Oops, I saw your question when you first posted it but forgot to get back to you, Issa. (Issa re-asked here.) My apologies.
I think there are two main kinds of strategic thought we had in mind when we said “details forthcoming”:
1. Thoughts on MIRI’s organizational plans, deconfusion research, and how we think MIRI can help play a role in improving the future — this is covered by our November 2018 update post, https://intelligence.org/2018/11/22/2018-update-our-new-research-directions/.
2. High-level thoughts on things like “what we think AGI developers probably need to do” and “what we think the world probably needs to do” to successfully navigate the acute risk period.
Most of the stuff discussed in “strategic background” is about 2: not MIRI’s organizational plan, but our model of some of the things humanity likely needs to do in order for the long-run future to go well. Some of these topics are reasonably sensitive, and we’ve gone back and forth about how best to talk about them.
Within the macrostrategy / “high-level thoughts” part of the post, the densest part was maybe 7a. The criteria we listed for a strategically adequate AGI project were “strong opsec, research closure, trustworthy command, a commitment to the common good, security mindset, requisite resource levels, and heavy prioritization of alignment work”.
With most of these it’s reasonably clear what’s meant in broad strokes, though there’s a lot more I’d like to say about the specifics. “Trustworthy command” and “a commitment to the common good” are maybe the most opaque. By “trustworthy command” we meant things like:
The organization’s entire command structure is fully aware of the difficulty and danger of alignment.
Non-technical leadership can’t interfere and won’t object if technical leadership needs to delete a code base or abort the project.
By “a commitment to the common good” we meant a commitment to both short-term goodness (the immediate welfare of present-day Earth) and long-term goodness (the achievement of transhumanist astronomical goods), paired with a real commitment to moral humility: not rushing ahead to implement every idea that sounds good to them.
We still plan to produce more long-form macrostrategy exposition, but given how many times we’ve failed to word our thoughts in a way we felt comfortable publishing, and given how much other stuff we’re also juggling, I don’t currently expect us to have any big macrostrategy posts in the next 6 months. (Note that I don’t plan to give up on trying to get more of our thoughts out sooner than that, if possible. We’ll see.)
I haven’t noticed a problem with this in my case. Might just not have noticed having this issue.
I mean “But we should consider that bodies are [...] a mere appearance of who knows what unknown object; that motion is not the effect of this unknown cause, but merely the appearance of its influence on our senses; that consequently neither of these is something outside us, but both are merely representations in us” seems pretty unambiguous to me. Kant isn’t saying here that ‘we can only know stuff about mind-independent objects by using language and concepts and frameworks’ in this passage; he’s saying ‘we can only know stuff about mere representations inside of us’.
Kant passages oscillate between making sense under one of these interpretations or the other (or neither):
the “causality interpretation”, which says that things-in-themselves are objects that cause appearances, like a mind-independent object causes an experience in someone’s head. If noumena are the “true correlates” of phenomena, while phenomena are nothing but subjective experiences, then this implies that we really don’t know anything about the world outside our heads. You can try to squirm out of this interpretation by asserting that words like “empirical” and “world” should be redefined to refer to subjective experiences in our heads, but this is just playing with definitions.
the “identity interpretation”, which says that things-in-themselves are the same objects as phenomena, just construed differently.
Quoting Wood (66-67, 69-70):
Yet the two interpretations appear to yield very different (incompatible) answers to the following three questions:
1. Is an appearance the very same entity as a thing in itself? The causality interpretation says no, the identity interpretation says yes.
2. Are appearances caused by things in themselves? The causality interpretation says yes, the identity interpretation says no.
3. Do the bodies we cognize have an existence in themselves? The causality interpretation says no, the identity interpretation says yes.
[… N]o entity stands to itself in the relation of cause to effect. Transcendental idealism is no intelligible doctrine at all if it cannot give self-consistent answers to the above three questions. [...]
