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Discussion About the Importance of Explanations with Andrew Crawshaw

From Facebook:

Justin Mallone:

The following excerpt argues that explanations are what is absolutely key in Popperian philosophy, and that Popper over-emphasizes the role of testing in science, but that this mistake was corrected by physicist and philosopher David Deutsch (see especially the discussion of the grass cure example). What do people think?
(excerpted from: https://curi.us/1504-the-most-important-improvement-to-popperian-philosophy-of-science)

Most ideas are criticized and rejected for being bad explanations. This is true even in science where they could be tested. Even most proposed scientific ideas are rejected, without testing, for being bad explanations.
Although tests are valuable, Popper's over-emphasis on testing mischaracterizes science and sets it further apart from philosophy than need be. In both science and abstract philosophy, most criticism revolves around good and bad explanations. It's largely the same epistemology. The possibility of empirical testing in science is a nice bonus, not a necessary part of creating knowledge.

In [The Fabric of Reality], David Deutsch gives this example: Consider the theory that eating grass cures colds. He says we can reject this theory without testing it.
He's right, isn't he? Should we hire a bunch of sick college students to eat grass? That would be silly. There is no explanation of how grass cures colds, so nothing worth testing. (Non-explanation is a common type of bad explanation!)
Narrow focus on testing -- especially as a substitute for support/justification -- is one of the major ways of misunderstanding Popperian philosophy. Deutsch's improvement shows how its importance is overrated and, besides being true, is better in keeping with the fallibilist spirit of Popper's thought (we don't need something "harder" or "more sciency" or whatever than critical argument!).

Andrew Crawshaw: I see, but it might turn out that grass cures cold. This would just be an empirical fact, demanding scientific explanation.

TC: Right, and if a close reading of Popper yielded anything like "test every possible hypothesis regardless of what you think of it", this would represent an advancement over Popper's thought. But he didn't suggest that.

Andrew Crawshaw: We don't reject claims of the form by indicated by Deustch because they are bad explanations. There are plenty of dangling empirical claims that we still hold to be true but which are unexplained. Deutsch is mistaking the import of his example.

Elliot Temple:

There are plenty of dangling empirical claims that we still hold to be true but which are unexplained.

That's not the issue. Are there any empirical claims we have criticism of, but which we accept? (Pointing out that something is a bad explanation is a type of criticism.)

Andrew Crawshaw: If you think that my burden is to show that there are empirical claims that are refuted but that we accept, then you have not understood my criticism.

For example

Grass cures colds.

Is of the same form as

aluminium hydroxide contributes to the production of a large quantity of antibodies.

Both are empirical claims, but they are not explanatory. That does not make them bad

Neither of them are explanations. One is accepted and the other is not.

It's not good saying that the former is a bad explanation.

The latter has not yet been properly explained by sciences

Elliot Temple: The difference is we have explanations of how aluminum hydroxide works, e.g. from wikipedia " It reacts with excess acid in the stomach, reducing the acidity of the stomach content"

Andrew Crawshaw: Not in relation to its antibody mechanism.

Elliot Temple: Can you provide reference material for what you're talking about? I'm not familiar with it.

Andrew Crawshaw: I can, but it is still irrelevant to my criticism. Which is that they are both not explanatory claims, but one is held as true while the other not.

They are low-level empirical claims that call out for explantion, they don't themselves explain. Deutsch is misemphesising.


Elliot Temple: your link is broken, and it is relevant b/c i suspect there is an explanation.

Andrew Crawshaw: It's still irrelevant to my criticism. Which is that we often accept things like rules of thumb, even when they are unexplained. They don't need to be explained for them to be true of for us to class them as true. Miller talks about this extensively. For instance strapless evening gowns were not understand scientifically for ages.

Elliot Temple: i'm saying we don't do that, and you're saying you have a counter-example but then you say the details of the counter-example are irrelevant. i don't get it.

Elliot Temple: you claim it's a counter example. i doubt it. how are we to settle this besides looking at the details?

Andrew Crawshaw: My criticism is that calling such a claim a bad explanation is irrelevat to those kinds of claims. They are just empirical claims that beg for explanation.

Elliot Temple: zero explanation is a bad explanation and is a crucial criticism. things we actually use have more explanation than that.

Andrew Crawshaw: So?

Elliot Temple: so DD and I are right: we always go by explanations. contrary to what you're saying.

Andrew Crawshaw: We use aliminium hydroxide for increasing anti-bodies and strapless evening gowns p, even before they were explained.

Elliot Temple: i'm saying i don't think so, and you're not only refusing to provide any reference material about the matter but you claimed such reference material (indicating the history of it and the reasoning involved) is irrelevant.

Andrew Crawshaw: I have offered it. I re-edited my post.

Elliot Temple: please don't edit and expect me to see it, it usually doesn't show up.

Andrew Crawshaw: You still have not criticised my claim. The one comparing the two sentences which are of the same form, yet one is accepted and one not.

