Tag Archives: Deutsch

#22 On knowing what’s best

Most new conjectures are wrong. Yes good. Most old conjectures are wrong. Also fine. This is because new and old are pretty much unbiased subsets of conjectures in general. However the set of ideas in active use are a biased, selected set. Imperfectly selected yes, and quite slow, yes. And can cause a lot of misery, sure. But implemented laws are a selected set and so have a higher percentage of true ideas than the set of new and the set of old.

There’s a lovely power law at work here, a kind of self-similar Sturgeon’s law. Most governments are Continue reading #22 On knowing what’s best

#21 On ancestor worship

Dear Mat,

I disagree with your conjecture.

Most new conjectures are wrong. That’s definitely right. But I disagree that the inverse holds: that therefore more old ideas are right. I think there are selection biases that you’re overlooking that are present in social and political domains that aren’t as relevant in science. Deutsch’s ideas about conjecturing apply across the board but scientific institutions are better tuned for this than political ones. In science the old ideas that are held onto, provisionally, are rightly favoured because they’re likely to be erring towards truth because they faced strong tests when they were adopted; new conjectures are more likely to be off the mark but you keep throwing stuff up and eventually you land on an improvement.

In politics there is way more inertia, way more bias towards conservatism and fewer norms for accepting new theories when they hold up to evidence. In politics a new, true idea may well have absolutely no chance of ever being accepted, merely because it conflicts with people’s intuitions, cognitive biases, animal spirits, tribalisms, etc. Continue reading #21 On ancestor worship

#19 On universal politics

Dear Mat,

Apologies for lateness. The fund I operate to give cash-transfers to dentists and mechanics has taken up a lot of my time lately.

Man, I feel like there’s an increasing amount to try and respond to in each letter. (Incidentally, Dennett calls it a Good Trick when evolution stumbles across a solution to a problem that really does work, often because it chance upon a deeper truth. Good term for what you were describing.)

I’ll pick one point. Continue reading #19 On universal politics

#17 On the nature of the gods

Dear Mat,

The strict naturalist says that everything is made of quarks and there is no independent physical existence for concepts: they are either instantiated in matter or not. Of course, this naturalist (me) doesn’t struggle with explaining things at higher levels, trying to reduce them to sub-atomic particles. But even though, as you say in your last letter, “while you [me] believe only matter exists, I’m thinking all that matters exists.” The world is everything that is the caseContinue reading #17 On the nature of the gods

#16 On wrapping

Thank you for the kind words. I’ll now avoid trying at all to recapture that out of fear of failing.

Shall we call you a non-Platonist? Or perhaps you want to keep the Hitchenesque “anti-“. So that you are against platonism and might be seen, after death, faced with Plato himself in the caves of shadows, giving him the right old middle finger.

Non-Platonist seems more reasonable to me than full Platonist, and that’s even after Continue reading #16 On wrapping

#14 On all stories

And here I was thinking these letters might be my one sanctuary from any mention of Trump.

Strangeness and plausibility, what a nice combo. I can immediately see how science, simultaneously true and bizarre, would hold an exalted place in that metric.

My current chapter in The Beginning of Infinity (I swear I’ll finish it soon and start talking about something else)1)Quick question. Is I’ve quoted this book tons in the last letters and I worry. Is it because the book has great insights into these seemingly unconnected topics? Or am I too good at drawing connections between things that should remain separate? seems relevant. It turns out that I am, like Deustch, a “rather pedantic science-fiction enthusiast” in that I dislike science fiction that is inconsistent with its own rules. In the book, with this in mind, Deutsch tries to write a sci-fi that is purely consistent. The question implicitly posed is: can you create an alternate, fully consistent universe. Continue reading #14 On all stories


1. Quick question. Is I’ve quoted this book tons in the last letters and I worry. Is it because the book has great insights into these seemingly unconnected topics? Or am I too good at drawing connections between things that should remain separate?

#11 On measurements

Dear Mat,

Congratulations and I accept your excuse. But I ask, How many more of these “children” do you anticipate having? And will their births interfere with more important work like these letters, published on our WordPress site?

To clarify a point from last letter, I agree that ideas have to check out with the real world. I also think philosophers fail on that front quite a bit. When I was talking about hierarchy I was getting more at values, or valuations. In a quantitative enquiry (something in physics) those ways of ordering things can be measured and the hierarchy produced is one of magnitude or multitude or whatever. Uncontroversial. But when that gets translated across to human stuff, value judgements come in whereby measuring some difference between two things generally, inexorably, leads to one being valued more than another. Continue reading #11 On measurements