Kant occasionally tries to combine “causality interpretation” talk with “identity interpretation” talk. When he does, the result is simply nonsense and self-contradiction:
“I say that things as objects of our senses existing outside us are given, but we know nothing of what they may be in themselves, cognizing only their appearances, that is, the representations which they cause in us by affecting our senses. Consequently, I grant by all means that there are bodies outside us, that is, things which, though quite unknown to us as to what they are in themselves, we still cognize by the representations which their influence on our sensibility procures us, and which we call bodies, a term signifying merely the appearance of the thing which is unknown to us but not the less actual. (P 4:289)
The first sentence here says that objects of the senses are given to our cognition, but then denies that we cognize these objects, saying instead that we cognize an entirely different set of objects (different from the ones he has just said are given). The second sentence infers from this that there are bodies outside us, but proceeds to say that it is not these bodies (that is, the entities Kant has just introduced to us as ‘bodies’) that we call ‘bodies’, but rather bodies are a wholly different set of entities. Such Orwellian doubletalk seems to be the inevitable result of trying to combine the causality interpretation with the identity interpretation while supposing that they are just two ways of saying the same thing. [...]
Kant of course denies that we can ever have cognition of an object as it is in itself, because we can have no sensible intuition of it—as it is in itself. But he seems to regard it as entirely permissible and even inevitable that we should be able to think the phenomenal objects around us solely through pure concepts of the understanding, hence as they are in themselves. If I arrive at the concept of a chair in the corner first by cognizing it empirically and then by abstracting from those conditions of cognition, so that I think of it existing in itself outside those conditions, then it is obvious that I am thinking of the same object, not of two different objects. It is also clear that when I think of it the second way, I am thinking of it, and not of its cause (if it has one). From this point of view, the causality interpretation seems utterly unmotivated and even nonsensical.
The problem arises, however, because Kant also wants to arrive at the concept of a thing existing in itself in another way. He starts from the fact that our empirical cognition results from the affection of our sensibility by something outside us. This leads him to think that there must be a cause acting on our sensibility from outside, making it possible for us to intuit appearances, which are then conceived as the effects of this cause.
Of course it would be open to him to think of this for each case of sensible intuition as the appearance acting on our sensibility those a wholly empirical causality. But Kant apparently arrived at transcendental idealism in part by thinking of it as a revised version of the metaphysics of physical influence between substances that he derived from Crusius. Thus sensible intuition is sometimes thought of as the affection of our senses by an object not as an appearance but as a thing in itself, and transcendental idealism is thought of as having to claim (inconsistently) that we are to regard ourselves (as things in themselves) as being metaphysically influenced by things in themselves.
Such a metaphysics would of course be illegitimately transcendent by the standards of the Critique, but Kant unfortunately appears sometimes to think that transcendental idealism is committed to it, and many of his followers down to the present day seem addicted to the doctrine that appears to be stated in the letter of those texts that express that thought, despite the patent nonsense they involve from the critical point of view. The thing in itself is then taken to be this transcendent cause affecting our sensibility as a whole, and the appearance is seen as the ensemble of representations resulting from its activity on us.
The reason I’m focusing on this is that I think some of the phrasings you chose in trying to summarize Kant (and translate or steelman his views) are sliding between the three different claims I described above:
 “We can’t know things about ultimate reality without relying on initially unjustified knowledge/priors/cognitive machinery.”
 “We can’t know things about ultimate reality.”
 “(We can know that) ultimate reality is wildly different from reality-as-we-conceive-of-it.”
E.g., you say
The kind of knowledge he says you can’t have is knowledge of the thing in itself, which in modern terms would mean something like knowledge that is not relative to some conceptual framework or way of perceiving
In treating all these claims as equivalent, you’re taking a claim that sounds at first glance like 2 (“you can’t have knowledge of the thing in itself”), and identifying it with claims that sound like either 1 or 3 (“you can’t have knowledge that is not relative to some conceptual framework or way of perceiving,” “you can’t have knowledge of the real world that exists outside our concepts”, “space/time/etc. are things our brains make up, not ultimately real things”).
I think dissecting these examples helps make it easier to see how a whole continent could get confused about Berkeleian master-argument-syle reasoning for 100-200 years, and get confused about distinctions like ‘a thought you aren’t thinking’ vs. ‘an object-of-thought you aren’t thinking about’.
