rational, and of course, the g factor itself is highly relevant. So in my mind, I think making normal people "rational" might not even be possible. Sure, (immense) improvement is possible, but I doubt most people will come to "our" ways. For one, epistemic rationality often makes me one worse off by default, especially in more "normal" social settings. I have often contrasted my father's intelligent irrationality with my own rationality, and he usually comes much ahead.
4Jayson_Virissimo1yGood call, I'll link to it from the poll.
Simulacra Levels and their Interactions

Re-reading this, it strikes me that an entity communicating purely on the first level is himself a drone, not an agent. He is a slave to the territory, and can only report its condition, even when it may harm him. (See Kant's thought experiment about an ax murderer who enters your home and demands knowledge of where your friend is hidden.)

Simulacra Levels and their Interactions

Any chance you could point me to some keywords/authors/texts on this topic? I'd love to learn more.

6romeostevensit1yI'd chase citations+check connected papers from these two high level reviews: https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsif.2012.0997 [https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/pdf/10.1098/rsif.2012.0997] https://arxiv.org/pdf/1705.07161.pdf [https://arxiv.org/pdf/1705.07161.pdf]
Simulacra Levels and their Interactions

My research into animal mimicry, which closely resembles Baudrillardian simulacra, makes me think the slide in language/signaling from the first to second step is a potentially intractable problem. Once some association in information-space develops a reputation among situated actors, and is recognized as open to manipulation which benefits some of those actors at the cost of others... well, there's no way to break the freeriders of dishonest signaling.

Let's say that a black and red phenotype on a butterfly develops a reputation among predators ... (read more)

2romeostevensit1ySignaling frontier moves. Movement speed depends, as you note, on how rapidly the noisy channel becomes a sexual or survival impediment. There is some research on this in game theory but only rudimentary simulations of populations forming high trust networks using unfakeably costly signals to out compete the free riders since they can internalize the benefits of their network.
1ioannes1yGreat analogy. Do you have examples of equilibria around these dynamics in the animal world? Do you have a sense of how stable these equilibria are? e.g. do toxic black-and-red butterflies persist after their non-toxic lookalikes arrive?
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Yes, I think it all depends whether you find the criticisms of Socratic dialogue, logical positivism, and "tree falls in a forest"-type questions raised on this board since the late 00s compelling.

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

I agree, and think many conceptual engineering-type philosophers would agree, about natural language. The problem is that when you're applying rigorous analysis to a "naturally" grown structure like "truth" or "knowledge," you run into serious issues. Kevin Scharp's project (e.g.) is just to improve the philosophical terms, not to interfere with mainstream use.

Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Though I don't know much about it, I take "meaning as use" as a vague proto-version of the more explicit theories of fuzziness, polysemy, and "family resemblance" he'd develop later in his life. In some sense, it merely restates descriptivism; in another less literal sense, it's a tonal subversion of more classical understandings of meaning.

Conceptual engineering takes a very different stance from mere descriptivism; it specifically thinks philosophers ought to "grasp the language by its reins" and carve up word... (read more)

2Chris_Leong1yOh, one more thing I forgot to mention. This idea of Conceptual Engineering seems highly related to what I was discussing in Constructive Definitions [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/Zr8os45eMwK6hRRdr/constructive-definitions]. I'm sure this kind of idea has a name in epistemology as well, although unfortunately, I haven't had the time to investigate.
Conceptual engineering: the revolution in philosophy you've never heard of

Yes, so the premise of Chalmers's lecture, and many other texts being published right now in conceptual engineering (a quickly growing field) is to first treat and define "conceptual engineering" using conceptual engineering—a strange ouroboros. Other philosophers are doing more applied work; see Kevin Scharp's version of conceptual engineering in his work on truth, or Sally Haslanger's version of it, "ameliorative analysis." But broadly, Chalmers's tentative definition is fine as a generic-enough umbrella: co... (read more)

3romeostevensit1yHow to Philosophize with a Hammer and Chisel
In Search of Slack
If there was a single allele that coded for the half of the irreducibly complex eye it could become fixed even though having a half of eye is, strictly speaking, worse than not having an eye at all.

I understand this was a toy example, so I feel bad nitpicking, but I've never quite understood why this example is so popular. While eyeballs are incredibly complex, one must imagine that "half an eyeball" is in fact very advantageous: it can likely sense light, some movement.

Thought the connection of slack to randomness was provocative, though!

2kinginthecastle1yDoesn't that mean it isn't irreducibly complex?