Tell Your Rationalist Origin Story

post by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-02-25T17:16:11.626Z · score: 34 (46 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 416 comments

To break up the awkward silence at the start of a recent Overcoming Bias meetup, I asked everyone present to tell their rationalist origin story - a key event or fact that played a role in their first beginning to aspire to rationality.  This worked surprisingly well (and I would recommend it for future meetups).

I think I've already told enough of my own origin story on Overcoming Bias: how I was digging in my parents' yard as a kid and found a tarnished silver amulet inscribed with Bayes's Theorem, and how I wore it to bed that night and dreamed of a woman in white, holding an ancient leather-bound book called Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (eds. D. Kahneman, P. Slovic, and A. Tversky, 1982)... but there's no need to go into that again.

So, seriously... how did you originally go down that road?

Added:  For some odd reason, many of the commenters here seem to have had a single experience in common - namely, at some point, encountering Overcoming Bias...  But I'm especially interested in what it takes to get the transition started - crossing the first divide.  This would be very valuable knowledge if it can be generalized.  If that did happen at OB, please try to specify what was the crucial "Aha!" insight (down to the specific post if possible).

416 comments

Comments sorted by oldest first, as this post is from before comment nesting was available (around 2009-02-27).

comment by RobinHanson · 2009-02-26T14:30:44.442Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Are you sure "rationalist" is a good label here? It suggests the claim that you are rational, or at least more rational than most. "Rational" has so many associations that go beyond truth-seeking.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-02-26T16:01:23.204Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

We need some kind of word that means "seeker after less wrongness", and refers pragmatically to a group of people who go around discussing epistemic hygiene and actually worrying about how to think and whether their beliefs are correct. I know of no shorter and clearer alternative than "rationalist". There are some words I'm willing to try to rescue, and this is one of them.

comment by Jay · 2009-02-27T04:14:18.635Z · score: -2 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"Skeptic"?

comment by Davorak · 2010-12-10T21:55:40.989Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The James Randi definition of skeptic seems to have much overlap. I would guess that what EY is looking for has James Randi definition of skeptic as a subset of EY's rationalist belief processes.

comment by Daniel · 2009-02-27T04:28:14.083Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps it's not worth complaining, but historically "rationalist" was contrasted with "empiricist." Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza were rationalists, while Locke and Hume were empiricists. Obviously that's not a contrast you mean to be invoking, though maybe that use of "rationalist" is rare enough that there's no risk of confusion.

comment by bizop · 2009-02-27T05:23:00.958Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

@Daniel, I agree with this observation. Minimizing being wrong is a pretty recent intellectual development. Epistemic minimax is probably logically a better name, although it sort of sucks.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2009-02-28T07:42:13.080Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

We don't want to minimax since we aren't playing a zero sum game. We just want to maximize expected utility with a few caveats and with a few blanks filled in.

comment by MichaelVassar · 2009-02-28T07:46:42.188Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

More recently, rationalist has tended to have a meaning closer to its current one, but with strong negative affect associated with it. Peter Drucker, for instance, seems to use it as a term of reproach in "Adventures of a Bystander", to mean the sort of small souled narrow-minded person who thinks that they can be right and others wrong and are allowed to say so because they have reasons for their beliefs instead of having made them up to express feelings but the assumption is that one shouldn't do this because doing it leads to communism, fascism, or other forms of authoritarianism. If people don't have the right to believe what they want then some authority must have the right to tell them what to believe. Traditional conservatives can associate this attitude with communism and other badness. Basically, rationalism is used to mean affiliation with authoritarian regimes who claim the prestige of science.

comment by Kenny · 2009-02-27T05:04:21.886Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

'Info-maximizers'? It's too bad we can't use 'philosopher' – you'd think you just provided it's definition.

comment by cdj · 2009-02-27T06:52:59.374Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

How about "asymptotist"? A Google search suggests it is available.

comment by Tiiba · 2009-02-27T07:24:42.561Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Apparently, "aletheia" is Greek for truth, and "veritas" is Latin. You can pick either and stick "phile" at the end. So, say, veritophile.

(My reliable source is two minutes with online dictionaries)

comment by Kenny · 2009-02-27T04:57:10.218Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

'Aspiring rationalist'? I don't get a sense that Rationality significantly diverges from truth-seeking, especially the philosophical sense of the concept. What associations of 'rational' are beyond truth-seeking?

comment by thomblake · 2009-02-27T16:36:31.548Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

An interesting question. I've been unwilling to accept EY's use (rescue) of "rationalist", though that might just be because I've been calling myself an "irrationalist" (in the spirit of Nietzsche's "amoralist") for many years now (for some values of "many").

comment by anonym · 2009-02-27T23:59:40.582Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that rationalist has baggage in the minds of most people, and it evokes rationalization and related antithetical concepts for many.

If Less Wrong expands the community and shapes future discussions on rationalist topics in the way that I expect it to, this might just be the last good time to coin a new term.

I nominate righters and truthers, in that order.

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-02-28T00:35:54.662Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

In my dialect of english, "righter" and "truther" have unpleasant connotations about as strong as the connotations around "rationalist".

My dialect may be different than yours, of course.

comment by anonym · 2009-02-28T02:20:10.422Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What is your dialect? In my dialect (Californian American), neither word has much of a connotation at all. They both have a vague feel of something I might read in a modern science fiction book talking about different factions of posthumans, or something in that vein, but I don't think most people where I live (in the SF bay area) would think they have any connotation. I was intentionally trying to think of a new word without any pre-existing baggage.

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-02-28T02:54:34.092Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I live in the american northeast.

To be specific, "Righter" sounds to me like religious right and righteousness. "Truther" sounds like 9-11 truther and Colbert's truthiness. It might just be me.

comment by anonym · 2009-02-28T03:13:03.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. I've heard right-winger, but never righter alone. I hadn't heard of 9-11 truther, but that definitely rules out truther for sure. I am familiar with truthiness, but it didn't come to mind for me in thinking about truther. It's interesting how idiosyncratic language is, especially when it comes to connotation.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-02-28T00:38:21.078Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Truthers is already used for people who think Bush was behind 9/11. Righters isn't used for anything that I know of, but sounds like it means "people who think they're right all the time", which was one of the problems with "rationalist". It also sounds like it could mean "right-wingers" or "people who believe in rights".

comment by thomblake · 2009-02-28T03:01:40.588Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"righter" is straight out - it sounds like "writer" in spoken English. .

comment by anonym · 2009-02-28T03:18:08.864Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It would be clear from context which was intended. English has many homophones, and they don't seem to cause much difficulty. Is that not your experience with the many existing homophones?

comment by thomblake · 2009-03-01T04:10:01.452Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't say that English has 'many' homophones. And yes, I think they're generally very annoying, when they can be used as the same part of speech. There isn't much confusion between 'led' (past tense of 'to lead') and 'lead' (the heavy metal). However, it always takes a moment to catch up when someone uses 'right' as a verb, and I imagine 'righter' would be even worse, especially as an obscure jargon term.

comment by anonym · 2009-03-03T01:47:23.561Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

We are getting a bit off-topic, so this is my last post in this thread.

I'd argue that this constitutes many (note the restrictions too, which result in excluded entries).

With regard to how noticeable homophones are, it feels to me like there is a priming effect due to the context, which results in the sense that was intended being obvious and coming to mind effortlessly. For example, cents and sense sound the same in some dialects, but I doubt many would even consider interpreting the sound in question as cents if they heard the previous sentence spoken. I think most homophones are like that, most of the time, and that it usually takes effort to even notice them, as when trying to think of a pun. I will grant you though that righter and writer are more alike in terms of their meaning, and thus easier to confuse, but I just wouldn't consider that sufficient reason to not even consider it as an option.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-02-27T04:42:57.885Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I read my father's issues of Skeptical Inquirer magazine as a kid. So, well, I basically grew up in this kind of culture.

(I comment as "Doug S." on Overcoming Bias.)

comment by MichaelVassar · 2009-02-28T07:40:23.742Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But the Skeptics aren't even very good traditional rationalists. They are just a step up from the Objectivists and four or five steps up from mainstream America.
The question is about when you started looking for sometimes lonely truth in places where people normally look for affiliation.

comment by kluge · 2009-02-27T05:00:04.016Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have very few memories of my childhood (or indeed anything older than a few weeks), but perhaps the turning point I remember was in Lutheran confirmation school when the priest was discussing conscience. I realized that the notion of God was actually superfluous and everything that had been said would stand as well without it. After this I looked at every discussion and explanation with different eyes and soon lost my faith, although I dind't officially leave religion until four years later after high school.

I was never very religious, probably because my family belongs in church but that doesn't really show in daily life. Still, I did believe and getting rid of that made did a big difference. My mother has told be that at some of the first years in school I was confused because I had asked her about why world exists and been told about Big Bang and in the school the teacher had told that it was greated by God. So I might have gotten a few years of hints before getting it. :)

Currently I'm studying theoretical physics and until recently my rationalism has been what Eliezer would call Traditional Rationalism and what you get from scientific education, but it has been changing since I discovered Overcoming Bias and especially Eliezer's posts. They've been mind-expanding to read, I'm in debt to all of the contributors. It remains to be seen if I can actually turn them into pragmatic results. Hopefully LW can help me and everyone else on that journey.

comment by outlawpoet · 2009-02-27T05:02:42.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I first began to separate the concept of truth-seeking from specific arguments of fact late in life, as a teenage catholic who was given a copy of The Case Against God.

comment by Kenny · 2009-02-27T05:12:46.063Z · score: 1 (19 votes) · LW · GW

The Fountainhead

comment by chiao · 2009-02-27T05:23:34.856Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

When I realized in graduate school how difficult it was to resolve disagreements, and how disturbingly common crucial disagreements were.

comment by knb · 2009-02-27T05:30:58.353Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It must be a part of my biological disposition. I certainly was not raised in a pro-rationality household. My parents and siblings all have the same political and religious beliefs (Populist democrats and devout Roman Catholics) as those with which they were raised. My sister is a believer in astrology and the accuracy of horoscopes. My family members have been known to justify their religious beliefs with the "I believe because I have Faith" tautology.

I stopped believing in God in high school and moved away from my parent's political beliefs in many areas, simply by arguing and trying to win. When I argued with people with different beliefs (atheists, conservatives, socialists, libertarians, etc.), I tried to construct their best potential arguments so I could destroy them when they came up. Sometimes I couldn't find a flaw, no matter how hard I tried. Since I hated to lose arguments, I took those more defensible positions for the next argument. Since then, learning about evolutionary processes and the undesigned and buggy nature of the brain has made me question my thought processes constantly. I think that this is the nature of rationality.

comment by inklesspen · 2009-02-27T05:31:42.172Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think the thing that made me a seeker-after-rationalism is the same thing that made me an agnostic: Greg Egan's Oceanic.

I grew up in a fundamentalist household and had had one moment of religious euphoria. Oceanic made me confront the fact that religious euphoria, like other euphoria, is just naturalistic phenomena in the brain. Still waiting on my fundamentalist parents to to show evidence for non-naturalistic causes for naturalistic phenomena.

comment by Marcello · 2009-02-27T05:46:06.789Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I think I began as a rationalist when I read this story. (This was before I had run across anything Eliezer wrote.) I had rationalist tendencies before that, but I wasn't really trying very hard to be rational. Back then my "pet causes" (as I call them now) included things like trying to make all the software transparent and free. These were pet causes simply because I was interested in computers. But here, I had found something that was sufficiently terrible and sufficiently potentially preventable that it utterly dwarfed my pet causes.

I learned a simple lesson: If you really want the things you really want, then you need to think carefully about what those things are and how to accomplish them.

comment by Cassandra · 2009-02-27T06:18:01.138Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I believed very strongly that my mind was not functioning correctly and I wanted to find techniques to be able to sort through what was real and not real. This led me to begin a very rigorous program of self-examination where I picked at and questioned everything that I am and might become. I continue to do this now but I have learned that I at least seem surprisingly sane compared to my previous view of my self. I have also always had a very strong sense of curiosity tied up with a very impulsive nature. Over time I just experimented with all sorts of things with not much fear of the consequences.

What really turned me on to rationalism specifically was Eliezer's posting on Overcoming Bias. He inspired me to try to go into the field of math and science in large part because I couldn't understand barely anything he said and what I did understand supported several pre-conceived notions I held that made me feel superior to other people.

Trying to fix that now. Yep.

comment by Lawliet · 2009-02-27T06:43:09.016Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Something always felt wrong when somebody said "because I say so", so the truth from others couldn't be trusted. I knew I wanted never to become the kind of person who answers with "because I say so".

comment by HalFinney · 2009-02-27T06:48:17.069Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps a more fundamental question is, why do you want to be "rational"? Where rational means, as Eliezer suggests, less wrong, more right(!), more accurate in your beliefs.

It seems obvious that there are practical advantages to being more accurate on many issues. Choosing what route to drive to work, deciding whether to bring an umbrella, wondering if you should ask so-and-so out, you want to get it right.

OTOH there are well established situations and circumstances where you will do better to be wrong. You'll often do better to agree with your social peers, especially on issues where being wrong has little negative impact, like who should be President.

So what is the "rational" thing to do, given these realities? Is it really rational to seek after truth knowing that it is going to hurt you? Wouldn't a true rationalist try to improve his circumstances and maximize his happiness, choosing to accept that this will mean believing falsehoods?

comment by badger · 2009-02-27T07:23:38.714Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I had a broad interest in science and philosophy as an adolescent, but the first issue I really had to confront was religion. My parents are Mormon, and the town I grew up in predominantly LDS, so I felt an enormous pressure against expressing the most basic doubts. It took a significant amount of research before I felt confident leaving my religion behind. Once I had broken the initial barrier, my mind was made up quickly, but I wanted to form an airtight case I thought should convince anyone. The friction this generated between myself and my family, girlfriend, and friends felt almost unbearable at the time, but now I feel much more resilient against social pressure.

Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World was my first exposure to traditional rationality. I took this book to heart as a teen. I progressed through some of the standard canon of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Rand, Shermer, Dawkins, Hofstadter, and Dennett. I discovered transhumanism through Anders Sandberg's site, which helped me flesh out some of the ideals I picked up in science fiction. I think I came upon Overcoming Bias soon after it formed through Tyler Cowen or Bryan Caplan and their enthusiastic praise of Robin. I've been a daily reader since then.

As far as recent influences, Eliezer has been by far the single strongest shaper of my beliefs. Jaynes, Gary Drescher's Good and Real, and Keith Stanovich's The Robot's Rebellion have also been major contributors over the past couple months. I'm becoming more aware of my biases and still acquiring new insights daily.

