I discussed epistemology and cryonics with Aubrey de Grey
via email. Click here to find the rest of the discussion
. Yellow quotes are from Aubrey de Grey, with permission. Bluegreen is me, red is other.
Did you receive my email? Hi - yes, I got it, but I couldn’t think of anything useful to say.
If you want to stop talking, or adjust the terms of the conversation (e.g. change the one message at a time back and forth style), please say so directly because silence is ambiguous.
But see my comments below. I don't think we're at an impasse. I think what you said here was particularly productive.
We have reached an impasse in which you insist on objecting to my failure to address various of your points, but I object to your failure to address my main point, namely that there is no objective measure of the rebuttability of a position. I am grateful for your persistence, since it has certainly helped me to gain a better understanding of the rationality IN MY OWN TERMS, i.e. the internal consistency, of my position, and in retrospect it is only because of my prior lack of that understanding that I didn’t zero in sooner on that main point as the key issue. But still it is the main point. I don’t see why I should take the time to read things to convince me of something that I’m already conceding for sake of argument, i.e. that Aubreyism is epistemologically inferior to Elliotism. And I also don’t see why I should take the time to work harder to convince you of the value of cryonics when you haven’t given me any reason to believe that your objections (i.e. your claim that Alcor’s arguments are rebuttable in a sense that my arguments for SENS are not, and moreover that that sense is the correct one) are objective.
Also, for a lot of the things I haven’t replied to it’s because I’m bemused by your wording. To take the latest case: when I’ve asked you for examples where science could have gone a lot faster by using CR rather than whatever else was used, and you have cited cases that I think are far more parsimoniously explained by sociological considerations, you’ve now come back with the suggestion that "Lots of the sociological considerations are explained by the philosophical issues I'm talking about”. To me that’s not just a questionable or wrong statement, it’s a nonsensical one. My point has nothing whatever to do with the explanations for the sociological considerations - it is merely that if you accept that other issues than the CR/non-CR question (such as the weight that rationalists give to the views of irrationalists, because they want to sleep with them or whatever) slow things down, you can’t argue that the CR/non-CR question slowed them down.
When I say something you think is nonsense, if you ignore that and try to continue the rest of the conversation, we're going to run into problems. I meant what I said, and it's important to my position, so please treat it seriously. By ignoring those statements, it ends up being mysterious to me why you disagree, because you aren't telling me your biggest objections! They won't go away by themselves because they are what I think, not random accidents.
In this case, there was a misunderstanding. You took "explained" to mean, "make [a situation] clear to someone by describing it in more detail". But I meant, "be the cause of". (Both of those are excerpts from a dictionary.) I consider bad epistemology the cause of the sociological problems, and CR the solution. I wasn't talking about giving abstract explanations with no purpose in reality. I'm saying philosophy is they key issue behind this sociological stuff.
I regard this sort of passing over large disagreements as a methodological error, which must affect your discussions with many people on all topics. And it's just the sort of topic CR offers better ideas about. And I think the outcome here – a misunderstanding that wouldn't have been cleared up if I didn't follow up – is pretty typical. And misunderstandings do happen all the time, whether they are getting noticed and cleared up or not.
I think the sex issue is a great example. Let's focus on that as a representative example of many sociological issues. You think CR has nothing to do with this, but I'll explain how CR has everything to do with it. It's a matter of ideas, and CR is a method of dealing with ideas (an epistemology), and such a method (an epistemology) is necessary to life, and having a better one makes all the difference.
Epistemology -> life ideas -> behavior/choices
What does each of those mean?
1) Epistemology is the name of one's **method of dealing with ideas**. That includes evaluating ideas, deciding which ideas to accept, finding and fixing problems with ideas, integrating ideas into one's life so they are actually used (or not), and so on. This is not what you're used to from most explicit epistemologies, but it's the proper meaning, and it's what CR offers.
2) Life ideas determine one's behavior in regard to sex, and everything else. This is stuff like one's values, one's emotional makeup, one's personality, one's goals, one's preferences, and so on. In this case, we're dealing with the person's ideas about sex, courtship and integrity.
3) Behavior/choices is what you think it means. I don't have to explain this part. In this case it deals with the concrete actions taken to pursue the irrational woman.
You see the sex example as separate from epistemology. I see them as linked, one step removed. Epistemology is one's method of dealing with (life) ideas. Then some of those (life) ideas determine sexual behavior/choices.
Concretizing, let's examine some typical details. The guy thinks that sex is a very high value, especially if the woman is very pretty and has high social status. He values the sex independent of having a moral and intellectual connection with her. He's also too passive, puts her on a pedestal, and thinks he'll do better by avoiding conflict. He also thinks he can compromise reason in his social life and keep that separate from his scientific life. (Life) ideas like these cause his sexual behavior/choices. If he had different life ideas, he'd change his behavior/choices.
Where did all these bad (life) ideas come from? Mainly from his culture including parents, teachers, friends, TV, books and websites.
Now here's where CR comes in. Why did he accept these bad ideas, instead of finding or creating some better ideas? That's because of his epistemology – his method of dealing with ideas. His epistemology let him down. It's the underlying cause of the cause of the mistaken sexual behavior/choices. A better epistemology (CR) would have given him the methods to acquire and live by better life ideas, resulting in better behavior/choices.
Concretizing with typical examples: his epistemology may have told him that checking those life ideas for errors was unnecessary because everyone knows they're how life works. Or it told him an ineffective method of checking the ideas for errors. Or it told him the errors he sees don't matter outside of trying to be clever in certain intellectual discussions. Or it told him the errors he sees can be outweighed without addressing them. Or it told him that life is full of compromise, win/lose outcomes are how reason works, and so losing in some ways isn't an error and nothing should be done about it.
If he'd used CR instead, he would have had a method that is effective at finding and dealing with errors, so he'd end up with much better life ideas. Most other epistemologies serve to intellectually disarm their victims and make it harder to resist bad life ideas (as in each of the examples in the previous paragraph). Which leads to the sociological problems that hinder science.
Everyone has an epistemology – a method of dealing with ideas. People deal with ideas on a daily basis. But most people don't know what their epistemology is, and don't use an epistemology that can be found in a book (even if they say they do).
The epistemologies in books, and taught at universities, are mostly floating abstractions, disconnected from reality. People learn them as words to say in certain conversations, but never manage to use them in daily life. CR is not like that, it offers something better.
Most people end up using a muddled epistemology, fairly accidentally, without much control over it. It's full of flaws because one's culture (especially one's parents) has bad ideas about epistemology – about the methods of dealing with ideas. And one is fallible and introduces a bunch of his own errors.
The only defense against error is error-correction – which requires good error-correcting methods of dealing with ideas (epistemology) – which is what CR is about. It's crucial to learn about what one's epistemology is, and improve it. Or else one will – lacking the methods to do better – accept bad ideas on all topics and have huge problems throughout life.
And note those problems in life include problems one isn't aware of. Thinking your life is going well doesn't mean much. The guy with the bad approach to sex typically won't regard that as a huge problem in his life, he'll see it a different way. Or if he regards it as problematic, he may be completely on the wrong track about the solution, e.g. thinking he needs to make more compromises with his integrity so he can have more success with women.
PS This is somewhat simplified. Epistemology has some direct impact, not just indirect. And I don't regard the sociological problems as the only main issue with science, I think bad ideas about how to do science (e.g. induction) matter too. But I think it's a good starting place for understanding my perspective. Philosophy dominates EVERYTHING.