I claim that the most natural interpretation of “[Transcendental] idealism means all specific human perceptions are moulded by the general form of human perception and there is no way to backtrack to a raw form.” is that there’s no way to backtrack from our beliefs, impressions, and perceptions to ultimate reality. That is, I’m interpreting “backtrack” causally: the world causes our perceptions, and backtracking would mean reconstructing what the ultimate, outside-our-heads, existed-before-humanity reality is like before we perceive or categorize it. (Or perhaps backtracking causally to the initial, relatively unprocessed sense-data our brains receive.)
In those terms, we know a ton about ultimate, outside-our-heads reality (and a decent amount about how the brain processes new sensory inputs), and there’s no special obstacle to backtracking from our processed sense data to the raw, unprocessed real world. (Our reasoning faculties do need to be working OK, but that’s true for our ability to learn truths about math, about our own experiences, etc. as well. Good conclusions require a good concluder.)
If instead the intended interpretation of “backtrack to a raw form” is “describe something without describing it”, “think about something without thinking about it”, or “reason about something without reasoning about it”, then your original phrasing stops making sense to me.
Take the example of someone standing by a barn. They can see the front side of the barn, but they’ve never observed the back side. At noon, you ask them to describe their subjective experience of the barn, and they do so. Then you ask them to “backtrack to the raw form” beyond their experience. They proceed to start describing the full quantum state of the front of the barn as it was at noon (taking into account many-worlds: the currently-speaking observer has branched off from the original observer).
Then you go, “No, no, I meant describe something about the barn as it exists outside of your conceptual schemes.” And the person repeats their quantum description, which is a true description regardless of the conceptual scheme used; the quantum state is in the world, not in my brain or in my concepts.
Then you go, “No, I meant describe an aspect of the barn that transcends your experiences entirely; not a property of the barn that caused your experience, but a property unconnected to your experience.” And the person proceeds to conjecture that the barn has a back side, even though they haven’t seen it; and they start speculating about likely properties the back side may have.
Then you go, “No! I meant describe something about the barn without using your concepts in the description.” Or: “Describe something that bears no causal relation to your cognition whatsoever, like a causally inert quiddity that in no way interacts with any of the kinds of things you’ve ever experienced or computed.”
And the person might reply: Well, I can say that such a thing would be a causally inert quiddity, as you say; and then perhaps I can’t say much more than that, other than to drill down on what the relevant terms mean. Or, if the requirement is to describe a thing without describing it, then obviously I can’t do that; but that seems like an even more trivial observation.
Why would the request to “describe something without describing it” ever be phrased as “backtracking to a raw form”? There’s no “backtracking” involved, and we aren’t returning to an earlier “raw” or unprocessed thing, since we’re evidently not talking about an earlier (preconceptual) cognition that was subsequently processed into a proper experience; and since we’re evidently not talking about the physical objects outside our heads that are the cause and referent for our thoughts about them.
I claim that there’s an important equivocation at work in the idealist tradition between “backtracking” or finding a more “raw” or ultimate version of a thing, and “describe a thing without describing it”. I claim that these only sound similar because of the mistake in Berkeley’s master argument: confusing the ideas “an electron (i.e., an object) that exists outside of any conceptual framework” and “an ‘electron’ (i.e., a term or concept) that exists outside of any conceptual framework”. I claim that the very temptation to use ‘Ineffable-Thingie’-reifying phrasings like “there is no way to backtrack to a raw form” and “what an electron is outside of any conceptual framework”, is related to this mistake.
Phrasing it as “We can’t conceive of an electron without conceiving of it” makes it sound trivial, whereas the way of speaking that phrases things almost as though there were some object in the world (Kant’s ‘noumena’) that transcends our conceptual frameworks and outstrips our every attempt to describe it, makes it sound novel and important and substantive. (And makes it an appealing Inherently Mysterious Thing to worship.)
I agree that Kant thought of himself as trying to save science from skepticism (e.g., Hume) and weird metaphysics (e.g., Berkeley), and I’m happy you’re trying to make it easier to pass Kant’s Ideological Turing Test.
Transendental idealism means all specific human perceptions are moulded by the general form of human perception and there is no way to backtrack to a raw form. [...]
The kind of knowledge he says you can’t have is knowledge of the thing in itself, which in modern terms would mean something like knowledge that is not relative to some conceptual framework or way of perceiving. Physicalism doesn’t refute that in the least, because it is explicitly based on using physical science as its framework.
