Thanks for the explanation!
This is the most compelling argument I’ve been able to think of too when I’ve tried before. Feynman has a nice analogue of it within physics in The Character of Physical Law:
… it would have been no use if Newton had simply said, ‘I now understand the planets’, and for later men to try to compare it with the earth’s pull on the moon, and for later men to say ‘Maybe what holds the galaxies together is gravitation’. We must try that. You could say ‘When you get to the size of the galaxies, since you know nothing about it, anything can happen’. I know, but there is no science in accepting this type of limitation.
I don’t think it goes through well in this case, for the reasons ricraz outlines in their reply. Group B already has plenty of energy to move forward, from taking our current qualitative understanding and trying to build more compelling explanatory models and find new experimental tests. It’s Group A that seems rather mired in equations that don’t easily connect.
Edit: I see I wrote about something similar before, in a rather rambling way.
Thanks for writing this, it’s a very concise summary of the parts of LW I’ve never been able to make sense of, and I’d love to have a better understanding of what makes the ideas in your bullet-pointed list appealing to those who tend towards ‘rationality realism’. (It’s sort of a background assumption in most LW stuff, so it’s hard to find places where it’s explicitly justified.)
What CFAR calls “purple”.
Is there any online reference explaining this?
Side note, but I really appreciated the bolded sentences marking the start and end of the ‘tiring symbolic reasoning’ section.
I normally give up on posts on this sort of topic precisely because I can see that I’m getting into an unknown amount of unpleasant mental effort holding all the “he said she said she said”s in my head at once. This time I could quickly gauge how much of that stuff there was, and it looked manageable, so I persevered.
I’m happy to answer questions, as I always like rambling about boring implementation details! I mentioned that I fancied trying this on Twitter and got a few takers. Right now I’m going for a pretty low tech approach where I just email it out—I write each one in a Google Doc and then paste it into Gmail and hope the formatting doesn’t mess up too much. I could definitely improve this!
I have another Google Doc going throughout the month where I make brief notes on what I’ve been reading or thinking about, any useful links, etc, so that I have something to work with once I start writing. This is actually really valuable on its own.
I’m not trying for any particular length but seem to be writing a fair bit—the last one was about 5000 words split over three or four topics. Generally one section of it is talking about whatever physics topic I’m currently interested in, and the rest is more of a mixed bag based on what I’ve thought about that month.
Update: I’ve done four of these now and have really enjoyed it. It works brilliantly for motivating me to keep a record of what I’m doing, and I’ve had some great followup conversations too. Thanks very much for introducing me to the idea!
my name is Dross,
and wen i see
the shiyning text
leap out at me,
i look at wot
it tels my hed -
i read the rules.
i like the red.
No, I also definitely wouldn’t lump mathematical analysis in with algebra… I’ve edited the post now as that was confusing, also see this reply.
Your ‘how much we know about the objects’ distinction is a good one and I’ll think about it.
I just start gnawing on the corn cob somewhere at random, like the horrible physicist I am :) But the ‘analysis’ style makes more sense to me of the two, it had never even occurred to me that you could eat corn in the ‘algebra’ style.
I also think about linear algebra in a very visual way. I’m missing that for a lot of group theory, which was presented to us in a very ‘memorise this random pile of definitions’ way. Some time I want to go back and fix this… when I can get it to the top of the very large pile of things I want to learn.
Ah, that probably needs clarifying… I was using ‘analysis’ in the sense of ‘opposed to synthesis’ as one of the dichotomies, rather than the mathematical sense of ‘analysis’. I.e. ‘breaking into parts’ as opposed to ‘building up’. That’s pretty confusing when one of the other dichotomies is algebra/geometry!
I agree that algebra and (mathematical) analysis are pretty different and I wouldn’t particularly lump them together. I’d personally probably lump it with geometry over algebra if I had to pick, but that’s likely to be a feature of how I learn and really it’s pretty different to either.
Thanks for writing this up! I was interested last time you mentioned it somewhere, and this time you’ve motivated me enough that I’m going to try it for a couple of months.
I also identify more with the elephant, which I (probably unhelpfully) think of as the one that ‘actually does maths and physics’, in the sense of gaining insights into problems and building intuitive understanding.
I (also probably unhelpfully) think of the rider as a more of a sort of dull bean counter who verifies the steps in my reasoning are correct afterwards, and ruins my fun for some of my wilder flights of fancy.
I’m slowly learning to like the rider more—it’s doing more than I give it credit for.
Probably some of the issue is trying to fit everything into these two categories. I think Sarah Constantin has convinced me that there are at least three things in the world—flow states, formal step-by-step reasoning and insight. I’ve been unthinkingly lumping flow state in with insight as the good stuff, and leaving the rider with just formal verification. Someone else might lump insight differently.