Elliot Temple: the sentence "aluminium hydroxide contributes to the production of a large quantity of antibodies." is inadequate and should be rejected.

the similar sentence with a written or implied footnote to details about how we know it would be a good claim. but you haven't given that one. the link you gave isn't the right material: it doesn't say what aluminium hydroxide does, how we know it, how it was discovered, etc

Elliot Temple: i think your problem is mixing up incomplete, imperfect explanations (still have more to learn) with non-explanation.

Andrew Crawshaw: No, it does not. But to offer that would be to explain. Which is exactly what I am telling is irrelevant.

What is relevant is whether the claim itself is a bad explanation. It's just an empirical claim.

The point is just that we often have empirical claims that are not explained scientifically yet we accept them as true and use them.

Elliot Temple: We don't. If you looked at the history of it you'd find there were lots of explanations involved.

Elliot Temple: I guess you just don't know the history either, which is why you don't know the explanations involved. People don't study or try things randomly.

Elliot Temple: If you could pick a better known example which we're both familiar with, i could walk you through it.

Andrew Crawshaw: There was never an explanation of how bridges worked. But there were rules of thumb of how to build them. There is explanations of how to use aluminium hydroxide but is actual mechanism is unknown.

Elliot Temple: what are you talking about with bridges. you can walk on strong, solid objects. what do you not understand?

Andrew Crawshaw: That's not how they work. I am talking about the scientific explanation of forces and tensions. It was not always understood despite the fact that they were built. This is the same with beavers dams, they don't know any of the explanations of how to build dams.

Elliot Temple: you don't have to know everything that could be known to have an explanation. understanding that you can walk on solid objects, and they can be supported, etc, is an explanation, whether you know all the math or not. that's what the grass cure for the cold lacks.

Elliot Temple: the test isn't omniscience, it's having a non-refuted explanation.

Andrew Crawshaw: Hmm, but are you saying then that even bad-explanations can be accepted. Cuz as far as I can tell many of the explanations for bridge building were bad, yet they stil built bridges.

Anyway you are still not locating my criticism. You are criticising something I never said it seems. Which is that Grass cures cold has not been explained. But what Deutsch was claiming was that the claim itself was a bad explanation, which is true if bad explanation includes non-explanation, but it is not the reason it is not accepted. As the hydroxide thing suggests.

Elliot Temple: We should only accept an explanation that we don't know any criticism of.

We need some explanation or we'd have no idea if what we're doing would work, we'd be lost and acting randomly without rhyme or reason. And that initial explanation is what we build on – we later improve it to make it more complete, explain more stuff.

Andrew Crawshaw: I think this is incorrect. All animals that can do things refutes your statement.

Elliot Temple: The important thing is the substance of the knowledge, not whether it's written out in the form of an English explanation.

Andrew Crawshaw: Just because there is an explanation of how some physical substrate interacts with another physical substrate, does not mean that you need explanations. Explanations are in language. Knowledge not necessarily. Knowledge is a wider phenomenon than explanation. I have many times done things by accident that have worked, but I have not known why.

Elliot Temple: This is semantics. Call it "knowledge" then. You need non-refuted knowledge of how something could work before it's worth trying. The grass cure for the cold idea doesn't meet this bar. But building a log bridge without knowing modern science is fine.

Andrew Crawshaw: Before it's worth trying? I don't think so, rules of thumb are discovered by accident and then re-used without knowing how or why it could work,,it's just works and then they try it again and it works again. Are you denying that that is a possibility?

Elliot Temple: Yes, denying that.

Andrew Crawshaw: Well, you are offering foresight to evolution then, it seems.

Elliot Temple: That's vague. Say what you mean.

Andrew Crawshaw: I don't think it is that vague. If animals can build complex things like behaves and they should have had knowledge of how it could work before it was worth trying out, then they have a lot of forsight before they tried them out. Or could it be the fact that it is the other way round, we stumble in rules of thumb develop them, then come up with explanations about how they possibly work. I am more inclined to the latter. The former is just another version of the argument from design.

Elliot Temple: humans can think and they should think before acting. it's super inefficient to act mindlessly. genetic evolution can't think and instead does things very, very, very slowly.

Andrew Crawshaw: But thinking before acting is true. Thinking is critical. It needs material to work on. Which is guesswork and sometimes, if not often, accidental actions.

Elliot Temple: when would it be a good idea to act thoughtlessly (and which thoughtless action) instead of acting according to some knowledge of what might work?

Elliot Temple: e.g. when should you test the grass cure for cancer, with no thought to whether it makes any sense, instead of thinking about what you're doing and acting according to your rational thought? (which means e.g. considering what you have some understanding could work, and what you have criticisms of)

Andrew Crawshaw: Wait, we often act thoughtlessly whether or not we should do. I don't even think it is a good idea. But we often try to do things and end up somewhere which is different to what we expected, it might be worse or better. For instance, we might try to eat grass because we are hungry and then happen to notice that our cold disspaeard and stumble on a cure for the cold.

