Re: spoiling the fun with explanations, a horrid thought

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Nov 08 2001 - 21:04:15 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> [another pal adds:]
> Indeed. Leaving aside all questions of cinematic preferences for the
> moment, the question of why almost everybody disliked the midichlorian
> stuff is interesting. After all, it isn't an nonsensical idea; the Force,
> "mystical" or not, is an empirically measurable energy field. It has real
> effects on the material universe - moves solid objects, crushes throats,
> etc.

To quote from Douglas Adam's "The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul":


When asked about the famous principle passed down by the
estimable character of Sherlock Holmes, "Once you have
discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however
improbable, must be the truth," Dirk Gently answers sharply:

"I reject that entirely. The impossible often has a kind of
integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks. How often
have you been presented with an apparently rational
explanation of something that works in all respects other
than one, which is just that it is hopelessly improbable? Your
instinct is to say, 'Yes, but he or she wouldn't do that.'"

Dirk is reminded of a girl in a wheelchair whom we meet
earlier in the story, capable of quoting, minute for minute,
yesterday's stock market prices.

"Ah yes...your girl in the wheelchair--a perfect example. The
idea that she is somehow receiving yesterday's stock market
prices apparently out of thin air is merely impossible, and
therefore must be the case, because the idea that she is
maintaining an immensely complex and laborious hoax of no
benefit to herself is hopelessly improbable. The first idea
merely supposes that there is something that we don't know
about, and God knows there are enough of those. The
second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental
and human which we do know about. We should therefore
be suspicious of it and all its specious rationality."


Which is why everyone hates midichlorians.

If the Force is merely something impossible, it can make sense. If the
Force is supposed to be explicable then midichlorians are an absolutely
lousy explanation. The Force as an impossibility has integrity; the Force
as midichlorians is hopelessly improbable.

The Force clearly has a moral component. The midichlorians are a morally
neutral explanation. Not only does this interfere with the drama of the
series by subtracting all possible moral significance from who has the
Force and how much of the Force they have - and this is *direct*
interference; contradiction of drama, not explaining away drama - it also
makes midichlorians an inadequate explanation for the observed phenomenon
that is the Force.

Midichlorians are a simon-pure, 24-carat example of specious rationality.

> It's worth musing on this observable effect, I think. I now expect to read
> a dozen rants explaining why *knowing* is better than *nescience*, and more
> satisfying, and more deeply numinous than nay-saying ignorant bullshit...
> but the fact is, it often isn't experienced that way. We might need to take
> this into account.

I think it depends on the explanation. Knowing that the sky is blue
because of how the air scatters different frequencies is a dull
explanation. Knowing that the sky appears to be a pure chromatic color
because of how our eyes have evolved to maintain color constancy under
variances in natural lighting is a deep explanation, and one that confirms
and upholds the sapphire beauty of the sky rather than appearing to
"explain it away".

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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