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“They had effectively been trained to think of reasoning explicitly about goals as something where you have to follow someone else’s rules, and has little to do with getting what you actually want. It should be easy to see how this might poison the whole thing. If someone’s had enough experiences like that, where something that sort of looks like explicitly reasoning about goals is forced on them in nonsense ways, they might be ruined for goal factoring – and for many other things.

“Mathematics” comes from the Greek word “manthanein,” learn. It is, literally, “the learnable things.” The Greeks tried to figure out what to call the science of shapes, magnitudes, and numbers, and the term that seemed most natural was “learnables.” They thought it was the easiest thing to learn. And this seems borne out by the facts: it’s in some sense objectively the easiest subject there is, since it’s accessible to anyone at any time. It would be very surprising, for instance, if around the year 1900, someone from a non-Western culture with no formal training in a field like physics, chemistry, biology, political philosophy, theology, or law started producing novel work that attracted the interest of British experts at the top of the relevant field. But that’s exactly what happened in mathematics, with Srinivasa Ramanujan. Because math is intrinsically easy. It’s the underlying simple structure of the universe, and the sort of thing you should expect to have in common with any rational being.”



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    I have a strange sense, when I read posts like this, of being adrift, floating unattached, with nothing to grab onto and start exploring the shape of the thing in front of me.

    What is this? Mainstream psychology? It doesn’t seem to be. Mysticism? The author’s idiosyncratic account of the world?

    I know that Ben Hoffman writes and says some quite comprehensible and sensible things, so I am surprised to see this from him—and with no context to frame it, either. What am I missing? Is this part of a “sequence” of posts? Am I expected to have read the author’s other stuff? Or what?

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      Sure. Precisely the reason why I post it as an excerpt rather than the essay in full is that this excerpt is the bit I thought was insightful and interesting. It’s not that the rest isn’t interesting, but it’s sufficiently esoteric that I’m not sure I feel comfortable endorsing it as suitable for WL.

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        Ah! I understand. :)

        I do think the excerpt is talking about something quite real.

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