Addendum: The posts that first brought me to OB were We Can't Foresee to Disagree and The Modesty Argument. The article that really clarified the distinction between Bayesian and traditional rationality was A Technical Explanation.

comment by Todd · 2009-02-27T07:28:56.084Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Anselm's a priori proof for the existence of God. 1982. I was young, thought the argument was elegant and remarkable - and somehow flawed. I had to figure out why.

comment by bmon · 2009-02-27T08:39:01.579Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've resolved not to blame myself as much as I used to, I was young and not at all sure how to deal with the fact that my dad was dying. That and I didn't quite know he was dying, as my parents effectively told us lies of omission about his condition. That's part of what lead me to understand that there are real evils in this world, a realization which put me on track to being the best I can be...

Anyway, I know now that I was only quasi-rational then, and that this was partially the cause my mistakes. Mistakes which caused grief and wretchedness that I can sometimes hardly bare. I'm on track now though - never again.

comment by Patrick · 2009-02-27T09:12:14.987Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There were two big rationalist cascades that I have gone through.

The first was kicked off at age 14 when I learned about the idea of a logical fallacy, which lead me to going through a binge at wikipedia in an effort to learn all of the ones listed. This directed me to the skeptic's dictionary and Carl Sagan's baloney detection kit, as well as some books listing common errors in thinking.

After about a year, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what counted as a good argument, one that didn't fall in to any of the traps that I was aware of, I was aware of hundreds of traps you see. In retrospect, that should have tipped me off to a deeper problem. Luckily, I didn't work on anything important with that mindset, just hung about in forums and IRC showing off my "rationality".

After doing that for about two years, on my last birthday, I received a copy of Godel Escher Bach as a present, and saw Douglas Hofstadter make an abridged version of the idea in the Principia Mathematica, an axiomatic, logically rigorous way to do number theory, and it became apparent to me that informal ways of "proving" things were just inadequate. Shortly afterward I discovered Overcoming Bias, where Eliezer's essays greatly inspired me to think rationally when I don't need something proved. Going through SICP and learning the mathematical basis of Newtonian mechanics hammered home the logical, axiomatic approach.

Here's hoping the trend continues and I experience a third cascade in another few years.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-02-27T10:34:06.858Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

deleted

comment by Florent · 2009-02-27T10:54:23.527Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who claimed he was able to use telekinesis to move glasses. Strangely, when I asked him to show us his talent, it was never the good time ("I'm too tired", "it's too dangerous"...). From then I started questionning every weird claims/beliefs.

Later, as a teenager, I understood that the most important thing to do was, well... doing as much good as possible in the world (quite obvious indeed, but not for kids, and not for most adults - just try to ask them what is the most important thing they can think of).

I then thought that an effective way to do good was to remove pain, and I became a transhumanist. The achievement of an AGI became my strongest wish. But since I'm neither a cognitive scientist nor a programmer, I chose to raise the public awareness by making a movie.

I've been on this project for several months now, this will be a kind of Permutation City but with REAL fun (needless to say I totally agree with Eliezer's latest posts about utopias). I don't know how long it will take to do it, or even if it will even be made, but I think it has a huge potential.

Ok, I haven't talked only about the origins, but, well, that's my rationalist story.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-02-27T11:05:57.306Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Added a post scriptum, see above.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-02-27T11:31:48.831Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Could you specify what you mean by "getting the transition started" or "crossing the first divide"? I'm surprised by the question.

In both my own history and the people around me (both people I know from rationalist communities, and people more representative of the broader American public), I tend to see fairly continuous gradations of rationalist skill and of rationalist disposition/goals, without an obvious "first step" to notice.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-15T03:36:12.335Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think he's looking for a trigger we can activate in normal people. But I've read most of these stories and so far it seems the vast majority among us had a natural disposition for this ever since babydom. We could ask those who 'didn't have that disposition to give more details?

comment by NQbass7 · 2009-02-27T13:37:56.303Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't remember a time when I wasn't in some sense interested in rationality in some sense... but I can remember one time being at a bookstore and seeing Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian" (this being back when I was one) and thinking "Maybe I should read that and see what the other side says." I came home with it and my mom saw it and asked why I would want to read that when it might make me doubt. I clearly remember thinking about it and responding with something along the lines of "If you don't know both sides, how could you possibly know which one is right? Wouldn't you rather be right than keep the same wrong beliefs?" I don't know that it was a turning point for me, but it was the first time I had really had that thought out loud (and it was probably the start of my deconversion and subsequent start down the road of rationality).

comment by RobinHanson · 2009-02-27T13:41:54.565Z · score: 21 (25 votes) · LW · GW

How rational was your transition to rationality? A sudden transition seems more suspicious, as that looks a lot like the sudden transitions humans tend to make between social groups. After all, there is usually little social benefit to sitting between social groups; social rewards come more to those firmly within one group or another. A gradual transition, on the other hand, seems more plausibly to match the more steady rate at which relevant info arrives on such topics. How much more relevant info could you really have obtained via one story or essay? Whatever your conscious thoughts, if you had a sudden transition I'm guessing that was your subconsious mind thinking something like "Yes, this looks like a good social group to join."

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-02-27T15:10:57.944Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard a story about a cat:

The cat sat sunning itself by the window for several hours. Then it got up and walked off. My roommate said "That's how we can tell a cat has complex inner life - apparently uncaused but decisive action."

Surely decisive action has more possible causes than social groups?

comment by RobinHanson · 2009-03-02T03:30:45.566Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is sudden large belief changes that are suspicious, not decisive acts.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T18:22:23.227Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How about when one does not hold one belief to be prominently truer than another, but holds on to one consistent set of beliefs that their view of the universe and their morality are based upon, and which they cannot change gradually, because that would lead to inconsistency, and then one goes and accumulates enough evidence against the individual beliefs of one set and in favour of those of another set to decide to change sets entirely.

Religion-coded and other similar worldviews are not buffets, you either take the whole menu or nothing at all. You can't divide it in bits the same way you would treat, for example, Marxism. It's all or nothing.

comment by Nornagest · 2010-12-13T19:24:19.331Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seems the moral here is that humans already have a common internal mechanism for overturning belief systems that has nothing to do with rationality: outlining it completely would take me more research and probably enough space for a top-level post (it hasn't been addressed directly as far as I can tell), but it's related to the cult attractor and you can see suggestions of how it works in conditions like Stockholm syndrome.

Being a lot more common over the set of all humans than having accurate intuitive access to a truly rational procedure for deciding between elements of belief systems, it makes sense to consider it a more likely cause for your own decisions in the absence of evidence for such a decision procedure.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-02-27T16:38:41.731Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

I feel that perhaps you are being too cynical. There's such a thing as an insight snapping into place and recoding a lot of old information.

And there's such a thing as force building up for a long time against resistance, and then the resistance breaking; this is not sane, per se, but it's how I would describe my own sharp transition in 2003. I certainly don't think you could describe that as joining a social group.

Actually, I'd think there would be a lot of sources for sharp mental transitions. Just having to choose locally a preference between A and B will generate sharp transitions whenever A < B swaps to B > A and that means other things have to follow.

comment by badger · 2009-02-27T22:56:39.331Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with Eliezer here, but Robin also has a point. I think we should distinguish between the transition away from one position and the transition towards another. Because falsification is relatively easier than confirmation, once the right evidence falls into place, a rationalist should expect to quickly abandon prior beliefs. The problem arises if something else quickly fills the void without being thoroughly tested. I saw a couple high school friends fall into the trap of thinking the opposite of stupidity is intelligence after leaving religion behind.

Beware a slow transition away from old beliefs as much as a sharp transition to new ones.

comment by Kevin · 2009-03-01T09:12:38.167Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's what happened in my transition.

comment by RobinHanson · 2009-03-02T03:29:27.409Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, joining social groups isn't the only possible cause of sudden belief changes, but since the relevant info should have been coming out pretty gradually, it is still hard to see how a sudden large belief change could be that rational. I suppose one could more suddenly see an implication of evidence one had long held, but then the suddenness should be attributed to have realized that some point of view was possible at all. A sudden move to a point of view one had already recognized as possible would harder to describe as rational.

[I also mean this comment to reply to other comments besides Eliezer's but this system offers no easy way to express that.]

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-03-02T04:39:10.742Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If the belief change we're talking about is becoming more rational, then the implication is that you've been irrational up until that point and failing to integrate evidence.

Saying "I've been such an idiot!" is a further factor discriminating in this direction.

comment by Davorak · 2010-12-10T21:47:57.281Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sudden transition are suspicious and cation should be applied when switching world views. It does seem like you are jumping to conclusions in your guess: "Whatever your conscious thoughts, if you had a sudden transition I'm guessing that was your subconsious mind thinking something like "Yes, this looks like a good social group to join." This is a very narrow guess which you have not backed up with evidence. I also can not find supporting evidence in my own observations and/or reading. While it is a possibility it still seems likely to be an over simplification.

Knowing that a previous belief system has been falsified(by some of it's foundation being disproven or thrown into doubt) it is perfectly fine to tentatively apply a new system of beliefs to experimental verify there correctness.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T18:16:45.277Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know, man. For me, joining the "rationalist" tribe only means trouble, socially speaking. It is not a tight or rewarding community, it lacks solidarity and structure, and we can't seem to agree on suff. However, I would be fooling myself by denying that being inmersed in a European environment that actively enouraged me to not only ignore the edicts of my native religion but to also positively disbelieve in it may have had a role in making a position as a Muslim untenable. However, my change as a rationalist... in the Lesswrong meaning of the term... you could say I had always been a rationalist, ever since I was a small child. The turning point religiously was "Religion's Claims Of Non-Disprovability", which, like many articles here, managed to tie many loose ends that were worrying me for years and made all the puzzle snap together. What Lesswrong did was help me organize my thoughts and show me the natural conclusions of the thought threads that I was intellectually horrified of following on my own. It helped me become more myself, so to speak. So, no, mostly it wasn't a "good social group to join" rationale, though it certainly was a deal-sweetener.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-13T18:30:54.497Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I can't speak with authority on his mental state at the time, but I was a participant in the online conversation during which his transition occurred, and I would say that it seemed like a click moment. He had already been grappling with religious issues and attempting to reconcile them in a rational way, and had started to make a headway on the sequences, and in the course of that conversation, he seemed to realize that there were simple and obvious reasons why the approach he had been taking didn't make sense, that the mistakes were correctable, and that by making a generalized effort to recognize and avoid those sort of mistakes, he could make his reasoning more correct.

He already had the relevant information, but the connection was a relatively sudden event.

Edit: wrote this after seeing Raw Power's comment in the recent comments bar without noticing the date of the comment he was responding to. I interpreted it as a question to Raw Power.

comment by Jason · 2009-02-27T13:55:27.127Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Reading Thaler's Anomalies' series for my Intro to Behavioral Econ class during undergrad- oddly enough, I hadn't before questioned the validity of the rational actor model.

comment by Roko · 2009-02-27T14:39:49.817Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I've always been an above averagely skeptical person. At the age of 10, whilst being subjected to a school assembly lecture by a local evangelical Christian organization, I came up with an alternative hypothesis to explain why so many people believed in God: perhaps they were just pretending to believe, with the purpose of making money through the donations of believers! A shocking moment of rational glory, though I kept it to myself.

At university I always felt there was something missing from my education in mathematical physics and later pure mathematics, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I discovered the transhumanist movement: ever since then I have edged closer and closer to singularitarianism.

I was finally convinced of the utility of rationality arts only fairly recently when I discovered that I had mistakenly defended a moral realist position, and looking back on my old writings I can now see that my above average intelligence had been blunted by above average overconfidence.

EY's sequence on rationality was obviously important in my transition to rationality, almost certainly the best post being "the bottom line", though earlier moments in my life that set me on the path towards mathematical physics should also be noted, such as my successful derivation of the derivative of e^x from first principles and a fantastic course on calculus and mechanics where we derived the range equation for a projectile using calculus.

Also important are my experiences reading about evolutionary psychology and realizing that what books such as "The Red Queen" say about human behavior is more accurate and gives better predictions than asking your friends what will happen or what to do. I think that this experience was important in that in provided the first instance of science leading to surprising conclusions about the real world around us which are commonly denied by almost everyone.


Rationality in a nutshell:

"Your effectiveness as a rationalist is determined by whichever algorithm actually writes the bottom line of your thoughts. If your car makes metallic squealing noises when you brake, and you aren't willing to face up to the financial cost of getting your brakes replaced, you can decide to look for reasons why your car might not need fixing. But the actual percentage of you that survive in Everett branches or Tegmark worlds - which we will take to describe your effectiveness as a rationalist - is determined by the algorithm that decided which conclusion you would seek arguments for. In this case, the real algorithm is "Never repair anything expensive." If this is a good algorithm, fine; if this is a bad algorithm, oh well. The arguments you write afterward, above the bottom line, will not change anything either way." - EY

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-02-27T14:40:11.375Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I never believed in God, even though my parents are casually religious. The idea was simply prohibited by absurdity heuristics. At the same time, I was surrounded by believers in supernatural, alternative medicine, and had a couple of memories of apparently supernatural events. The specific God was absurd, but the invisible dragon of supernatural explanation was clearly true. I knew things normal people didn't, I knew that my alternative medicine worked while all those silly doctors didn't believe in it, I knew that supernatural exists. This gave a clear feeling of superiority.

I started to part with supernatural at University, on Traditional Rationalist grounds. I studied physics, and there was nowhere for supernatural to hide. Mystical retreated in a dark corner of the garage, not allowed to touch real things, not allowed to show in specific tricks, but still lingering as uncertainty. I called myself agnostic back then, taking pride in having an open mind, not excluding the supernatural or even a more abstract God, while not believing in them.

The systematic breakthrough started less than two years ago, when I began thinking about AI. Before then it didn't occur to me that my own beliefs can be treated as reductionistic phenomena, something that has to obey certain laws, which I can reason about, not just with. The supernatural and religion turned out to be mere symptoms of a more important problem, poor mental hygiene, and in their explicit form left the list of matters of concern.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T20:56:02.457Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But... didn't you say your alternate medicine and stuff actually worked? You don't need to throw the baby with the hot water (or whatever): techniques that work but have bogus explanations that still help in their practice (and I see that a lot in martial arts) simply need better, leaner explanations, but ignoring an empirical phenomenon entirely on the ground that its explanation sucks is not a very good idea. A few days ago I had my first Zen session. The sensation was unique, the results immediate, the explanation (harmony with the universe) bullshit/useless for deriving consequences, but useful for getting the position right. There's obviously more to it that "sitting before a wall in a contrived position", but what exactly?

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2010-12-13T21:24:42.523Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But... didn't you say your alternate medicine and stuff actually worked?

I said that I knew that it worked, not that it worked. I'm not moved by your argument that aimed to exploit that particular hypothetical point of confusion.

comment by Cassandra · 2009-02-27T14:48:26.139Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

After thinking about it more and looking back on my own life I think I have figured out at least four things that led me to this path.

  1. When I was very young I learned that I was a person and that people are separate things. When I think my thoughts are my own, when I act my actions are my own. This can as a very great shock to me. How is it possible that I, of all people, had an identity which is separate from others? I could not see the dividing line between me and others and I could barely even understand why we weren't all one big group mind acting in union but I knew as I sat there in class one day, looking at other people, that both I and they existed and we were apart.