Andrew Crawshaw: And different to what we expected might work even though we have no idea why.

Elliot Temple: DD is saying what we should do, he's talking about reason. Sometimes people act foolishly and irrationally but that doesn't change what the proper methods of creating knowledge are.

Sometimes unexpected things happen and you can learn from them. Yes. So what?

Andrew Crawshaw: But if Deustch expects that we can only work with explanations. Then he is mistaken. Which is, it seems, what you have changed your mind about.

Elliot Temple: I didn't change my mind. What?

What non-explanations are you talking about people working with? When an expectation you have is violated, and you investigate, the explanation is you're trying to find out if you were mistaken and figure out the thing you don't understand.

Elliot Temple: what do you mean "work with"? we can work with (e.g. form explanations about) spreadsheet data. we can also work with hammers. resources don't have to be explanations themselves, we just need an explanation of how to get value out of the resource.

Andrew Crawshaw: There is only one method of creating knowledge. Guesswork. Or, if genetically, by mutation. Physical things are often made without knows how and then they are applied in various contexts and they might and mint not work, that does not mean we know how they work.

Elliot Temple: if you didn't have an explanation of what actions to take with a hammer to achieve what goal, then you couldn't proceed and be effective with the hammer. you could hit things randomly and pray it works out, but it's not a good idea to live that way.

Elliot Temple: (rational) humans don't proceed purely by guesses, they also criticize the guesses first and don't act on the refuted guesses.

Andrew Crawshaw: Look there are three scenarios

  1. Act on knowledge
  2. Stumble upon solution by accident, without knowing why it works.
  3. Act randomly

Elliot Temple: u always have some idea of why it works or you wouldn't think it was a solution.

Andrew Crawshaw: No, all you need is to recognise that it worked. This is easily done by seeing that what you wanted to happen happened. It is non-sequitur to then assume that you know something of how it works.

Elliot Temple: you do X. Y results. Y is a highly desirable solution to some recurring problem. do you now know that X causes Y? no. you need some causal understanding, not just a correlation. if you thought it was impossible that X causes Y, you would look for something else. if you saw some way it's possible X causes Y, you have an initial explanation of how it could work, which you can and should expose to criticism.

Elliot Temple:

Know all you need is to recognise that it works.

plz fix this sentence, it's confusing.

Andrew Crawshaw: You might guess that it caused it. You don't need to understand it to guess that it did.

Elliot Temple: correlation isn't causation. you need something more.

Elliot Temple: like thinking of a way it could possibly cause it.

Elliot Temple: that is, an explanation of how it works.

Andrew Crawshaw: I am not saying correlation is causation, you don't need to explained guesswork, before you have guess it. You first need to guess that something caused something before you go out and explain it. Otherwise what are explaining?

Elliot Temple: you can guess X caused Y and then try to explain it. you shouldn't act on the idea that X caused Y if you have no explanation of how X could cause Y. if you have no explanation, then that's a criticism of the guess.

Elliot Temple: you have some pre-existing understanding of reality (including the laws of physics) which you need to fit this into, don't just treat the world as arbitrary – it's not and that isn't how one learns.

Andrew Crawshaw: That's not a criticism of the guess. It's ad hominem and justificationist.

Elliot Temple: "that" = ?

Andrew Crawshaw: I am agreeing totally with you about many things

  1. We should increase our criticism as much as possible.
  2. We do have inbuilt expectations about how the world works.

What We are not agreeing about is the following

  1. That a guess has to be back up by explanation for it to be true or classified as true. All we need is to criticise the guess. Arguing otherwise seems to me a type of justificationism.

  2. That in order to get novel explanations and creations, this often is done despite the knowledge and necessarily has to be that way otherwise it would not be new.

Elliot Temple:

That's not a criticism of the guess. It's ad hominem and justificationist.

please state what "that" refers to and how it's ad hominem, or state that you retract this claim.

Andrew Crawshaw: That someone does not have an explanation. First, because explanations are not easy to come by and someone not having an explanation for something does not in anyway impugn the pedigree of the guess or the strategy etc. Second explanation is important and needed, but not necessary for trying out the new strategy, y, that you guess causes x. You might develope explanations while using it. You don't need the explanation before using it.

Elliot Temple: Explanations are extremely easy to come by. I think you may be adding some extra criteria for what counts as an explanation.

Re your (1): if you have no explanation, then you can criticize it: why didn't they give it any thought and come up with an explanation? they should do that before acting, not act thoughtlessly. it's a bad idea to act thoughtlessly, so that's a criticism.

it's trivial to come up with even an explanation of how grass cures cancer: cancer is internal, and various substances have different effects on the body, so if you eat it it may interact with and destroy the cancer.

the problem with this explanation is we have criticism of it.

you need the explanation so you can try criticizing it. without the explanation, you can't criticize (except to criticize the lack of explanation).

re (2): this seems to contain typos, too confusing to answer.

