Epistemic Status — Sympolymathesy, by Chris Krycho

On the first hand, I like them, because they serve a very practical function; to explain how an idea fits together, it can sometimes be most concise to use language that asserts it is correct. This, however, sounds a lot like you believe it to be correct, so being clear that you're 'noodling around' is valuable.

On the second hand, there's something odd about the idea of not bothering to properly write one's caveats, bits of hedging, validation of alternate viewpoints, etc. etc. into the actual text of what you're saying. On the level of etiquette, it can be a bit like insulting someone and then saying "just kidding", or "no offense": if you were kidding, you should have been careful to keep your rhetoric light-hearted. If you don't believe in your excoriation of someone's ideas, you should be careful to be moderate in your tone, epistemic status banner be damned.

Not To Make It About Gender, but: I notice that the women in my life are very clear about specifying their level of confidence in an idea under discussion1. This is something that I wish men did more of. To the extent that this isn’t just a matter of non-verbal communication, and to the extent that people aren’t writing in a very formal style2, it seems like we ought to bother writing out the same things we’d use in conversation to communicate our level of uncertainty, even if just for practice in what that sounds like. That way we’re more likely to get it right in person, too.

And on the third hand, I'm very suspicious of the social signaling purpose such headers serve among the rationalismists. "Hear ye, hear ye, I am engaged in Important Thoughtwork" is always worth an eyeroll.

My conclusion is that I am only going to use them functionally as often as I use them as a joke format[^3].

Anyway, tell me what y'all think. :)

  1. I know there’s this idea that women sabotage themselves by implying they’re not confident about things they actually are confident about, but I haven’t observed that–except in situations where they’re already on the back foot, social status wise. This makes me think it’s probably more adaptive than people presume. 

  2. if you are very consciously trying to write in a manner unlike the way you would discuss something out loud (and if this isn’t just for pretentious effect)