Specific Criticism: Positive Vs. Optimal
My response to Patri Friedman in this thread:
What I mean by “the most useful thing” is, by definition, the most productive – that which will advance your goals the most for the least effort. Sure, costs in determining that matter. But it’s almost tautological that that’s what is best to work on.
But it’s not generally possible to determine what will actually advance your goals.
Imagine for a moment Queen Victoria had established an overarching goal, “produce a means of communication that will permit Us to send Our Voice to all corners of the empire”, and given it to her scientists and engineers.
How much progress would they have made?
Now, consider the equations produced by J.C. Maxwell. There were no indications ahead of time that his interest in electromagneticism would produce such a powerful result – a result that was instrumental in the eventual production of the radio, a device which fits Victoria’s requirements to the tee.
You can’t determine what the benefits of funding basic research will be. Yet doing so was the best way to reach the hypothetical goal, not funding research into the goal directly, which almost certainly would have produced a greatly inferior method within the bounds of then-known principles.
Aiming at the target is often the worst way to hit it.
I’m surprised the claim needs defending.
You’re not much of a rationalist, then. All claims need defending. Some can be defended with trivial effort, some require a great deal more – but ALL require it.