Elliot Temple: whenever you do X and Y happens, you also did A, B, C, D. how do you know it was X instead of A, B, C or D which caused Y? you need to think about explanations before you can choose which of the infinite correlations to pay attention to.

Elliot Temple: for example, you may have some understanding that Y would be caused by something that isn't separated in space or time from it by very much. that's a conceptual, explanatory understanding about Y which is very important to deciding what may have caused Y.

Andrew Crawshaw: Again, it's not a criticism of the guess. It's a criticism of how the person acted.

The rest of your statements are compatible with what I am saying. Which is just that it can be done and explanations are not necessary either for using something or creating something. As the case of animals surely shows.

You don't know, you took a guess. You can't know before you guess that your guess was wrong.

Elliot Temple: "I guess X causes Y so I'll do X" is the thing being criticized. If the theory is just "Maybe X causes Y, and this is a thing to think about more" then no action is implied (besides thinking and research) and it's harder to criticize. those are different theories.

even the "Maybe X causes Y" thing is suspect. why do you think so? You did 50 million actions in your life and then Y happened. Why do you think X was the cause? You have some explanations informing this judgement!

Andrew Crawshaw: There is no difference between maybe Y and Y. It's always maybe Y. Unless refuted.

Andrew Crawshaw: You are subjectivist and justificationist as far as I can tell. A guess is objective and if someone despite the fact that they have bad judgement guesses correctly. They still guess correctly. Nothing mitigates the precariousness of this situation. Criticism is the other component.

Elliot Temple: If the guess is just "X causes Y", period, you can put that on the table of ideas to consider. However, it will be criticized as worthless: maybe A, B, or C causes Y. Maybe Y is self-caused. There's no reason to care about this guess. It doesn't even include any mention of Y ever happening.

Andrew Crawshaw: The guess won't be criticised, what will be noticed is that it shouts out for explanation and someone might offer it.

Elliot Temple: If the guess is "Maybe X causes Y because I once saw Y happen 20 seconds after X" then that's a better guess, but it will still get criticized: all sorts of things were going on at all sorts of different times before Y. so why think X caused Y?

Elliot Temple: yes: making a new guess which adds an explanation would address the criticism. people are welcome to try.

Elliot Temple: they should not, however, go test X with no explanation.

Andrew Crawshaw: That's good, but one of the best ways to criticise it, is to try it again and see if it works.

Elliot Temple: you need an explanation to understand what would even be a relevant test.

Elliot Temple: how do you try it again? how do you know what's included in X and what isn't included? you need an explanation to differentiate relevant stuff from irrelevant

Elliot Temple: as the standard CR anti-inductivist argument goes: there are infinite patterns and correlations. how do you pick which ones to pay attention to?

Elliot Temple: you shouldn't pick one thing, arbitrarily, from an INFINITE set and then test it. that's a bad idea. that's not how scientific progress is made.

Elliot Temple: what you need to do is have some conceptual understanding of what's going on. some explanations of what types of things might be relevant to causing Y and what isn't relevant, and then you can start doing experiments guided by your explanatory knowledge of physics, reality, some possible causes, etc

Elliot Temple: i am not a subjectivist or justificationist, and i don't see what's productive about the accusation. i'm willing to ignore it, but in that case it won't be contributing positively to the discussion.

Andrew Crawshaw: I am not saying that we have no knowledge. I am sayjng that we don't have an explanation of the mechanism.

Elliot Temple: can you give an example? i think you do have an explanation and you just aren't recognizing what you have.

Andrew Crawshaw: For instance, washing hands and it's link to mortality rates.

Elliot Temple: There was an explanation there: something like taint could potentially travel with hands.

Elliot Temple: This built on previous explanations people had about e.g. illnesses spreading to nearby people.

Andrew Crawshaw: Right, but the use of soap was not derived from the explanation. And that explanation might have been around before, and no such soap was used because of it.

Elliot Temple: What are you claiming happened, exactly?

Andrew Crawshaw: I am claiming that soap was invented for various reasons and then it turned out that the soap could be used for reducing mortality"

Elliot Temple: That's called "reach" in BoI. Where is the contradiction to anything I said?

Andrew Crawshaw: Reach of explanations. It was not the explanation, it was the invention of soap itself. Which was not anticipated or even encouraged by explanations. Soap is invented, used in a context an explanation might be applied to it. Then it is used in another context and again the explanation is retroactively applied to it. The explantion does not necessarily suggest more uses, nor need it.

Elliot Temple: You're being vague about the history. There were explanations involved, which you would see if you analyzed the details well.

Andrew Crawshaw: So, what if there were explanations "involved" The explanations don't add anything to the discovery of the uses of the soap. This are usually stumbled in by accident. And refinements to soaps as well for those different contexts.

