Dennis Hackethal’s Blog

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Choosing between Theories

Kieren has asked about how to choose between (conflicting) theories:

Well, aside from violent shakings :) a path forward for me would be a Popperian solution to the practical problem of induction (choosing between different theories for practical purposes).

http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~ucessjb/Salmon.pdf

I’ve skimmed the beginning of the paper by Salmon which Kieren linked to, and found this sentence on p. 117 noteworthy:

[…] Popper’s account of scientific knowledge involves generalisations and their observational tests.

That sounds like a misrepresentation of Popper’s account of scientific knowledge, which account is not about generalizations, but explanations, which can’t be obtained by generalizing, only through guesses and criticism.

Salmon references a work I do not own and do not wish to purchase at this time, so it’s hard to say whether he’s wrong or I’m wrong. Which brings us, again, to the question of how to choose between conflicting theories (or claims in this case). The problem is that of breaking symmetry, which is an idea by Elliot Temple, see Curiosity – Symmetry and Curiosity – Epistemology.

Just knowing that two ideas conflict doesn’t tell you which one is wrong (assuming they really do conflict, and assuming only one of them is wrong). As Elliot writes:

“X contradicts Y” means that “Y contradicts X”.

So the ideas are symmetric in that way, and to make progress, you need to find a way of “breaking the symmetry”, as Elliot calls it.

Justificationism, for example, serves as a way to break symmetry. You can ask: which idea has received more support/is better justified etc? If one believes that justificationism can do this job, then one won’t want to get rid of it without replacement. Which is fair, and which is why it’s not enough to point out to people that justificationism is false. They still need a way to break symmetries, so an alternative is needed.

In his book The Beginning of Infinity (chapter 1), David Deutsch suggests looking at how “hard to vary” an explanation is. As in: can we make arbitrary changes to an explanation without it losing its ability to explain the phenomenon it purports to explain? This is useful, but when comparing two different explanations, I know of no way to methodically compare their ‘hardness to vary’. In some cases it’s more or less apparent – like when comparing, as Deutsch does, a Greek myth that ‘explains’ the seasons by invoking gods to today’s axis-tilt theory: you could replace one Greek god with another and you’d still be able to explain the seasons. The axis-tilt theory, on the other hand, is hard to vary without it breaking apart. It’s not easy to replace the earth’s axis with something else and not ruin the explanation in the process. But when comparing other theories, breaking the symmetry using ‘hardness to vary’ can be more difficult, particularly when both seem roughly equally hard or easy to vary.

For example, Kieren is looking for a way to break symmetry between the two opposing claims ‘consciousness requires creativity’ and ‘consciousness does not require creativity’. Deutsch has spoken in favor of the former:

My guess is that every AI is a person: a general-purpose explainer. It is conceivable that there are other levels of universality between AI and ‘universal explainer/constructor’, and perhaps separate levels for those associated attributes like consciousness. But those attributes all seem to have arrived in one jump to universality in humans, and, although we have little explanation of any of them, I know of no plausible argument that they are at different levels or can be achieved independently of each other. So I tentatively assume that they cannot.

The Beginning of Infinity, chapter 7

For clarity, one cannot be a general-purpose explainer without being creative. So Deutsch argues that creativity (at least the universal kind, if there are non-universal kinds) makes a general-purpose explainer, which in turn leads to consciousness.

That means Deutsch breaks the symmetry in two ways:

  1. Consciousness (along with other attributes) seems to have arrived in humans together with humans’ ability to explain things. (I have outlined, in detail, how this may have happened.)
  2. He knows of “no plausible argument” that consciousness is at a different level than creativity or can be achieved without it.

Notably, Deutsch does not use his ‘hard to vary’ criterion to break the symmetry here. He instead invokes a historical guess alongside a lack of alternatives.

Something else you could do is find a contradiction within one of the claims. Or you could find that it conflicts with background knowledge which you currently (and tentatively) deem uncontroversial. (Technically, finding a contradiction is a special case of that, since rejecting contradictions in favor of consistency is an approach that is part of our background knowledge. (Maybe all symmetry breaking involves comparisons with background knowledge in some way?))

For example, I have been asked how I decide between two related claims: that consciousness arises from all information processing vs. just some information processing (namely the creative kind).

I opted to show that the former claim conflicts with background knowledge: if consciousness arises from all information processing, even things like calculators must be conscious. But our best explanations of how calculators work, which are very good and part of our background knowledge in this case, don’t invoke consciousness, so we should conclude that calculators are not conscious. Therefore, it cannot be true that all information processing results in consciousness. We can even build calculators – and people do so all the time – without understanding how consciousness works. (Whereas, if Deutsch is right that consciousness arises from creativity, then we can’t, say, build artificial general intelligence without understanding how consciousness works.)

For the related claim that consciousness requires creativity, here’s how I break the symmetry: consciousness is a property of information processing. All information processing people have done so far (except in their minds) is execution only, not creative, and, like with calculators, does not lead to consciousness. Then there’s the problem with Lamarckism: that the mere execution of existing knowledge cannot result in new knowledge. So I ask: if ‘execution-only’ information processing cannot be where consciousness lives, the only place we have left to go is creative information processing, do we not? I know of no other kind of information processing. (Maybe there’s a ‘destructive’ kind, in the sense of wiping memory on a computer, but destruction can be automated, so it seems to fall under the execution-only kind.)

In other words, we simply run out of alternatives. There seem to be only two: execution-only information processing and creative information processing. Our best explanations of execution-only information processing do not invoke consciousness, so the only place left to go is creative information processing. And with the latter, there’s much more room left since we don’t really understand creative information processing at all while we do understand execution-only information processing pretty well.

I’m not sure breaking the symmetry can be boiled down to a recipe. I’m guessing it is itself a creative act and you can always find new ways to do it. In the context of my neo-Darwinian approach to the mind, the idea that breaks symmetry is the one that has spread through the mind at the expense of its rivals, and whose total number of copies is therefore greater than that of any one of its rivals.


References

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There are 2 references to this post in:


What people are saying

Hey Dennis, thanks for taking the time to elaborate your response. So as to prevent the conversation from branching out exponentially I will focus my comments on what I see as the crux of our disagreement. Let me know if there is something I have missed which you would like me to address.

I think that the argument provided by Salmon articulates well the reason why I do not adopt a Popperian epistemology. If you want to refute the criticism laid out by Salmon, then I think you will need to read the first 8 pages - up to page 122 where a neat summary of the criticism is provided.

The rest of my response will be in regards to consciousness.

What Elliot and yourself refer to as breaking symmetry I would describe as ‘providing reasons in favour of one claim over another’, would you agree? The question then becomes, what reasons do you provide for your claim (creativity is required for consciousness)? which I think you have answered in your post.

You provide a DD quote that I am familiar with, which as you identify, provides two reasons in favor of the claim (two reasons to break symmetry).

DD does not appear to elaborate on reason 1, but I don’t currently have my copy of BoI with me to verify this. I am unsure of what facts about the world lead him to think that things “seem” the way he suggests. Your post about your theory of mind doesn’t seem to elaborate on reason 1 either, only speculating about where consciousness might fit in. I won’t consider reason 1 further unless you wish to elaborate on it yourself.

On first impression of reason 2 it appears false, since there is at least one alternative (plausible in my view) - creativity is NOT required for consciousness. Unless perhaps there is some fact about the world that the claim ‘creativity is required for consciousness’ explains so well that it would be implausible to think otherwise. If you can produce such a fact then I will concede that your claim has good reasons in its favour (breaks symmetry in its favour).

You do seem to suggest one such fact (a curious circumstance that is explained by your claim).

if consciousness arises from all information processing, even things like calculators must be conscious. But our best explanations of how calculators work, which are very good and part of our background knowledge in this case, don’t invoke consciousness, so we should conclude that calculators are not conscious. Therefore, it cannot be true that all information processing results in consciousness.

I do not accept this fact, because I do not accept that we know that calculators are not conscious just because our best theories do not invoke consciousness. Our best theories explaining how human brains work (neuroscience) do not invoke consciousness (except as something to be explained), but we do not conclude that we are not conscious.