I like this and agree that this thing deserves its own name. In my own head (you may not agree) this view often also includes ideas like ‘explicit formal metrics often get Goodhart-ed into useless cargo cults, top-down rational plans often erase illegible local wisdom’, etc. The kind of cluster people seem to get from Seeing Like A State, The Great Transformation, etc. (I’ve never read either of those myself though.)
To my mind this cluster is something like ‘pomo ideas grafted on analytic rootstock’, rather than the normal continental rootstock. And I think the main influence it misses because of this is phenomenology (gworley I think may be pointing somewhere similar). Thinking seriously about subjective internal experience often pulls people towards a more thoroughgoing rejection of modernism than the ‘skeptical modernism’ one.
I don’t understand any of this well myself, though, and I’d struggle to unpack any of this into a compelling argument for someone who didn’t basically already agree with me.
I would also be interested in this! I saw a use for it within about an hour of reading the post, when I did something stupid and easily fixable with a bit of thought. I just wrote the problem into a gmail draft, but if doing this turns out to be useful I’ll try something more structured.
I’m in Bristol! No idea if anyone else is.
There are some great questions at the end of your posts and it’s a bit of a shame you haven’t had much uptake on them. It would be a lot of work to do many of these (which is why they’re good questions!), but I’ll have a go at your ‘slipping through the cracks’ question and do a worked example. Mine is also to do with making appointments.
I thought I did have a good system. I set a lot of Google Calendar email reminders and normally turn up to things with no problems. But actually I screwed up unusually badly twice last year and didn’t do much about it other than think ‘oops that was stupid’.
One was solvable in the end with a mad dash to the train station, but was stressful and annoying. The other one I travelled for three hours to meet up with friends on the wrong day… not my finest moment.
I notice that both of these were made informally on messaging/social media, and the problem was that they never even made it into a calendar in the first place. So I need to make sure everything ends up in the same system, rather than assuming a facebook event reminder or friends talking about it will be enough.
(I’m sure this is very obvious to more organised people, but this really isn’t something that comes naturally for me.)
It’s interesting that the problem is specifically with informal social events. A dentist appointment or work meeting has a kind of serious-business aura where I know it has to go in a system, so I just do that.
To fix this, I’ll have to make sure that arranging an event informally automatically makes me think of putting it on my calendar. I haven’t worked on this much yet, but as a first step I checked to see if this applies to anything coming up, and I did find one upcoming event that was on facebook but not my calendar and added it.
I’ve been reading through this series this week based on seeing your review posts, and have enjoyed it, so thanks! I think this was my favourite of the series, maybe because it covers things I was already thinking about anyway (but also the sentry part was really interesting).
I’m really not a natural at operationalising things, but have come to appreciate it in the last couple of years, mainly through accidentally ending up in a job that’s quite ops-heavy and realising I badly needed to get better at it. I like the tone of ‘this stuff is often boring and I’m not great at it, but it really pays off’ in this series.
I’ve done a very similar thing to you with breaking down getting up in the morning into lots of steps and realising the cold was an issue—my version is putting a jumper and thick hiking socks nearby to put on immediately. The surprising thing for me was how helpful just having a bunch of steps to do is, almost independent of what they are! Every morning after the alarm goes off my brain spontaneously generates a bullshit story about how today is somehow completely different to all the other days and therefore it’s completely reasonable for me to just go back to bed, but I just keep mindlessly plodding through steps and by the time I’ve finished the voice has shut up and I’m up and drinking a cup of tea.
If I was asked any question of the form ‘what’s the least impressive X that you are very confident cannot be done in the next Y years?’, I would hesitate for a long time because it would take me a long time to parse the sentence and work out what a reply would even consist of.
I think that I am unusually dumb at parsing abstract sentences like this, so that may not apply to any people on the panel, but I’m not certain of that. (I have a physics PhD, so being dumb at parsing abstract sentences hasn’t excluded me from quantitative fields.)
I notice that I’m currently unable to intuitively hold the sense of this sentence in my head in one go, but I am able to generate answers anyway, by the method of coming up with a bunch of Xs that I think couldn’t be done in two years, and then looking for the least impressive such one. It feels kind of unsatisfying doing that when I can’t hold the sense of the whole problem in my head, and that slows me down.
If I was put on the spot in front of lots of people, though, I might just panic about being asked to parse an abstract sentence rather than doing any useful cognitive work, and not come up with much at all.
Thanks for replying! I think I was expecting a link post to behave somewhat differently, i.e. take you to a summary page with comments rather than straight off the site. I will crosspost manually in future if I have anything that I feel would be a good fit (also I think the process of manually crossposting might have been enough for me to realise that this specific link was not a great fit).