I have two objections:
(1) Physicalism does contradict the claim “there is no way to backtrack to a raw form”, if this is taken to mean we should be agnostic about whether things are (really, truly, mind-independently) physical.
I assert that the “raw form” of an electron, insofar as physics is accurate, is just straightforwardly and correctly described by physics; and unless there’s a more fundamental physical account of electrons we have yet to discover, physics is plausibly (though I doubt we can ever prove this) a complete description of electrons. There may not be extra features that we’re missing.
(2) Modern anti-realist strains, similar to 19th-century idealism, tend to slide between these three claims:
“We can’t know things about ultimate reality without relying on initially unjustified knowledge/priors/cognitive machinery.”
“We can’t know things about ultimate reality.”
“(We can know that) ultimate reality is wildly different from reality-as-we-conceive-of-it.”
The first claim is true, but the second and third claims are false.
This sliding is probably the real thing we have Kant to thank for, and the thing that’s made anti-realist strains so slippery and hard to root out; Berkeley was lucid enough to unequivocally avoid the above leaps.
Quoting Allen Wood (pp. 63-64, 66-67):
The doctrine can even be stated with apparent simplicity: We can have cognition of appearances but not of things in themselves. But it is far from clear what this doctrine means, and especially unclear what sort of restriction it is supposed to place on our knowledge.
Some readers of Kant have seen the restriction as trivial, so trivial as to be utterly meaningless, even bordering on incoherence. They have criticized Kant not for denying that we can know ‘things in themselves’ but rather for thinking that the notion of a ‘thing in itself’ even makes sense. If by a ‘thing in itself’ we mean a thing standing outside any relation to our cognitive powers, then of course it seems impossible for us to know such things; perhaps it is even self-contradictory to suppose that we could so much as think of them.
Other readers have seen transcendental idealism as a radical departure from common sense, a form of skepticism at least as extreme as any Kant might have been trying to combat. To them it seems that Kant is trying (like Berkeley) to reduce all objects of our knowledge to mere ghostly representations in our minds. He is denying us the capacity to know anything whatever about any genuine (that is, any extra-mental) reality. [...]
I think much of the puzzlement about transcendental idealism arises from the fact that Kant himself formulates transcendental idealism in a variety of ways, and it is not at all clear how, or whether, his statements of it can all be reconciled, or taken as statements of a single, self-consistent doctrine. I think Kant’s central formulations suggest two quite distinct and mutually incompatible doctrines. [...]
Some interpreters of Kant, when they become aware of these divergences, respond by saying that there is no significant difference between the two interpretations, that they are only ‘two ways of saying the same thing.’ These interpreters are probably faithful to Kant’s intentions, since it looks as if he thought the two ways of talking about appearances and things in themselves are interchangeable and involve no difference in doctrine. But someone can intend to speak self-consistently and yet fail to do so; and it looks like this is what has happened to Kant in this case.
In particular, here’s Wood on why Kant is sometimes saying ‘we can’t know about the world outside our heads’, not just ‘we can’t have knowledge without relying on some conceptual framework or way of perceiving’ (p. 64):
Kant often distinguishes appearances from things in themselves through locutions like the following: “What the objects may be in themselves would still never be known through the most enlightened cognition of their appearance, which alone is given to us” (KrV A43/B60). “Objects in themselves are not known to us at all, and what we call external objects are nothing other than mere representations of our sensibility, whose form is space, but whose true correlate, i.e. the thing in itself, is not and cannot be cognized through them” (KrV A30/B45).
Passages like these suggest that things existing in themselves are entities distinct from ‘their appearances’—which are subjective states caused in us by these things. Real things (things in themselves) cause appearances. Appearances have no existence in themselves, being only representations in us. “Appearances do not exist in themselves, but only relative to the [subject] insofar as it has senses” (KrV B164). “But we should consider that bodies are not objects in themselves that are present to us, but rather a mere appearance of who knows what unknown object; that motion is not the effect of this unknown cause, but merely the appearance of its influence on our senses; that consequently neither of these is something outside us, but both are merely representations in us” (KrV A387).
