“human connection” as collaborative epistemics

Surely there are all kinds of other ways to co­op­er­ate. A friend can help you move your stuff. You can ex­change gifts. You can fend for each other. But ob­jec­tively none of these are worth the huge chunk of re­sources we al­lo­cate to main­tain­ing friend­ships and re­la­tion­ships.

Only the up­grades to your wor­ld­view you get from in­ter­act­ing with other peo­ple is worth the trou­ble of in­ter­act­ing.

Col­lab­o­ra­tive epistemics is mostly di­vide and con­quer.

The world is way, way too com­plex for one mind to make sense of. So in­stead of div­ing deeply into ev­ery sin­gle as­pect of life, we bor­row the re­sults of other peo­ple’s think­ing. Then for a small slice, maybe 5%, we think for our­selves. This is the value we offer in ex­change for the sense-mak­ing oth­ers do in other places.

Con­sider a hy­poth­e­sis space, and two agents that are seek­ing an an­swer to a prob­lem. Their best strat­egy is to carve the space at it’s joints, and spe­cial­ize into search­ing among the hy­pothe­ses of their re­spec­tive sub­sets. When one agent finds an an­swer, they can com­mu­ni­cate it to the other at low cost. It’s al­most dou­ble value for money.

After di­vide and con­quer comes rec­on­cili­a­tion.

If the agents don’t have the same start­ing as­sump­tions, they will dis­agree on the hy­poth­e­sis set to search. To each one of them it might not seem so worth­while to co­op­er­ate, since the other agent will just check hy­pothe­ses that they already deem false.

I re­call that one of the most pre­dic­tive vari­ables of friend­ship is whether two peo­ple share the same gen­eral memes­pace. If you don’t even be­lieve or un­der­stand things that are fun­da­men­tal to my wor­ld­view, I can’t trust the rest of your ideas ei­ther. I’d have no use of your per­spec­tive on life, so I’d have no use for your friend­ship.

The other pre­dic­tive vari­able for friend­ship was whether two peo­ple tended to be in the same en­vi­ron­ment. Even if we share the same wor­ld­view, if we’re not grap­pling with the same prob­lems, there’s no point in com­par­ing notes. You could be tel­ling me sto­ries about how you mas­tered the tuba, but I re­ally wanted sto­ries about how you came to terms with polyamory, or how you man­aged to find a cheap house in Am­s­ter­dam, or any­thing else I’m presently deal­ing with.

Or, af­ter di­vide and con­quer comes loneli­ness.

I like to imag­ine that we were all born with the same model of the world. Then we went forth and carved up the world, and we spe­cial­ized, and we de­vel­oped many use­ful mod­els, but we never got around to merge our mod­els back into one co­her­ent wor­ld­view. So we just called the mod­els ide­olo­gies and start­ing an­grily pok­ing at each other in­stead.

But there’s a step fur­ther than this, where you’ve thought for so long and hard that you look around and find that no one’s left in earshot. We call this lonely dis­sent.

You could as­sume that lonely dis­sent is one type of loneli­ness, but I started to see it as the only type of loneli­ness. Loneli­ness can be defined as epistemic dis­sent.

Most peo­ple are smart enough to avoid it. They don’t up­date in the face of ev­i­dence, be­cause they’re afraid of dis­en­chant­ment from their be­loved com­mu­ni­ties. And for good rea­son! How many of us have lost touch with friends be­cause we felt they couldn’t see the world our way?

Rec­on­cili­a­tion is the bottleneck

We think, and we learn, and we up­date, and we leave our friends be­hind, un­til we’re left with a sense of aliena­tion and de­pres­sion, and the whole en­deavor comes to a screech­ing halt.

Bar the lone soul on a heroic dis­sent, I don’t think most of us are able to keep mean­ingfully de­vel­op­ing our wor­ld­view if there is no one to en­thu­si­as­ti­cally share our find­ings with.

This is why I feel like the most im­por­tant as­pect of the ra­tio­nal­ist pro­ject is the part where we de­velop the cul­ture and the tech­niques that speed up rec­on­cili­a­tion.

Think dou­ble crux. Think Ide­olog­i­cal Tur­ing Test. Think good faith prin­ci­ple. Think op­ti­miz­ing re­search cul­ture.

With this in mind, LW Nether­lands will em­pha­size rec­on­cili­a­tion in their mee­tups. Con­sider do­ing the same in your own life!