Seeking a “Seeking Whence ‘Seek Whence’” Sequence
One of the sharpest and most important tools in the LessWrong cognitive toolkit is the idea of going meta, also called seeking whence or jumping out of the system, all terms crafted by Douglas Hofstadter. Though popularized by Hofstadter and repeatedly emphasized by Eliezer in posts like “Lost Purposes” and “Taboo Your Words”, Wikipedia indicates that similar ideas have been around in philosophy since at least Anaximander in the form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). I think it’d be only appropriate to seek whence this idea of seeking whence, taking a history of ideas perspective. I’d also like analyses of where the theme shows up and why it’s appealing and so on, since again it seems pretty important to LessWrong epistemology. Topics that I’d like to see discussed are:
How conservation of probability in Bayesian probability theory and conservation of phase space volume in statistical mechanics are related—a summary of Eliezer’s posts on the topic would be great.
The history of the idea of conservation laws; whether the discovery of conservation laws was fueled by PSR-like philosophical-like concerns (e.g. Leibniz?), by lower level intuitive concerns, or other means.
How the PSR relates to conservation of probability &c. and to seeking whence.
How going meta and seeking whence are related/equivalent.
What kinds of conclusions are typically reached via the PSR or have historically been justified by the PSR, and whether those conclusions fit with LW’s standard conclusions. If it disagrees with LW’s standard conclusions, where does the PSR not apply or not apply as strongly; alternatively, why standard LW conclusions might be mistaken.
Whether Schopenhauer’s four-fold division of the PSR makes sense. (Schopenhauer’s a relatively LW-friendly continentalesque philosopher.) A summary of any criticisms of his four-fold division.
What makes the PSR, going meta, “JOOTS”-ing and seeking whence appealing, from a metaphysical, epistemological, pragmatic, and psychological perspective. What sorts of environments or problem sets select for it. (The Baldwin effect and similar phenomena might be relevant.)
What going meta / seeking whence looks like at different levels of organization; how one jumps out of systems at varying levels.
Eliezer’s rule of derivative validity from CFAI and how it relates to the PSR; an analysis of how the (moral, or perhaps UDT-like decision-policy-centric) PSR might be relevant to Friendliness philosophy, e.g. as compared with CEV-like proposals [pdf].
How latent Platonic nodes in TDT [pdf] (p. 78) relate to the PSR.
A generalization of CFAI’s causal validity semantics to timeless validity semantics in the spirit of the generalization of CDT to TDT, or perhaps even further generalizations of causal validity semantics in the spirit of Updateless Decision Theory or eXceptionless Decision Theory. (ETA: Whoops, Eliezer already discussed the acausal level, but seems to have only mentioned Platonic forms as an afterthought. Maybe ignore this bullet point.)
How the PSR and the rule of derivative validity relate to Robin Hanson’s idea of pre-rationality and Wei Dai’s questions about extending pre-rationality to include past selves’ utility functions—whether this elucidates the relation between XDT and UDT.
Where Hofstadter picked up the idea of “going meta” and what led him to think it was important. What led Eliezer to rely on it so much and emphasize the importance of avoiding lost purposes.