Andrew Crawshaw: I am just saying that explanations of the soap works very rarely suggest new avenues. It's often a matter of trial and error.

Elliot Temple: You aren't addressing the infinite correlations/patterns point, which is a very important CR argument. Similarly, one can't observe without some knowledge first – all observation is theory laden. So one doesn't just observe that X is correlated to Y without first having a conceptual understanding for that to fit into.

Historically, you don't have any detailed counter example to what I'm saying, you're just speculating non-specifically in line with your philosophical views.

Andrew Crawshaw: It's an argument against induction. Not against guesswork informed by earlier guesswork, that often turns out to be mistaken. All explanations do is rule things out. unless they are rules for use, but these are developed while we try out those things.

Elliot Temple: It's an argument against what you were saying about observing X correlated with Y. There are infinite correlations. You can either observe randomly (not useful, has roughly 1/infinity chance of finding solutions, aka zero) or you can observe according to explanations.

Elliot Temple: You're saying to recognize a correlation and then do trial and error. But which one? Your position has elements of standard inductivist thinking in it.

Andrew Crawshaw: I never said anything about correlation - you did.

What is said was we could guess that x caused y and be correct. That's what I said, nothing more mothing less.

Andrew Crawshaw: One instance does not a correlation make.

Elliot Temple: You could also guess Z caused Y. Why are you guessing X caused Y? Filling up the potential-ideas with an INFINITE set of guesses isn't going to work. You're paying selective attention to some guesses over others.

Elliot Temple: This selective attention is either due to explanations (great!) or else it's the standard way inductivists think. Or else it's ... what else could it be?

Andrew Crawshaw: Why not? Criticise it. If you have a scientific theory that rules my guess out, that would be intersting. But saying why not this guess and why not that one. Some guesses are not considered by you maybe because they are ruled out by other expectations, or ey do not occurs to you.

Elliot Temple: The approach of taking arbitrary guesses out of an infinite set and trying to test them is infinitely slow and unproductive. That's why not. And we have much better things we can do instead.

Elliot Temple: No one does this. What they do is pick certain guesses according to unconscious or unstated explanations, which are often biased and crappy b/c they aren't being critically considered. We can do better – we can talk about the explanations we're using instead of hiding them.

Andrew Crawshaw: So, you are basically gonna ignore the fact that I have agreed that expecations and earlier knowledge do create selective attention, but what to isolate is neither determined by theory, nor by earlier perceptions, it is large amount guesswork controlled by criticism. Humans can do this rapidly and well.

Elliot Temple: Please rewrite that clearly and grammatically.

Andrew Crawshaw: It's like you are claiming there is no novelty in guesswork, if we already have that as part of our expectation ps it was not guesswork.

Elliot Temple: I am not claiming "there is no novelty in guesswork".

Andrew Crawshaw: So we are in agreement, then. Which is just that there are novel situations and our guesses are also novel. How we eliminate them is through other guesses. Therefore the guesses are sui generiz and then deselected according earlier expecations. It does not follow that the guess was positively informed by anything. It was a guess about what caused what.

Elliot Temple: Only guesses involving explanations are interesting and productive. You need to have some idea of how/why X causes Y or it isn't worth attention. It's fine if this explanation is due to your earlier knowledge, or it can be a new idea that is part of the guess.

Andrew Crawshaw: I don't think that's true. Again beavers make interesting and productive dams.

Elliot Temple: Beavers don't choose from infinite options. Can we stick to humans?

Andrew Crawshaw: Humans don't choose from infinite options....They choose from the guess that occur to them, which are not infinite. Their perception is controlled by both pyshiologival factors and their expectations. Novel situations require guesswork, because guesswork is flexible.

Elliot Temple: Humans constantly deal with infinite categories. E.g. "Something caused Y". OK, what? It could be an abstraction such as any integer. It could be any action in my whole life, or anyone else's life, or something nature did. There's infinite possibilities to deal with when you try to think about causes. You have to have explanations to narrow things down, you can't do it without explanations.

Elliot Temple: Arbitrary assertions like "The abstract integer 3 caused Y" are not productive with no explanation of how that could be possible attached to the guess. There are infinitely more where that came from. You won't get anywhere if you don't criticize "The abstract integer 3 caused Y" for its arbitrariness, lack of explanation of how it could possibly work, etc

Elliot Temple: You narrow things down. You guess that a physical event less than an hour before Y and less than a quarter mile distant caused Y. You explain those guesses, you don't just make them arbitrarily (there are infinite guesses you could make like that, and also that category of guess isn't always appropriate). You expose those explanations to criticism as the way to find out if they are any good.

Andrew Crawshaw: You are arguing for an impossible demand that you yourself can't meet, event when you have explanations. It does not narrow it down from infinity. What narrows it down is our capacity to form guess which is temporal and limited. It's our brains ability to process and to intepret that information.

