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Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 11

I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
I wouldn't draw a distinction there. If you don't know more criticisms, and resolved all the conflicts of ideas you know about, you're done, you resolved things. Whether you could potentially create more criticisms doesn't change that.
OK, of everything you’ve said so far that is the one that I find least able to accept. Thinking of things takes time - you aren’t disputing that. So, if at a given instant I have resolved all the conflicts I know about, but some of what I now think is really really new and I know I haven’t tried to refute it, how on earth can I be “done"?
As you say, you already know that you should make some effort to think critically about new ideas. So, you already have an idea that conflicts with the idea to declare yourself done immediately.

If you know a reason not to do something, that's an idea that conflicts with it.
Ah, but hang on: what do I actually know, there? You’re trying to make it sound boolean by referring to “some” effort, but actually the question is how much effort.
The question is, "Have I done enough effort? Should I do more effort or stop now?" That is a boolean question.

Just mentioning a quantity in some way doesn't contradict CR.
What I know is my past experience of how long it typically took to come up with a refutation of an idea that (before I tried refuting it) felt about as solid as the one I'm currently considering feels. That’s correlation, plain and simple. I’m solely going on my hunch of how solid what I already know feels, or converseiy how likely it is that if I put in a certain amount of time trying to refute what I think I will succeed. So it’s quantitative. I can never claim I’m “done” until I’ve put in what I feel is enough effort that putting in a lot more would still not bring forth a rebuttal. And that estimated amount of effort again comes from extrapolation from my past experience of how fast I come up with rebuttals.

To me, the above is so obvious a rebuttal
I think your rebuttal relies on CR being incompatible with dealing with any sort of quantity – a misconception I wasn't able to predict. Otherwise why would a statement of your approach be a rebuttal to CR?

It's specifically quantities of justification – of goodness of ideas – that CR is incompatible with.
of what you said that it makes no sense that you would not have come up with it yourself in the time it took you to write the email. That’s what I meant about your answers getting increasingly weak.
We have different worldviews, and this makes it hard to predict what you'll say. It's especially hard to predict replies I consider false. I could try to preemptively answer more things, but some won't be what you would have said, and longer emails have disadvantages.
I mean that it’s becoming easier and easier to come up with refutations of what you’re saying, and it seems to me that it’s becoming harder and harder for you to refute what I say - not that you’re finding it harder, but that the refutations you're giving are increasingly fragile. To my ear, they’re rapidly approaching the “that’s dumb, I disagree” level. And I don’t know what situation there would be that would make them sound like that to you too. You said earlier on that "It's hard to keep up meaningful criticism for long” and I said "That’s absolutely not my experience” - this is what I meant.
Justificationists always sneak in some an ad hoc, poorly specified, unstated-and-hidden-from-criticism version of CR into their thinking, which is why they are able to think at all.
This is what you were doing when saying you clarified that meant Aubreyism step 1 to include creative and critical thinking.
Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I know what pure justificationism is, but for sure I agree (as I have since the start of our exchange) that CR is a better way to proceed than just by hunches and correlations.

Proceed by which correlations? Why those instead of other ones? How do you get from "X correlates with Y [in Z context]" to "I will decide A over B or C [in context D]"? Are any explanations involved? I don't know the specifics of your approach to correlations.

We've discussed correlations some, but our perspectives on the matter are so different that it wasn't easy to create full mutual understanding. It'll take some more discussion. More on this below.
Thus, indeed Aubreyism is a hybrid between the two - it uses CR as a way to make decisions, but with a triage mechanism so that those decisions can be made in acceptable time. I’m fine with the idea that the triage part contributes no value in and of itself, because what it does do, instead, is allow the value from the CR part to manifest itself in real-world actions in a timely fashion.
Situation: you have 10 ideas, eliminate 5-8 with some CR tools, and run out of time to ponder.

You propose deciding between the remaining ideas with hunches. You say this is good because it's timely. You say the resulting value comes from CR + timeliness.

Why not roll dice to decide between those remaining ideas? That would be some CR, and timely. Do you think that's an equally good approach? Perhaps better because it eliminates bias.

I suspect you'll be unwilling to switch to dice. Meaning you believe the hunches have value other than timeliness. Contrary to your comments above.

What do you think?
More generally, going back to my assertion that you do in fact make decisions in just the same way I do, I claim that this subjective, quantitative, non-value-adding evaluation of how different two conflicting positions feel in their solidity, and thus of how much effort one should put into further rebutting each of them, is an absolutely unavoidable aspect of applying CR in a timely fashion.
In my view, I explained how CR can finish in time. At this point, I don't know clearly and specifically why you think that method doesn't work, and I'm not convinced you understand the method well enough to evaluate. Last email, I pointed out that some of your comments are too vague to be answerable. You didn't elaborate on those points.

Bigger picture, let's try to get some perspective.

Epistemology is COMPLEX. Communication between different perspectives is VERY HARD.

When people have very different ideas, misunderstandings happen constantly, and patient back-and-forth is needed to correct them. Things that are obvious in one perspective will need a lot of clarification to communicate to another perspective. An especially open minded and tolerant approach is needed.

We are doing well at this. We should be pleased. We've gotten somewhere. Most people attempting similar things fail spectacularly.

You understand where I'm coming from better now, and vice versa. We know outlines of each other's positions. And we have a much more specific idea of what we do and don't agree about. We've discovered timely CR is a key issue.

People get used to talking to similar people and expect conversations to proceed rapidly. Less has to be communicated, because only differences require much communication. People often omit some details, but the other guy with many shared premises fills in the blanks similarly. People also commonly gloss over disagreements to be polite.

So people often experience communication as easy. Then when it isn't, they can get frustrated and give up in the face of misunderstandings and disagreements.

And justificationism is super popular, so epistemology conversations often seem to go smoothly. Similar to how most regular people would smoothly agree with each other that death from aging is good. Then when confronted with SENS, problems start coming up in the discussion and they don't have the skills to deal with those problems.

Talking to people who think differently is valuable. Everyone has some blind spots and other mistakes, and similar people will share some of the same weaknesses. A different person, even if worse than you, could lack some of your weaknesses. Trading ideas between people with different perspectives is valuable. It's a little like comparative advantage from economics.

But the more different someone is, the more difficult communication is. Attitudes to discussion have to be adjusted.

We should be pleased to have a significant amount of successful communication already. But the initial differences were large. There's still a lot of room to understand each other better.

I think you haven't discussed some details so far (including literally not replying to some points) – and then are reaching tentative conclusions about them without full communication. That's fine for initial communication to get your viewpoint across. It works as a kind of feeling out stage. But you shouldn't expect too much from that method.

If you want to reach agreement, or understand CR more, we'll have to get into some of those details. We now have a better framework to do that.

So if you're interested, I think we may be able to focus the discussion much more, now that we have more of an outline established. To start with:

Do you think you have an argument that makes timely CR LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE, in general, for some category of situations? Just a yes or no is fine.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple on October 28, 2014


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