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  1. #1

    Default Actionable Understanding

    Do X, get result Y.

    Amongst the class of trust worthy statements, understanding of this form, or models of the world readily translated to this form, are the only valuable forms of understanding.

    What are your thoughts about my statement above?

  2. #2
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Do X, get result Y.

    Understanding of this form, or models of the world readily translated to this form are the only valuable forms of understanding.

    What are your thoughts about my statement above?
    To me, this is too limited and . . . experiential, for lack of a better word. I want to know why X leads to Y. How repeatable is this connection? What are the mechanisms behind it? Without that, I don't feel I can rely on the connection, and I certainly can't extend it to those few cases when X results in something else, or something else results in Y. No, I want to see inside the black box.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    To me, this is too limited and . . . experiential, for lack of a better word. I want to know why X leads to Y. How repeatable is this connection? What are the mechanisms behind it? Without that, I don't feel I can rely on the connection, and I certainly can't extend it to those few cases when X results in something else, or something else results in Y. No, I want to see inside the black box.
    Interesting take. I agree with you, and see how I left out important context.

    I believe what additional information you would want is a model of the world still readily translated to "do x get y".

    Also, information about how reliable the understanding was something I took for granted.

    I wanted to contrast this to knowledge of the form "X happened in year Y", or "X and Y have some correlation.". These statements may be actionable to those in a particular field, but are less likely to be so for people outside the field.

    I am trying to formulate a statement that encapsulates what people consider actionable.

    Beyond this, I wanted to see how different the value of knowledge and understanding is when it is actionable.

    I am also playing with the what the difference is between knowledge and understanding.

    However, I thought starting off that abstract would send us in circles. So I chose something simple and perhaps a bit provocative.

    Any thoughts on the more broad (and vague) cluster of thoughts?

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    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    can't be trusted... people always seem way too happy to draw a direct connection in the case of spurious correlations... connections where they shouldn't be
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by whatever View Post
    can't be trusted... people always seem way too happy to draw a direct connection in the case of spurious correlations... connections where they shouldn't be
    I had taken the trustworthiness for granted. I suppose I should edit the first post.

    For example, lift something light enough for you to pick up, and it will move upwards. Most corporeal things respond in predictable ways when corporeal actions are taken on them, at least initially.

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    not to be trusted miss fortune's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    I had taken the trustworthiness for granted. I suppose I should edit the first post.

    For example, lift something light enough for you to pick up, and it will move upwards. Most corporeal things respond in predictable ways when corporeal actions are taken on them, at least initially.
    yes, yes... and fire will often burn you

    I'd say that those types of understandings... the basic understanding of natural laws (as opposed to, say, the understanding of the actual mechanisms of gravity or muscle movement) are just the base of what one should strive for understanding in the world... to stop there is to deny the brain and curiosity their full capabilities. Why bother having a brain if you're not going to use it to explore?

    That basic X -> Y shit should be learned by the time you've learned that pissing your pants isn't a good plan in life... to spend the rest of your life in a state of mental stasis is death
    “Oh, we're always alright. You remember that. We happen to other people.” -Terry Pratchett

  7. #7
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Interesting take. I agree with you, and see how I left out important context.

    I believe what additional information you would want is a model of the world still readily translated to "do x get y".

    Also, information about how reliable the understanding was something I took for granted.

    I wanted to contrast this to knowledge of the form "X happened in year Y", or "X and Y have some correlation.". These statements may be actionable to those in a particular field, but are less likely to be so for people outside the field.
    Before I reply further, could you clarify just what you mean by "actionable"?
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by whatever View Post
    yes, yes... and fire will often burn you

    I'd say that those types of understandings... the basic understanding of natural laws (as opposed to, say, the understanding of the actual mechanisms of gravity or muscle movement) are just the base of what one should strive for understanding in the world... to stop there is to deny the brain and curiosity their full capabilities. Why bother having a brain if you're not going to use it to explore?