  2. Once I knew that I could think and could act I slowly over time learned that I was in fact responsible for my actions and thoughts and the consequences of them. The way this happen was strange. I still had a hard time believing that other people could think and act themselves but I knew that when my actions harmed other people they seemed to feel pain or become upset. And this caused me to become upset. I had no intuitive answer for why this was so but it was plainly obvious that it was. Because of this I decided that other people likely function according to the same rules as me.

  3. The toughest bit for me to swallow was the idea that I was never safe. There is no truth, no plan, no philosophy or set of rules that will keep me from making mistakes. Because of this much of my life has been trying to escape from fear. I took refuge in any mode of thought that seemed to promise an escape from uncertainty, from my personal responsibility. And every time I learned that reality was more complex than my philosophy and deeper than my understanding. I could never escape from myself, from my thoughts or from the consequences of my thoughts. And I could never escape from my failures.

  4. To recognize and accept that I did fail and very often is what led me into my current state. If failure happens then what are the reasons? This is where I am now in my personal journey and this is the stage that I stumbled into contact with this social group.

comment by pre · 2009-02-27T15:09:41.403Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know really, certainly I can recall no specific incident. I suspect just the lessons in logic needed to learn to program computers properly, the basic lessons in the scientific method taught at school.

My folks are Christian, and I was still at Sunday School till I was about 14, but not really taking it seriously, still going just for the sake of a quiet life. By the time I was 18 at Uni I was certainly talking friends out of their theism, mostly by pointing out contradictions in their beliefs and challenging others to find some in mine. Then altering my beliefs when they occasionally found some.

Frankly my memory of my childhood is so appalling it'd be hard to have any confidence in a story if I told one.

Here we are nearly twenty years after that and drifting across a couple of OB posts from Eliezer through links elsewhere, probably during the QM series, maybe a bit before, led me to put OB into my RSS feed.

I'm always so far behind reading my RSS feed that feels like the discussion is over by the time I read anything there though, so never posted.

Pre..............

comment by Emile · 2009-02-27T15:10:42.203Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I don't remember any sudden move towards rationality - I was raised in a godless household in a mostly godless country (France). I've always been pretty interested in science-fiction and in religion (though not as something I might believe in).

What pushed me a bit more towards rationalism:

  • Maths classes that required a lot of demonstrations (and having to be able to do them again on the blackboard with an examinator)

  • A physics teacher who insisted that we always include an uncertainty factor throughout our calculations, and not give excess decimals (I've noticed that I tend to think in terms of probability distributions more than others around me)

  • Questioning a lot of my political opinions, and noticing when my brain was "up to no good", for example when EvaluateAsLeftWingOrRightWing(idea) was being called before EvaluateTruth(idea).

  • Getting annoyed with atheists who consider religion to be the only domain where one can be irrational

  • Working as a programmer, which doesn't leave much place for wishful thinking

  • Reading Overcoming Bias daily

comment by Johnicholas · 2009-02-27T16:50:47.745Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Regarding working as a programmer, I entirely agree.

I don't know of any other discipline, even math, where one is more repeatedly confronted with one's mistakes.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-02-27T18:06:23.996Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yet you are not forced to think about your own thinking.

comment by anonym · 2009-02-27T22:04:23.152Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you want to learn from your experience most effectively and efficiently, and to stop making the same kinds of mistakes, with subtle variations, again and again, it is necessary to engage in reflection about the erroneous thoughts that caused the bug/problem and the thoughts and mental processes that were absent but could have prevented the problem. It depends how much one cares about improving, and how quickly, but for anybody who seeks mastery, I don't see how you can avoid thinking about thinking.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-04-13T20:22:12.673Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Working as a programmer, which doesn't leave much place for wishful thinking

I wish some of the programmers I've worked with realised this.

comment by KatjaGrace · 2009-02-27T15:53:40.718Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Must everyone begin as not trying to be rational? I probably did too then, but I don't remember it. Trying to be correct by making your thought processes accurate seems like a pretty obvious thing to do (I assume that's what's meant by rational). I've rarely been so shocked as when I realized (at about 12 I think) that it's normal and not embarrassing in society to have opinions for 'arbitrary' reasons. I'm still kind of puzzled about what else you would think you were doing, even if you are delusional about your success. What did you folk transition here from?

comment by Jack · 2009-02-27T15:55:12.795Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My sense is that people value the truth to varying degrees. Further, people encounter barriers to pursuing the truth to varying degrees. Whether or not someone ends up here is likely a function of them caring about truth enough to make the relevant social and psychological sacrifices to get past the barriers.

For me, I don't remember when I started caring about whether or not my beliefs were true. I know that the moment the possibility of God's non-existence was put to me I immediately became an agnostic- and an atheist when I learned about the scientific method, Karl Popper, etc. I was raised Catholic ostensibly but my mother is a Unitarian (though one who believes in a fair bit of New-Agey gobbledygook) and my Catholic father is a doubter and extreme skeptic. The areas I've lived in have always been fairly non-religious and relatively non-Christian (until I attended a Catholic university).

The answer to the question "what got the transition started?" is probably a just knowledge of the rationalist position and hearing an unbiased version of rationalist arguments. What made the transition possible was valuing truth and having few significant barriers to pursuing the truth. What makes people value truth, I suspect, usually comes before most people's conscious memory and not recognizable at the time.

However, I did have an experience that increased the how much I valued truth-My parents got divorced and told me contradicting stories. Hypothesis 1: Being lied to increases one's subjective value of truth. Hypothesis 2: Being lied to by people who answered all of your initial questions and guided your initial decisions increases one's subjective value of truth.

comment by botogol · 2009-02-27T16:38:38.303Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer asks "how did you come to rationality?" It surprises me how many people answer: "this is how I lost my religion"

Clearly you can't be rationalist, while also being religious, but there is a more to rationality than simply absence of religion..

Anyway... personally: there's no one moment, but I'm a natural born sceptic and persistently urious analyst. Perhaps rationality attracted because it seems like methodical, organised, analytical scepticism

Single biggest book: Hofstadter's G-E-B, right when it first came out. I just didn't know there could be a book like that....

comment by thomblake · 2009-02-27T16:52:57.568Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I went to a very good Catholic elementary school, one run primarily by priests trained by Jesuits. The priests commonly visited classes, and anything could be interrupted to have an impromptu theological or philosophical discussion. The classes encouraged questioning and doubt in all areas of study. We actually read philosophers such as Plato, Descartes, and Aquinas in the later years.

While I doubt that every child who went through this experience with me came out an ardent seeker of truth, I nonetheless believe this had a huge impact on who I'd become. Also, I should note that I've heard most Catholic schools aren't this awesome.

comment by thomblake · 2009-03-16T20:14:20.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Did I really say "Dominicans"? I meant "Jesuits", of course.

It's been a while.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-02-27T21:08:57.199Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I could never stand when people made thinking mistakes, especially me.

I got into OB-style rationalism via Eliezer's writings on the Thing Not To Be Named. I got into that subject via >H and futurist sites (McCarthy, Bostrom, Sandberg, Pearce, Moravec, Hanson).

comment by jimmy · 2009-02-27T22:06:52.037Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I never had a sharp transition to rationality. I have been an "aspiring rationalist" for as long as I can remember. Though there were a few significant events, it was mostly just a gradual improvement.

Now that I think of it, my upbringing seems almost ideal for creating a rationalist. My dad is probably the most rational person I know, and although my mom is normally very rational, she would occasionally get upset about something and be extremely irrational. Not only was I raised by atypically rational people, but I also had practice dealing with irrationality. The fact that the only irrationality in my genes is intermittent (when emotional) and mild may have even acted as a "vaccine".

One of the driving forces for me to actively try to be rational (as opposed to just not letting myself be knowably stupid) was that I enjoyed being contrarian on issues where people cared and were wrong. It was enjoyable to find things that people get wound up about, think about them rationally and see what crazy sounding ideas come up (stuff like Robin's proposals for fixing health care).

Another driving force is that I hate to lose (being wrong), so that I made sure to express uncertainty when I wasn't certain, and changed my mind when necessary to stay on the "winning team". It was ok to be 75% sure of something and change your mind (hell, it should happen one time in four), but when one claims p ~=1, being wrong is an obvious failure of rationality. This helped me prevent wild overconfidence at the extremes of the scale.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-15T03:32:51.524Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The way you do this... that's almsot exactly how I used to operate. Even today, my never taking a vulnerable position in an argument has earned me the ire of people who accused me of always wanting to be right. As if there was something wrong with that!

comment by Username · 2010-12-15T04:59:49.506Z · score: -12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

You remind me of flip flopping politicians.

comment by Username · 2010-12-15T18:08:33.755Z · score: -15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

You should try giving the truth a try sometime, rather than pursuing the "correct" side of an argument. You might enjoy not being a duplicitous snake, figuratively speaking.

comment by Alicorn · 2010-12-15T18:10:47.174Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Please go away.

comment by Username · 2010-12-15T18:19:23.670Z · score: -12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I thought this forum liked truth, not two faced liars.

comment by olimay · 2009-02-27T23:06:54.906Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I can't trace my present efforts at rationality back to one "Aha" moment; and trying to do so feels akin to applying the Sorites paradox to subjective experience: lots of problems there. But, for what it's worth, I remember certain events and thoughts I associate with "breakthroughs"--spans of time after which, I became more eager and aware of my own biases.

Here are a few that I remember:

Like many other people, confronting my religious beliefs was a milestone. I'd grown up Roman Catholic, and as a child Christian myth and metaphysics excited my imagination. As I encountered other belief systems I found interesting I tended to engage in apologetics (aka feeding my confirmation bias). Through people I respected in the martial arts I was introduced to aspects of Buddhism and Taoism that seemed, to me, to have some truth to them. Maybe this is akin to what Robin Hanson describes: I wanted to bridge the gap between social groups that I liked. Internally, I began to adjust my religious beliefs to be looser, more "mystical", less dogmatic, to accommodate the beliefs of other people. The big breakthrough happened while taking survey course in Western literature that included readings in Judaic and Christian texts. Looking at these texts from a strictly literary perspective had a big effect on me. I panicked and read The Case for Christ, but in the end I concluded that a strictly literary perspective on the Bible was the really most valuable way to actually engage with "The Bible" if you're actually searching for truth. In my head I saw a thousand exegetical scholars and apologists spread across history, all frantically waving their hands.

"How dangerous is self preserving belief," I thought, staring down at the tracks, waiting for the downtown A train at 34th Street. "And how utterly comfortable." I felt immensely alone in that moment, scared about having to confront the people I care about and their treasured beliefs, and say, "You're wrong."

An experience last year made the idea how biases can just friggin screw things up much more apparent to me. I had a friend and mentor I admired as one of the most a) intelligent and b) altruistic people I'd ever met. In short, what happened was she accused me of doing something bad to her that I did not do. I didn't hear this from her directly: she just stopped talking to me, and I had to really bug our mutual friends. What was she had accused me of doing was utterly ridiculous, but I understood that it would be nearly impossible to convince her otherwise. My friend is the kind of person who makes negative conclusions about people with immense consternation, something I used to think was a virtue. But once she had decided I, an important and close person, had done something bad, no level of discussion could convince her otherwise. She could muster the equivalent of a thousand apologists to defend her existing belief. (Example of intelligent people shooting themselves in the foot.) Aside from the fact that I had just lost a very dear and important friend, I was angry, so angry that someone so good and smart could make such a fatal error. We talk about cognitive biases in public policy, in global catastrophic risk, as an obstacle to human progress and knowledge. But here I experienced a very dramatic and personal example of irrationality's consequences. Likely she'll go on the rest of her life with the belief that a close friend of hers had betrayed her. I do think that avoiding the destruction of the world, and preventing the purposeless deaths of all people is a more important to study rationality. This was just an up-close reminder to me that the dangers of irrationality are here, now, and devastating consequences do lie in wait. I wish I didn't need such an experience, and I know should be careful with hos it influences my beliefs and actions in the future. Robin Hanson's point is especially relevant here when he asks if our transition to rationality was rational. This was a very emotional reaction to a bad occurrence. Yet it is what, at least initially, increased my desire to be, shall I say it, Less Wrong.

comment by anonym · 2009-02-27T23:16:45.524Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A critical thinking class in which nothing was sacred and everything was suspect. We spent a semester uncovering the fallacies, lies, and manipulative rhetorical devices in advertisements, television and movies, government propaganda (related to sex, drugs, the military, etc.), journalistic publications, academic papers, wisdom our parents taught us, and much else.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2009-02-27T23:59:16.917Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Where was the class? What did you read?

comment by anonym · 2009-02-28T02:14:21.362Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The class was at college (in the USA). And I ended up reading philosophy (I assume you meant your question in the British sense of read), which I partly regret. It would have been better to do math at school and philosophy on the side, rather than the reverse.

comment by Swimmy · 2009-02-28T01:18:39.356Z · score: 31 (31 votes) · LW · GW

I was raised in a religious household and took it very seriously. At the same time, I always enjoyed skepticism and debunking, because I was always entertained by such things. But when it came to philosophy I was completely full of it. I got away with it by living in an area where I only encountered other Christians, not many atheists. When I did actually encounter some atheists, I would do some hand-waving about how there was something Deep and Intellectual about Christian apologetics that they were missing.

I dated someone who was extremely, well, hippie. Completely non-judgemental about even the most absurd hypotheses. I really hated that kind of attitude--where was her intellectual curiosity? So I got more into specific skeptic arguments. I fell in love with James Randi and watched almost every video of him that existed on Youtube at the time. But I waited to apply any of the lessons to the Big Question. Christianity was a huge part of my life; my entire family is still very seriously Christian, and a huge chunk of my social network used to be.

I started reading Overcoming Bias because, hey, Mason econ student, why wouldn't I read another great blog? There are several lessons on that site that I still summon all the time in arguments, but it took some internal realization to understand what applied where.

First, if I hadn't been trained in orthodox statistics--if I didn't know specifically what methods science used--I never would have gotten many of the arguments. I would have been happy to get this training much earlier in life. That's a basis by which "science can't know anything" arguments immediately fall apart.

From there, these are the posts that most helped me and why.

First, being raised in a presuppositionalist church, I had to be convinced that it really did come down to evidence and not assumptions. For this, "How to Convince Me That 2 + 2 = 3" was a good starting point, and it even helped me address some false claims in Austrian Economics. "Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable" also helped, but it took a while for me to get to the point that I was willing to look at this argument head-on with the idea that I should consider it with my best judgement rather than dismiss it as missing-the-point.