Whereas (p. 65):
In other passages, transcendental idealism is formulated so as to present us with a very different picture. [...] Here Kant does not distinguish between two separate entities, but rather between the same entity as it appears (considered in relation to our cognitive faculties) and as it exists in itself (considered apart from that relation). [...]
On the identity interpretation, appearances are not merely subjective entities or states in our minds; they do have an existence in themselves. The force of transcendental idealism is not to demote them, so to speak, from reality to ideality, but rather to limit our cognition of real entities to those features of them that stand in determinate relations to our cognitive faculties.
I’d say: definitely nuanced. Definitely very inconsistent on this point. Not consistently asserting an extreme metaphysical view like “the true, mind-independent world is incomprehensibly different from the world we experience”, though seeming to flirt with this view (or framing?) constantly, to the extent that all his contemporaries did think he had a view at least this weird. Mainly guilty of (a) muddled and poorly-articulated thoughts and (b) approaching epistemology with the wrong goals and methods.
When Chalmers claims to have “direct” epistemic access to certain facts, the proper response is to provide the arguments for doubting that claim, not to play a verbal sleight-of-hand like Dennett’s (1991, emphasis added):
Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind was written in 1996, so this is wrong. The wrongness doesn’t seem important to me. (Jackson and Nagel were 1979/1982, and Dennett re-endorsed this passage in 2003.)
It is indisputably the case that Chalmers, for instance, makes arguments along the lines of “there are further facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words”. But it is not only not indisputably the case
What does “indisputably” mean here in Bayesian terms? A Bayesian’s epistemology is grounded in what evidence that individual has access to, not in what disputes they can win. When Chalmers claims to have “direct” epistemic access to certain facts, the proper response is to provide the arguments for doubting that claim, not to play a verbal sleight-of-hand like Dennett’s (1991, emphasis added):
You are not authoritative about what is happening in you, but only about what seems to be happening in you, and we are giving you total, dictatorial authority over the account of how it seems to you, about what it is like to be you. And if you complain that some parts of how it seems to you are ineffable, we heterophenomenologists will grant that too. What better grounds could we have for believing that you are unable to describe something than that (1) you don’t describe it, and (2) confess that you cannot? Of course you might be lying, but we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
It’s intellectually dishonest of Dennett to use the word “ineffable” here to slide between the propositions “I’m unable to describe my experience” and “my experience isn’t translatable in principle”, as it is to slide between Nagel’s term of art “what it’s like to be you” and “how it seems to you”.
Again, I agree with Dennett that Chalmers is factually wrong about his experience (and therefore lacks a certain degree of epistemic “authority” with me, though that’s such a terrible way of phrasing it!). There are good Bayesian arguments against trusting autophenomenology enough for Chalmers’ view to win the day (though Dennett isn’t describing any of them here), and it obviously is possible to take philosophers’ verbal propositions as data to study (cf. also the meta-problem of consciousness), but it’s logically rude to conceal your cruxes, pretend that your method is perfectly neutral and ecumenical, and let the “scientificness” of your proposed methodology do the rhetorical pushing and pulling.
but indeed can’t ever (without telepathy etc., or maybe not even then) be shown to another person, or perceived by another person, to be the case, that there are further facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words.
There’s a version of this claim I agree with (since I’m a physicalist), but the version here is too strong. First, I want to note again that this is equating group epistemology with individual epistemology. But even from a group’s perspective, it’s perfectly possible for “facts revealed by introspection that can’t be translated into words” to be transmitted between people; just provide someone with the verbal prompts (or other environmental stimuli) that will cause them to experience and notice the same introspective data in their own brains.
If that’s too vague, consider this scenario as an analogy: Our universe is a (computable) simulation, running in a larger universe that’s uncomputable. Humans are “dualistic” in the sense that they’re Cartesian agents outside the simulation whose brains contain uncomputable subprocesses, but their sensory experiences and communication with other agents is all via the computable simulation. We could then imagine scenarios where the agents have introspective access to evidence that they’re performing computations too powerful to run in the laws of physics (as they know them), but don’t have output channels expressive enough to demonstrate this fact to others in-simulation; instead, they prompt the other agents to perform the relevant introspective feat themselves.
