Modest Epistemology

TagLast edit: 29 Jan 2023 13:32 UTC by Olli Järviniemi

Modest Epistemology is the claim that average opinions are more accurate than individual opinions, and individuals should take advantage of this by moving toward average opinions, even in cases where they have strong arguments for their own views and against more typical views. (Another name for this concept is “the wisdom of crowds”—that name is much more popular outside of LessWrong.) In terms of inside view vs outside view, we can describe modest epistemology as the belief that inside views are quite fallible and outside views much more robust; therefore, we should weigh outside-view considerations much more heavily.

In LessWrong parlance, “modesty” and “humility” should not be confused. While Eliezer lists “humility” as a virtue, he provides many arguments against modesty (most extensively, in the book Inadequate Equilibria; but also in many earlier sources.) Humility is the general idea that you should expect to be fallible. Modest Epistemology is specifically the view that, due to your own fallibility, you should rely heavily on outside-view. Modest epistemology says that you should trust average opinions more than your own opinion, even when you have strong arguments for your own views and against more typical views.

Historically, Robin Hanson has argued in favor of epistemic modesty and outside-view, while Eliezer has argued against epistemic modesty and for a strong inside views. For example, this disagreement played a role in The Foom Debate. Eliezer and Hanson both agree that Aumann’s Agreement Theorem implies that rational agents should converge to agreement; however, they have very different opinions about whether/​how this breaks down in the absence of perfect rationality. Eliezer sees little reason to move one’s opinion toward that of an irrational person’s. Hanson thinks irrational agents still benefit from moving their opinions toward each other. One of Hanson’s arguments involves pre-priors.

External Posts:

Immodest Caplan by Robin Hanson

Related Sequences: Inadequate Equilibria

Related Pages: modesty, Humility, Inside/​Outside View, Egalitarianism, Modesty argument, Disagreement

The Er­ror of Crowds

Eliezer Yudkowsky1 Apr 2007 21:50 UTC
32 points
13 comments4 min readLW link

The Modesty Argument

Eliezer Yudkowsky10 Dec 2006 21:42 UTC
54 points
40 comments10 min readLW link

Not­ing an er­ror in Inad­e­quate Equilibria

Matthew Barnett8 Feb 2023 1:33 UTC
358 points
56 comments2 min readLW link

Against Modest Epistemology

Eliezer Yudkowsky14 Nov 2017 20:40 UTC
68 points
48 comments15 min readLW link

Inad­e­quacy and Modesty

Eliezer Yudkowsky28 Oct 2017 21:51 UTC
130 points
77 comments18 min readLW link

In defence of epistemic modesty

Thrasymachus29 Oct 2017 20:00 UTC
31 points
20 comments36 min readLW link

You can­not be mis­taken about (not) want­ing to wirehead

Kaj_Sotala26 Jan 2010 12:06 UTC
46 points
79 comments3 min readLW link

Time­less Modesty?

abramdemski24 Nov 2017 11:12 UTC
17 points
2 comments3 min readLW link

Against Shoot­ing Your­self in the Foot

Eliezer Yudkowsky16 Nov 2017 20:13 UTC
47 points
3 comments3 min readLW link

How to use “philo­soph­i­cal ma­jori­tar­i­anism”

jimmy5 May 2009 6:49 UTC
13 points
9 comments4 min readLW link

“I know I’m bi­ased, but...”

[deleted]10 May 2011 20:03 UTC
32 points
21 comments3 min readLW link

The Proper Use of Doubt

Eliezer Yudkowsky6 Aug 2007 20:29 UTC
84 points
34 comments3 min readLW link

Us­ing Points to Rate Differ­ent Kinds of Evidence

ozziegooen25 Aug 2023 20:11 UTC
18 points
3 comments6 min readLW link

On be­ing downvoted

Adam Zerner17 Sep 2023 1:59 UTC
26 points
15 comments3 min readLW link

Ngo and Yud­kowsky on AI ca­pa­bil­ity gains

18 Nov 2021 22:19 UTC
130 points
61 comments39 min readLW link1 review

Epistemic mod­esty and how I think about AI risk

Aryeh Englander27 Jun 2022 18:47 UTC
22 points
4 comments4 min readLW link

Notes on Humility

David Gross29 Nov 2020 19:50 UTC
18 points
4 comments8 min readLW link

Aiming for Con­ver­gence Is Like Dis­cour­ag­ing Betting

Zack_M_Davis1 Feb 2023 0:03 UTC
60 points
17 comments11 min readLW link

In defence of epistemic mod­esty [dis­til­la­tion]

Luise10 May 2023 9:44 UTC
16 points
2 comments9 min readLW link

A Sketch of Good Communication

Ben Pace31 Mar 2018 22:48 UTC
185 points
35 comments3 min readLW link1 review

When should you defer to ex­per­tise? A use­ful heuris­tic (Cross­post from EA fo­rum)

Noosphere8913 Oct 2022 14:14 UTC
9 points
3 comments2 min readLW link

The un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated value of origi­nal think­ing be­low the frontier

Emrik2 Oct 2021 16:03 UTC
36 points
2 comments2 min readLW link

Com­mon sense as a prior

Nick_Beckstead11 Aug 2013 18:18 UTC
56 points
215 comments27 min readLW link

Christen­son’s “Episte­mol­ogy of Disagree­ment: The Good News”

Aidan_Kierans16 May 2021 3:58 UTC
1 point
0 comments5 min readLW link

Dangers of deference

TsviBT8 Jan 2023 14:36 UTC
55 points
5 comments2 min readLW link

Why You Should Never Up­date Your Beliefs

Arjun Panickssery29 Jul 2023 0:27 UTC
69 points
17 comments4 min readLW link
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