#104 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
Reply

I think that the argument provided by Salmon articulates well the reason why I do not adopt a Popperian epistemology. If you want to refute the criticism laid out by Salmon, then I think you will need to read the first 8 pages - up to page 122 where a neat summary of the criticism is provided.

I may do that if I am wrong about Salmon misrepresenting Popper’s account of scientific knowledge. If I’m not wrong about that, Salmon’s misrepresentation seems grave enough that it’s reasonable to expect not much of value to be gathered from his text. So – am I wrong?

What Elliot and yourself refer to as breaking symmetry I would describe as ‘providing reasons in favour of one claim over another’, would you agree?

Although this can sometimes, in effect, be what one ends up doing, I think the approach is a critical one, with the goal of eliminating one of the conflicting theories, not elevating the other in some way by providing support for it.

DD does not appear to elaborate on reason 1, but I don’t currently have my copy of BoI with me to verify this.

I believe you’re correct.

if consciousness arises from all information processing, even things like calculators must be conscious. But our best explanations of how calculators work, which are very good and part of our background knowledge in this case, don’t invoke consciousness, so we should conclude that calculators are not conscious. Therefore, it cannot be true that all information processing results in consciousness.

I do not accept this fact, because I do not accept that we know that calculators are not conscious just because our best theories do not invoke consciousness.

This is a variation on Deutsch’s criterion of reality. From The Beginning of Infinity, chapter 1:

[W]e should conclude that a particular thing is real if and only if it figures in our best explanation of something.

We need some way to determine, tentatively, whether calculators are conscious. Going off of whether our best explanations tell us they are is a good way, I think. And no matter which way we choose, we can always say ‘but they still might be conscious’ – but then we never break the symmetry. In other words: yes, it’s always possible to be mistaken about how to break the symmetry, but one has to try one way or another. I think the fact that our best explanations of calculators – which are fantastic since we have invented them and know how to build and control them – don’t mention consciousness is an almost irrevocably fatal blow to the idea that calculators are conscious, only to be reconsidered if our explanations of calculators change accordingly.

Additionally, there are no big unknowns in our understanding of how calculators work, neither their hardware nor software. With the brain that’s different – when it comes to the brain’s hardware (well, wetware), in addition to being a universal computer, it seems to have all kinds of special-purpose information-processing hardware built in and connected to it (like eyes), some of which we don’t understand well yet. But those are not important for consciousness, and we do understand universal computers well, be they made of wetware or hardware.

Then you wrote:

Our best theories explaining how human brains work (neuroscience) do not invoke consciousness (except as something to be explained), but we do not conclude that we are not conscious.

Well, the parenthetical “(except as something to be explained)” makes all the difference here. Our explanations of calculators don’t have that gaping hole. (Though technically that gaping hole lies not in our explanations of brain hardware but brain software. So, to be clear, and for the comparison to work, when I speak of explanations of calculators, I really mean explanations of their software. For calculators we have great explanations for both their hardware and their software. For the human brain as a universal computer we have great explanations, while for some of its software, especially creativity and consciousness, we do not.)

All that said, I believe your condition of providing “some fact about the world that the claim ‘creativity is required for consciousness’ explains so well that it would be implausible to think otherwise” is still met.

#105 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #104
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I may do that if I am wrong about Salmon misrepresenting Popper’s account of scientific knowledge. If I’m not wrong about that, Salmon’s misrepresentation seems grave enough that it’s reasonable to expect not much of value to be gathered from his text. So – am I wrong?

I think it is a little harsh to dismiss the paper from one sentence, but I also understand that no one has time to read every paper that random people on the internet offer up. Anyway, I do think you are wrong in your assessment. My understanding is that Salmon uses the word ‘generalization’ to refer to Popper’s ‘universal statement’ or ‘theory’, and not in the other sense (such as generalizing an idea from a series of observations). So I read this quote as referring to Popper’s account of the asymmetry between justification and falsification, the idea of refuting a universal statement (generalization) with a bonafide counterexample (falsifying observation). This is confirmed by the sentence which follows afterwards.

This is a variation on Deutsch’s criterion of reality. From The Beginning of Infinity, chapter 1:

[W]e should conclude that a particular thing is real if and only if it figures in our best explanation of something.

You are right that all the experiences I have in regards to calculators are explained without reference to it being conscious, but using this fact to conclude that it doesn’t exist seems unfair since our current understanding of the nature of consciousness is that I would not have experiences of it (that would require explaining) even if the calculator did have consciousness.

The reason I do not think calculators have consciousness is not because it is a part of my best explanations, but instead because it does not follow from my best explanations (currently accepted knowledge).

For example. Consider planets that are hidden so many light years away that we do not have any experience of them. The reason I believe that such planets exist isn’t because they are involved in my explanations of things experienced (they aren’t), but instead I believe in their existence because they follow from my best explanations of things experienced.

I think the way DD puts it is explaining the unseen from our explanations of the seen.

So when It comes to human and animal consciousness, one line of reasoning that follows from my currently accepted knowledge looks like this.
Routinely I find evolved aspects of my biological self are also present in other animals.
Consciousness is an evolved aspect of myself.
Therefore, consciousness has a fair chance of being present in other animals.

So while the idea that creativity is required for consciousness would explain the fact that calculators do not have consciousness (which follows from my current background knowledge), it does not explain why uncreative animals are conscious (which also follows from my current background knowledge).

Therefore, the idea of creativity being the driver of consciousness does not explain the facts at hand so well. I think one path going forward would be for us to refute my current background knowledge.

#108 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · in response to comment #105
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I think it is a little harsh to dismiss the paper from one sentence […]

We need not worry about people’s sensibilities when deciding whether to continue reading their papers. Imagine someone publishes a book called ‘How to Do Basic Arithmetic’ and then claims somewhere on the first few pages that 2 + 2 = 5. You’d put the book down.

That said, I now think I was mistaken, and I did read Salmon’s text through page 122, as you suggested (a bit further actually):

If, however, we make observations and perform tests, but no negative instance is found, all we can say deductively is that the generalisation in question has not been refuted.

Yes.

In particular, positive instances do not provide confirmation or inductive support for any such unrefuted generalisation.

Yes.

At this stage, I claim, we have no basis for rational prediction. Taken in themselves, our observation reports refer to past events, and consequently they have no predictive content. They say nothing about future events.

OK, this is basically Hume’s statement of the problem of induction. But Salmon is wrong to conclude that we have “no basis for rational prediction”. If he’s looking for justification, he’s simply mistaken that that’s needed (or possible). If he’s claiming that prediction is not possible at this stage, he’s mistaken about how theories work. One needs a theory (“generalisation”) before one can perform any tests. If the theory didn’t make any prediction before testing, how would you know what to compare your test results against? A theory alone suffices to make predictions. If you roughly know, from theory, how the earth moves, you can and will predict that the sun will rise tomorrow, even if you have never observed a sunrise before. Lastly, if, on the other hand, he’s claiming that one cannot know whether the theory will continue to make true (or false) predictions in the future – meaning one cannot make reliable predictions about the theory’s predictions – then he’s correct to claim that, but wrong to assert that there’s a problem with that. This is only a problem for someone who’s looking for reliable knowledge, which cannot exist.

My aim is to emphasise that, even if we are entirely justified in letting such considerations determine our theoretical preferences, it is by no means obvious that we are justified in using them as the basis for our preferences among generalisations which are to be used for prediction in the practical decision-making context.

Evidence of him being a justificationist.

Conjectures, hypotheses, theories, generalisations—call them what you
will—do have predictive content.

This convinced me that by “generalisation” he means ‘conjecture’ or ‘theory’.

What I want to see is how corroboration could justify such a preference.

Even more evidence of him being a justificationist. Immediately afterwards, he says:

Unless we can find a satisfactory answer to that question, it appears to me that we have no viable theory of rational prediction […]

He’s saying, in effect, that what isn’t justified isn’t rational. This is a bad mistake (and an age-old one at that).

