Yes/No “Check Your Understanding” questions and replies

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What is the standard view about how to judge ideas? What’s wrong with it?

The standard view is that you can judge arguments according to amounts of support the idea has, weight of the evidence, that kind of thing.

There are some problems here
1. All actual decisions involve choosing to act on one theory and rejecting others. Pretending you are doing otherwise is faking the reality of what’s going on
2. There’s infinite theories compatible with any given set of evidence, so in a sense they are all equally “supported” by the evidence

What is Karl Popper’s view about how to judge ideas? What’s wrong with it?

Popper is thoroughly against authorities in epistemology. He thinks you should judge ideas according to the merits of the idea itself, not the source. He emphasizes how science began with the criticism of myths.

There are some issues with Popper’s views of how to judge ideas though.

One issue is that Popper thinks arguments can be weighty though inconclusive. So he thinks there are medium strength arguments. This contradicts Yes-No epistemology, which says that either an argument decisively refutes an idea, or fails to refute it. So there’s always conclusiveness.

Other things: Popper thinks you can rationally prefer one non-refuted theory over another. But how, without a criticism which refutes one of the ideas?

From the Karl Popper Commentary in Yes/No:

Confirmations shouldn’t count at all, because the purpose of an idea is to solve a problem. A confirmation (a piece of evidence which fits with an idea) neither tells us that an idea solves a problem, nor does it refute a competing idea as unable to solve the problem. So confirmations accomplish nothing.

Question: Wasn’t Popper specifically thinking about situations where a “confirmation” would consist of a “risky prediction” which would refute a competing idea? So like, his focus on it being a confirmation was wrong, but in context it seems like a reasonable point.

Why are all successful criticisms decisive?

Either an argument refutes an idea or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the idea isn’t refuted by that argument. If it does, then the idea is totally refuted in the context the idea was addressing.

What can only have a binary evaluation, and what can have amounts? (“Binary” means two-valued, e.g. yes-or-no.)

Key issues in the philosophy of knowledge are binary. Things like whether an idea solves a problem, whether its refuted, etc.

Other stuff can have amounts. You can talk about how heavy something is or how original it is. That’s fine.

How are observations, facts, and attributes of ideas used?

They can be referred to in talking about ideas, criticisms, problems, solutions.

Like you could observe that socialism leads to mass death and chaos and use that to criticize socialism.

Or a common example is using observations from a scientific test to refute a theory.

How do you choose between two ideas that both solve the same problem?

If you feel like you could act on one of the ideas and it’s not an important issue (like if you have multiple good ideas for where to go to lunch) you could choose randomly.

If you’re feeling stuck between the yes ideas then they’d actually aren’t good enough for acting in the situation. That’s a criticism! So they’re all refuted, and you need to brainstorm new ideas.

You could also reconsider the problem and try and act on a less ambitious one.

Why shouldn’t you act on a criticized idea?

Because a criticism is a reason the idea won’t work for the problem you want to solve!!

How do decision charts work?

You use them to organize the problems you want an idea to solve, and the propose solutions for that problem. And then for each proposed solution, you fill in yes or no for whether it solves a given problem. And you can use this technique to assses whether you have any idea that solves all the problems you wanna solve, or no ideas, or more than one such idea.

What’s wrong with weighing the evidence?

Sometimes people talk about weight and don’t use actual numbers. So their determines of what’s a more important argument to get greater “weight” is based on their own intuitive, pre-existing sense of what’s right. Thus the “weighing of the evidence” just winds up rationalizing decisions that have been made according to some (unstated) arguments.

What’s a library of criticism?

It’s a stock of criticisms you’ve accumulated in your mind, that you can use in assessing some idea you hadn’t heard before.

Example: some people are saying maybe govt should regulate the internet as a PUBLIC UTILITY so that companies will stop censoring speech. I have some crits from my STOCK OF CRITS relevant to this idea, like:

1) it violates property rights

2) getting govt involved in some area will just give more power to the other political party to do stuff you don’t like next time they have power (and you will have partially sanctioned this!)

