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Aubrey de Grey Discussion, 22

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 don't agree with your look-at-scientific-contributions method, but in any case you don't have the input data to use it. Yet somehow you think you've gotten a conclusion from it.
I guess I was too abbreviated: what I meant was that if disproportionate scientific progress were made by those with a minority view about how to reason, it wouldn’t be the minority view for long (at least not within science), and that hasn’t happened.
This claim, dealing with a field you don't want to study, brings up dozens of difficult issues which I think you don't want to discuss to resolution. I don't know what to do with this. Do you?

I'll mention a few example issues:

- If everyone thinks like this, who will try stuff in the first place? Who will be the early adopters? Is your plan to rely on people who *disagree with you* about this matter to be the ones to find, test, and then persuade you of innovations?

- The cause of success is something people disagree about, e.g. someone might attribute DD's success to him being an outlier genius, rather than to his philosophy.

- Small sample size. And many people don't know which scientists were Popperians. Take a hypothetical scientist who admires 100 scientists who were especially effective. 70 of them might be Popperians without him knowing.

- Judging which scientists actually are Popperians is difficult and requires philosophical skill to do accurately.

- You're proposing people would do something because it makes sense to do. But sometimes people are irrational and act in ways that don't make sense.

- It's a bit like asking if capitalism is so much better, why doesn't it dominate the whole world yet? There are many things that can block the uptake of good ideas other than the idea being mistaken.

Because there are many reasons things might not work out as you propose, you shouldn't rely on that way of looking at it. Instead, the only reasonable thing to do is look at the actual merits and content of CR arguments, not the unargued reactions of others. Look at the substantive ideas and arguments, not the opinions of others.

Either you personally should consider CR ideas, or (preferably since it's not your field) others should and you could read some summary work and be persuaded by that and reference it if challenged. So CR arguments get answered (or accepted), and there is a way for you to find out about new ideas (via the work you endorse, which provides targets for criticism, being refined or refuted). But you don't want to take responsibility for this, and nor do *lots* other people, and so the the march of progress is dramatically delayed.
Your arguments in your books about topics like mitochondria are much more detailed and rigorous than what you said to me about cryonics.
Um sure, but that’s becaue I referred you to alcor.org and cryonics.org. I deny that the arguments given there are much (indeed any) less detailed and rigorous than those I give about mitochondria etc.
You didn't want to refer me to specific material, and I was unable to find material in the same league as your stuff. I wrote to you explaining problems with some material I found (I didn't find equivalent problems in your books). If I misjudged it, or they offer better material, you could tell me.

You do things like consider all the challenges SENS has to deal with to work, and address each. Where is the equivalent cryonics material?

There is a great deal of detailed scientific knowledge about mitochondria (which you carefully studied and learned). Where is the equivalent cryonics material?
Scientific progress is much slower than it could be, today. This can be seen by surveying scientific fields. I've already given you some examples like the social sciences and medical retractions. You didn't give alternative interpretations or criticisms. Now you deny it after leaving those points unanswered, without exposing your reasoning to criticism.
Apologies again for over-brevity. Of course there are many reasons why scientific progress is much slower than it could be, but my contention is that inferiority of scientific method is not a significant one of them. Rather, the reasons are lack of funding from public sources beholden to the public (who certainly don’t reason well), self-serving short-termist competition between scientists fomented by that lack of funding, egos, that sort of thing. Theer is also a big contribution from poor interpretation (for example, poor use of statistics), but again that is not because scientists don’t believe statistics should be done right, it’s because they find it more important to publish than to be correct.
Here you bring up complex and controversial philosophical issues, including freedom and capitalism. What do you think I should do? Try to explain a bunch of philosophy when you have one foot out the door, while previous attempts to explain other philosophy are unresolved? Ask why you're confident in your judgments of these issues even though your philosophy is under-specified and under-studied, and you've chosen not to read a lot of the material on these topics? Guess that you might not recognize your paragraph as bringing up a bunch of complex and controversial philosophical issues, and guess what your reasoning might be, and try to preemptively answer it? Tell you that your perspective here contains mistakes relevant to SENS funding, so our philosophical differences do matter? Any suggestions?