But if every method is equally lacking in rational justification, then there is no method which can be said to furnish a rational basis for prediction, for any prediction will be just as unfounded rationally as any other.

At this point, he’s basically stuck. He’s trying to force Popperian epistemology into a justificationist/inductivist straight jacket and then wonders why that can’t work. He also comes dangerously close to relativism.

We do have reasons for – or rather, means of – preferring some methods over others, namely by elimination through criticism. For example, you wouldn’t flip a coin (his example) to decide on a theory, because by the same method a conflicting theory could be ‘shown’ to be true as well. And the same theory could be ‘shown’ to be false shortly after, and then flip back and forth. So that can’t work, because we know – also from theory – that reality doesn’t flip like that. And you can’t choose the method of sorting theories alphabetically (also his example) because then their truthiness would depend on spelling, and reality doesn’t care about how we spell things. Importantly, justificationism can’t work because it leads to an infinite regress, and we know – again from theory – to reject infinite regresses.

If you keep eliminating methods this way, pretty soon you are left with very few, maybe only one, way of choosing whether to tentatively consider a theory true and whether to act on it. I think that’s why Popper put such emphasis on criticism: it’s not just theories we can criticize, but also our methods of evaluating theories (which are themselves theories), our preferences for doing so (ditto), etc.

Related to that, Deutsch writes in ch. 13 of The Beginning of Infinity:

During the course of a creative process, one is not struggling to distinguish between countless different explanations of nearly equal merit; typically, one is struggling to create even one good explanation, and, having succeeded, one is glad to be rid of the rest.

I think you could reformulate this quote as follows so it applies to the issue at hand: ‘During the course of a creative process, one is not struggling to distinguish between countless different methods of nearly equal merit for judging conflicting theories; typically, one is struggling to create even one good method, and, having succeeded, one is glad to be rid of the rest.’

In light of that, after I read on a bit, I found that Salmon quotes Popper on p. 123 as saying:

Thus the rational decision is always: adopt critical methods which have themselves withstood severe criticism […]

This is precisely the conclusion at which I have arrived independently above.

I will say: Salmon is right to point out that there are problems with Popper’s concept of corroboration. Others have written about that. But I think you can retain much of Popper’s epistemology just fine without accepting that concept. It’s not that important.

An article that may interest you is this one by Elliot, which collects several different articles on the topic of how to resolve conflicts between ideas rationally. (I have not read the linked articles yet apart from the one I mention below.) Note that this is slightly different from Salmon’s problem of rational prediction in particular – and I think he’s mistaken in his focus on prediction over explanation – but it seems to me that once you have rationally chosen an idea, you can rationally make predictions using that idea.

There’s also this article by Elliot, which you may wish to read first, in which he writes:

The idea of a critical preference is aimed to solve the pragmatic problem: how should we proceed while there is a pending conflict between non-refuted theories?

Which sounds right up your alley since it’s about the problem of practical decision-making as referenced by Salmon.

I plan to read these articles myself, and if you like, it could be fun and fruitful to compare notes and maybe discuss further afterwards.

Regarding the calculator stuff, I think it’s notable that you commented on your experiences involving calculators quite a bit (the word ‘experience’ and variants thereof appear five times in your most recent comment). In particular, you wrote:

You are right that all the experiences I have in regards to calculators are explained without reference to it being conscious […]

But that’s not what I said. I made no claims about your experiences (claims about something subjective/psychological), only about how calculators work (claims about something objective/epistemological).

In addition to calculators, there’s also the issue with Lamarckism I mentioned, which is an important factor in breaking symmetry in favor of the idea that execution-only information processing, to which animals seem to be constrained, cannot create new knowledge.

Then you wrote:

Routinely I find evolved aspects of my biological self are also present in other animals.
Consciousness is an evolved aspect of myself.
Therefore, consciousness has a fair chance of being present in other animals.

If somebody pointed out that this isn’t logically valid reasoning, would you consider that a candidate refutation of your background knowledge (as you suggested as a way forward)?

[T]he idea that creativity is required for consciousness […] does not explain why uncreative animals are conscious […]

Well, you can hardly criticize a theory for not doing something it’s not meant to do!

#109 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #108
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I noticed that you’ve discussed with Elliot underneath his ‘Rationally Resolving Conflicts of Ideas’ article quite a bit, so maybe you’re already familiar with some of the linked essays.

#110 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #109
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Thanks for taking the time to look further into the Salmon paper :)

My aim is to emphasise that, even if we are entirely justified in letting such considerations determine our theoretical preferences, it is by no means obvious that we are justified in using them as the basis for our preferences among generalisations which are to be used for prediction in the practical decision-making context.

Evidence of him being a justificationist.

Popperians come across as if they are allergic to the words “justification”, “support”, etc. Justified doesn’t have to mean something is proven infallibly true. It can just mean that it has reasons in its favour. Examples of positive reasons are “this theory explains a surprising fact about the world”, “this theory has survived falsification attempts”, or “this theory is good because it is falsifiable”. So I don’t think his use of the word “justified” is grounds for dismissing his argument.

Unless we can find a satisfactory answer to that question, it appears to me that we have no viable theory of rational prediction […]

He’s saying, in effect, that what isn’t justified isn’t rational. This is a bad mistake (and an age-old one at that).

Not a mistake if justified doesn’t mean infallibly proven true. What is without reason is unreasonable/irrational. What he is saying is that the use of corroboration for preferencing theories is without reason.

We do have reasons for – or rather, means of – preferring some methods over others, namely by elimination through criticism. For example, you wouldn’t flip a coin (his example) to decide on a theory, because by the same method a conflicting theory could be ‘shown’ to be true as well. And the same theory could be ‘shown’ to be false shortly after, and then flip back and forth. So that can’t work, because we know – also from theory – that reality doesn’t flip like that. And you can’t choose the method of sorting theories alphabetically (also his example) because then their truthiness would depend on spelling, and reality doesn’t care about how we spell things.

Your invoking reality (as per your best theories) to dismiss these alternative methods, but if your best theories were arrived at through Popper’s critical rationalism then they were established by a method which is equally empty of reasons supporting its predictions. So I can in turn dismiss what your reality says about the future results of the alternate methods.

It would be as if I did a coin toss to decide if predictions following from Popper’s methodology are any good and the coins told me no, so then I use this result to refute the predictions made by Popperians.

In light of that, after I read on a bit, I found that Salmon quotes Popper on p. 123 as saying:

Thus the rational decision is always: adopt critical methods which have themselves withstood severe criticism […]

This is precisely the conclusion at which I have arrived independently above.

For this, I appreciate Salmon’s response.

When he says, ‘The answer … is exactly the same as before … the rational decision is always: adopt critical methods which have themselves withstood severe criticism,’ he seems to be saying that we should adopt his methodological recommendations, because they have ‘withstood severe criticism’. But his answer is inappropriate in this context because our aim is precisely to subject his philosophical views, in the best Popperian spirit, to severe criticism.

end quote.

I will say: Salmon is right to point out that there are problems with Popper’s concept of corroboration. Others have written about that. But I think you can retain much of Popper’s epistemology just fine without accepting that concept. It’s not that important.

Corroboration lets us know which of our yet-to-be-falsified theories to prefer for practical predictions. So there seems to be a gap that needs filling.

I plan to read these articles myself, and if you like, it could be fun and fruitful to compare notes and maybe discuss further afterwards.

That quote does sound very relevant. I’ll have a look and let you know what I think. Perhaps it is the alternative/replacement to corroboration, but if it is relying on Elliot’s yes/no philosophy then I don’t think it will provide enough.

But that’s not what I said. I made no claims about your experiences (claims about something subjective/psychological), only about how calculators work (claims about something objective/epistemological).

Ah yes I see. I guess I wanted to highlight the fact that we share the experience of calculators whilst experience of consciousness is private. I should have worded it as such.

In addition to calculators, there’s also the issue with Lamarckism I mentioned, which is an important factor in breaking symmetry in favor of the idea that execution-only information processing, to which animals seem to be constrained, cannot create new knowledge.