Elliot Temple: No, we can deal with infinite sets. We don't narrow things down with our inability, we use explanations. I can and do do this. So do you. Explanations can have reach and exclude whole categories of stuff at once.

Andrew Crawshaw: But it does not reduce it to less than infinite. Explanations allow an infinite amount of thugs most of them useless. It's what they rule out, and things they can rule out is guess work. And this is done over time. So we might guess this and then guess that x caused y, we try it again and it might not work, so we try to vary the situation and in the way develope criticism and more guesses.

Elliot Temple: Let's step back. I think you're lost, but you could potentially learn to understand these things. You think I'm mistaken. Do you want to sort this out? How much energy do you want to devote to this? If you learn that I was right, what will you do next? Will you join my forum and start contributing? Will you study philosophy more? What values do you offer, and what values do you seek?

Andrew Crawshaw: Mostly explanations take time to understand why they conflict with some guess. It might be that the guess only approximates the truth and then find later that it is wrong because we look more into the explanation of i.

Andrew Crawshaw: Elliot, if you wish to meta, I will step out of the conversation. It was interesting, yet you still refuse to concede my point that inventions can be created without explanations. But yet this is refuted by the creations of animals and many creations of humans. You won't concede this point and then make your claims pretty well trivial. Like you need some kind od thing to direct what you are doing. When the whole point is the Genesis of new ideas and inventions and theories which cannot be suggest by earlier explanations. It is true that explanations can help, I refining and understanding. But that is not the whole story of human cognition or human invention.

Elliot Temple: So you have zero interest in, e.g., attempting to improve our method of discussion, and you'd prefer to either keep going in circles or give up entirely?

Elliot Temple: I think we could resolve the disagreement and come to agree, if we make an effort to, AND we don't put arbitrary boundaries on what kinds of solutions and actions are allowed to be part of the problem solving process. I think if you make methodology off-limits, you are sabotaging the discussion and preventing its rational resolution.

Elliot Temple: Not everything is working great. We could fix it. Or you could just unilaterally blame me and quit..?

Andrew Crawshaw: Sorry, I am not blaming you for anything.

Elliot Temple: OK, you just don't really care?

Andrew Crawshaw: Wait. I want to say two things.

  1. It's 5 in the morning, and I was working all day, so I am exhausted.

  2. This discussion is interesting, but fragmented. I need to moderate my posts on here, now. And recuperate.

Elliot Temple: I haven't asked for fast replies. You can reply on your schedule.

Elliot Temple: These issues will still be here, and important, tomorrow and the next day. My questions are open. I have no objection to you sleeping, and whatever else, prior to answering.

Andrew Crawshaw: Oh, I know you haven't asked for replies. I just get very involved in discussion. When I do I stop monitoring my tiredness levels and etc.

I know this discussion is important. The issues and problems.

Elliot Temple: If you want to drop it, you can do that too, but I'd want to know why, and I might not want to have future discussions with you if I expect you'll just argue a while and then drop it.

Andrew Crawshaw: Like to know why? I have been up since very early yesterday, like 6. I don't want to drop the discussion I want to postpone it, if you will.

Elliot Temple: That's not a reason to drop the conversation, it's a reason to write your next reply at a later time.

Andrew Crawshaw: I explicitly said: I don't want to drop the discussion.

Your next claim is a non-sequitur. A conversation can be resumed in many ways. I take it you think it would be better for me to initiate it.

Andrew Crawshaw: I will read back through the comments and see where this has lead and then I will post something on fallible ideas forum.

Elliot Temple: You wrote:

Elliot, if you wish to meta, I will step out of the conversation.

I read "step out" as quit.

Anyway, please reply to my message beginning "Let's step back." whenever you're ready. Switching forums would be great, sure :)

Elliot Temple on October 9, 2017

Messages (17)

Consider the guess, "X causes Y". OK so far, but there's no human action involved, and I think one should introspect about why he's selected this particular guess instead of others and say the reasoning.

Now consider the guess, "It's a good idea to do X and see if Y happens."

I have a criticism of the second guess: there are infinitely many things to test, and we need to organize our testing, not pick randomly-arbitrarily from infinity. We should come up with some explanation of how X may cause Y, and expose that to some criticism, before it's worth testing.

Elliot Temple at 9:36 AM on October 9, 2017 | #9100 | reply | quote

Before considering an idea worth testing, you should consider: do I think it's possible or impossible that this will work? You don't have to consider this at length (how much effort to put into this depends on how expensive the testing is), but you should consider it more than zero. You'll either have some imprecise sense of how it could be possible (so it's no longer just a bare assertion, there's intellectual content too), or you'll think it's impossible (so then you shouldn't test it, pending some new ideas).

For example, I do X and 500 years later Y happens. I might think it's impossible that X caused Y, so I won't try to test it: do X, wait 500 years, and see if Y happens again.

You shouldn't omit the critical thinking step, although sometimes you may do it mostly unconsciously in under a second.