I would know how to handle these things if we were both using my preferred methods. But you use your own methods in the discussion, and I don't know how to work with those. I don't know how issues like these are to be resolved with your discussion methods.

You deal with philosophy issues routinely, but you don't want to study it, and nor do you want to outsource that and endorse the conclusions in some specific writing. So you end up doing a mix of reinventing half of the wheel badly, plus outsourcing-by-accident to people whose names you don't even know so there's no accountability. You're accepting a bunch of ideas (e.g. induction) that you picked up somewhere and you don't know clearly who to hold accountable, which books are involved, where to look up details of their reasoning if I question it, etc. You're outsourcing philosophy thinking third-hand: some people have ideas and others decide they were successful and still others are impressed and spread the ideas through the culture to you.
Concerning quantum physics, I am not a specialist, but my understanding is that the Copenhagen and Everett interpretations make exactly the same predictions about observable data, and thus cannot be experimentally distinguished. My question then is, who cares which is correct? The passage you quote from topics/24387 "> seems to me to acknowledge this: it says that the only real problem with the Copenhagen model is that it’s nonsensical. What exactly is wrong with “shut up and calculate” if it works?
Did you read The Beginning of Infinity? Do you or anyone else have answers to it? Do you want me to rewrite it with less editing? Quote it? Will you be pleased with a reference to it, telling you where to get answers?

I also don't think it makes sense to drop the random sampling topic (for example) and take up this new one – won't we run into the same discussion problems again on this new topic? I expect to; do you disagree?

Although Schrödinger’s and Heisenberg’s theories seemed to describe very dissimilar worlds, neither of which was easy to relate to existing conceptions of reality, it was soon discovered that, if a certain simple rule of thumb was added to each theory, they would always make identical predictions. Moreover, these *predictions* turned out to be very successful.

With hindsight, we can state the rule of thumb like this: whenever a measurement is made, all the histories but one cease to exist. The surviving one is chosen at random, with the probability of each possible outcome being equal to the total measure of all the histories in which that outcome occurs.

At that point, disaster struck. Instead of trying to improve and integrate those two powerful but slightly flawed explanatory theories, and to explain why the rule of thumb worked, most of the theoretical-physics community retreated rapidly and with remarkable docility into instrumentalism. If the predictions work, they reasoned, why worry about the explanation? So they tried to regard quantum theory as being *nothing but* a set of rules of thumb for predicting the observed outcomes of experiments, saying nothing (else) about reality. This move is still popular today, and is known to its critics (and even to some of its proponents) as the ‘shut-up-and-calculate interpretation of quantum theory’.

This meant ignoring such awkward facts as (1) the rule of thumb was grossly inconsistent with both theories; hence it could be used only in situations where quantum effects were too small to be noticed. Those happened to include the moment of measurement (because of entanglement with the measuring instrument, and consequent decoherence, as we now know). And (2) it was not even *self*-consistent when applied to the hypothetical case of an observer performing a quantum measurement on another observer. And (3) both versions of quantum theory were clearly describing *some* sort of physical process that *brought* about the outcomes of experiments. Physicists, both through professionalism and through natural curiosity, could hardly help wondering about that process. But many of them tried not to. Most of them went on to train their students not to. This counteracted the scientific tradition of criticism in regard to quantum theory.

Let me define ‘bad philosophy’ as philosophy that is not merely false, but actively prevents the growth of other knowledge. In this case, instrumentalism was acting to prevent the explanations in Schrödinger’s and Heisenberg’s theories from being improved or elaborated or unified.
To understand what this means more, it's important to read the whole book and engage with it's ideas, e.g. by asking questions about points of confusion or disagreement, and criticizing parts you think may be mistaken, and discussing those things to resolution. Or if you don't do that, I think you should say more "I don't know"s instead of e.g. making the philosophical claims that shut up and calculate works, Aubreyism works, etc.

I think you want to neither answer the points in BoI and elsewhere (including by endorsing someone else's answer for use as your own), nor defer to them, nor be neutral. Isn't that irrational?

Continue reading the next part of the discussion.

Elliot Temple on December 9, 2014


What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)