There is an infinite space of programs that could be executed. Some of them we would call creative, but without any reason to think creativity is especially linked to consciousness, then I think the remainder of the space has programs that are just as plausibly conscious. For example, what if a level of self referential modelling within a program conjures up consciousness? Or if certain kinds of (possibly hardware dependent) reinforcement learning algorithms conjure consciousness? Or more abstractly, some other form of program that we have not yet imagined, but which has evolved to perform certain operations of the brain.

Routinely I find evolved aspects of my biological self are also present in other animals.
Consciousness is an evolved aspect of myself.
Therefore, consciousness has a fair chance of being present in other animals.

If somebody pointed out that this isn’t logically valid reasoning, would you consider that a candidate refutation of your background knowledge (as you suggested as a way forward)?

Yes, if the criticism is general enough to refute the other couple variations of this sort of reasoning that leads me to believe other animals are conscious.

[T]he idea that creativity is required for consciousness […] does not explain why uncreative animals are conscious […]

Well, you can hardly criticize a theory for not doing something it’s not meant to do!

The problem is that we have my (and I assume many others) background knowledge B with which we infer facts F1 and F2.
F1: Calculators are uncreative and are not conscious.
F2: Animals are uncreative and conscious.

So whilst F1 breaks symmetry in your favour, F2 is its undoing.

I think a definite way forward is to dig into the reasoning that leads people to believe other animals are conscious.

#117 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · in response to comment #110
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Popperians come across as if they are allergic to the words “justification”, “support”, etc.

Yes, because we take seriously what Deutsch wrote in ch. 10 of BoI:

So the thing [justificationists] call ‘knowledge’, namely justified belief, is a chimera. It is unattainable to humans except in the form of self-deception; it is unnecessary for any good purpose; and it is undesired by the wisest among mortals.

(Upon further reflection, I don’t like the last part-sentence, as there’s a bit of intimidation going on there.)

Back to your comment:

[…] I don’t think his use of the word “justified” is grounds for dismissing his argument.

It is, for the reason I have mentioned: he thinks that what isn’t justified isn’t rational. The view that beliefs should be justified isn’t justified. So it doesn’t pass the ‘mirror test’, as Logan Chipkin calls it.

Corroboration lets us know which of our yet-to-be-falsified theories to prefer for practical predictions. So there seems to be a gap that needs filling.

What’s interesting is that I’ve never run into a situation where I wished I had corroboration to help me break symmetry. I also don’t seem to run into situations much where multiple viable yet conflicting theories are left over. The only situation I can remember off the top of my head is thinking that non-creative processes might give rise to consciousness, so I couldn’t yet break symmetry in favor of the notion that only creative processes do, but then I found a refutation to that claim (I consider it a refutation – others might not).

But yea either way maybe what Elliot’s written fills the gap. I have yet to read it.

Regarding Salmon’s remark about being critical of critical methods:

But [Popper’s] answer is inappropriate in this context because our aim is precisely to subject his philosophical views, in the best Popperian spirit, to severe criticism.

To be clear, you think Salmon’s saying that Popper presupposes the thing we wish to be critical of, namely being critical?

Perhaps it is the alternative/replacement to corroboration, but if it is relying on Elliot’s yes/no philosophy then I don’t think it will provide enough.

Why not? (I haven’t studied yes/no philosophy.)

For example, what if a level of self referential modelling within a program conjures up consciousness?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this…

Routinely I find evolved aspects of my biological self are also present in other animals.
Consciousness is an evolved aspect of myself.
Therefore, consciousness has a fair chance of being present in other animals.

If somebody pointed out that this isn’t logically valid reasoning, would you consider that a candidate refutation of your background knowledge (as you suggested as a way forward)?

Yes, if the criticism is general enough to refute the other couple variations of this sort of reasoning that leads me to believe other animals are conscious.

Consider this variation. Say everyone owns an urn with colored beads in it, and say you can look only at the beads in your own urn (since consciousness is private, as you called it), and it is common knowledge that everyone owns urns:

‘Beads are present both in my urn and others’ urns.
My urn contains red beads in particular.
Therefore, red beads have a fair chance of being present in other people’s urns.’

See the problem?

I think a definite way forward is to dig into the reasoning that leads people to believe other animals are conscious.

Maybe later, as this discussion is already branching out too much, which makes it harder to address criticisms and make progress. I suggest focusing only on the bead example for now. We can always get to why people believe that animals are conscious later.

#119 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #117 · Referenced in comment #137
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[…] I don’t think his use of the word “justified” is grounds for dismissing his argument.

It is, for the reason I have mentioned: he thinks that what isn’t justified isn’t rational. The view that beliefs should be justified isn’t justified. So it doesn’t pass the ‘mirror test’, as Logan Chipkin calls it.

In my previous response I provided some examples of “reasons” that could be used to justify/persuade someone. These were reasons that would be permitted even under a purely Popperian epistemology (“this theory explains a surprising fact”, “this theory has survived severe falsification attempts”, etc). Don’t you agree that a theory requires such reasons in its favour to be rationally deemed as a good theory?

If I claim you cannot enter your bedroom because there is a tiger in there, you will naturally ask for reasons why I think that. Perhaps I will describe what I heard or show you pictures of the tiger. I would call these reasons that justify my claim. Don’t you think such reasons are required for me to persuade you in such a situation?

What’s interesting is that I’ve never run into a situation where I wished I had corroboration to help me break symmetry. I also don’t seem to run into situations much where multiple viable yet conflicting theories are left over. The only situation I can remember off the top of my head is thinking that non-creative processes might give rise to consciousness, so I couldn’t yet break symmetry in favor of the notion that only creative processes do, but then I found a refutation to that claim (I consider it a refutation – others might not).

I think Popper explicitly presents the social sciences as a domain where corroboration is necessary. It is a science where we know the theories are not true, but instead approximations, or useful instruments for predicting social behaviours, wellbeing etc. One could conjecture all kinds of causal theories, but unless the theory is criticized with a number of critical tests, we have nothing to break its symmetry over its negation or competing alternatives. We find ourselves with multiple false theories, and we want to know which ones best approximates reality. E.g. is human happiness better fostered through meaningful work, income, mental health education, etc.

But [Popper’s] answer is inappropriate in this context because our aim is precisely to subject his philosophical views, in the best Popperian spirit, to severe criticism.

To be clear, you think Salmon’s saying that Popper presupposes the thing we wish to be critical of, namely being critical?

I don’t think the problem is Popper presupposing. The problem is his answer just doesn’t answer the question. To me it looks like this.

Q: I have criticism X of corroboration. How do you respond?
A: My idea of corroboration has survived all criticism.
His theory surviving previous criticism is irrelevant to deciding whether it survives this particular criticism right?

Perhaps it is the alternative/replacement to corroboration, but if it is relying on Elliot’s yes/no philosophy then I don’t think it will provide enough.

Why not? (I haven’t studied yes/no philosophy.)

What I’ve read of yes/no doesn’t go deep enough to answer these sorts of questions (too high level).

For example, what if a level of self referential modelling within a program conjures up consciousness?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this…

Do you have a refutation for this sort of idea and all similar variations? Perhaps in your FAQ?

Consider this variation. Say everyone owns an urn with colored beads in it, and say you can look only at the beads in your own urn (since consciousness is private, as you called it), and it is common knowledge that everyone owns urns:

‘Beads are present both in my urn and others’ urns.
My urn contains red beads in particular.
Therefore, red beads have a fair chance of being present in other people’s urns.’

See the problem?

That’s funny, I nearly provided a beads/jars analogy myself :)

I think your variation is missing an important aspect (you didn’t let us look into any other urns at all). I would instead put it like this.

Myself and others have a number of urns (numbered from 1 to N) with a bead inside each.
We opened and compared all but one of the urns.
Each of their urns was found to contain the same coloured bead as my urn of the same number.
My last urn contains a red bead.
Therefore their last urn probably contains a red bead.