The other agents can then infer that their minds are plausibly all running on physics that’s stronger than the simulated world’s physics, even though they haven’t found a directly demonstrate this (e.g., via neurosurgery on the in-simulation pseudo-brain).
Indeed it’s not even clear how you’d demonstrate to yourself that what your introspection reveals is real.
You can update upward or downward about the reliability of your introspection (either in general, or in particular respects), in the same way you can update upward or downward about the reliability of your sensory perception. E.g., different introspective experiences or faculties can contradict each other, suggest their own unreliability (“I’m introspecting that this all feels like bullshit...”), or contradict other evidence sources.
A simple toy example would be: “You have perfect introspective access to everything about how your brain works, including how your sensory organs work. This allows you to deduce that your external sensory organs provide noise data most of the time, but provide accurate data about the environment anytime you wear blue sunglasses at night.”
“Heterophenomenology” might be fine as a meme for encouraging certain kinds of interesting research projects, but there are several things I dislike about how Dennett uses the idea.
Mainly, it’s leaning on the social standards of scientific practice, and on a definition of what “real science” or “good science” is, to argue against propositions like “any given scientist studying consciousness should take into account their own introspective data—e.g., the apparent character of their own visual field—in addition to verbal descriptions, as an additional fact to explain.” This is meant to serve as a cudgel and bulwark against philosophers like David Chalmers, who claim that introspection reveals further facts (/data/explananda) not strictly translatable into verbal reports.
This is framing the issue as one of social-acceptability-to-the-norms-of-scientists or conformity-with-a-definition-of-”science”, whereas correct versions of the argument are Bayesian. (And it’s logically rude to not make the Bayesianness super explicit and clear, given the opportunity; it obscures your premises while making your argument feel more authoritative via its association with “science”.)
We can imagine a weird alien race (or alien AI) that has extremely flawed sensory faculties, and very good introspection. A race like that might be able to bootstrap to good science, via leveraging their introspection to spot systematic ways in which their sensory faculties fail, and sift out the few bits of reliable information about their environments.
Humans are plausibly the opposite: as an accident of evolution, we have much more reliable sensory faculties than introspective faculties. This is a generalization from the history of science and philosophy, and from the psychology literature. Moreover, humans have a track record of being bad at distinguishing cases where their introspection is reliable from cases where it’s unreliable; so it’s hard to be confident of any lines we could draw between the “good introspection” and the “bad introspection”. All of this is good reason to require extra standards of evidence before humanity “takes introspection at face value” and admits it into its canon of Established Knowledge.
Personally, I think consciousness is (in a certain not-clarified-here sense) an illusion, and I’m happy to express confidence that Chalmers’ view is wrong. But I think Dennett has been uniquely bad at articulating the reasons Chalmers is probably wrong, often defaulting to dismissing them or trying to emphasize their social illegitimacy (as “unscientific”).
The “heterophenomenology” meme strikes me as part of that project, whereas a more honest approach would say “yeah, in principle introspective arguments are totally admissible, they just have to do a bit more work than usual because we’re giving them a lower prior (for reasons X, Y, Z)” and “here are specific reasons A, B, C that Chalmers’ arguments don’t meet the evidential bar that’s required for us to take the ‘autophenomenological’ data at face value in this particular case”.
Also interesting: “insistence that we be immune to skeptical arguments” and “fascination with the idea of representation/intentionality/‘aboutness’” seems to have led the continental philosophers in similar directions, as in Sartre’s “Intentionality: A Fundamental Idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology.” But that intellectual tradition had less realism, instrumentalism, and love-of-science in its DNA, so there was less resistance to sliding toward an “everything is sort of subjective” position.
Upvoted! My discussion of a bunch of these things above is very breezy, and I approve of replacing the vague claims with more specific historical ones. To clarify, here are four things I’m not criticizing:
1. Eliminativism about particular mental states, of the form ‘we used to think that this psychological term (e.g., “belief”) mapped reasonably well onto reality, but now we understand the brain well enough to see it’s really doing [description] instead, and our previous term is a misleading way of gesturing at this (or any other) mental process.’