3) govt regulation tends to decrease quality and increase price of a service

4) people should take initiative to solve problems themselves instead of asking for govt force to help them (especially the side that says its for freedom and individual responsibility). This could include stuff like trying to start or support businesses that respect free speech

5) public utilities are some of the lamest, least-customer-responsive entities we have, and we shouldn’t try and force more stuff into that model

How are ideas organized in a tree with footnotes and summary ideas?

Ideas are connected to other ideas. Like an idea about wanting to buy a camera could have a bunch of reasons for why you want to buy the camera, what it’d be useful for, the fact that you have enough money to buy a camera, etc.

The footnotes can get into a lot of detail and complexity, but you can only deal with so much at one time, so when thinking about some footnotes you think in terms of simple summaries. That is, unless an issue comes up and you need to get into details.

Here’s a simple example of building up some abstractions and turning a concept into a “footnote” to another concept:

Suppose you’re in a supermarket. There’s tomatoes bundled up in packages of 2. You want to buy a bunch of tomatoes. You’re gonna get four packages. How many tomatoes is that?

2 tomatoes + 2 tomatoes + 2 tomatoes + 2 tomatoes = 8

That’s not just true of tomatoes, though. You can add stuff together in general, and drop the tomatoes:

2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 8
You can bring up tomatoes as an example for this if you want, but you can just think about adding numbers directly.

But you could also think of it this way:

2 x 4 = 8

Multiplication is repeated addition. If you need to think about the underlying addition you can — its a footnote to multiplication — but you can just multiply the numbers directly.

But we can represent it another way too:

2^(1) x 2^(2) = 8
(then using exponent product rule)
2^(3) = 8

Exponents represent repeated multiplication. If you need to think about the underlying multiplication you can — its a footnote to exponents — but you can just think about exponents of numbers directly.

And now there’s a whole chain of footnotes for the exponent idea, leading all the way down to statements about how many tomatoes 2 to the third power of tomatoes is!

Note: lots of math problems people have are because they learn each bit of math in a disintegrated way and don’t actually have a tree of footnotes in their mind they can refer to when an issue comes up.

What’s important to know when naming solutions and problems?

You want to keep names unambiguous, instead of attaching a having a bunch of memes attached to the same word and therefore having a bunch of confusion from that. You can give something a more specific name (like “laissez-faire capitalism”) when a more general name (like “capitalism”) has become ambiguous.

Under what circumstances should you change your mind about a previous judgement?

Ideally you should change an idea’s status from non refuted to refuted and that’s it. If you screw up, decide an idea is refuted, and miss a footnote to that idea explaining why your alleged refutation doesn’t succeed as a refutation, you can change your judgment of that ideas status back to non refuted np. But that should not happen a ton and if it does you should examine your methods for judging ideas!!!

What’s an idea? A criticism? A problem?

An idea is any thing you think up, including wrong stuff, nonsense, etc. As distinct from say knowledge which is an idea that solves a problem.

A problem is anything we might try to know or do.

A criticism is an explanation of a mistake in an idea. It says why an idea won’t work to solve the problem it’s supposed to.

Why can’t one idea solve a problem better than another?

Because it either solves some problem or it doesn’t. Multiple ideas can solve some problem (like, what to get for lunch according to some criteria, or a job that pays at least $1000/week), but they either do or don’t. When people speak of ideas solving some problems better than others, what they are doing is grouping different problems together and evaluating various ideas against different sub-problems of that problem, and then saying that a problem which solves more

What’s wrong with arguments having an amount of strength?

We come up with ideas to solve some problem we have. It either does solve that problem, or it doesn’t. A criticism either refutes an idea, or it doesn’t. So on a 0-100 scale all ideas are 100 or 0. So there’s no room for degrees of strength, and talking about strength doesn’t add a ton.

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