#131 · kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · in response to comment #119
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[…] Don’t you agree that a theory requires such reasons in its favour to be rationally deemed as a good theory?

If I claim you cannot enter your bedroom because there is a tiger in there, you will naturally ask for reasons why I think that. Perhaps I will describe what I heard or show you pictures of the tiger. I would call these reasons that justify my claim. Don’t you think such reasons are required for me to persuade you in such a situation?

Depending on the details of the situation, that may well be the case, but it’s the inverse that matters: it’s that the absence of such reasons would cause me to dismiss the claim that there’s a tiger in my room. Whether I then consider the presence of such ‘reasons’ a justification, or whether they satisfy me, is just psychological.

For example, if there really is a tiger in my room, then if I listen closely, I should hear growling or some other noises. At least eventually – maybe the tiger is currently sleeping. If I knocked on the door or agitated the tiger somehow I should be able to hear it.

Now, If I do hear growling that does not mean there really is a tiger in the room. It could be a recording, for example. Maybe it’s a prank. It could be any number of things. As Deutsch likes to say, there’s no limit to the size of error we can make.

Call failed refutations a reason in favor of a theory if you like – I think what’s important is that we have a critical attitude toward our theories.

I think Popper explicitly presents the social sciences as a domain where corroboration is necessary. It is a science where we know the theories are not true, but instead approximations, or useful instruments for predicting social behaviours, wellbeing etc. [emphasis added]

That doesn’t sound like Popper. It sounds like instrumentalism. But if you have a quote, I may change my mind. (Note the analogy to your tiger example here: I’m not asking for a reason your claim is true – it’s that, if your claim is true, then it should be possible to provide such a quote, whereas if it false, it should be impossible to provide such a quote.)

Q: I have criticism X of corroboration. How do you respond?
A: My idea of corroboration has survived all criticism.
His theory surviving previous criticism is irrelevant to deciding whether it survives this particular criticism right?

Yes. But I don’t think Popper would have given that answer A because he knew that past performance is no indication of future performance. He instead would have addressed criticism X directly, presumably.

For example, what if a level of self referential modelling within a program conjures up consciousness?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this…

Do you have a refutation for this sort of idea and all similar variations? Perhaps in your FAQ?

I’ve written a little bit about self-referential stuff in my book. I think discussing this bit further would take us down a mostly unrelated tangent but I do recommend reading the book in general.

Re the beads, I think your variation of my example needlessly breaks with consciousness being private, but yes it does contain the same problem. Do you see it?

#132 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #131
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Upon reflection, I’ve realized that I made a mistake in a previous comment when I implied that consciousness has nothing to do with self-referentiality.

I do think self-referentiality is an important part of any conscious mind, since my neo-Darwinian approach to the mind introduces self-replicating ideas within a mind, and self-replication in turn depends on self-referentiality.

What I do not think is that recursion necessarily plays a role in consciousness, which seems to be a very popular theory.

The mistake was that I read “self referential” to mean ‘recursive’, and while recursion is necessarily self-referential, it’s not the only kind of self-referentiality there is, and another kind may well be an integral part to consciousness.

#137 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #132
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Depending on the details of the situation, that may well be the case, but it’s the inverse that matters: it’s that the absence of such reasons would cause me to dismiss the claim that there’s a tiger in my room. Whether I then consider the presence of such ‘reasons’ a justification, or whether they satisfy me, is just psychological.

For example, if there really is a tiger in my room, then if I listen closely, I should hear growling or some other noises. At least eventually – maybe the tiger is currently sleeping. If I knocked on the door or agitated the tiger somehow I should be able to hear it.

Now, If I do hear growling that does not mean there really is a tiger in the room. It could be a recording, for example. Maybe it’s a prank. It could be any number of things. As Deutsch likes to say, there’s no limit to the size of error we can make.

We seem to agree here. It would be unreasonable to believe there’s a tiger in your room absent any reason/evidence. We both qualify this with the fact that the reason/evidence cannot mean we are not in error. I think Salmon is also in agreement too. When Salmon claims that corroboration has no basis, he is claiming that Popper’s claim is absent of reasons. I do not believe he is asking for an infallible justification. Salmon wants Popper to show that he has knocked on the door of corroboration, and that corroboration growled back.

That doesn’t sound like Popper. It sounds like instrumentalism. But if you have a quote, I may change my mind. (Note the analogy to your tiger example here: I’m not asking for a reason your claim is true – it’s that, if your claim is true, then it should be possible to provide such a quote, whereas if it false, it should be impossible to provide such a quote.)

The quote comes from Conjectures and Refutations. Note that corroboration is said to be an indication of verisimilitude (truth likeness).

“Ultimately, the idea of verisimilitude is most important in cases where we know that we have to work with theories which are at best approximations-that is to say, theories of which we actually know that they cannot be true. (This is often the case in the social sciences.) In these cases we can still speak of better or worse approximations to the truth (and we therefore do not need to interpret these cases in an instrumentalist sense).”

I think medicine is another domain where we often decide between theories based on their level of corroboration. We often don’t yet know the mechanism of action of our treatments, but we might know that one treatment has survived a greater level of empirical testing.

Yes. But I don’t think Popper would have given that answer A because he knew that past performance is no indication of future performance. He instead would have addressed criticism X directly, presumably.

Well, that seems to be the closest he came to addressing this particular criticism. If you think there is a better defence of corroboration I would love to hear it.

I do think self-referentiality is an important part of any conscious mind, since my neo-Darwinian approach to the mind introduces self-replicating ideas within a mind, and self-replication in turn depends on self-referentiality.

So would you agree that it is at least plausible that some form of self referential modelling occurring within the brain could be the cause of consciousness?

Re the beads, I think your variation of my example needlessly breaks with consciousness being private, but yes it does contain the same problem. Do you see it?

Sorry, I didn’t make it very clear, but the contents of the last earn is kept private as an analogy for consciousness. I’m not sure which problem you are referring to. The reasoning is definitely not the strongest, but it is enough to provide some likelihood to the conclusion, and that is all that is required for us to play it safe in regards to animal suffering.

#151 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · · Referenced in post ‘Wrong-Number Pattern
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Salmon wants Popper to show that he has knocked on the door of corroboration, and that corroboration growled back.

Did you mean to say ‘and that corroboration did not growl back’?

Regarding the quote from C&R: you previously said Popper claimed that the social sciences are “useful instruments for predicting social behaviours [or] wellbeing”. Your C&R quote doesn’t contain anything to this effect.

Well, that seems to be the closest he came to addressing this particular criticism.

Popper wants to “adopt critical methods which have themselves withstood severe criticism”. He would have addressed criticisms of corroboration. (I imagine there are examples of his doing so but I do not wish to look up the literature at this moment.)

If you think there is a better defence of corroboration I would love to hear it.

I don’t care to defend corroboration because I don’t need it.

So would you agree that it is at least plausible that some form of self referential modelling occurring within the brain could be the cause of consciousness?

It’s more than plausible: I wrote that “self-replication […] depends on self-referentiality” (emphasis added). But again, discussing this bit further would take us down a mostly unrelated tangent.

Btw you need a hyphen between “self” and “referential” in “self referential modelling”. In some cases hyphenation rules are confusing.

[…] the contents of the last earn is kept private […]

“urn” and “are”

As an aside, I’ve noticed lots of people making the mistake of using mismatching numbers for the verb and subject of a sentence if there’s another noun of a different number between them and therefore closer to the verb. It’s interesting grammatically. Maybe some people’s algorithm for determining the verb’s number is to use that of what they believe to be the closest preceding noun. In this case, that’s “earn”, which is singular, whereas the subject is “contents” (plural), so the verb should be plural as well. People shouldn’t use that algorithm because it doesn’t work in cases like the one above. They should instead look to the subject’s number, no matter how far away from the verb it is. If they have trouble remembering, that’s easy to correct in writing: just read the sentence again and look for the subject and its number. Or they can write shorter sentences, or they can structure their sentences such that their algorithm does work, for example: ‘the last earn’s contents are kept private’. When speaking it’s a bit harder; people could use shorter sentences so there’s less of a possibility of another noun separating the subject and verb, and with shorter sentences it’s easier to remember what the subject is while speaking.