To get there, I needed the point made in "The Bottom Line": it is illegitimate in epistemology to start from the bottom line. That is rationalization, which can take more than one form. I thought back to my education in geology, where I was presented with indisputable evidence that the earth was several billion years old. Back when I was taking that class, I researched creationist arguments on the internet and found that all of them had been soundly refuted. But instead of immediately questioning my religion, I put all of that away in a box, to be dealt with later. When I brought some of it up to my mom, she said, "Tim, you're creative enough to come up with some kind of explanation that can fit." I accepted this back then: indeed I was, though I never seriously tried. But to even have such a thought is to outright admit that you're wrong beforehand, that the only way to reconcile your opposing beliefs is to come up with a fancy lie.

Then I was more receptive to "Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable." Eliezer presents the best defense against presuppositionalism I've ever seen: presuppositionalism is to be found nowhere in the Bible. It is evidentialist through and through. Miracles are presented as evidence of God, are cited constantly throughout as proof of the One True God above all the others. Paul's entire defense against the Roman government in Acts is simply, "The claims I'm making about miracles are true and here are the witnesses."

So I decided I finally had to see if I could reconcile the fact of the discovery of natural sciences with the Bible. I never found Intelligent Design convincing, quite frankly because I had begun to respect the biologists who dismissed it more than the religious leaders who touted it. But of course as I researched it individually anyway, well. I needed a better theory of evidence, which I got from "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation" and "The Conservation of Expected Evidence." Bayes + my traditional probability training started working their way into my mind, so I could evaluate different evidential claims much better than before.

Also important was "Occam's Razor." I had never seen a technical definition of Occam's Razor provided, and I was suddenly floored by the outright wrongness of arguments like, "God is the simplest explanation for the universe."

There's more to the story than that. After all, changes like this never have one true cause. I began to see the disconnect between my thoughts about morality ("I have to admit that homosexuality is wrong") and my feelings about it ("But I can't feel like my gay friends are really bad people"). I started getting kind of disgusted by the sheer number of bad Christian arguments parroted about like it was nothing. The entire time I was studying economics, which I put a lot of stock in, and theories about interest rates being evil, the necessity of Christian governance, and so on, all started to look less and less like God's wisdom and more like the same old ignorance that every society has.

It was this feeling of disgust that forced me to finally admit I didn't consider myself a "Christian" anymore, and the arguments I had gathered in my mind in the mean time that led me to fill the gap with "atheist."

This is all relatively recent, so it is in much better detail than the other influences. Surely there must have been something in my brain that led me to be able to reject Creationism long before I ever considered myself a "rationalist."

comment by Cyan · 2009-02-28T06:32:18.943Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My origin story began when I stumbled across Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. From it, I learned that I didn't have to make up an ad hoc method for grappling with uncertainty each time I encountered a new data analytic problem, and that the general rules encompass a great deal more that data analysis.

comment by Marshall · 2009-02-28T07:48:11.913Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

In a new school yard. I was 11 years old and I had to find out quickly and reliably who was friend and who was foe.

comment by Kellopyy · 2009-02-28T12:44:25.854Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

At best I might call myself aspiring rationalist (like Kenny elsewhere in this thread suggested) because I fail very often as rationalist.

As for experiences that have led me to try to be more rational...

I read Sophie's world[1] when I was about 14 years old and that inspired me to think I how I could tell if I wasn't actually living in a 'real world'.

I was curious about different beliefs humans have in my teens and if there might be truth to some of those beliefs (and which ones). After finding local christianity unsatisfying for several reasons and looking for alternatives I ended up reading a spell on internet forum that had a strong point about what works [2]

After enrolling to study psychology I read and completed excercises in SICP[3] for various reasons. It was very inspiring to read and especially 4. chapter (Metalinguistic abstraction) was very enlightening. I think that both programming and learning psychology both increased my yearning for being more rational.

There could be other events too.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie's_World
  2. http://www.chaosmatrix.org/library/chaos/rites/buff.html
  3. http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/
comment by Ziphead · 2009-02-28T13:06:53.685Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I can’t remember a time when I was not very much concerned with rationality. I think my father (a neuroscientist) encouraged those kinds of ideas from the time I was learning to speak my first few words, always reasoning with me, nudging me to think straight. I developed a deep interest in science from about the age of five and there was never any competition from other ways of viewing the world. Things like game theory and heuristics and biases came to me much later (when studying economics), and although I was excited about it, it didn’t really rock my world. I had always been searching for tools with which to improve my own thinking, these just happened to be unusually powerful ones.

Although I don’t remember any awakening to rationalism, I do remember some early clashes with irrationalism, which I think was quite formative. From the beginning, I had taken rationalism for granted. As I started to interface with the world outside my family, I realized that the norm was in fact massive irrationalism, and this drove me crazy. The prime example was when I encountered religion.

My parents were second-generation atheists, and socialized exclusively with other atheists. Also, I had the good fortune to grow up in a country where a vast majority of the population is nonreligious. For these reasons I didn’t even know that such a thing as religion existed until I was about eight years old. At that point, I joined a classmate from elementary school to an after school activity group arranged by a church. I came home afterwards and told my parents about the stories I’d heard about this person called Jesus. They said simply that if I wanted to go there and listen, that was okay, but it was important that I realize from the beginning that the stories were just stories, as in any book of fiction. That was the first and last thing my parents ever tried to teach me about religion.

Some time later I realized that religious people actually believed the biblical stories, without any kind of reasonable evidence, and I found this absolutely horrifying. I remember feeling deeply offended that such ignorance could exist, and still it took a long while for the full scale of the offense to sink in. A couple of years later I slept over at a neighboring family’s apartment and was shocked when, shortly before going to sleep, the parents of the family expected me to get down on my knees and pray. They were equally shocked when I said that I had no idea how to pray. In any case, I was thoroughly disgusted by this first encounter with actual people actually practicing religion, and ever since, I’ve had to struggle just to keep a straight face when I meet religious people. (My parents advised me to take it easy and tolerate religious people, saying that some of them actually were good and decent people, it was just that they happened to have this slightly “childish” aspect to their characters, which should be tolerated in the same way as, for example, low intelligence.)

I never read Overcoming Bias for the rationality stuff. Although I have certainly learned a lot from these posts, I have never felt that they were very revolutionary for me personally (allthough I guess they would be for most of the world). My main interest here is Mr Yudkowsky himself. I have a life-long interest in the nature of genius, and reading the things he writes seems to me an unusually unobstructed view into the mind of a living and ever-developing genius. What he happens to be writing about at the moment (I’ve been following his work for over five years now) is of secondary importance.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2009-02-28T21:25:39.943Z · score: 41 (41 votes) · LW · GW

Since it would be impossible to disentangle and explain all the different factors, and all the studies say people are terrible at determining what events influence them anyway, I'll just tell the event in my transition to rationalism that makes for the best story:

When I was around five, my kindergarten teacher decided to initiate my friends and I into the Great Miracle Of Life by bringing an incubator full of chicken eggs into the classroom. I watched them hatch, loved the little chicks, and (after some time and other events including a bad experience at a meat-filled Asian restaurant) decided to become a vegetarian and eat neither meat nor eggs.

When I was about eleven, I got quite into politics, and like most people in my area ended up as a typical liberal. And so I was of course pro-choice: why should we respect the rights of fetuses when they're just a collection of cells and not even really alive?

It took me a while to realize that I was simultaneously refusing to eat eggs because potential-chickens were valuable living beings who deserved respect, and condoning abortion because potential-humans weren't.

If I'd been a little older and a little cleverer, I'd have made up some typical political excuse why it was really about freedom or human rights or society or something (or else just learned the difference between fertilized and unfertilized eggs!)

But I was young and innocent enough to take a moment to think "Maybe my brain is just telling me what it thinks I want to hear in each situation, instead of really thinking things through. I should find a way to stop that."

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T18:25:01.763Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Some days one wonders if saving the angst such an effort implies might be worth it. Then again, some of us just can't help ourselves: thinking things through is more of a compulsion than a choice.

comment by swestrup · 2009-02-28T22:05:21.641Z · score: 52 (54 votes) · LW · GW

As far back as I can remember I have wanted to be a scientist and to walk the path of rationality. What comes to me as a watershed moment was when I was 15 or 16 an my very Christian Grandfather came to visit. He told me that since I had a very scientific mind, he was giving me a scientific gift. It was a thin book with a title something like "Scientific Proof of the Bible".

Afterwards I remember sitting for what felt like hours in my room, staring at the closed book. "What if I was wrong?" I kept asking myself with dread. What if there really was scientific proof of the existence of God and what I had always taken to be the nonsense of the Bible? What if going to church and praying really WERE things I should be doing? If so, how could I justify not going. What was the guiding principal of my life, anyway?

In the end, I decided, my guiding principal was "Truth at any cost." If I was wrong, I wanted to KNOW I was wrong, and I would deal accordingly. So, I picked up the book and started reading, and within a few minutes I was laughing in relief as there wasn't a cogent argument or scientific proof, or even the slightest bit of rationality in the entire thing.

But my Grandfather had given me a great gift, although not the one he thought. From then on, I was willing to lose arguments since my desire was to know the actual truth, and not to merely have the comfort of thinking I was right. That, as they say, has made all the difference.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-02-28T23:49:59.968Z · score: 9 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I've just got to say awwww to this one.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2010-12-17T13:04:29.826Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

This is a nice one for irony. "Oft evil will shall evil mar indeed."

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-03-01T06:07:22.554Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Christianity drove me to rationalism. I went to a Catholic college where we had to take 2 semesters of theology and 3 semesters of philosophy.

We studied Aquinas for weeks. Knowing that Aquinas was generally regarded as the smartest person in the Middle Ages, I was stunned by the stupidity of his arguments. Aquinas could not have been stupid. Therefore, social pressure was capable of warping the minds of the smartest people on the planet for a thousand years. Therefore, it could be warping my mind right now.

Another thing we did was to study a parallel edition of the gospels. That means that it has one column each for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Laying them out side-by-side, I saw many places where Matthew, Mark, and Luke had identical sentences. They couldn't have come up with the same grammar and word choice independently. At least 2 of them had copied from someone else. I had studied the Bible all my life, and was surrounded by hundreds of people who also studied the Bible regularly. Some of them had read it every day for decades. And none of them had ever noticed this; or if they did, they didn't mention it. (It is universally known to Biblical scholars; but most churches take a dim view of Bible scholars.) I realized that they couldn't see it, no matter how smart they were or how much they read the Bible, because their preconceptions prevented them from looking for it.

I was astonished that most Christians have never read the entire Bible. If you believe that God wrote one book in which he said everything he wanted to say to the world, you would read that book. Yet even being aware of this, I found it hard to read. (To this day I suspect I may not have read Haggai.) I knew that this meant my rationality was broken (although at the time I attributed it to sin).

But now I remember an earlier event: I was about five. I was in the car, on a long trip with my family. Traffic stopped. There was an accident ahead. I saw a little dog walking away from the accident, down the road. I said that it was probably from one of the cars in the accident, and that I wanted to get out and pick it up before someone hit it. My parents said that was foolish, and that the dog could be dangerous. Then someone hit it. And I realized that I had been right - and that the fact that there were hundreds of grown-ups around me in their stopped cars, and none of them had done anything, didn't mean a thing.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-03-01T06:26:31.548Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I might not be a rationalist by Eliezer's definition. Eliezer said that there must be a rational solution to Newcomb's paradox. I find that belief irrational. (Although there may be a rational solution to Newcomb's paradox.) Rationalists don't have faith in rationalism.

comment by insaneabd · 2009-03-01T18:22:51.864Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Or maybe the evidence he has justifies his belief in the possible solution to the paradox, and similarly for you. Its only after you two share your evidence and fail to agree that one of you can be called a non-rationalist (on these grounds).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2009-03-01T21:17:07.452Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

No. He believes he has a proof now. But he said that he tried to build a proof because, before finding a proof, he believed there must be a proof - and it seems, from what he wrote, that he found the lack of such a proof offensive. That's faith.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-03-01T21:20:07.586Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's a mixture of Trust in Bayes and the original driving purpose that causes me to define the word "rationality" a certain way. In any case, I did find an elegant answer and so I have no reason to label the driving intuitions involved as wrong.

comment by Kevin · 2009-03-01T09:05:32.470Z · score: 38 (40 votes) · LW · GW

My family is Jewish and we all went to a Reform synagogue. This sect of Judaism is very liberal in the scheme of things, making it very clear that the bible is not literally true and accepting of just about anything, even agnosticism (if not atheism).

At the age of 16, Reform Judaism has a confirmation ceremony where one makes a statement of faith to the assembled congregation. I realized that I couldn't go up in front of a crowd and in good faith profess a belief in God. I had understood all of it to be just stories for a long time, at least since the age of 13, but I hadn't quite realized that meant I was an atheist. I just never really thought about it, but when I finally did it seemed obvious in retrospect. I ended up reading a poem to the congregation and it was very well received as it was the shortest speech given that day.

The next year, I decided I wasn't going to go to synagogue for the High Holidays (where my liberal synagogue had 3 hour long worship services). My parents weren't quite sure how to react, but they told my grandparents and my grandparents responded by deciding they weren't going either. This particular decision set off a chain reaction where it was determined that no one in my family from my grandparents on down were believers and we had all just been going along for each other's benefits. On the holidays now, my 92 year old grandfather always mentions how nice it is that the holidays give us reason to get the entire family together.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-03-01T11:38:07.644Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Every now and then I hear a story about (or meet in person) someone who not only left but managed to deconvert their whole family.

I wish, so dearly, that I could devote the time to at least seriously trying that...

comment by Kevin · 2009-03-02T03:18:31.508Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I mostly just got lucky based on the circumstances. My little brother has fallen in with the 12 step program, though. It's working for him but it's nature is so anti-rationalist that it pains me somewhat. He started believing in God again; I threw some basic paradoxes at him and he just responded by saying he never really thought about it. I think he'll grow out of it eventually.

I went to Israel last year and was surprised and delighted to see that the country was positively European in its religious attitudes. Almost half of the people are non-believers, but I would be seriously afraid to try and deconvert any Orthodox practitioners, even or especially if they were family. They can get rather angry.

comment by insaneabd · 2009-03-01T18:20:04.126Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It was happening slowly while I was growing up. I can remember many small times when I was breaking away from tradition and the beliefs of my parents and family. Things started to speed when I discovered OB and Eliezer... Then I started university.. A very rigorous course in maths emphasizing the axiomatic approach to maths. A very logical course in physics. Then I started reading the quantum physics sequence, something I had not done before. I read No Safe Defense, Not Even Science (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/05/no-defenses.html) and that was the crucial "Aha!" point that pushed me over the edge. This was only a few months back. And here I am.

comment by [deleted] · 2009-03-02T04:03:33.460Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I don't remember BECOMING a rationalist, just going through life thinking how stupid everyone was.

When I was seven or so, I asked my mother if she and dad believed in god, and she gave some handwavy answer about believing in a kind of magical force to the universe, like in star wars, and I thought "Boy, that's stupid."