    That basic X -> Y shit should be learned by the time you've learned that pissing your pants isn't a good plan in life... to spend the rest of your life in a state of mental stasis is death
    Well, consider that when you are in a plane, train, or automobile (even a building), it is based on this sort of understanding. For that matter, this conversation is also mainly made possible using that sort of understanding. I don't think civil or mechanical engineers require knowing particle physics or string theory to deign cars or bridges.

    Besides that, I think those who understand particle physics would be able to readily make use of that knowledge in an "Do X, get Y" manner. I am starting to believe, unless you can do that, there is no actual understanding, just knowledge.

    Quote Originally Posted by Coriolis View Post
    Before I reply further, could you clarify just what you mean by "actionable"?
    Perhaps useful is a good synonym.

    Actionable means you can act on the knowledge. One extreme example is standing right beyond the turning points of a pendulum and knowing that it is no going to hit you. More intricate examples are designing a circuit based on knowledge of circuit principles, or writing software based on the rules of the language you are programming in.

    Well, the clearest "definition" I can think of at this moment is that the knowledge can easily translated to, "If you do X, you can reliably expect Y." The knowledge/understanding allows you to "push buttons" in the world and get the results you want.

    I have to make up extreme examples because what is actionable will depend heavily on context.

    As a counterexample, consider the knowledge statement "Springleboingers are not kludgy." Let's say this is somehow something you can no for certain. But, even if you knew it for certain, you cannot do anything with that knowledge.

    For most people, outside of going on quiz shows and such, "trivia" is not very actionable. Bits of trivia would be knowledge, but not understanding.

    Knowing how to get from point A to point B may not be very useful for someone who will never ever come close to either point A or point B. At best, it is a story that can be passed on to someone who can at a later time go from point A to B. If, however, you live close to both points A and B, then knowing how to go from A to B is very actionable.

    Accept the past. Live for the present. Look forward to the future.
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  9. #9
    Analytical Dreamer Coriolis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ygolo View Post
    Well, the clearest "definition" I can think of at this moment is that the knowledge can easily translated to, "If you do X, you can reliably expect Y." The knowledge/understanding allows you to "push buttons" in the world and get the results you want.

    Knowing how to get from point A to point B may not be very useful for someone who will never ever come close to either point A or point B. At best, it is a story that can be passed on to someone who can at a later time go from point A to B. If, however, you live close to both points A and B, then knowing how to go from A to B is very actionable.
    Now we are getting somewhere. Say you are never going to be near A and B, but someone describes how to get from A to B. They describe it in such a way that, not only could you get from A to B if you were there, but you also understand the method they used to navigate from A to B. You understand the method well enough to generalize it, and use it to get from G to H, and P to Q, and all sorts of places you do want to go.

    This is the kind of knowledge I value most and find most useful: knowledge of methods that can be broadly applied, rather than specific answers that are good only in that limited situation. Now, we can take it a step further and try to understand why the method works the way it does. If we understand that, we are in a better position to modify or extend the method if we get into a situation where it no longer works (e.g. trying to apply terrestrial navigation techniques in space).

    As an example: a crystal grower I know was trying to improve the quality of a certain kind of crystal. Over a period of years, he determined experimentally the growth parameters that would yield the best quality material. Someone asked him at a meeting WHY those particular growth parameters produced the best result. He admitted he didn't know, but was just happy they worked, since he wanted to grow material good enough to sell. Now, to his credit he did collaborate with some university people who did some very specialized tests he had neither time nor facilities to do, to track down just what was going on in the crystals that was affected by the modified growth conditions. Is this useful? It might be if people, say, try to grow the material using a different method; or to use the same method to grow a different but similar material.
    I've been called a criminal, a terrorist, and a threat to the known universe. But everything you were told is a lie. The truth is, they've taken our freedom, our home, and our future. The time has come for all humanity to take a stand...

  10. #10
    pathwise dependent FDG's Avatar
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    I'd say you are leaving out any kind of action with a probabilistic outcome. Namely, what happens if my knowledge is that if I do X, the outcome will be Y in a% of the cases, and Z in 1-a% of the cases? Is this kind of knowledge worthless?
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