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Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 10

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.
I wouldn't draw a distinction there. If you don't know more criticisms, and resolved all the conflicts of ideas you know about, you're done, you resolved things. Whether you could potentially create more criticisms doesn't change that.
OK, of everything you’ve said so far that is the one that I find least able to accept. Thinking of things takes time - you aren’t disputing that. So, if at a given instant I have resolved all the conflicts I know about, but some of what I now think is really really new and I know I haven’t tried to refute it, how on earth can I be “done"?
As you say, you already know that you should make some effort to think critically about new ideas. So, you already have an idea that conflicts with the idea to declare yourself done immediately.

If you know a reason not to do something, that's an idea that conflicts with it.
That’s precisely what I previously called switching one’s brain off. Until one has given one’s brain a reasonable amount of time to come up with a refutation of a new concept, the debate is abundantly ongoing.

You make a good point about the cryonics example being sub-optimal because I’m the defender and you’re the critic. So, OK, let’s do as you suggest and switch (for now) to a topic where you’re the defender and I’m the critic. There is a readily available one: your approach to the formation of conclusions.
I see some problems with this choice:

Using an epistemology discussion as an example for itself adds complexity.

Using a topic where we disagree mixes demonstrating answering criticism with trying to persuade you.

Using a complex and large topic is harder.

I still will criticize justificationism because you still think it can create knowledge.



If I were to pick, I'd look for a simpler topic where we agree. For example, we both believe that death from aging and illness is bad. If SENS or cryonics succeeded, that would be a good thing not a bad thing.

I wonder if you think there's criticisms of this position which you don't have a refutation of? Some things you had to gloss over as "weak" arguments, rather than answer?

The idea that grass cures the common cold – or that this is a promising lead which should be studied in the near term – would also work. You gave an initial argument on this topic, but I replied criticizing it. You didn't then demonstrate your claimed ability to keep up arguments for a bad position indefinitely.
(Does it have a name?
Popper named it Critical Rationalism (CR).
- presumably something better than non-justificationism? I’m going to call it Elliotism for now, and my contrary position Aubreyism, since I have a feeling we’re both adopting positions that are special cases of whatever isms might already have been coined.) Let’s evaluate the validity of Elliotism using Elliotism.
What do you mean by "validity"? I'm guessing you mean justification.

To evaluate CR with CR, you would have to look at it with its own concepts like non-refutedness.
The present state of affairs is that I view Elliotism as incorrect - I think justificationism is flawed in an ideal world with infinite resources (especially time) but is all we have in the real world, whereas (as I understand it) Elliotism says that justificationism can be avoided and a purely boolean approach to refutation adopted, even in a resource-constrained world.
Yes, but, I think you've rejected or not understood important criticism of justificationism. You've tried to concede some points while not accepting their conclusions. So to clarify:

Justificationism is not a flawed but somewhat useful approach. It literally doesn't and can't create knowledge. All progress in all fields has come from other things.

Justificationists always sneak in some an ad hoc, poorly specified, unstated-and-hidden-from-criticism version of CR into their thinking, which is why they are able to think at all.

This is what you were doing when saying you clarified that meant Aubreyism step 1 to include creative and critical thinking.

So what you really do is some CR, then sometimes stop and ignore some criticisms. The justificationism in the remaining steps is an excuse that hides what's going on, but contributes no value.

Some more on this at the end.
I’ve articulated some rebuttals of Elliotism, and you’ve articulated a series of rebuttals of my rebuttals, but I’m finding them increasingly weak
"weak" is too vague to be answerable
- I’m no longer seeing them as reaching my threshold of “meaningful” (i.e. requiring a new rebuttal).
This is too vague to be answerable. What's the threshold, and which arguments don't meet it?
Rather, they seem only to reveal confusion on your part, such as elidin the difference between resolving a conflict of ideas and resolving a conflict of personalities, or ignoring what one knows
What who knows? I have not been ignoring things I know, so I'm unclear on what you're trying to get at.
about the time it typically takes to generate a rebuttal when there is one out there to be generated. I’ve mentioned these problems with Elliotism and I’m not satisfied with your replies. Does that mean I should consider the discussion to be over? Not according to Elliotism, because in your view you are still coming up with abundantly meaningful rebiuttals of my rebuttals, i.e. we’re nowhere near a win/win. But according to Aubreyism, I probably should, soon anyway, because I’ve given you a fair chance to come up with rebuttals that I find to be meaningful and you’ve tried and failed.
I don't know, specifically, what you're unsatisfied with.

It could help to focus on one criticism you think you're right about, and clarify what the problem is and why you think my reply doesn't solve it. Then go back and forth about it.


You mention two issues but without stating the criticism you believe is unanswered. This doesn't allow me to answer the issues.

1) You mention time for rebuttal creation. We discussed this. But at this point, I don't know what you think the problem is, how it refutes CR, and what was unsatisfactory about my explanations on the topic.

2) You mention the difference between conflicts of ideas and personalities. But I don't know what the criticism is.

Personalities consist of ideas, so in that sense there is no difference. I don't know what you would say about this – agree or disagree, and then reach what conclusion about CR.

But that's a literal answer which may be irrelevant.

I'm guessing your intended point is about the difference between getting people not to fight vs. actually making progress in a field like science. These are indeed very different. I'm aware of that and I don't know why you think it poses a problem for CR. With CR as with anything else, large breakthroughs aren't made at all times in every discussion. So what? The claim I've made is the possibility of acting only on non-refuted ideas.
Oh dear - we seem to have a bistable situation. Elliotism is valid if evaluated according to Elliotism, but Aubreyism is valid if evaluated according to Aubreyism. How are we supposed to get out of that?
One approach is looking at real world results. What methods were behind things we all agree were substantial knowledge creation? Popper has done some analysis of examples from the history of science.


Another approach is to ask a hard epistemology question like, "How can knowledge be created?" Then see how well the different proposed epistemologies deal with it.

CR has an answer to this, but justificationism doesn't.

CR's answer is that guesses and criticism works because it's evolution, complete with replication, variation and selection. How and why evolution is able to create knowledge is well understood and has books like The Selfish Gene about it, as well as being covered well in DD's books.

Justificationism claims to be an epistemology method capable of creating knowledge. It therefore ought to either explain

1) how it's evolution

or

2) what a different way knowledge can be created is, besides evolution, and how it uses that

If you can't do this, you should reject justificationism. Not as an imperfect but pragmatic approach, but as being completely ineffective and useless at creating any knowledge.

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple on October 15, 2014

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