II. A DOZEN GENERAL THINKING TOOLS
1. Making Mistakes
We philosophers are mistake specialists.
Evolution is one of the central themes of this book,…If you attempt to make sense of the world of ideas and meanings, free will and morality, art and science and even philosophy itself without a sound and quite detailed knowledge of evolution, you have one hand tied behind your back.
the vast majority of mutations are harmful; many, in fact, are swiftly fatal. …you have roughly a trillion cells in your body, and each cell has either a perfect or an almost perfect copy of your genome, over three billion symbols long, the recipe for you that first came into existence when your parents’ egg and sperm joined forces.
The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them—especially not from yourself.
So when you make a mistake, you should learn to take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and then examine your own recollections of the mistake as ruthlessly and as dispassionately as you can manage. It’s not easy. The natural human reaction to making a mistake is embarrassment and anger (we are never angrier than when we are angry at ourselves), and you have to work hard to overcome these emotional reactions. Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray.
“credit assignment” (it could as well be called blame assignment). Figuring out what to credit and what to blame is one of the knottiest problems in AI, and it is also a problem faced by natural selection.
in science you make your mistakes in public. You show them off so that everybody can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else’s experience, and not just your own idiosyncratic path through the space of mistakes. …This, by the way, is another reason why we humans are so much smarter than every other species….we share the benefits that our individual brains have won by their individual histories of trial and error.