Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions
A sequence on how to see through the disguises of answers or beliefs or statements, that don't answer or say or mean anything.
Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions is the first (and probably most important) core sequence in Less Wrong. Posts in the sequence are distributed from 28 Jul 07 to 11 Sep 07.
- 1 Main sequence
- 1.1 Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences)
- 1.2 Belief in Belief
- 1.3 Bayesian Judo
- 1.4 Professing and Cheering
- 1.5 Belief as Attire
- 1.6 Focus Your Uncertainty
- 1.7 The Virtue of Narrowness
- 1.8 Your Strength As A Rationalist
- 1.9 Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence
- 1.10 Conservation of Expected Evidence
- 1.11 Hindsight Bias
- 1.12 Hindsight Devalues Science
- 1.13 Fake Explanations
- 1.14 Guessing the Teacher's Password
- 1.15 Science as Attire
- 1.16 Fake Causality
- 1.17 Semantic Stopsigns
- 1.18 Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions
- 1.19 The Futility of Emergence
- 1.20 Say Not "Complexity"
- 1.21 Positive Bias: Look Into the Dark
- 1.22 My Wild and Reckless Youth
- 1.23 Failing to Learn from History
- 1.24 Making History Available
- 1.25 Explain/Worship/Ignore?
- 1.26 "Science" as Curiosity-Stopper
- 1.27 Applause Lights
- 1.28 Chaotic Inversion
- 2 See also:
- 3 Formats:
Not every belief that we have is directly about sensory experience, but beliefs should pay rent in anticipations of experience. For example, if I believe that "Gravity is 9.8 m/s^2" then I should be able to predict where I'll see the second hand on my watch at the time I hear the crash of a bowling ball dropped off a building. On the other hand, if your postmodern English professor says that the famous writer Wulky is a "post-utopian", this may not actually mean anything. The moral is to ask "What experiences do I anticipate?" not "What statements do I believe?"
Suppose someone claims to have a dragon in their garage, but as soon as you go to look, they say, "It's an invisible dragon!" The remarkable thing is that they know in advance exactly which experimental results they shall have to excuse, indicating that some part of their mind knows what's really going on. And yet they may honestly believe they believe there's a dragon in the garage. They may perhaps believe it is virtuous to believe there is a dragon in the garage, and believe themselves virtuous. Even though they anticipate as if there is no dragon.
You can have some fun with people whose anticipations get out of sync with what they believe they believe...
On a panel on the compatibility of science and religion, a scientifically educated pagan panelist holds forth interminably on how she "believes" that Earth began with a giant primordial cow being born from the primordial abyss.
When you've stopped anticipating-as-if something, but still believe it is virtuous to believe it, this does not create the true fire of the child who really does believe. On the other hand, it is very easy for people to be passionate about group identification - sports teams, political sports teams - and this may account for the passion of beliefs worn as team-identification attire.
A TV pundit finds they have only 100 minutes to spend on preparing to explain why one of three different possible events was fully predicted by their pet theory.
It was perfectly all right for Isaac Newton to explain just gravity, just the way things fall down - and how planets orbit the Sun, and how the Moon generates the tides - but not the role of money in human society or how the heart pumps blood. Sneering at narrowness is rather reminiscent of ancient Greeks who thought that going out and actually looking at things was manual labor, and manual labor was for slaves.
A hypothesis that forbids nothing, permits everything, and thereby fails to constrain anticipation. Your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. If you are equally good at explaining any outcome, you have zero knowledge.