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Michael_PJ comments on In defence of epistemic modesty - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Michael_PJ 30 October 2017 10:36:58PM 2 points [-]

Great post!

I think the question of "how do we make epistemic progress" needs a bit more attention.

Continuing the analogy with the EMH (which I like), I think the usual answer is that there are some $20 bills on the floor, and that some individuals are either specially placed to see that, or have a higher risk tolerance and so are willing to take the risk that it's a prank.

This suggests similar cases in epistemics: some people really are better situated (the experts), but perhaps we should also consider the class of "epistemic risk takers", who hold riskier beliefs in the attempt to get "ahead of the curve". However, as with startup founders, we should take such people with more than a pinch of salt. We may want to "fund" the ecosystem as a whole, because on average the one successful epistemic entrepreneur pays for the rest, but any individual is still likely to be worse than the consensus.

So that suggests that we should encourage people to think riskily, but usually discount their "risky" beliefs when making practical decisions until they have proven themselves. And this actually seems to reflect our behaviour: people are much more epistemically modest when the money is on the table. Being more explicit about which beliefs are "speculative" seems like it would be an improvement, though.

Finally, we also have to ask how people become experts. Again, in the economic analogy, people end up well situated to start businesses often through luck, sometimes through canny positioning, and sometimes through irrational pursuit of an idea. Similarly, to become an expert in X one has to invest a lot of time and effort, but we may want people to speculate in this domain too, and become experts in unlikely things so that we can get good credences on topics that may, with low probability, turn out to be important.

(Meta: I was confused about whether to comment on LW2 or here. Cross-posting comments seems silly... or is it?)