I don't use the word "rationalist" to refer to myself, because it throws me in with you lot, most of whom I still think are stupid.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-03-03T15:25:10.519Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

By this logic you may as well not call yourself a human, "because most humans are stupid".

comment by [deleted] · 2009-03-04T20:33:33.942Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

To my way of thinking, "rationalist" has a certain stink to it, it has connotations of people sitting around arguing about arguing, writing pages of tedious probability math using "prior probabilities" they pulled out of their asses.

In one sense, being a rationalist just means that you try to be rational. But it seems like a stupid thing to wear on your sleeve, because everybody tries to be rational.

There's a sense in which objectivism is just the belief that reality is mind-independent. But I don't go around calling myself an objectivist either.

comment by Nick_Novitski · 2009-03-13T17:27:38.219Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Not everyone tries to be rational. Some people despise rationality because of the same stink you attribute to it, or because of others. To them it might connote atheism, or linking themselves to low-status entities like "the man" or "the sheeple."

A rational person is someone who applies rationality. A rationalist is someone who advocates the application of rationality, just as a racist is someone who argues the fundamental importance of racial status and history, or a "homosexualist" is someone who (purportedly) wants to make homosexuality part of all our lives.

There's a dangerous potential to be confused between (for example) "objectivity" (the belief you mention) and "objectivism" (membership in the low-status group you mention).

comment by tsprad · 2009-03-03T05:48:03.190Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Some of my earliest childhood memories, age 4 maybe, are of Sunday School, enjoying the stories and the socializing, but being secretly astonished that the sweet little old ladies that ran the Sunday School made such a show of believing in their stories, of pretending they could actually communicate telepathically with a character in a story.

On reflection, I'm not so much surprised that I didn't accept the BS, but surprised that I knew instinctively not to question them about it and rock their boat.

But then, more recently I've started worrying that one of these days the mothership is going to come back and pick me up and debrief me. "What have you learned from over fifty years of living on this planet, among these people, as one of them?" And I'll have to admit I don't understand this species at all.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T21:21:45.812Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I am utterly shocked that at such a young age you didn't even consider the possibility that God was real and that you could pray to him. Seriously, what gives? Where did this sense of distinction between fiction and reality come from? How did you distinguish the Bible from, say, History?

comment by Nornagest · 2010-12-13T22:02:10.726Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, what are your boundaries on "consider"? I remember entertaining the possibility of God's existence at a pretty early age -- somewhere between two and four, but infantile amnesia's eaten the specifics -- but always as a hypothetical, a playing-pretend game. It took me quite a while to realize that my peers weren't consciously participating in a pleasant fantasy; as late as age eight or so I remember making decisions that could only have been predicated on the opposite assumption.

For context, I was raised in a pretty obviously Christian cultural milieu -- picture books of Bible stories, a sense that it was normal to go to church on Sundays even if you and your parents didn't -- but most of my very early authority figures didn't make a conspicuous show of belief. "Secular" might be the word, but only implicitly so.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-14T04:17:42.135Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I also never took the idea of a real interventionist god seriously, and while I've only lived one childhood and so can't compare the effect of this influence to its absence, it might have had to do with the fact that I learned about dead religions at a very early age. By the time my fundamentalist grandmother started proselytizing to me at the age of three, I already had significant exposure to Greek mythology, and I mentally filed "Grandma's beliefs about God" into the same class as "Ancient Greeks' beliefs about gods." It didn't even occur to me until I was about eleven that these were beliefs I was expected to take seriously and have an emotional investment in.

I did experiment with the idea of a non denominational god as a kid, but I never felt the need to make excuses for the hypotheses if they turned up null results. I concluded that if there was a god, it wasn't giving me any reason to worship or believe in it, so I might as well assume it didn't exist.

comment by saturn · 2010-12-14T07:26:19.009Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

How did you distinguish the Bible from, say, History?

By age 4 I think I had figured out that stories about magical or super-powerful beings always turned out to be made up. I did believe it when adults told me that people had souls though, until I got a book that showed the location of organs in the human body and I noticed it wasn't in there.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-14T14:38:36.854Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Argh, how I envy you guys. Me, I used to believe All Myths Are True at first, and then I selectively and methodically disbelieved those that I (very gradually) discovered to be inconsistent. I guess I've always had the tendency to completely immerse myself in stories. Even now, I still take stories and fiction way more seriously than I should...

comment by CrimeThinker · 2017-04-03T22:18:12.391Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had basically the same origin, just born/raised rationalist I guess and mostly agnostically christian enough to have done sunday schools and nightly prayers. Things like magic and such never really made sense, as much as I liked to imagine them, and used to hallucinate a different world frequently in which I had such abilities. Obviously I was just crazy but rational enough to at least accept that others didn't see the things I did and thus it just made more sense that they weren't real, that imagination and reasoning were clearly two different things (not mutually exclusive, you can combine them as this place seems fond of trying to do in some way or another). If anything I've felt too restricted by leaning to far toward rationality for most of my life and feel as if I'm only just beginning to understand that Maybe All Myths Are Actually True Somewhere. Regardless, that's more philosophy than science and until we find such a somewhere or such a true myth (which we frequently do in smaller scale concepts) doesn't seem too worth worrying about, but that's my natural rationalist bias that I'm struggling to "overcome."

comment by Annoyance · 2009-03-03T14:48:18.342Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

I became an atheist fairly early, but it took me longer to realize there was no Santa Claus. The idea didn't make sense, but the presents appeared under the tree, and my parents denied being responsible, so clearly they'd gotten there somehow. I concluded that I just didn't understand some important part of how the world worked.

One year, we'd just moved into a new house. For the first time, we had a real fireplace, made of brick. I excitedly spoke of how this would make visiting much easier on Santa, but wondered how he could make it down a chimney at all, and began making plans to string a net of dental floss across the opening in an attempt to see how Santa dealt with the obstacle.

I had been leaning on the brickwork, looking up the flue, as I said these things, and as I turned around I intercepted a look my parents were giving each other. Translated into English, it might have said something like "Isn't this precious?"

In that moment, I intuited that there was no Santa Claus, and that my parents had been lying to me because they thought my belief was cute.

I had already learned that not everyone was my friend. I already knew that some people who weren't my friends actively wished to harm me. But that was the first time I really grasped the idea that my parents had goals and preferences of their own that they would choose over my welfare, that I couldn't rely on them not to harm me for their own benefit.

Before that time, I took for granted without thinking about it that people's stances toward things could be easily derived from what they said and did. Enemies were obvious; so were friends. Only afterwards did I really understand not only that appearances were deceiving but that people would actively create false appearances.

Instead of relying on my first impressions, I began to withhold judgment and (although I lacked the words to describe it at the time) actively seek new evidence to test my beliefs.

comment by topynate · 2009-03-05T06:50:14.779Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

When I was 5 or 6, I wanted to be a palaeontologist. I ended up with a small collection of fossils and whatnot, as well as an awareness of both evolution and how old the Earth is. As the infallibility of the Torah was obvious, I assumed that its interpretation, which I wasn't yet old enough to learn, explained how everything could be reconciled. In any case, I had much more serious things to worry about. For instance, the boys and girls I knew showed no inclination to date or marry - therefore the human race would shortly end, unless the Moshiach came. Having tagged 'God exists, Judaism is right' as being obviously true, I simply didn't think about questioning it for a long while. As time went on, I did realise, slowly, that just because I'd decided something was correct, like inexorable human extinction, didn't make it so, and that I was not infinitely smart.

When I was 13, I had my Bar Mitzvah and was surprised that I didn't start observing the strictures of Orthodox Judaism, such as not manipulating electricity on Saturday. Now that I was responsible before God for my actions, I should have been much more compunctious, but I couldn't believe that I would be punished for such things, while non-Jews wouldn't be. I became obsessed with the idea that people like me existed who didn't believe in the infallibility of Judaism. They believed in something else, like the Koran or the New Testament. Why was I Jewish, except that my parents were? I started to think of reasons, but somehow they all depended on the infallibility of the Torah... OK, so suppose for the sake of argument that I don't believe in Judaism; what arguments would convert me to Judaism and not, say, Islam? I realised two things at that moment: first, that I would never have believed the truth of the Torah if I'd learned science first, and second, that Buddhists didn't even believe in God, never mind the Bible. From then on I was provisionally Deist, having no better explanation for the beginning of the universe. I wasn't a very strong Deist, because of what I knew about physics and evolution, but a Creator seemed logically necessary. My idea of looking at my 'deepest beliefs' from a neutral standpoint seemed so much smarter to me than just about every other thought I'd had, that I began to do it all the time. So, at this point I'm a Deist and starting to think rationally a lot more often.

I thought a great deal about God in the next months. When I tried to work out what sort of God could create the universe, I (eventually) realised that the most I could say was that it could create the universe. I'd become very well accustomed to bad logic after a few months of reconversion attempts, so it was obvious that I'd just proven the tautology "If a Creator exists, it exists." My intuition had led me astray: there was no compelling argument for an intelligent Creator on the tip of my tongue, just an unquestioned assumption that the universe had to be caused. That was the end of my Deism.

comment by Nominull · 2009-03-14T02:45:46.803Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

When I was a little kid we would take car trips to visit my grandparents, and my father would borrow books on tape from the library. He borrowed Asimov's "I, Robot", which if you haven't read it is basically "House, M.D." except that instead of people you have robots and instead of Dr. House you have a pair of underpaid robot repairmen. It didn't introduce any concepts of rationality directly, but in the book the heroes won by figuring things out, rather than by being strong or passionate or morally correct. It made figuring things out cool, and it turns out that if you want to figure things out, you use rationality.

comment by aluchko · 2009-03-15T23:08:07.003Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I can't really relate to the religious stories, my parents, though not atheists, are pretty secular so I never had the brush with religious indoctrination. In reality I've probably always been an atheist. I think this gave me an early start on rationality, not so much because atheism taught me rationality, but because I never had to abandon a rational line of thought for fear of challenging my religion.

As for consciously trying to be rational though I don't know of any one defining moment though I can recall a slight watershed. During grade 11 I was selected to go with some other students to an economics conference. The conference was run by a strongly right wing institute and myself being left wing, and wanting to signal my intellect by challenging much older and much more knowledgeable people got into (and probably made a fool of myself in) numerous debates.

I recall over the next several months starting to realize that my own views and conclusions might be mistaken. For the first time I started seriously considering how to actually think about and try to find the truth which is probably the same place I'm at today.

comment by MBlume · 2009-03-29T21:46:40.998Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I am a scientist. The truth has always held aesthetic value for me. Nonetheless, I was for many years a religionist as well. This was pretty much purely through the force of wishful thinking -- the idea of annihilation after death scared the crap out of me, and so I avoided it. A few particularly excellent posts on that other blog we all read (along with some other helpful nudges) finally broke me of my childhood religion. In February 2008, out of a concern purely for the aesthetic value of truth, I renounced the Dark Side, and all its works.

And so, the Dark Side retaliated by taking from me that which I held most dear.

Would it be ... too petty of me to say that I have sworn vengeance? That I hold a grudge against religion in general for one harm done to me?

I think it's not. If I held a grudge against theme parks in full generality because she ran off with a guy she met working at one, that would be petty. There's no reason to expect theme parks in particular to cause significantly more harm to others along those lines than other working environments. Religion is different.

The Dark Side encourages isolation. A false belief which you feel you must protect means you also have to protect yourself from anyone who can explain to you why it's wrong. It's no accident that the rules of kosher are insanely complicated and difficult to keep. The point is to make it hard for a Jew to break bread with a gentile -- to isolate the religious memes from anything that might challenge them.

And so religion gives us one more reason not to come together. It gives us one more reason not to find the people who could make us happy.

It gives us one more reason to be alone.

And it hardly needs pointing out that the way we are currently wired, we need reasons to be alone like we need holes in our heads.

So, this is what I fight, and why. I don't know how, but I wish to see the end of religion's sway over this world.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T21:05:21.796Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the idea of annihilation after death scared the crap out of me, and so I avoided it.

That was one of the main things that held me (and, I guess, may others) back. That, and the promise of Hell (at least for Christians and Muslims).

No, really, Cessation Of Existence still scares the crap out of mem though I have accepted is as very very probable (barring the Singularity happening very soon). What about you guys?

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-12-14T02:09:00.041Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The cessation of existence holds very little fear for me. Existence really isn't all that great, so it ending wouldn't be all that bad.

The one thing I fear about it is that it should happen before I manage to make my net impact on the world positive. I don't want to be one of the >50% of the population that the world would have been better off without.

I fear failure, rather than death.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-14T02:37:04.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I understand your fear. In fact, I have the same fear.

I don't agree that the world would be better off without 50% of it. If anything, it's underpopulated.

There's a reason why only way of doing worse than doing nothing is to be causing mass murders.

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-12-14T03:16:30.793Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't agree that the world would be better off without 50% of it. If anything, it's underpopulated.

I would be interested in hearing your reasoning for this position.

As such I precommit to upvoting an explanatory post, no matter how much I disagree with its content.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T04:50:02.234Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As such I precommit to upvoting an explanatory post, no matter how much I disagree with its content.

And I commit to at least leaving it neutral even if I disagree with its content. And I will disagree. :)

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-14T05:48:45.304Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I posted it into discussion, because it's a long explanation.

Probably unnecessarily long. Do tell.

And I will disagree. :)

I don't even claim to try to be rational (I'm not), so I'm not the one to judge, but at least try to keep an open mind?

Of course, I'd appreciate your feedback even if you do disagree.

The problem with mass murders is not the effect on population.

True. Also, depends on how massive.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T04:53:47.598Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's a reason why only way of doing worse than doing nothing is to be causing mass murders.

The problem with mass murders is not the effect on population.

comment by Pavitra · 2010-12-14T05:58:34.191Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing you think the problem with mass murder is the effect on society of knowing that crazy people might kill you for doing things they don't like, so that murder tends to be not simply a removal of human life, but a political act, a lynching.

Do you consider murdering a thousand people you don't like to be better or worse than letting ten thousand randomly-selected people die because you can't be arsed to do anything about it?

comment by ata · 2010-12-14T06:11:27.082Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing you think the problem with mass murder is the effect on society of knowing that crazy people might kill you for doing things they don't like

Is that the only alternative to "The problem with mass murder is its effect on human population size" that you can think of? I always thought that the problem with mass murder was about the same as the problem with normal murder except multipled by a thousand or eleven million or however many victims there are.

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-12-14T12:39:05.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I always thought that the problem with mass murder was about the same as the problem with normal murder except multipled by a thousand or eleven million or however many victims there are.

For a strict utilitarian, the main problem with non-torture murder can be seen as the fear it produces in the population.

