Blogging LessWrong

So, LessWrong is an interesting community.

Here’s a blog post combining two (maybe more, we’ll see as I write it) of their posts, to see if 1. the posts create conceptual categories of types of error that remain useful divorced from the original post, and to look at whether 2. these categories are already broken into useful groups (or not).

The first of the two posts to integrate is this post:

which is about how important it is to make larger, rather than smaller adjustments in the face of evidence that contradicts your beliefs, and to make the adjustment as quickly and efficiently as you can, not in small steps over time.

The second is this:

which is about how motivation impairs rationality. Simply put, when one is motivated to (say) avoid the pain of admitting a mistake, that affects not only how one interprets arguments and weighs evidence (which is important) but also how hard one works to generate arguments (which is much more important) and how hard one works to obtain evidence (which is likewise much more important).

One thing this reminds me of is the story of Eustace Scrubb being de-dragoned, from C.S. Lewis’ book “Prince Caspian.” The basic story is of a young boy Eustace who is prone to self-pity, who finds himself on an impossible adventure proving that his childhood adversaries were right about something, and he wrong. Rather than admit his mistake, and enjoy his newfound adventure, he wallows in denial, small adjustments, and pity, and is finally transformed by his greed and selfishness and bitterness (and/or by his having tried to steal dragon gold, because the story is written to work as both a moral tale and an object-level magical tale) into a dragon.  Being a dragon renders Eustace rich–but monstrous and alone, which is a trade so awful he cries genuine tears. In a conversation with a giant talking lion named Aslan (C.S. Lewis’ metaphorical analogue for God/Jesus) Eustace takes to understand that he needs to remove his scales, which he does surprisingly painlessly by scratching himself–but finds another layer of scales underneath, over and over. Eventually Aslan (a lion not initially seeming more formidable than Eustace’s dragon-self, but who Eustace now perceives as terrifyingly imposing and possessed of much, much longer and sharper claws) says that it is useless–Eustace won’t be able to descale himself, but will have to accept help from the lion. This help hurts but is quite effective, and Eustace finds himself restored to human form.

Follow-up: I will reward myself if I succeed in tracking down good resources by any of these authors: Laplace, Jaynes, Tversky, Kahneman. I believe the argument has been well-made that they can improve on what I’ve learned growing up reading Feynman Heinlein and being exposed to a religious tradition that I suppose one would call humble apologetics. I’ve been meaning to read Kahneman, and had already discovered Jaynes, and been substantially affected, so there’s good reason to double-down.

2. I really like this quote, which needs no comment. “Do not indulge in drama and become proud of admitting errors.  It is surely superior to get it right the first time.”

(Edited 24 Jan 2017 to improve clarity, correct typographical mistakes. Also, I note that I have made mistakes–big ones–and should work to build in a ritual of acknowledging them writ clearly in my mind’s eye, while also not trying to get too much credit for having such a ritual. Potentially just making predictions and tracking if they end up right will do the trick going forward.)

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