Re: Overconfidence and meta-rationality

From: Tennessee Leeuwenburg (
Date: Mon Feb 21 2005 - 21:15:52 MST

Hash: SHA1

| Hal Finney is the only person I know of who would advocate that I
| not draw a line - and I'm not sure that Finney realizes the logical
| implication of his modesty. But also this: Finney is undeniably
| correct that if most people followed his advice and accepted all
| contemporary science without daring to draw lines, they would be
| better off. Better off, that is, in the matter of their maps
| conforming to the territory. Their personal development would be
| impeded, and they could not build further upon the edifice of
| science; they would have accepted an Authority. Yet the mere
| morals of science matter not to Bayesianity. Their score went up,
| and there Judgment ends.

Except that there is no authority for accepting a scientific theory
other than ones own rationality. Published science is neither correct,
sound, consistent, accessible, static or authoritative. I would
question whether anyone could in fact /learn/ any large body of
science WITHOUT questioning it, just because of the impossibility of
unquestioningly accepting any logically inconsistent position.

| I cannot accept the modesty argument lightly, because I know better
| than to bow in that direction and then keep on with what I was
| doing. If I sound immodest, it is because my behavior is immodest
| however it is disguised, and I have learned better than to disguise
| it.

I would agree that in some cases, one has to back oneself.

| "True love takes its own course through uncharted territory. It
| knows no fences, has no barriers or boundaries. It's difficult to
| define, eludes modern measurement, and seems scientifically woolly.
| But I know true love exists. I just can't prove it."
| You, or I, can hear the sound of Buss's brain clicking off, the
| metallic clunk as the train ratchets off the rationality track.
| Buss didn't hear it, but you and I do.

Indeed. It's like he is also saying that he cannot argue for it
convincingly, nor does even he think it is rational, nor is there any
convincing or plausibly speculative case by which one might claim it
is reasonable to believe it. However, this might be because his
rhetorical skills are poor, not because of a failure of thought.

| Buss is, by all that I have heard of him, an excellent evolutionary
| scientist. He fails on this question of 'true love' because it
| occupies a separate magisterium to him.

I am often surprised by people's unawareness of the magisteria they
have. The phrase was new to me, but the idea is obvious enough. Often
when I talk to people they cross from one to the other without
noticing. It is a similar idea to Wittgenstein's language games,
another very useful concept.

| To me there is no question of being 'allowed' to escape the naughty
| constraints of reason into some sacred magisterium where I am
| finally allowed to relax with some comfortable nonsense. I would
| just be swapping in an engine that didn't work.

I think you are possibly on shaky ground when making this claim. I
will try to explain when I have my mind wrapped round what you are
saying a bit better, but I think you should be open to the possibility
that people's minds are doing something sensible when they make wooly
comments, even though the conscious thought is illogical or
inconsistent. I ALSO think you are largely correct, I am merely
pointing to there being room for some subtlety.

| I can only improve my individual map of my individual errors by
| rendering it a detailed description of myself, not by turning it
| into a set of categorical imperatives that sound like fair
| political arguments, for to say what is true of everyone loses the
| individual detail.

Presumably you mean "imperatives that I have put into categories" as
opposed to Kant's Categorical Imperative, of which there is
definitionally only one.

| But it would not be the Way that leads to the very highest score I
| can wring from my human brain. And I am not everyone, even taking
| into account that everyone thinks they are not everyone.

Is it possible that you cannot obtain accurate self-knowledge in any
complete sense of the word, and in fact, that the accuracy might be
traded off against the completeness, and possibly also best-case with
average-case performance? I know I am highly error-prone, especially
in particular contexts, but I still rank myself as being intelligent,
and having access to unusual perceptions both of myself and others. I
don't think it is an accurate picture for everybody that you are drawing.

- -T
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