Strict utilitarianism is quite common here, so guessing that wedrifid is one isn't that much of a reach.

comment by ata · 2010-12-14T19:43:37.417Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think "strict utilitarianism" refers to a specific, well-defined moral system, but my point still stands if you're referring to the general class of moral systems and methods of moral reasoning that are popular here; involuntary death is bad, whether torturous or not, so killing ten million people is at least as bad as the sum of the individual badness of killing each of them. The "at least" part is to take into account any further negative effects of mass murder, such as the one that you mentioned, but compared to millions of people dying involuntarily, I really doubt that's the dominating factor.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-17T11:29:01.852Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I for one didn't look at if from a deontological point of view. Unlike other victims of coercion, murdered people tend not to make much of a fuss about having been forced to die. However, their death tends to produce sorrow and anger on those emotionally and economically reliant on them (including their creditors, superiors, subordinates, clients) and causes the loss of a hub of social network and a repository of knowledge and skill accumulated over a lifetime. In other words, murder, for a stable, sedentary, densely structured society, is extremely wasteful and troublesome. And it leads to a shitton of paperwork. That's for just one death.

However, from a Golden Rule/Reciprocal Altruism POV, committing murder is an extremely bad idea because, besides the aforementioned problems with each individual murder, the fact that people can get killed, for whatever reason, may make one fear for one's safety among fellow humans ,raising stress levels to presumably unbearable heights and cause a limitless waste in resources in personal security, . Think of Israel-Palestine, where people constantly live in fear of being killed by some crazy suicide bomber or some trigger-happy teenage soldier. Despite what the actual risk of that happening might be compared to the risk of dying in a traffic accident, much more money ends up being spent on this sort of thing than on road safety. Car accidents, as the Joker would put it, are "all part of the plan". I love how effectively that character uses The Dark Side and The Fallacy Of Grey. Does anyone know any examples of similarly eloquent villains? (Besides Nietzsche that is).

Hence why we are taught to heavily frown upon it.

A Mongol from Genghis Khan's Golden Horde might see things differently, is all I'm saying. There are also countries like Colombia where murder is extremely common, and often absolutely senseless. Society functions, people get used to the fear. Humans can get used to a lot.

Deliberately murdering a mass of people causes the same effect

comment by Pavitra · 2010-12-14T19:24:00.445Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is that the only alternative that you can think of?

No, of course not. I just thought it was the most likely to be the one e had in mind.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T07:01:57.184Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you consider murdering a thousand people you don't like to be better or worse than letting ten thousand randomly-selected people die because you can't be arsed to do anything about it?

I should not answer that question. But will(1). ;)

The murdering of 1,000 people is far better. Especially if done one at a time in novel and humiliating ways. That will serve to lower the status of the group with negative value and so alter the behaviour of the rest of the population. Of course this requires 'liking' to be closely related to the consequentialist value of people whose identities fit that archetype.

That said I still wouldn't murder people. Partly due to an irrational sense of morality and partly due to an ethical injunction.

(1) This message will self destruct upon the first disingenuous quotation by a future social aggressor. Unless this pre-emptive expression of contempt for said moraliser is sufficient for me to be satisfied with leaving the results.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-14T07:08:07.985Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that would make sense unless you could somehow accomplish it, not only without people knowing you were responsible for the murders, but that the deaths were murders at all. Otherwise rather than lowering the status of the group, you would probably make the public view them as noble victims.

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-14T07:13:06.423Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fictional evidence, but the victims in the SAW movies weren't seen as noble.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-14T07:18:33.214Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't seen them, but point taken. Am I right in assuming though, that they were deliberately built up as unsympathetic prior to being gruesomely killed? If you want to lower the group's status, it's that build up, where their characters are given a systematically negative portrayal, that you want to aim for, not the gruesome comeuppance.

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-14T08:29:46.750Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. The method of murder bore some (often ironic) link to flaws in the victim's psyche or character.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T07:56:48.309Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that would make sense unless you could somehow accomplish it, not only without people knowing you were responsible for the murders, but that the deaths were murders at all. Otherwise rather than lowering the status of the group, you would probably make the public view them as noble victims.

Here we disagree on a matter of fact and expectation. Historically in cases where specific groups were the target of lynchings the resulting lowering of group status has been rapid. Even members of said groups lower their perceptions of their own status such that they avoid sending high status signals (acting as equal to the persecutors) and so making themselves the next target.

The same phenomenon can be observed in workplaces and other tribes within our culture, with respect to acts of humiliation, not death. The others in the tribe may view them as noble victims but victims are pitied, not respected. People, particularly ambitious people, will avoid doing things that affiliate them with the victim class. Status goes into free-fall.

I did mention 'one at a time' and 'in humiliating ways' so as to minimise any potential martyrdom bonuses. Something terrible happening once is an exception, a tragedy. Something happening a thousand times is a norm, the status quoe. In a certain instinctive sense it becomes legitimate.

The presence of humilitation and even the fact that it is a murder, not a valiant death in battle is also important. If the victims are raped, castrated and stoned then they just don't look as cool as if they charge into battle screaming "you may take my life but you will never take my freedom!" People at times have even placed a lot of stock in whether they are killed by the sword or by hanging - and for good status relevant reason.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-14T08:05:03.989Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here we disagree on a matter of fact and expectation. Historically in cases where specific groups were the target of lynchings the resulting lowering of group status has been rapid. Even members of said groups lower their perceptions of their own status such that they avoid sending high status signals (acting as equal to the persecutors) and so making themselves the next target.

Can you provide any examples? I can't think of any cases where groups were targeted for lynchings where it's clear that their status fell as a result rather than their low status causing the lynchings.

You do have two tendencies working at odds here; the just world fallacy could cause their status to decrease, but being victimized for one's affiliation can also be a positive status symbol, hence why Christians will often frame themselves as being persecuted for beliefs in cases where it's clearly not accurate. If you have someone clearly going around victimizing the group to an extreme extent with the purpose of humiliating them, I expect the martyrdom effect would win out.

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T09:10:18.461Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you provide any examples? I can't think of any cases where groups were targeted for lynchings where it's clear that their status fell as a result rather than their low status causing the lynchings.

Given that the obvious examples are well known I suspect you would simply contradict them via a different chronological representation. I will note this, however: the motivation to lynch people exists for a reason. People do it because it works.

If you have someone clearly going around victimizing the group to an extreme extent with the purpose of humiliating them, I expect the martyrdom effect would win out.

I believe with considerable confidence that the reverse is true. Humiliating and victimizing a group will lower the status of that group.

Being a victim is not cool.

comment by Desrtopa · 2010-12-14T14:41:44.824Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given that the obvious examples are well known I suspect you would simply contradict them via a different chronological representation. I will note this, however: the motivation to lynch people exists for a reason. People do it because it works.

I can think of plenty of cases of members of low status groups being lynched, but I can't think of any examples that would appear to indicate that lynching resulted in a decrease of status, so I'm honestly not sure what you're talking about.

As for whether it works, it certainly works at killing or harming the victims, and if it didn't do that, people wouldn't bother doing it, but that doesn't mean that it works at reducing status.

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-14T07:12:01.964Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do you consider murdering a thousand people you don't like to be better or worse than letting ten thousand randomly-selected people die because you can't be arsed to do anything about it?

It ought to be better. None of the factors of either option (murder, don't like, allow to die, randomly-selected, death due to apathy) are worth more than one human life. Thus, it is a simple question of scale. All the possible consequences - such as 'now people will be afraid if I don't like them', 'well, I can't be held socially or legally responsible for their deaths' - just do not outweigh 9,000 human lives.

That said, if I ever encountered this situation in real life, I would be immediately convinced that I had made a mistake in my reasoning, and would spend as much time as I possibly could looking for the alternative where nobody dies.

comment by Costanza · 2010-12-14T13:54:37.070Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

On the other hand, there's the consolation that if and when you do cease to exist, you will no longer be bothered by fear of failure or anything else. You will have no regrets, no regrets at all.

comment by MoreOn · 2010-12-14T15:55:28.807Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I prefer to exist with regret and be bothered by the fear of failure than non-exist.

And besides, the universe isn't me-centric. If I invented the cure to all human diseases, solved poverty and prevented the world from blowing up by nukes, I wouldn't "die happy knowing what a positive impact I've had." In the scope of things, there would be that person who's me who did all that, and then ceased to exist.

comment by MartinB · 2010-12-14T06:01:47.463Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Existence really isn't all that great, so it ending wouldn't be all that bad.

You can do something about that. At least for your own bubble.

comment by shokwave · 2010-12-14T06:37:00.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. If you are currently below net neutral impact, then continued existence is at least as important as improving your impact on the world. If you are currently above net neutral impact, you should probably end your existence as soon as feasible to ensure you don't accidentally cause or contribute to some event that brings your net impact way down to negatives.

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-12-14T12:08:25.914Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't aim solely to have a net positive impact. I aim to have as large a net positive impact as possible. My fear is not the only contributing factor to my utility function.

So, if I prove capable of pulling out of the significant pit of negative impact I have produced during childhood and adolescence, I will hopefully not commit suicide until senility, when there is good reason to expect my impact to go negative again.*

*(I also have a couple of mental blocks that make me committing suicide unlikely. I haven't attempted it since producing them, although their purpose was unrelated.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2010-12-14T14:18:54.177Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this just the Sunk Cost fallacy applied in reverse?

comment by wedrifid · 2010-12-14T14:28:58.356Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not this time. According to the specified value system the approach is rational. (The sunk cost fallacy is fallacious due to the way it interacts with sane human values not 'fear net negative' craziness.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2010-12-14T15:39:50.980Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, right. I should have attended more carefully to context.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-12-14T12:27:34.222Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why do you think >50% of people are net losses?

comment by Kingreaper · 2010-12-14T12:47:05.129Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, to start off, the reason I picked 50% is the belief that most people, had they not been born, would have been replaced by someone else. Slightly <50% of the world could expect, on average, to be replaced by someone better. (specifically, 0.5*[the proportion that would be replaced])

The reason I chose >50% is that I believe that the population at present is larger than the optimum population. I'm not sure by how much, but I suspect the optimum for our current technology level would be less than 1/3rd of our current population.

Would you like me to explain why I believe the population is above optimum?

comment by Costanza · 2010-12-14T15:59:47.532Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would. Is it just the number, or is it the composition, or maybe the geographical distribution?

comment by DanielLC · 2010-12-14T19:38:36.953Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why does the net impact = zero part matter? Certainly the only thing that matters is how much total good there is, not how much was done by you. Even if it is, wouldn't +1 QALY be just as much better than 0 as 0 is from -1 QALY?

comment by Vaniver · 2010-12-14T06:50:48.521Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

No, really, Cessation Of Existence still scares the crap out of mem though I have accepted is as very very probable (barring the Singularity happening very soon). What about you guys?

To the best of my knowledge, it is well with my soul. I enjoy living and seek to continue doing so- but when it comes to lifespan, I start at the present and count up rather than starting at infinity and counting down.

comment by Costanza · 2010-12-14T13:48:20.966Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For me, the prospect of ceasing to exist has a calming effect. Not pleasant, as such. I certainly don't want to die. But the thought that someday, I will not exist at all puts all the day-to-day stresses and worries and regrets into perspective.

There's an old 'symmetry argument' to the effect that life is a thin sliver of light bounded on the one side by an eternity of non-existence before you were born, and on the other by an eternity of non-existence after you die. The suggestion is that one is no worse than the other.

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-17T12:31:34.786Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In the mid- or late-morning, when I'm full of energy and eager to tackle the challenges and entertainments of the day, death looks like a terrible loss, a fun-stopper to be escaped at any cost.

Late at night, when my brain is exhausted and wavering, the bed is so warm and the silence blissful, never waking up again sounds like a fantastic deal.

I hope to die at night.

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-26T17:59:50.899Z · score: -4 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Cessation of Existence is incompatible with the leading models of "standard physics" as presented at the level of core grad school physics classes. Now, I don't entirely subscribe to those models but I do understand them well enough to have aced all my core theory classes (lab was a shameful B...) so I actually have 'more weight' to my claim here than it might appear. "Conservation of information" is absolutely a thing in "the Standard Model", it is just that the information becomes non-localized and (in the Everett interpretation) spread across timelines. But the information that was "you" (using the model that seems standard on LW that 'you' are a collection of organized data) should, in theory, persist indefinitely into the future. Many authors subscribe to the idea that information conservation is /more/ fundamental than 'the laws of physics as we know them' and said information should then even survive transitions like symmetry breaking events, aka 'changes in the laws of physics' that might happen.

Now, whether that distributed information is 'experiencing' anything is arguable, but I can tell you that it is a theorem in quantum mechanics that physical information channels are in some sense symmetrical (again, there are variations which I think might be true that espouse breaks in this symmetry - but not in standard QM). This means you can't say (in quantum information theory) "Collection of information A learns about collection of information B, but not vice versa", only "Collections of information A and B become more entangled, in a quantifiable way". So if you lean calculus or classical physics or alchemy or biblical chronology from readings derived from the collection of information called "Sir Isaac Newton", then, if standard QM is valid, the collection of information called "Sir Isaac Newton" learns just as much about you, in real time!

Maybe Isaac Newton doesn't /need/ a meat body any more; he's uploaded as a continuous process into what David Bohm calls "the holomovement" and he influences the world every day, ask any freshman physics student about their homework problems and you'll see his influence in action.

Note this is not mysticism or nonsense, this is Vanilla Quantum Mechanics. I'm not claiming that the current collection of information we call "Sir Isaac Newton" is experiencing a mode of consciousness like that of a meat human right now, but rather that the collection still exists and is interacting with the world at large, becoming more entangled with some collections and less entangled (by some measure) with others, even as the Newtonsphere, current around 371 light years in radius, continues to expand.

Note that the Gentle Reader of this piece might be a human, or an AI, or a Searles Chinese Room type entity, or something else. If you are a living meat human reading this (or a sim that thinks it's a living meat human) you likely have some 'memories' pertaining to 'coming into existence' that date back less than two centuries. Unless you are like the author of this comment, you might not identify very hard with your 350-year-ago 'self', a collapsing 'incoming' wave of information that will eventually converge on your meat body and in some sense, supervise its construction and operation. There is no obligation to do so, and I predict with a moderate degree of confidence that people will consider you rather odd if you say things like "I am an immortal pattern of information in configuration space" but, to physicists of the 'timeless physics' school, that is pretty much what you appear to be. (I myself am happy to accept whatever self-definition you care to advertise to the world, so if you say "I am a human who did not exist before Month Day, Birthyear (or if RC, ConceptionYear)" I'm happy to accept that and say "This person is from a universe where the timeless formulation of quantum mechanics does not apply. How interesting." rather than "This entity's self-narrative is at variance with my very limited understanding of actual physics, so therefore THEY MUST BE CONFUSED, DELUDED, OR LYING and MY LIMITED KNOWLEDGE OF PHYSICS proves them to be so".

So.. as a Standard Physical Human Body Expressed As A Process In Time. cessation of existence not only doesn't scare me, it intrigues me, what would it be like to have that option? I have no idea how I would halt my evolution in the Schrodinger picture, or change my state vector in the Heisenberg (i.e. more or less timeless) picture.

