Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Things You Think Are Useless I Can't Understand

I once declared this post, in which one of the Less Wrong rationalists pronounced philosophy to be an outdated collection of wrong ideas by old dead dudes which should be dropped from the college curriculum and replaced by training in mathematical logic, heuristics and biases, probability theory, and Bayesian rationality, to possibly be, pound for pound, the absolute stupidest thing I'd ever read on the web, which is saying a lot. I sent it to Arthur, seeking his input. He sent me a bill for a new keyboard, saying that it was my fault his old one was now covered in vomit. We commiserated over the overweening arrogance of rationalist ideologues and resolved to turn our attention to less depressing things.

While reading this excellent review of a book I'm now salivating over, I came across a couple sentences which reminded me of that earlier episode. This is a perfect articulation of how learning to truly think is more than simply being au courant with the latest soon-to-be-obsolete theories and cutting-edge research (to say nothing of the reductionist attitude that knowledge which can't be expressed in mathematical formulae is nearly useless):

To understand a theory requires not just giving its latest formulation, but telling the story of its development, including the major false ideas held along the way, and how their refutation led to the more accurate and comprehensive theories held now. This model sees our understanding as expanding not through some single and final heroic act in which we rid ourselves of all perspectives, but through a gradual process in which we encompass more of them.