I’m an eliminativist (or better, an illusionist) about subjectivity and phenomenal consciousness myself. (Though I think the arguments favoring that view are complicated and non-obvious, and there’s no remotely intellectually satisfying illusionist account of what the things we call “conscious” really consist in.)
2. In cases where the evidence for an eliminativist hypothesis isn’t strong, the practice of having some research communities evaluate eliminativism or try eliminativism out and see if it leads in any productive directions. Importantly, a community doing this should treat the eliminativist view as an interesting hypothesis or an exploratory research program, not in any way as settled science (or pre-scientific axiom!).
3. Demanding evidence for claims, and being relatively skeptical of varieties of evidence that have a poor track record, even if they “feel compelling”.
4. Demanding that high-level terms be in principle reducible to lower-level physical terms (given our justified confidence in physicalism and reductionism).
In the case of psychology, I am criticizing (and claiming really happened, though I agree that these views weren’t as universal, unquestioned, and extreme as is sometimes suggested):
Skinner’s and other behaviorists’ greedy reductionism; i.e., their tendency to act like they’d reduced or explained more than they actually had. Scientists should go out of their way to emphasize the limitations and holes in their current models, and be very careful (and fully explicit about why they believe this) when it comes to claims of the form ‘we can explain literally everything in [domain] using only [method].’
Rushing to achieve closure, dismiss open questions, forbid any expressions of confusion or uncertainty, and treat blank parts of your map as though they must correspond to a blank (or unimportant) territory. Quoting Watson (1928):
With the advent of behaviorism in 1913 the mind-body problem disappeared — not because ostrich-like its devotees hid their heads in the sand but because they would take no account of phenomena which they could not observe. The behaviorist finds no mind in his laboratory — sees it nowhere in his subjects. Would he not be unscientific if he lingered by the wayside and idly speculated upon it; just as unscientific as the biologists would be if they lingered over the contemplation of entelechies, engrams and the like. Their world and the world of the behaviorist are filled with facts — with data which can be accumulated and verified by observation — with phenomena which can be predicted and controlled.
If the behaviorists are right in their contention that there is no observable mind-body problem and no observable separate entity called mind — then there can be no such thing as consciousness and its subdivision. Freud’s concept borrowed from somatic pathology breaks down. There can be no festering spot in the substratum of the mind — in the unconscious —because there is no mind.
More generally: overconfidence in cool new ideas, and exaggeration of what they can do.
Over-centralizing around an eliminativist hypothesis or research program in a way that pushes out brainstorming, hypothesis-generation, etc. that isn’t easy to fit into that frame. I quote Hempel (1935) here:
[Behaviorism’s] principal methodological postulate is that a scientific psychology should limit itself to the study of the bodily behavior with which man and the animals respond to changes in their physical environment, and should proscribe as nonscientific any descriptive or explanatory step which makes use of terms from introspective or ‘understanding’ psychology, such as ‘feeling’, ‘lived experience’, ‘idea’, ‘will’, ‘intention’, ‘goal’, ‘disposition’, ‘represension’. We find in behaviorism, consequently, an attempt to construct a scientific psychology[.]
Simply put: getting the wrong answer. Some errors are more excusable than others, but even if my narrative about why they got it wrong is itself wrong, it would still be important to emphasize that they got it wrong, and could have done much better.
The general idea that introspection is never admissible as evidence. It’s fine if you want to verbally categorize introspective evidence as ‘unscientific’ in order to distinguish it from other kinds of evidence, and there are some reasonable grounds for skepticism about how strong many kinds of introspective evidence are. But evidence is still evidence; a Bayesian shouldn’t discard evidence just because it’s hard to share with other agents.
The rejection of folk-psychology language, introspective evidence, or anything else for science-as-attire reasons.
Idealism emphasized some useful truths (like ‘our perceptions and thoughts are all shaped by our mind’s contingent architecture’) but ended up in a ‘wow it feels great to make minds more and more important’ death spiral.
Behaviorism too emphasized some useful truths (like ‘folk psychology presupposes a bunch of falsifiable things about minds that haven’t all been demonstrated very well’, ‘it’s possible for introspection to radically mislead us in lots of ways’, and ‘it might benefit psychology to import and emphasize methods from other scientific fields that have a better track record’) but seems to me to have fallen into a ‘wow it feels great to more and more fully feel like I’m playing the role of a True Scientist and being properly skeptical and cynical and unromantic about humans’ trap.