Most "X and then Y" are like the 500 years example: you don't think X may have caused Y, that doesn't make sense. For the X and Y where you think it's worth testing, that's precisely b/c you critically considered the matter and have some explanation for why you think it might make some sense.

Elliot Temple at 9:43 AM on October 9, 2017 | #9101 | reply | quote

AC said:

> It was interesting, yet you still refuse to concede my point that inventions can be created without explanations.

What invention was created that didn't have an explanation about how it worked?

He should read Feyman's essay on cargo culting. The African tribesman thought they found a solution to getting the white people to come back in their plane. They focused on correlation. They did not have an explanation about why their idea solved their problem.


It's funny how AC was initially saying that...

*we don't need an explanation to know that an idea is a solution* (my summary)

And then ET gave an example of a case where an explanation was part of the process of determining that a solution was found. And in response to that, AC objected because the explanation was not perfectly complete, and he presented that as a case that showed his argument is right. So that means that at this point he was thinking that his argument is this...

*we don't need a [perfectly complete] explanation to know that an idea is a solution*

So AC changed the goal post mid discussion and my guess is that he didn't notice it.

I think he should have went way slower. I think he should have been reviewing the earlier parts of the discussion as he was writing the later parts. He seemed to have reviewed nothing at all.

My guess is that ET also didn't review old parts, but he didn't need to. He kept the whole discussion organized and accurate in his mind.

I wonder if AC noticed that he was confused. My bet is that he did. And he doesn't have good methods in place regarding what to do when he's confused. He should have reread the entire discussion. Instead he doubled down and kept arguing his side.

Anonymous at 6:30 AM on October 12, 2017 | #9161 | reply | quote

Just to remind you

I think you forgot about this:

“Science seeks explanations that are experimentally testable.”

David Deutsch, 'The Beginning of Infinity'.

Luc Castelein at 9:49 AM on October 13, 2017 | #9169 | reply | quote

Testability and testing are different things.

Anonymous at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2017 | #9170 | reply | quote

logic is not your strong suit

The sentence

> “Science seeks explanations that are experimentally testable.”

does not imply that experimental testability is the only property science looks for in an explanation.

oh my god it's turpentine at 11:40 AM on October 13, 2017 | #9171 | reply | quote


"logic is not your strong suit

The sentence

> “Science seeks explanations that are experimentally testable.”

does not imply that experimental testability is the only property science looks for in an explanation."...

How good I am at logic is based on your guess of what Deutsch implied with that sentence???? As Popper once wrote: we never know what we are talking about.

My guess is that it implies this:

"the institutions of science are structured so as to avoid entrenching theories, but instead to expose them to criticism and testing".... (on the same page of the same book)

If you read on that page, you'll also notice that Deutsch, just like about everybody else, except you, thinks that Popper's view of politics has something to do with his view of science... Just compare it with the quote of Magee Bruce gave and the quote of Medawar that I gave...

Anyway, FYI: I'm an accountant. I never studied logic.

Luc Castelein at 2:17 PM on October 13, 2017 | #9172 | reply | quote

There's theory in that

It seems to me that the statement "X causes Y" has a lot of explanation (theory) in it. I don't think one can observe causation. I think one can only theorize causation. Causation as a conclusion requires considerable explanation to be convincing. Thus, to say that the statement "X causes Y" cries out for explanation is saying that an explanation cries out for explanation.

Anonymous at 6:42 AM on October 24, 2017 | #9191 | reply | quote

I did think about this a lot more.

I wan to make to point about where I think me and Elliot temple got bogged down and maybe it will help us sort out our disagreement.

1. The genesis of an idea is not usually, or at all, that it was deducted from a theory.

2. It might be the case that after the idea has been created that it can be made part of an explanation.

I wish to also make a point about the other interweaving argument to do with the pertinence of Deutches example.

I think it can be accepted that grass cures cold is a bad explanation, but that's because it is not a explanation. Just like the claim that chairs can be sat on is not a good explanation. Elliot's argumentative strategy was then to change the point and say they have good explanations for them. This is different to the original point, which is that they were bad explanations in themselves. My point was that an explanation must explain something, and what they explain are these low level empirical generalisations. Low-level empirical generalisation aren't themselves explanations - which was deutsch was saying we're bad explanations. This hinges on a core difference between technology and science.

Elliot's further argument is that there is always an explanation for something, before it is repeatedly used. Which is a false descriptive claim, as shown by Beavers, we never lost an ability to be ingenuous that all animals have. But then he claimed that what Deustch was arguing was that we should have explanations, before we repeatedly do something. But the descriptive claim and this normative claim are totally different.

If Deustch is making the normative claim, he is really suggesting that good ideas cannot be used unless we then have an explanation of them. I have not yet thought about the impact of this.

Anonymous at 1:38 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9807 | reply | quote

>> It was interesting, yet you still refuse to concede my point that inventions can be created without explanations.