I love languages and am interested in grammar, and writing well is an important skill, especially in discussions where misunderstandings are commonplace. (Though my notes on English writing and grammar should always be taken with a grain of salt since I’m not a native speaker.)

Sorry, I didn’t make it very clear, but the contents of the last earn is kept private as an analogy for consciousness.

My version is better because people shouldn’t be able to look into other people’s urns at all for that same privacy reason.

In any case, even drawing beads from a single urn, draw as many as you like, the drawn beads’ colors are no indication whatsoever for the next bead’s. That’s the problem.

[We should] play it safe in regards to animal suffering.

You seem to be advocating the precautionary principle, which, for the reasons Deutsch explains in BoI, is a bad idea.

#186 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #151 · Referenced in post ‘Wrong-Number Pattern’ and in comment #355
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Sorry I took so long to reply. Busy over christmas and stuck into a few side projects at the moment.

Did you mean to say ‘and that corroboration did not growl back’?

No. The analogy for me is that I find Popper’s claim about corroboration absent of reasons, and therefore I dismiss it, likewise, you would dismiss my claim about the tiger because of an absence of reasons unless it did growl back (a reason), etc.

Regarding the quote from C&R: you previously said Popper claimed that the social sciences are “useful instruments for predicting social behaviours [or] wellbeing”. Your C&R quote doesn’t contain anything to this effect.

That was more my own description of social sciences. The key point is that Popper provided social sciences as an example of a domain where corroboration is necessary. I also provided the domain of medicine as another example.

I don’t care to defend corroboration because I don’t need it.
I disagree. How do you account for the fields of social sciences and medicine where we often make use of a theory because of its survival of past testing, not because we think it is true (we may know it NOT to be true, as Popper claims of social sciences)?

So would you agree that it is at least plausible that some form of self referential modeling occurring within the brain could be the cause of consciousness?

It’s more than plausible: I wrote that “self-replication […] depends on self-referentiality” (emphasis added). But again, discussing this bit further would take us down a mostly unrelated tangent.

Other than for self-replication, do you think self-referential modeling within the brain is a possible cause of consciousness?

I love languages and am interested in grammar, and writing well is an important skill, especially in discussions where misunderstandings are commonplace. (Though my notes on English writing and grammar should always be taken with a grain of salt since I’m not a native speaker.)

Thanks for the corrections and tips :)

Sorry, I didn’t make it very clear, but the contents of the last earn is kept private as an analogy for consciousness.

My version is better because people shouldn’t be able to look into other people’s urns at all for that same privacy reason.
Well, if the urns are an analogy for aspects of our biological selves, then most urns are made public (like you get to see that I have limbs, eyes, hands like yourself, and that I am capable of language, talking, breathing, eating like yourself). Consciousness is the only private urn..

In any case, even drawing beads from a single urn, draw as many as you like, the drawn beads’ colors are no indication whatsoever for the next bead’s. That’s the problem.

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar? All that is required is for us to not be aware of any prearrangement of the jars. Similarly we are not aware of any prearrangement of human attributes such that consciousness is the one aspect of ourselves that is not at all uniform.

[We should] play it safe in regards to animal suffering.

You seem to be advocating the precautionary principle, which, for the reasons Deutsch explains in BoI, is a bad idea.

He seems to make the argument that we should put caution to the side if it would inhibit knowledge growth (and therefore the infinite good that comes from it), since the bad that comes of it would only be finite. Do you agree? If so, then you must believe that protecting animals from potential suffering inhibits knowledge growth and that the potential suffering would only ever be finite?

#225 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
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Regarding self-referentiality, I wrote previously:

I think discussing [self-referentiality] further would take us down a mostly unrelated tangent […].

You continued anyway. Then, later on, in another comment, I wrote:

[A]gain, discussing [self-referentiality] further would take us down a mostly unrelated tangent.

That was the second time I recommended not discussing this matter further.

Now you’re continuing again:

Other than for self-replication, do you think self-referential modeling within the brain is a possible cause of consciousness?

Why do you ignore my warnings that discussing this issue would lead us down a mostly unrelated tangent?

Separately, you wrote:

How do you account for the fields of social sciences and medicine where we often make use of a theory because of its survival of past testing, not because we think it is true […]?

You wrote this as a quote but it’s not a quote. Presumably this happened because you quoted one of my lines and then didn’t put a blank line between the quote and your text. As you write your comments, check the markdown preview on the right before submitting them.

To answer your question: the theory may be really good (“hard to vary”, to use Deutsch’s terminology). It may be harder to vary than all the other theories we have guessed so far. So it’s not just that a theory has survived testing. I could imagine cases where you have two rival theories, one of which survived testing and one of which failed a test, and you still prefer the latter. Or your preferred theory may be the only one that has survived testing.

I understand that we know in physics that at least one of general relativity and quantum physics must be false, maybe both, because they contradict each other. That doesn’t stop us from using general relativity for, say, navigation, and it doesn’t stop us from using quantum theory to explain the outcomes of double-slit experiments. And note that so far I have written this and the previous paragraph without invoking corroboration. Granted, physics isn’t a social science or medicine, but why should it be different there?

Separately, you wrote:

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?

I ask you in turn: in the old example of the farm animals being fattened up every day and growing more and more confident that the farmer only has their well-being in mind, should they bet the day before the slaughter that the next day he will feed them again?

#239 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #225
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Why do you ignore my warnings that discussing this issue would lead us down a mostly unrelated tangent?

Sorry, I guess I still saw it as relevant and so I continued on. The reason I find it relevant is because self-referentiality could be an example of an alternate cause of consciousness, which would refute your claim that creativity is the only remaining explanation. Why don’t you think it is relevant?

To answer your question: the theory may be really good (“hard to vary”, to use Deutsch’s terminology). It may be harder to vary than all the other theories we have guessed so far. So it’s not just that a theory has survived testing.

This answer doesn’t satisfy me because I’ve come to see the hard-to-vary principle as essentially an account of corroboration/induction. I have an outline of my argument for this here.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XL3yp1KfOLmnMSpUUA2GmiMLi7bxDg7Wj5E8j0MUZu0/edit?usp=sharing

I could imagine cases where you have two rival theories, one of which survived testing and one of which failed a test, and you still prefer the latter. Or your preferred theory may be the only one that has survived testing.

Right, but those would be cases where you know significantly more than just the past success of the theory right? Those are not the cases I am referring to.

I understand that we know in physics that at least one of general relativity and quantum physics must be false, maybe both, because they contradict each other. That doesn’t stop us from using general relativity for, say, navigation, and it doesn’t stop us from using quantum theory to explain the outcomes of double-slit experiments. And note that so far I have written this and the previous paragraph without invoking corroboration. Granted, physics isn’t a social science or medicine, but why should it be different there?

This example can work if we imagine things a little differently. If we did find that both general relativity and quantum physics were false (in some aspect), what argument would you provide for your continued use of these theories? (assuming you would still make use of them?). Do you not invoke corroboration then?

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?

I ask you in turn: in the old example of the farm animals being fattened up every day and growing more and more confident that the farmer only has their well-being in mind, should they bet the day before the slaughter that the next day he will feed them again?

I will answer your hypothetical, but please answer mine too.

The farm animals would be better off if they predicted the slaughter, but assuming they reason similar to us, and that they know nothing other than the fact they they get fed each morning by the farmer, then their rationality would lead them to bet that they would be fed again tomorrow, and 99.9% of the time they would be right. If the animals knew something about human history, farming practices, etc then things would be different.

#241 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · · Referenced in comments #261, #329
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The reason I find it relevant is because self-referentiality could be an example of an alternate cause of consciousness, which would refute your claim that creativity is the only remaining explanation.

No because, as I’ve explained, creativity seems to itself rely on self-referentiality by way of self-replicating ideas. In which case it’s not an alternate cause but part of the same cause.

Why don’t you think it is relevant?

Strikes me as largely if not entirely separate from the issue of corroboration.