The same “that sounds silly” heuristic that helps you reject Berkeley’s argument (when it’s fringe and ‘wears its absurdity on its sleeve’) helps you accept 19th-century idealists’ versions of the argument (when it’s respectable and framed as the modern/scientific/practical/educated/consensus view on the issue).
I should also emphasize that Berkeley’s idealism is very different from (e.g.) Hegel’s idealism. “Idealism” comes in enough different forms that it’s probably more useful for referring to a historical phenomenon than a particular ideology. (Fortunately, the former is the topic I’m interested in here.)
Berkely’s argument caused a fair amount of incredulity at the time. Samuel Johnon’s Argumentum ad Lapidum was intended as a reponse.
This seems like incredulity at his conclusion, rather than at his argument. Do you know of good criticisms of the master argument from the time? (Note it wasn’t given a standard name until the 1970s.)
To be clear, I think Berkeley was near-universally rejected at the time, because his conclusion (‘there’s no material world’) was so wild. Most people also didn’t understand what Berkeley was saying, even though he was pretty clear about it (see: Kant’s misunderstanding; and the above fallacious counterargument, assuming it wasn’t just a logically rude joke on Johnson’s part).
But I don’t update positively about people for rejecting silly-sounding conclusions just based on how silly they sound. The same “that sounds silly” heuristic that helps you reject Berkeley’s argument (when it’s fringe and ‘wears its absurdity on its sleeve’) helps you accept 19th-century idealists’ versions of the argument (when it’s respectable and framed as the modern/scientific/practical/educated/consensus view on the issue).
BTW, I notice that a lot of people here are persuaded by Aumann’s Agreement Theorem, which is every bit as flawed in my view.
“Avoiding amending your utility function” is one of the classic convergent instrumental goals in Bostrom and Omohundro, and the reasoning there is sound: almost any goal will be better satisfied if it preserves itself than if it replaces itself with a different goal.
I do think it’s plausible that AGI systems will have pretty unstable goals early on, but that’s because goal stability seems hard to me and AGI systems probably won’t perfectly figure it out very early along their development curve. I’m imagining accidental goal modification (for insufficiently capable systems), whereas you’re describing deliberate goal modification (for sufficiently capable systems).
One way of thinking about this is to note that “wanting your goals to not be externally supplied” is itself a goal, and a relatively specific one at that; if you don’t have something like that specific goal as part of the core criteria you use to select options, there’s no instrumental reason for you to converge upon it. E.g., if your goal is simply “maximize the number of paperclips in your future light cone,” then the etiology of your goal doesn’t matter (from your perspective).
Ike is responding to this:
Gödel: What could it mean for a statement to be “true but not provable”? Is this just because there are some statements such that neither P nor not-P can be proven, yet one of them must be true? If so, I would (stubbornly) contest that perhaps P and not-P really are both non-true.
“P and not-P really are both non-true” is classically false, and Gödel holds in classical mathematics, so Evan’s response isn’t available in that case.
Evan’s sense that “perhaps P and not-P really are both non-true” might be a reason for him to endorse intuitionism as “more correct” than classical math in some sense.
Proofs, Implications, and Models introduces some of these ideas more slowly. Other stuff from the Highly Advanced Epistemology 101 for Beginners is relevant too, and includes more realism-flavored concerns about choosing between systems.
My claim is that instrumentalism is the correct metaphysics regardless
What does it mean for instrumentalism to be the correct metaphysics? Normally, I’d interpret “the correct metaphysics” as saying something basic about reality or the universe. (Or, if you’re an instrumentalist and you say “X is the correct metaphysics”, I’d assume you were saying “it’s useful to have a model that treats X as a basic fact about reality or the universe”, which also doesn’t make sense to me if X is “instrumentalism”.)
Although it is also true that if you try interpreting quantum mechanics according to sufficiently strong realist desiderata
Well, sufficiently specific realist desiderata. Adding hidden variables to QM doesn’t make the theory any more realist, the way we’re using “realist” here.