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Re (tilly) 1: The first cargo cults

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Jan 11, 2002 at 19:00 UTC ( #138017=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to The first cargo cults

Those who want to read the speech the above Feynman quote is from can find it online as well.

It isn't as simple as just saying to experiment. It is a lot (as Feynman says in the longer speech) about maintaining a conceptual integrity from which you learn through experience what to pay attention to, what is essential, and what is probably not. Programming is a little different from science in this. In science we have no good preconceptions available of how things should be. In programming there is likely to be documentation on how things were intended to be (they might not have wound up that way, but that is another story).

But still, without a solid mental model of why we do the actions that we do, we are likely to repeat actions by rote which make no sense out of their original context, and we will miss obvious ways of doing things simply because we have no way to even understand that they make sense. So try to understand what you are working with. Don't wave bamboo because it looks like what you saw. Understand what you saw and then act according to your best understanding.

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Re: Re (tilly) 1: The first cargo cults
by jepri (Parson) on Jan 11, 2002 at 19:24 UTC
    Ack! It does look like I said that Feynman's remedy was to experiment. Like you say, Feyman was really getting into integrity and experimental methodology. Although I would point out a large part of that speech was about how people don't learn from experience what to pay attention to.

    I appreciate how correct you are in focussing on building a compact mental model that helps you understand and perform better. I was trying to focus more on the first step, which is letting go of a very beguiling mental model, the 'magic wand' model of doing something.

    I suggested the experiment idea because I have never failed to learn something by taking stuff apart - whether programs, televisions or cars. I feel that conceptual integrity only becomes an issue after someone stops believing in magic and starts forming their own concepts.

    I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

      What I think is that we all start by believing in some form of "magic". How we learn to distinguish our magical misconceptions from reality is through trying to create conceptual integrity. Without having at least some of that we lack the basic tools to try to form our own concepts. (For more on this, a lot more on this, I suggest picking up Why People Believe Weird Things.)

      As for the speech, I agree absolutely that a lot of it was about how people don't learn from experience. More than that, it was what you need to do to have a chance of learning from experience. And at the top of that list is that you have to be willing to discover that you are wrong. If at all possible, you want to encourage this. Keep in mind that that discovering that you are wrong is the first step to improving and having a chance of being right.

      Incidentally while this is one of the first principles of how successful science works, it is not sufficient for progress. All of the willingness to learn won't help you one bit if what you are trying to learn about isn't amenable to simplification and analysis with your current toolset. Which is one of the reasons that the social sciences have been unable to establish solid foundations for themselves. It is not that no good scientists have tried to do so. It is that the subject is not tractable enough for us to do a good job with it.

             What I think is that we all start by believing in some form of "magic".

        I don't know about you guys but when I wave my hands around magical things happen! ;)


        "The doktor is in."

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