To answer your question: the theory may be really good (“hard to vary”, to use Deutsch’s terminology). It may be harder to vary than all the other theories we have guessed so far. So it’s not just that a theory has survived testing.

This answer doesn’t satisfy me because I’ve come to see the hard-to-vary principle as essentially an account of corroboration/induction. I have an outline of my argument for this here.
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XL3yp1KfOLmnMSpUUA2GmiMLi7bxDg7Wj5E8j0MUZu0/edit?usp=sharing

I start to read the first line, which says:

David Deutsch’s hard-to-vary (HTV) criteria [1] is offered […]

The verb is “is” so the subject must be singular. But the subject is “criteria”, which is plural. It’s one criterion. Foreign-language sounding words ending in -on are usually Greek and often end in -a when they’re plural. E.g. phenomenon -> phenomena, lexicon -> lexica (or lexicons, but even there the point is you’d never say ‘one lexicons’). I’m no expert on Greek, so see for yourself. Lots of people fuck it up and say “many phenomenon” or “one phenomena”. Or when speaking they pronounce the last syllable so quietly you can’t tell, to hide their ignorance. People get this wrong all the time but it’s such an easy thing to get right.

Then, in the footnote marked [1], the title to Deutsch’s book says “Beginning of Infinity”. That’s not the correct title. It’s The Beginning of Infinity.

So I’m only nine words in and have already found two blunders, which makes me question how much value the document can offer. I don’t wish to read on at this time.

Right, but those would be cases where you know significantly more than just the past success of the theory right?

Don’t we always? We always have theories about our theories, background knowledge, expectations…

If we did find that both general relativity and quantum physics were false (in some aspect), what argument would you provide for your continued use of these theories? […]

Instead of quantum physics, consider Newtonian physics, which also conflicts with general relativity and, as I understand it, is often used in engineering and experimental physics instead of general relativity, despite symmetry having been broken in favor of general relativity. Its continued use is not due to its having worked in the past (i.e., having survived many tests – on the contrary, I understand it has also failed many), but because the errors it introduces compared to general relativity in these contexts are negligible. We can know this from theory alone, without running any experiments. There may be other considerations such as Newton’s equations being easier than Einstein’s (I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s easy to imagine other cases involving other theories where it is).

Do you not invoke corroboration then?

As you can see in my previous paragraph: no. I instead invoked two other properties: negligible error introduction and ease of use.

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?

I may well.

#242 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #241 · Referenced in comments #329, #382
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Adding to my previous comment. You wrote:

If the animals knew something about human history, farming practices, etc then things would be different.

Yes – and if they don’t already, they might conjecture something about that (assuming they can think like humans). If their conjecture is, as I’ve said, that their farmer only has their wellbeing in mind, then they are wrong every time, even if their prediction is correct some of the time. And if they wish to explain rather than just predict, that’s a problem. Especially if it results in death.

Humans’ situation isn’t all that different as sustained failure to explain the world around us also results in death.

#243 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #242
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The reason I find it relevant is because self-referentiality could be an example of an alternate cause of consciousness, which would refute your claim that creativity is the only remaining explanation.

No because, as I’ve explained, creativity seems to itself rely on self-referentiality by way of self-replicating ideas. In which case it’s not an alternate cause but part of the same cause.

I think self-referentiality is more general than what is required for self-replicating ideas, but if you don’t want to go down that path then I will cease.

Why don’t you think it is relevant?

Strikes me as largely if not entirely separate from the issue of corroboration.

But it is relevant to the issue of animal consciousness.

So I’m only nine words in and have already found two blunders, which makes me question how much value the document can offer. I don’t wish to read on at this time.

No more blunders than my usual level :)
I don’t think I’ll articulate it much better here, so I won’t try.

Right, but those would be cases where you know significantly more than just the past success of the theory right?

Don’t we always? We always have theories about our theories, background knowledge, expectations…

Yes, but in the examples I was getting at (social sciences, medicine, etc), I was referring to cases where we don’t yet have background knowledge that lets us explain why a particular theory/treatment is good (e.g. no known mechanism of action). This doesn’t mean we are without any background knowledge. For example, the conclusions drawn from a clinical trial are based on the knowledge that the treatment was provided to a random sample of the population.

If we did find that both general relativity and quantum physics were false (in some aspect), what argument would you provide for your continued use of these theories? […]

Instead of quantum physics, consider Newtonian physics, which also conflicts with general relativity and, as I understand it, is often used in engineering and experimental physics instead of general relativity, despite symmetry having been broken in favor of general relativity. Its continued use is not due to its having worked in the past (i.e., having survived many tests – on the contrary, I understand it has also failed many), but because the errors it introduces compared to general relativity in these contexts are negligible. We can know this from theory alone, without running any experiments. There may be other considerations such as Newton’s equations being easier than Einstein’s (I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s easy to imagine other cases involving other theories where it is).

I agree that you could proceed here without corroboration because the use of Newtonian physics is justified because you know that it is an approximation to your current best theories. However, this scenario is too different from the hypothetical I posed. Could you please respond to it?

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?

I may well.

Would your betting have anything to do with the fact that the last 30 jars that you randomly selected contained red beads? Does it make it easier if it was 10 thousand jars?

If the animals knew something about human history, farming practices, etc then things would be different.

Yes – and if they don’t already, they might conjecture something about that (assuming they can think like humans). If their conjecture is, as I’ve said, that their farmer only has their wellbeing in mind, then they are wrong every time, even if their prediction is correct some of the time. And if they wish to explain rather than just predict, that’s a problem. Especially if it results in death.

Humans’ situation isn’t all that different as sustained failure to explain the world around us also results in death.

I agree.

#248 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
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I agree that you could proceed here without corroboration because the use of Newtonian physics is justified because you know that it is an approximation to your current best theories. However, this scenario is too different from the hypothetical I posed. Could you please respond to it?

OK your hypothetical was:

If we did find that both general relativity and quantum physics were false (in some aspect), what argument would you provide for your continued use of these theories? […]

E.g. general relativity is needed to keep GPS running and you’d want to keep that running while finding the successor theory to GR.

If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?

I may well.

Would your betting have anything to do with the fact that the last 30 jars that you randomly selected contained red beads? Does it make it easier if it was 10 thousand jars?

Psychologically, yes to both. People break symmetry this way all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that, epistemologically, induction doesn’t work, and that this way of breaking symmetry is invalid. It was either Popper or Hume who broke the problem of induction into the logical problem of induction on the one hand and the psychological one on the other.

#252 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #248 · Referenced in comments #329, #382
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E.g. general relativity is needed to keep GPS running and you’d want to keep that running while finding the successor theory to GR.

Do I have this right. You would continue using GR because you want the things it explains to keep working?

Psychologically, yes to both. People break symmetry this way all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that, epistemologically, induction doesn’t work, and that this way of breaking symmetry is invalid.

I agree that people often break symmetry this way, but do you? Given that you think it is invalid?

#260 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · · Referenced in comment #329
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Do I have this right. You would continue using GR because you want the things it explains to keep working?

I was referring not to the things it explains but the things that depend on it. If we were to reject GR in its entirety, we’d also have to reject things that use GR. Like GPS (from what I understand). But we wouldn’t throw GPS out the window if we learned GR is false (and GPS would keep working the same regardless).

I agree that people often break symmetry this way, but do you? Given that you think it is invalid?

As I’ve said, I may well.

A couple more thoughts on induction that I’ve had since my previous comment:

  1. Supporters of two conflicting theories may observe several pieces of evidence corroborating both theories. As a result, they might become more confident in their respective theory as each piece of evidence comes in. As always, they’d be wrong to mistake their feelings about the theory for a truth criterion (or probability criterion). They’d have to be, since the theories conflict.

  2. The other day, I was building an image upload for a website. Part of the feature was to display the images back to the user before he hit enter to confirm the upload. I noticed a bug: the images were sometimes displayed in a different order than the one in which the user picked them. That made it more difficult for the user to confirm his selection, so I set out to fix the bug. The nature of the bug was that I displayed the images in the order in which they were loaded, but larger images take longer to load, of course, so they’d be displayed later. I also noticed that the browser’s file API gives me the images in the order in which they were selected by default.