I don't really believe that standard QM is 100 percent correct, it seems unlikely that what I was taught in grad school is the Correct Final Theory (I think 'nothing' is the most likely CFT actually, like asking "What is the last integer?" (spoiler: it's -1) because "there isn't one". However the usual thing to do on LW is to accept the current 'best known model of the laws of physics" as "tentatively true unless you're explicitly speculating about fringe theories or future developments" and so I post this offering as "my understanding of what the best current consensus among physicists tells us about Cessation of Existence".

Another time, if there is interest, I will discuss where new information seems to come from in a (multi? uni?)-verse where information is conserved, but that would be rambling.

That all being said, Cessation of Existence still does scare me and I want to avoid it, even if the best current physics indicates that it is actually impossible :) I'm also afraid of dragons materializing and challenging me to the Duel Draconic, which is almost equally improbable, but not quite impossible. (A quantum fluctuation of very low but distinctly non-zero probability could manifest as a draconic duelist gunning for me in my sensorium, according to standard QM, while the event described by "The Universe loses the collection of information that constitutes a given individual" has exactly zero probability, as it violates the premises of the system by which we calculate probabilities.

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-26T18:03:06.952Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Note that I anticipate not Cessation of Existence but "occasional interruptions of my linear consciousness, which may last up till or beyond the Omega Point", if the current leading models of physical law prove to be for real in the long run. One or more of these interruptions may look exactly like death to the naive observer, but since I've experienced many previous interruptions in consciousness without too much inconvenience, I expect I can get used to death as well.

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-26T18:04:32.814Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also: right parenthesis that follows is not unmatched, but closes the left parenthesis from my first comment in this thread. )

comment by satt · 2014-05-26T22:41:04.600Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cessation of Existence is incompatible with the leading models of "standard physics" as presented at the level of core grad school physics classes. [...] the information that was "you" (using the model that seems standard on LW that 'you' are a collection of organized data) should, in theory, persist indefinitely into the future. [...] Now, whether that distributed information is 'experiencing' anything is arguable,

As far as I know, the latter is what people are worrying about when they worry about ceasing to exist. While it's true that their information would be still out there somewhere (so they still exist in that sense), they'd no longer be/have a conscious mind within any given branch (assuming MWI). Even if universal information obliteration is incompatible with physics, minds turning into non-minds is very much compatible with physics, and the latter is quite sufficient to disturb people. (Which is presumably a reason why your comment's been downvoted a bunch; most readers would see it as missing the point.)

Edit: on reflection, "within any given branch" is too strong. Substitute "within almost any given branch" — I think my point still goes through.

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-28T15:15:59.341Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Now, whether that distributed information is 'experiencing' anything is arguable,

As far as I know, the latter is what people are worrying about when they worry about ceasing to exist.

Ahhh... that never occurred to me. I was thinking entirely in terms of risk of data loss.

(Which is presumably a reason why your comment's been downvoted a bunch; most readers would see it as missing the point.)

I don't understand the voting rules or customs. Downvoting people who see things from a different perspective is... a custom designed to keep out the undesirables? I am sorry I missed the point but I learned nothing from the downvoting. I learned a great deal from your helpful comment - thank you.

I thought one of the points of the discussion was to promote learning among the readership.

Substitute "within almost any given branch" — I think my point still goes through.

Ah... see, that's where I think the 'lost' minds are likely hiding out, in branches of infinitesimal measure. Which might sound bad, unless you have read up on the anthropic principle and realize that /we/ seem to be residing on just such a branch. (Read up on the anthropic principle if our branch of the universal tree seems less than very improbable to you.)

I'm not worried that there won't be a future branch that what passes for my consciousness (I'm a P-zombie, I think, so I have to say "what passes for") will surivve on. I'm worried that some consciousnesses, equivalent in awareness to 'me' or better, might be trapped in very unpleasant branches. If "I " am permanently trapped in an unpleasant branch, I absolutely do want my consciousness shut down if it's not serving some wonderful purpose that I'm unaware of. If my suffering does serve such a purpose then I'm happy to think of myself as a utility mine, where external entities can come and mine for positive utilons as long as they get more positive utlions out of me than the negative utilons they leave me with.

My perceived utility function often goes negative. When that happens, I would be extremely tempted to kill my meat body if there were a guarantee it would extinguish my perceived consciousness permanently. That would be a huge reward to me in that frame of mind, not a loss. This may be why I don't see these questions the way most people here do.

P.S. Is there a place the rating system is explained? I have looked casually and not found it with a few minutes of effort; it seems like it should be explained prominently somewhere. Are downgradings intended as a punitive training measure ("don't post this! bad monkey!") or just a guide to readers (don't bother reading this, it's drivel, by our community standards). I was assuming the latter.

comment by Kawoomba · 2014-05-28T16:17:28.378Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My perceived utility function often goes negative. When that happens, I would be extremely tempted to kill my meat body if there were a guarantee it would extinguish my perceived consciousness permanently. That would be a huge reward to me in that frame of mind, not a loss. This may be why I don't see these questions the way most people here do.

!

If (all that | most of what)'s keeping you from "killing your meat body" is that being no guarantee of permanent death, stay away from this community (because we'd probably convince you such perma-death would be the highly probable outcome) and seek professional help! Instead of puzzling over the karma system.

(Just to lay that question to rest, this is a diverse community and the downvote button means many things to many people. However, in general it's less of "this is not my opinion, so I have to downvote this because this is not my opinion" than e.g. Reddit, and more of "this argument is flawed / this comment adds too much noise to the discussion". You can assume that most people have a good reason to downvote, but that reason can stem from various considerations.)

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-30T00:06:11.650Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

stay away from this community I responded to this suggestion but deleted the response as unsuitable because it might embarass you. I would be happy to email my reply if you are interested.

we'd probably convince you such perma-death would be the highly probable outcome

Try reading what I said in more detail in both the post I made that you quoted and my explanation of how there might be a set of worlds of very small measure. Then go read Eliezer Yudkowsky's posts on Many Worlds (or crack a book by Deutsch or someone, or check Wikipedia.) Then reread the clause you published here which I just quoted above, and see if you still stand by it, or if you can see just how very silly it is. I don't want to bother to try to explain things again that have already been very well explained on this site.

I am trying to communicate using local community standards of courtesy, it is difficult. I am used to a very different tone of discourse.

comment by satt · 2014-05-30T02:12:01.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand the voting rules or customs.

To add to Kawoomba's comment, there isn't a comprehensive voting rubric that pretty much everyone agrees on, but a rule of thumb which seems relatively popular is to upvote what one wants more of and downvote what one wants less of. (Ideally one tries to be fair-minded about this, putting more weight on objective features of the post, like its correctness.)

Downvoting people who see things from a different perspective is... a custom designed to keep out the undesirables?

To a degree! Eliezer gave a rationale for this in "Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism". Seeing things from a different perspective may be a good thing or a bad thing; it depends on the perspective. While some novel perspectives are productive and reveal powerful new insights, others are intellectual dead ends, and not a few of those are intellectual dead ends which have been discussed on Less Wrong multiple times before. When the latter rear their head for the nth time it can bring down the usefulness of the discussion here, in which case burying the conversation in downvotes can prove useful. (Quoting myself, "[s]ometimes the most efficient way to handle a crappy comment is to hit it with a downvote and move on, rather than getting bogged down in an argument.")

I am sorry I missed the point but I learned nothing from the downvoting. I learned a great deal from your helpful comment - thank you.

No problem. The big upside of downvoting is that it's far less work than having to explain what might be wrong with someone's comment. (Instead of using introspection to pinpoint why my immediate reaction to your comment was "this seems like it's missing the point", then putting that belief into words, then adjusting what I wrote for brevity, clarity & politeness, then posting what I wrote, then reflecting on it, then editing in a correction, I could've just hit the little downward thumb.) The big downside of downvoting is that it communicates far less information than a verbal disagreement.

So when I encounter a comment that I think confuses things more than it clarifies things, I face a tradeoff; do I downvote and move on, at the risk of being opaque, or do I put in the time to articulate what's wrong with it? I figured the second route was worth taking here because I didn't see any of the usual warning signs that explaining my disagreement would be a waste of time: (1) you mentioned taking theoretical physics classes, so you weren't one of those people who simply pontificates about a field they're utterly ignorant of; (2) having studied physics, you probably had more of a reductionist, pro-empirical point of view than a goofy anti-reductionist and/or anti-empirical one; and (3) you don't have a track record here of being unreceptive to disagreement.

Ah... see, that's where I think the 'lost' minds are likely hiding out, in branches of infinitesimal measure. Which might sound bad, unless you have read up on the anthropic principle and realize that /we/ seem to be residing on just such a branch.

This sounds like reasoning I've detected in past discussions here of "quantum immortality", "quantum suicide" and "Quantum Russian Roulette", which runs along the lines of, "I can destroy myself in as many branches as I like, as long as I'm still standing in at least one branch, because in all the branches where I destroy myself I won't be around to regret it". This philosophy has never really felt right to me; if I die in branch A, the version of me in branch B may live on, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm still dead in branch A and no longer exert any influence on it, contrary to the preferences of the version of myself previously existing in branch A. (For that reason, I'm also not worried by the prospect of being trapped by quantum immortality in a torturous branch. It might be inevitable in the sense that I'll have to experience it in at least one branch, but in any randomly selected branch my chance of escaping quantum immortal torment is nigh on 100%.)

P.S. Is there a place the rating system is explained? I have looked casually and not found it with a few minutes of effort; it seems like it should be explained prominently somewhere.

The FAQ on the wiki has a short section about it.

Are downgradings intended as a punitive training measure ("don't post this! bad monkey!") or just a guide to readers (don't bother reading this, it's drivel, by our community standards). I was assuming the latter.

Mostly, but it is also feedback to commenters. You have some latitude to interpret that feedback as you see fit, since downvotes don't convey much beyond "a person didn't like this".

comment by [deleted] · 2014-05-27T05:53:04.652Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Cessation of Existence is incompatible with the leading models of "standard physics" as presented at the level of core grad school physics classes. Now, I don't entirely subscribe to those models but I do understand them well enough to have aced all my core theory classes (lab was a shameful B...) so I actually have 'more weight' to my claim here than it might appear. "Conservation of information" is absolutely a thing in "the Standard Model", it is just that the information becomes non-localized and (in the Everett interpretation) spread across timelines. But the information that was "you" (using the model that seems standard on LW that 'you' are a collection of organized data) should, in theory, persist indefinitely into the future.

Quantum information is a very different thing from what you're thinking of as "information" (ie: data stored on a hard-disk or connection strengths in a neural net). For one thing, turning quantum information into "normal" information actually requires becoming entangled (in causal contact) with the quantum information, which is an entropic process. Particularly, the disequilibriating entropic process composing your consciousness is, you know, entropic, so it requires fresh sources of unentangled information and mechanical energy in order to operate (luckily, stored chemical energy in food can provide both).

Sorry for being vague; I wish I had the mathematical knowledge to explain this more clearly.

comment by MBlume · 2010-12-14T01:57:09.962Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

cringes just a bit

In the scope of things, this all seems a bit silly to worry over now =/

comment by NihilCredo · 2010-12-17T12:24:52.923Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is very good to hear.

comment by Tesseract · 2010-12-29T10:59:39.989Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not to dispute your main point here (that emotionally-protected false beliefs discourage contact with reality), but do you really think that many religious practices were developed consciously and explicitly for the purpose of preventing contact with outside ideas? It seems to me that something like kosher law was more likely the combination of traditional practice and the desire to forge a sense of social identity than a structure explicitly designed to stop interactions. Group differences hinder interaction between groups, but that doesn't mean that the purpose of group differences is to do so.

I don't disagree with you on the point that religion often explicitly discourages contact with nonbelievers, either, but that seems to me to be more easily explained by honest belief than Dark Side practices. If you believe something is true (and important to know the truth of) but that someone can be easily persuaded otherwise by sophistic arguments, then it's reasonable to try to prevent them from hearing them. If someone believes in global warming but doesn't have a firm grasp on the science, then you shouldn't let them wander into a skeptics' convention if you value valid beliefs.

comment by SpaceFrank · 2012-01-24T17:24:24.884Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(I'm neither a theology scholar nor an anthropologist, so I may lack some important background on this.)

I agree that the idea of early church leaders isolating members in order to explicitly limit the introduction of new ideas sounds far-fetched. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would only be said after the fact, by a historian looking for meaning in the details. But attributing those member-isolating rules to something like "preserving group identity" seems like the same thing.

I find myself wondering if something like the anthropic principle is at work here, i.e. the only religious groups to survive that long are the ones who historically isolated their members from outside ideas. There's probably a more general term for what I'm getting at.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-01-24T17:33:17.207Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's probably a more general term for what I'm getting at.

Survivorship bias?

comment by SpaceFrank · 2012-01-26T19:04:42.918Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now that I think about it, "natural selection" seems more appropriate.

comment by more_wrong · 2014-05-26T18:25:02.792Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems very likely to me that tribal groups in prehistory observed that "eating some things leads to illness and sometimes death; eating other things seems to lead to health or happiness or greater utility" and some very clever group of people starting compiling a system of eating rules that seemed to work. It became traditional to hand over rules for eating, and other activities, to their children. Rules like "If a garment has a visible spot of mildew, either cut out the mildewed spot with a specified margin around it or discard it entirely, for god's sake don't store it with your other garments" or "don't eat insects that you don't specifically recognize as safe and nutritious" or 'don't eat with unclean hands, for a certain technical definition of 'unclean', for example, don't touch a rotting corpse then stuff your face or deliver a baby with those hands" etc. etc.

Then much much later, some of the descendants of some of those tribes thought to write a bunch of this stuff down before it could be forgotten. They ascribed the origin of the rules to a character representing "The best collective wisdom we have available to us" and used about ten different names for that character, who was seen as a collection of information much like any person is, but the oldest and wisest known collection of information around.

Then when different branches of humanity ran into each other and found out that other branches had different rule sets, different authority figures, and different names for the same thing as well as differing meanings for the same names in many cases, hilarity ensued.

Then a group of very very serious atheists came and said "We have the real truth, and our collective wisdom is much much better than that of the ancient people who actually fought through fire and blood, death and disease and a shitstorm of suffering to hand us a lot of their distilled wisdom on a platter, so we could then take the cream of what they offered, throw away the rest, and make fun of their stupid superstitions while not acknowledging that they actually did extremely well for the conditions they experienced"

Religious minds did most of the heavy lifting to get rationality at least as far as Leibniz and Newton, both of whom were notably religious. I'm not saying that the religious mindset is correct or superior, but the development of rational thought among humans has been like a relay race carrying a torch for a million years, and then when the torch is at the finish line (when it gets passed on to nonhumans) a subset of the people who carried the torch for the last little bit doesn't need to say "Hah we are so much better than the people who fought and died under the banner of beliefs at variance with our own". This is a promulgation of what is /bad/ about religion, and I see a lot of it in this group. I love the group but would really like it even better if people showed a tiny bit of respect for the minds that fought through the eras of slavery and religious war and other evils, instead of proclaiming very loudly about how wonderful they are compared to everyone else.

