Translation of "Fake Causality"

Eliezer Yudkowsky, “Fake Causality”, public translation into Arabic from English More about this translation.

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Fake Causality

Phlogiston was the 18 century's answer to the Elemental Fire of the Greek alchemists. Ignite wood, and let it burn. What is the orangey-bright "fire" stuff? Why does the wood transform into ash? To both questions, the 18th-century chemists answered, "phlogiston".

...and that was it, you see, that was their answer: "Phlogiston."

Phlogiston escaped from burning substances as visible fire. As the phlogiston escaped, the burning substances lost phlogiston and so became ash, the "true material". Flames in enclosed containers went out because the air became saturated with phlogiston, and so could not hold any more. Charcoal left little residue upon burning because it was nearly pure phlogiston.

Of course, one didn't use phlogiston theory to predict the outcome of a chemical transformation. You looked at the result first, then you used phlogiston theory to explain it. It's not that phlogiston theorists predicted a flame would extinguish in a closed container; rather they lit a flame in a container, watched it go out, and then said, "The air must have become saturated with phlogiston." You couldn't even use phlogiston theory to say what you ought not to see; it could explain everything.

This was an earlier age of science. For a long time, no one realized there was a problem. Fake explanations don't feel fake. That's what makes them dangerous.

Modern research suggests that humans think about cause and effect using something like the directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) of Bayes nets. Because it rained, the sidewalk is wet; because the sidewalk is wet, it is slippery:

[Rain] -> [Sidewalk wet] -> [Sidewalk slippery]

From this we can infer - or, in a Bayes net, rigorously calculate in probabilities - that when the sidewalk is slippery, it probably rained; but if we already know that the sidewalk is wet, learning that the sidewalk is slippery tells us nothing more about whether it rained.

Why is fire hot and bright when it burns?

["Phlogiston"] -> [Fire hot and bright]

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