    I fixed the bug by rendering each image’s container immediately, in order, and then rendering each image within its respective container whenever it was done loading. Because the containers rendered in order, so did the images.

    Here’s the thing: when I tested whether my fix worked, I did not try to make repeating observations. I hoped for non-repeating observations so I could still reproduce the bug and thereby falsify my fix! And when I did not reproduce the bug only a few times in a row, I stopped testing because I already knew from the explanation of how and why the fix worked that I should never see the bug again. I did not keep testing the fix in hopes of getting more confident in it. (That really would have been rather pathetic on my part – like I’m hoping to feel good about my code or something.)

#261 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #260 · Referenced in comment #329
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But we wouldn’t throw GPS out the window if we learned GR is false (and GPS would keep working the same regardless).

But why? What reason do you have for thinking that GPS would continue to work?

As I’ve said, I may well.

I’m confused which comment you are referring to here. Are you referring to breaking symmetry with the hard-to-vary principle? Because that would be a different principle.

#328 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) · · Referenced in comment #329
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[Dennis:] But we wouldn’t throw GPS out the window if we learned GR is false (and GPS would keep working the same regardless).

[Kieren:] But why? What reason do you have for thinking that GPS would continue to work?

What reason do I have for not thinking that? If GPS has worked at all, it’s because some truth is encoded in its functionality. We don’t know what that truth is, but to think that GPS would suddenly stop working if our state of mind changed is some weird version of solipsism or telekinesis or something.

[Kieren:] I agree that people often break symmetry this way, but do you? Given that you think it is invalid?

[Dennis:] As I’ve said, I may well.

[Kieren:] I’m confused which comment you are referring to here. Are you referring to breaking symmetry with the hard-to-vary principle? Because that would be a different principle.

I had linked to the wrong comment (parent comment instead of the comment itself; both ids appear on the same line so I may change the UI around that). I meant to link to #242. There’s also #252. Bottom of each.

#329 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #328
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Here’s an article containing the grammatical mistake I mentioned:

[T]he full current of the scripts are breaking bad […].

The subject of the sentence is “current”, which is singular, so the verb should be “is” instead of “are”. But “scripts” is closer to the verb than “current” so I guess the interviewee mistook “scripts” for the subject.

The same restructuring I mentioned before could correct the mistake while continuing to use the closest noun to determine the verb’s number: ‘The scripts’ full current is breaking bad’.

#355 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #186 · Referenced in post ‘Wrong-Number Pattern
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What reason do I have for not thinking that? If GPS has worked at all, it’s because some truth is encoded in its functionality. We don’t know what that truth is, but to think that GPS would suddenly stop working if our state of mind changed is some weird version of solipsism or telekinesis or something.

Is this not a case of using a theory based on its pass success (past testing)?

I had linked to the wrong comment (parent comment instead of the comment itself; both ids appear on the same line so I may change the UI around that). I meant to link to #242. There’s also #252. Bottom of each.

Sorry, I’m still not sure how your referenced comments are answering my question. Could you please elaborate on your answer? I’ll copy my question below.

I agree that people often break symmetry this way, but do you? Given that you think it is invalid?

#382 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
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Here’s the thing: when I tested whether my fix worked, I did not try to make repeating observations. I hoped for non-repeating observations so I could still reproduce the bug and thereby falsify my fix! And when I did not reproduce the bug only a few times in a row, I stopped testing because I already knew from the explanation of how and why the fix worked that I should never see the bug again. I did not keep testing the fix in hopes of getting more confident in it. (That really would have been rather pathetic on my part – like I’m hoping to feel good about my code or something.)

I think you have provided a good example of how many software bugs are solved. However, some bugs cannot be solved so cleanly. Perhaps there is a complex race condition that only errors occasionaly, or the code is proprietry and not accessible for inspection. Comprimises are made to meet deadlines and a “seems to fix it, but not sure why” can be acceptable. The basis on whether to accept such a solution is often the result of repeated testing. If the bug doesn’t happen more than 1 in 1000, then that might be fit for purpose.

#383 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
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Is this not a case of using a theory based on its pass success (past testing)?

I don’t think so. Why would it be?

Sorry, I’m still not sure how your referenced comments are answering my question. Could you please elaborate on your answer?

Not sure what you’re looking for. You asked me if I break symmetry that way and I said “I may well”. As in: I’m fallible. I may use wrong ways to break symmetry sometimes, even if I make an effort not do.

Comprimises are made to meet deadlines and a “seems to fix it, but not sure why” can be acceptable. The basis on whether to accept such a solution is often the result of repeated testing. If the bug doesn’t happen more than 1 in 1000, then that might be fit for purpose.

I agree that people do that (hopefully only as a last resort). Of course, then they might find that they can reproduce the bug 1 in 1000 times only in dev, and that in prod it happens every time, or every other time, or whatever.

#388 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #383
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I don’t think so. Why would it be?

Because your expecting GPS to work because it worked in the past.

Not sure what you’re looking for. You asked me if I break symmetry that way and I said “I may well”. As in: I’m fallible. I may use wrong ways to break symmetry sometimes, even if I make an effort not do.

That clarifies it. “I may well” is ambiguous as to why you would (maybe you have a valid reason). I think you could have just answered “no” since we don’t have to be so careful about restating that we are fallible every time we answer a question.

Circling back, this would mean that given 1000 random jars, you would not bet that the final jar contains a red bead, even though the previous 999 jars only contained red beads?

For you it would be just as rational to bet on a blue bead?

I would bet $10000 on red if give such an opportunity.

#390 · Kieren (people may not be who they say they are) ·
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Because your [sic] expecting GPS to work because it worked in the past.

No. I’m expecting it to work because others have good explanations for why it works. Conversely, if those explanations stated that GPS only works for the hemisphere facing the sun at any given moment, I would expect it to work only intermittently. If our explanations said it will stop working in the year 2030 and why (maybe something changes about the universe that destroys it), I would expect it to stop working despite it having worked in the past.

In all those cases, our explanations tell us why GPS worked in the past and why and when it is or isn’t going to work in the future. In no case does the explanation say it’s going to work in the future because it has worked in the past.

I think you could have just answered “no” [to the question “If we actually did open 30 random jars and all the beads were red, would you not bet on red beads in the next jar?”] since we don’t have to be so careful about restating that we are fallible every time we answer a question.

So shouldn’t I have answered ‘yes’? Since “I may well” make the mistake of predicting the future from the past. (Note that it remains a mistake methodologically even if I happen to be right about the color of the bead.)

Circling back, this would mean that given 1000 random jars, you would not bet that the final jar contains a red bead, even though the previous 999 jars only contained red beads?

For you it would be just as rational to bet on a blue bead?

Depending on the explanation, yes. Knowing nothing else I probably would bet on the next jar containing only red beads (I think that’s what you mean when you say “the final jar contains a red bead”, emphasis added). But this strikes me as another case of distinguishing between the logical and the psychological. And, as always, it depends on what Popper calls background knowledge: what if I know the owner of the jars wants to fool me? What if I know there’s at least one blue bead in one of the jars and we haven’t found it yet? What if I’m at a casino and know a thing or two about how the odds are stacked against customers? What if I don’t? Etc.

#393 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #390
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Kieren, I just stumbled upon a couple of passages in Popper’s Objective Knowledge (1983, Oxford Clarendon Press in Oxford).

On p. 67, he speaks of “the logical justification of the preference for one theory over another” (emphasis removed) and calls it “the only kind of ‘justification’ which I believe possible […]”.

He also says on p. 7 (emphasis removed):

[T]he assumption of the truth of test statements sometimes allows us to justify the claim that an explanatory universal theory is false.

Do these quotes help your case?

#403 · dennis (verified commenter) · in response to comment #390 · Referenced in post ‘Criticism of David Deutsch’s ‘Taking Children Seriously and fallibilism’
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