An independent impression is a belief formed through a process which excludes epistemic deference to the beliefs of other people. Independent impressions may be contrasted with all-things-considered beliefs, which are beliefs which do allow for such deference.

History of the concept

The concept of an independent impression appears to have originated in a comment by user Rolf Nelson on the Overcoming Bias blog, back when it was still a group blog prior to the formation of LessWrong. Nelson lamented the "lack of generally-accepted terminology" to express the concept of "the opinion of each person, before they factored in the opinions of the others." (Nelson 2008) Hal Finney then published a post on that blog recognizing the importance of the concept identified by Nelson—which Finney paraphrased as "beliefs we would have had if we didn’t choose to be persuaded by the fact that everyone else believes differently"—and invited readers to suggest a name for it (Finney 2008). Eliezer Yudkowsky suggested "independent impression" and Anna Salamon and others seconded that suggestion, though no clear consensus emerged; other proposals included "independent belief" (Hanson), "first impression" (Hanson), "initial thought" (Yudkowsky) and "uncorrected impression" (Yudkowsky).

In 2009, Salamon and Steve Rayhawk published a LessWrong post discussing possible epistemic practices conducive to the spread of accurate beliefs within the community. One of the practices proposed was "to explicitly separate 'individual impressions' (impressions based only on evidence we’ve ourselves verified) from 'beliefs' (which include evidence from others’ impressions)." (Salamon & Rayhawk 2009) In a comment, Robin Hanson singled out the value of this particular proposal, but raised the worry that "we actually have a whole range of indirection […] If I actually looked something up recently in an encyclopedia, while someone else just vaguely remembers looking it up sometime long ago, is that my impression or my belief?" (Hanson 2009)...

(Read More)