[SEQ RERUN] Leave a Line of Retreat

post by MinibearRex · 2012-02-10T15:39:11.586Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 4 comments

Today's post, Leave a Line of Retreat was originally published on 25 February 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


If you are trying to judge whether some unpleasant idea is true you should visualise what the world would look like if it were true, and what you would do in that situation. This will allow you to be less scared of the idea, and reason about it without immediately trying to reject it.

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was Superexponential Conceptspace, and Simple Words, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.


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comment by shminux · 2012-02-10T21:21:43.100Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Make sure," I suggested to her, "that you visualize what the world would be like if there are no souls, and what you would do about that. Don't think about all the reasons that it can't be that way, just accept it as a premise and then visualize the consequences. So that you'll think, 'Well, if there are no souls, I can just sign up for cryonics', or 'If there is no God, I can just go on being moral anyway,' rather than it being too horrifying to face. As a matter of self-respect you should try to believe the truth no matter how uncomfortable it is, like I said before; but as a matter of human nature, it helps to make a belief less uncomfortable, before you try to evaluate the evidence for it."

This seems like a non-starter when talking to most believers, as seriously considering a world without God would probably be a grave sin to begin with. Even if not, one needs to go against everything they have learned to make this step. I cannot imagine a comparable leap that would be required of a non-believer. Maybe something along the lines of the Matrix Omake from HPMoR:


NEO: Anyone who's made it past one science class in high school ought to know about the laws of thermodynamics!

MORPHEUS: Where did you go to high school, Neo?


NEO: ...in the Matrix.

MORPHEUS: The machines tell elegant lies.


NEO (in a small voice): Could I please have a real physics textbook?

MORPHEUS: There is no such thing, Neo. The universe doesn't run on math.

Replies from: kilobug, Dmytry
comment by kilobug · 2012-02-13T10:48:39.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

seriously considering a world without God would probably be a grave sin to begin with

Well, we don't know the same believers then. The believers I know don't mind considering a world without God as a thought experiment or as a fiction, and wondering what would happen in such a world (the same way I don't mind considering a world in which there is a God or magic as a fiction), as long as they keep it clear that it's "just wondering". And that could allow them to build a line of retreat.

comment by Dmytry · 2012-02-11T13:09:21.703Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yea, I don't think that can work.

If you are speaking to fairly dull religious individuals, you might confuse them to some extent, up until they ask someone smarter. If you are speaking to someone smart, he'll in return ask you to visualize a Dell computer, complete with logos and microsoft windows and internet connection, that just exists on it's own, without the universe, the factory, etc. ever having existed. And you're back to square one, arguing with logic against rhetoric.

You'll be back to trying to explain why you would infer existence of factory, mankind, and the like from existence of computer, even though factory is vastly more complex than a computer, but he shouldn't infer existence of god from existence of the universe. Why if you found alien computer with alien software on it you would infer existence of entire highly complex alien race instead of explaining it as 'just existing'.

I don't see how asking to visualize alternate reality even constitutes a good argument. It can temporarily work on someone who believes in X without having constructed himself even rudimentary reasons to believe in X.

comment by lessdazed · 2012-02-11T00:18:50.928Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.

The Art of War