>What invention was created that didn't have an explanation about how it worked?

My point is not that there isn't some explanation for the invention. But that the act of creation or invention of an idea is not usually deduced from an explanations. When we are using trial and error to create something, this trial and error has two components, one os the creation of a series of ideas that then are criticised by testi and theoretical knowledge, we don't just deduce ideas from the knowledge we have, otherwise there would never be any new knowledge. There is novelty in the creation of ideas that is not already in our background knowledge,

Anonymous at 1:54 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9808 | reply | quote

> 1. The genesis of an idea is not usually, or at all, that it was deducted from a theory.

I agree.

> 2. It might be the case that after the idea has been created that it can be made part of an explanation.

You can do that, but it's only worth trying to improve an idea when it has some value, e.g. some good trait that makes it seem promising. There are infinitely many potential ideas so we have to prioritize. And where does value come from? Basically explanations. So the ideas worth working with already involve some sort of explanation. But you can take an idea that is part of some smaller or lesser explanations (which give it some value now instead of it just being a random bad idea) and try to make it relate to some more important or bigger explanation. If you are interested in a particular explanation, you can take ideas which are not yet related to *that* explanation, and try to connect them to it.

So I don't think we disagree about (1) and I don't know if we have a major disagreement about (2) – maybe you'll agree with my clarifications of the matter (I'm agreeing with what I think is the essence of your claim).

> Beavers

Your argument about animals is a big tangent which contradicts my and DD's understanding of animals. I don't think it's necessary to debate it now in order to discuss the main topic.

> low level empirical generalisations

There are infinitely many low level patterns. They don't need explaining by default. One takes notice of some of them when one has an explanation of why those matter.

> If Deustch is making the normative claim, he is really suggesting that good ideas cannot be used unless we then have an explanation of them. I have not yet thought about the impact of this.

Ideas without explanations anywhere are valueless to rational human action, so we shouldn't value (or use or act on) them. Commonly there are explanations which aren't stated. In short, people always *do* have explanations of some sort, so the zero explanation scenario doesn't come up (but the *bad* explanation scenario comes up often, and often the bad explanations are shielded from criticism by being unstated.) Explanations are ubiquitous in human life.

curi at 2:02 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9809 | reply | quote

> we don't just deduce ideas from the knowledge we have

of course. not even *derive*. (you keep talking about deduction, which is a very specific logical thing, but you don't seem to mean it. deriving is a more general concept).

but when you have a problem and you brainstorm solutions, you do not brainstorm random solutions. for each thing you brainstorm, you need and have some idea of how it could help with the problem (even if that idea is kinda vague or intuitive or subconscious, rather than something you can easily express in words). "some idea" here means some explanation. some idea relating the conjecture to the problem *is* an explanation (of how the conjecture relates to the problem).

explanations are everywhere. there's no escaping them.

curi at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9810 | reply | quote

>You can do that, but it's only worth trying to improve an idea when it has some value, e.g. some good trait that makes it seem promising.

You say that >where does that value come from. Bassically explanation.

But you said previously that

>but it's only worth trying to improve when it has some value, ie some good trait that makes it seem promising.

There is a tension here? Right? The value comes from the trait not the explanation. Maybe you mean in order to recognise the value of the trait you need a good explanation.

I agree that they involve some kind of explanation. But that explanation is developed along with the trial and error of ideas. They are created together. We have a goal we generate ideas we criticise and develope explanations alongside them. These are both trial and error procedures.

Anonymous at 2:24 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9811 | reply | quote

Sorry, my last sentence I did in haste and should make it clearer.

We generate ideas amd explanations of those ideas at the same time through trial and error.

Anonymous at 2:27 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9812 | reply | quote

A good trait is identified by an explanation of why that trait is good/valuable, so there's an explanation involved there.

Sure explanations are co-created with other things. What I've said is they are necessary.

curi at 2:28 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9813 | reply | quote

Can you explain this

>of course. not even *derive*. (you keep talking about deduction, which is a very specific logical thing, but you don't seem to mean it. deriving is a more general concept).

A little more. Are you saying that I should use the word derive where I am using deduce?

What's the difference between the two in a logical context?

Anonymous at 2:40 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9814 | reply | quote

"derive" means

> obtain something from (a specified source)

i think that was what you meant.

deduce (in logic and philosophy) means taking a set of premises, and the strict rules of (deductive) logic, and then working out things that are already implied by the premises. it's basically like doing a math proof.

e.g. if your premises are that P is true and Q is true, then you can deduce that the claim "P and Q" is true. you can also deduce "P and P and P and Q" is true, and deduce "P or Q" is true. there are infinitely many things which are logically implied by the premises plus strict/deductive/formal logic, and those are the things that can be deduced.

deduction is overrated and overemphasized, and focusing on it clashes with the me/DD/Popper approach of caring about explanations.

curi at 2:47 PM on June 14, 2018 | #9815 | reply | quote

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