I mean, you ARE wonderful, you are doing amazing things, but... come on.

Not that I am any better, here I am bashing you lovely people because your customs are at variance with my own - but that's what reading this group has taught me to do!

comment by orthonormal · 2009-04-05T05:16:26.226Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It was akrasia, Dostoyevsky, and the sacrament of confession that turned me into a rationalist. Seriously.

I became very religious as a teenager (for social reasons, as I'd later realize), and drifted more and more traditional and conservative (since I could see that liberal Christianity is generally logically incoherent). This drew me into theology (thus philosophy), so that I'd been exposed in college to all the arguments I needed to reject Christianity; I just refused to apply them, generally taking them one at a time and playing One Argument Against an Army.

What changed in grad school had to do with the internalization of the virtue of honesty. Because I had to confess my sins frequently, I became more and more aware of my rationalizations and self-deception (in areas of discipline and akrasia, not of course rationality). I took to heart what Dostoyevsky wrote in "The Brothers Karamazov":

Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others.

Before long, though, the practice of listening for the signs of self-deception and rationalization had an unexpected consequence: my doubts of the faith, which I'd battled as a sin again and again, were growing worse as I recognized the bad arguments I was letting myself be satisfied with. It finally came to the point of recognizing that I was striving to rid myself of doubt when I thought I was striving to investigate it.

From there, it was a comparatively short leap to atheism and to a more consequentialist and physicalist reevaluation of my interpretation of the world. Nietzsche helped greatly, which is why it saddens me when he's dismissed for the wrong reasons (as invariably happens with people who've only heard of him, or only read short bits). But enough about that.

(I later got hooked on OB because the early posts rang very true to what I'd gone through, though I'd never expressed it as clearly as what I saw there.)

My point is that my birth as a rationalist isn't identical with my fall from religion; it merely caused it as a side effect. My real rationalist beginning was learning to doubt beliefs that felt like they needed no argument, because I'd realized that feelings of certainty arise for reasons besides entanglement with truth.

comment by ama · 2009-04-16T14:59:08.513Z · score: -6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Hey all,

Just joined.

Got here via Naked Capitalism and Yves Smith when she linked this article: "Self-Haters Donate More," which then linked "Haters Cheat Less."

Then the name of the site "Overcoming Bias" definitely got my attention!

My Rationalist Origin Story: ROS:

I had been digging in the Bible's backyard -- it's really the front yard, smile -- as a 37 year-old, and found over and over again where it was written that Moses only did as he was told when he had been told what to do and how to. It's in later chapters of Exodus. So Moses could not do as he had been told until he had been told how to do it.

Hmmmmm It got me thinking: What did that remind me of?

3 days later it hit me like Eureka:

Love your neighbor as myself,

as per Leviticus and Deuteronomy and Matthew and Mark and Luke!

Hmmm,

since no one had ever sat me down and taught me to love myself, why did I think, why had I assumed that I knew how to love myself?

Hmmmm

Then Aha:

If I didn't know how to love myself,

that explained

why I did not love my neighbors and/or found it so hard to do,

and why I found it so hard to love my neighbors as much as I loved myself, or THOUGHT I loved myself,

and why I found it so easy to hate my neighbors!

Hmmmmm

But,---I DID love myself: I loved myself as man and as right and as wise and good and friend and family and as etc!

But hey,--I also DID NOT love myself as woman and as wrong and as fool and as bad and as enemy as stranger and as non-etc!

So?

I was both loving myself and hating myself at the same time!

So I was also loving the neighbor I hated, and hating the neighbor I loved!

So it was only an illusion that I ONLY loved me and ONLY hated my neighbors: I was doing both all the time!

So by hating myself, I had been also teaching others how to hate ME all along!

Which meant that they had to be hating themselves too,

and which then compounded my Hate for myself,

and re-justified me to hate myself and so to hate them as myself since we justify hating others by hating ourselves,

and I was hating myself a lot more than I was or had been loving myself, which explained perfectly why I had been and was hating my neighbors a lot more than loving them, in fact to the same degree and extent that I was hating myself and loving myself!

Oooops!

I went to my wife:

If you promise me one thing,I'll take you out to dinner every week! What do you want? Nothing! Just promise me that you will love yourself and concentrate of loving YOU! She laughed: I already do! Fine!

And the rest is history:

I eliminated my Bias of Hate for myself as any words over a period of the next year by inserting the Bias of Love for myself as all words!

And how I did that and what it means for all others is what I would love to share with this forum, so that each of you can do it for yourselves, and spread the word of how we can overcome bias.

It is very easy, but that very easiness makes it the hardest thing you would have ever tried to do!

"A great many people think that they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." William James

“If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.” Hermann Hesse

"The root of the matter is a very simple and old-fashioned thing, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it, for fear of the derisive smile with which the wise cynics will greet my words. The thing I mean – please forgive me for mentioning it – is Love, the Love or compassion of Christ.

If you have and so feel this Love, you have the motive for existence, the guide for action, the reason for courage, and the imperative necessity for intellectual honesty." The Impact of Science on Society, Lord Bertrand A. Russell.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-16T20:08:32.811Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Your presentation is impenetrably chaotic.

comment by ama · 2009-04-17T03:28:20.404Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Vladimir Nesov: Your presentation is impenetrably chaotic.

ama: How wonderful that I have met with a paradoxical contradiction and contradictory paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.smile

With regards to Niels Bohr, as quoted in L I Ponomarev, The Quantum Dice.

Out of my impenetrable chaos, you did get the penetratingly orderly sense that my presentation was impenetrably chaotic?smile

And, isn't there order in chaos, and vice versa?smile

So, you should now be able to do the opposite thingy!smile

Thanks too for your all the words in your thought.

And please ask questions, if there are any at all.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-17T12:22:09.655Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're not really ready for this site, I'm afraid. Why don't you have a read of some of the posts that brought us here, such as the Twelve Virtues of Rationality, A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation, or some of these posts on sister site Overcoming Bias and see if what we're doing here is something you can get behind. Sorry!

comment by Lawliet · 2009-04-17T12:43:34.712Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We talk a lot about bringing new people in to the community, well, here they are.

Not to imply that you're doing it wrong, but has any thought been put in to how to better handle these sorts of situations?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-17T13:21:05.761Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think we've barely started to talk about how to attract new people; there are no top-level posts I can think of about whether we want to attract new people, or what sort if so, or how to go about it.

In any case, we definitely don't want just any new people at this stage; we want people who buy into the fundamentals of what we're trying to do here, and we want people who can express themselves clearly.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-17T14:22:31.491Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

ama, if you're reading this: Although I have chosen to engage with what you write rather than dismissing it, I entirely agree with ciphergoth that you appear to be either unready for LW or out of sympathy with its goals.

Of course, it's possible that actually you're way ahead of us, and that what looks like word salad to us (at least, to me and Vladimir Nesov, and I'm guessing to others too) really is the Expression of Deep Truth that I think you think it is. In which case, you would do well to make the effort to make what you say comprehensible and explicit.

(If you are not interested in clarity and comprehensibility, then it is unlikely that you will be of much help to us, no matter how excellent your thoughts may be.)

comment by gjm · 2009-04-16T20:29:23.038Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is not a rationalist origin story, because it is not the story of how you became a rationalist. (It seems fairly clear that in fact you are not a rationalist. This is a description, not a criticism; most people are not rationalists, and manage just fine without being rationalists.)

It is also not about "how we can overcome bias", but about how we can (allegedly) overcome one particular failing which is not a bias in the sense that OB is meant to be about.

As an account of how one can go about eliminating (perhaps unconscious) hatred for oneself and others, and replacing it with love, it has a severe deficiency: it doesn't actually explain comprehensibly how one can. (Your central idea seems to be that you should love yourself "as" everything, including things you aren't. That seems pretty incoherent to me. You might try to do it by, e.g., imagining yourself in the shoes of everyone you interact with, and that might be an effective way of having a more positive attitude towards them; is that the sort of thing you mean? And you say that by not loving yourself "as" an X, where X is something you aren't, you're thereby hating others. I think that's obviously false.)

I think your interpolations into the words of William James and Bertrand Russell change their meanings (James's more than Russell's). Since you appear to be quoting them as authorities, it doesn't seem to me a good sign that you have to change what they're saying to do so.

In general, attempts at proselytism are not likely to find an enthusiastic reception here.

comment by ama · 2009-04-17T03:11:46.903Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

gjm: This is not a rationalist origin story, because it is not the story of how you became a rationalist. (It seems fairly clear that in fact you are not a rationalist. This is a description, not a criticism; most people are not rationalists, and manage just fine without being rationalists.) ama: Big thanx for all your thoughts.

Hmmm Am I not also rational and also a rationalist by agreeing with you, who are a rationalist, that I am not a rationalist? smile

And aren't you, to some degree, also not a rationalist by agreeing with me, who you say is not a rationalist, that I am not a rationalist? smile

I consider myself to be both rational and irrational, especially since rationalists believe in irrational numbers.smile

gjm: It is also not about "how we can overcome bias", but about how we can (allegedly) overcome one particular failing which is not a bias in the sense that OB is meant to be about. ama: I wd appreciate you or anyone explaining in what sense that OB is meant here. Also explaining what is that one particular failing. Thanx in advance.

gjm: As an account of how one can go about eliminating (perhaps unconscious) hatred for oneself and others, and replacing it with love, it has a severe deficiency: it doesn't actually explain comprehensibly how one can. ama: That was just a teaser. The comprehensive bit was going to be my next post as per Blume!smile

gjm: (Your central idea seems to be that you should love yourself "as" everything, including things you aren't. ama: I am and you are everything already because all words and their opposites are stored in us as as, and those words are everything in the brain and represent everything outside of the brain, 'everything' also being a word. There are even more words than things since we have a word for no thing. smile

So I love myself as gjm so that I auto love and respect gjm as myself. I love myself as known and as unknown too, so that I don't have to know you to love you but love you to know you and so am loving you before I know you or get to know you. This way, no bad knowledge I happen to know about you after I get to know you, will affect nor be able to affect my Love and Respect for you since my L&R was not and is not based on who you are, good or bad, but on Love of itself: the Love and R being unconditional, having no conditions nor limitations. Neat, eh?smile It is why kids say 'It takes one to know one' just based on learning the alphabet, and without any adult teaching them to say so, which teachers in fact discourage them from saying so.

gjm: That seems pretty incoherent to me. ama: I understand why you feel that way: it will tend to discombobulate you initially.

I love myself as coherent and incoherent and so I take your opinion of me with Love and Respect, and thank you for your honesty. However, there is coherence in incoherence, and vice versa.

kjm: You might try to do it by, e.g., imagining yourself in the shoes of everyone you interact with, and that might be an effective way of having a more positive attitude towards them; is that the sort of thing you mean? ama: Sort of, but all inclusive: it covers all words and their opposites and so includes all those who I have NOT interacted with nor yet imagined.

kjm: And you say that by not loving yourself "as" an X, where X is something you aren't, you're thereby hating others. I think that's obviously false.) ama: But I am x, since x is one of the letters stored in me as me. Example: If I hate or love myself as kjm or as any word that describes you, then I auto hate or love you as myself. It's automatic. The brain works by words, words work by their opposites, and all words and their opposites work most well by the word Love, and don't work at all well with the word Hate.

kjm: I think your interpolations into the words of William James and Bertrand Russell change their meanings (James's more than Russell's). ama: Sorry, my bad. I was trying to be helpful. But what prejudices do you think WJ was referring to?

kjm: Since you appear to be quoting them as authorities, it doesn't seem to me a good sign that you have to change what they're saying to do so. ama: Good point: In Love and Respect of myself as right and wrong, as correct and incorrect, as correcting and as corrected, I take this correction from you as correct and as corrector, and so it will make me even more correct.smile

kjm: In general, attempts at proselytism are not likely to find an enthusiastic reception here. Hmmmm This has no proselytistic angle to it al all, even though I see how it might seem so.

Actually, I am also both theist and atheist since I love myself as both, and so love and respect all atheists & all theists as they are. There is actually no reason to not be an atheist, and there are many atheists who are better theists as atheists than theists are at being theists. smile

The only purpose is to share on overcoming bias as in "Self-Haters Donate More" and "Haters Cheat Less."

comment by gjm · 2009-04-17T12:03:14.994Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Bias" here and on OB generally refers to systematic errors in our truth-seeking and decision-making processes. For instance, confirmation bias: we notice evidence in favour of our beliefs much more easily than evidence against.

those words are everything in the brain and represent everything outside of the brain [...] There are even more words than things since we have a word for no thing.

Lots of important things happen in the brain without words. (And, just in case that last sentence is meant to be anything more than a joke: there are obviously far more things than words, though it's not so clear whether or not there are more things than are adequately describable in words.)

my L[ove]&R[espect] was not and is not based on who you are, good or bad [...] the Love and R[espect] being unconditional, having no conditions nor limitations. Neat, eh?

I would certainly prefer to be loved on such terms than to be hated on such terms, but in general I value someone's love and/or respect more when it is based on who I am and what I am like. Consider a more specific kind of love: would you want to be married to someone who loves you exactly as much as s/he loves everyone else in the world, and whose love is entirely independent of who you are?

It is why kids say 'It takes one to know one just based on learning the alphabet, and without any adult teaching them to say so

I am skeptical; do you have any evidence that children spontaneously invent this idea themselves? I think the tradition of saying that is passed down from one child to another, and sometimes from parents to children (I don't believe that adults are completely consistent in not liking it) and the reason is not that there's any truth in it but that it's a good-sounding retort. If you're right then the idea should probably be found roughly equally in all cultures; if I'm right then it should probably be much less common in some cultures. I wonder which of these is so.

I understand why you feel that way

Perhaps you do, but I don't think you have enough information to know that you do.

it covers all words and their opposites and so includes all those who I have NOT interacted with nor yet imagined.

It seems to me that there is a difference between having the (single, vague, abstract) thought "for all X, I love myself as X" and the (multiple, more specific and concrete) thoughts for all X: "I love myself as X". And while I can imagine (though I remain to be convinced) that the latter might turn out to be helpful in the project of loving one's neighbours, the former seems less relevant; but the latter seems to be what you're actually talking about here.

The brain works by words, words work by their opposites

I do not believe you. Would you care to explain why I should?

(Unless you mean something as limited as "one thing the brain does is to use words, and sometimes words remind us of their opposites", which is true but doesn't seem to me to offer any support for your claims.)

what prejudices do you think WJ was referring to?

Any and all preconceived ideas, of which most of us have far more than we care to admit. You can find (what I take to be) a less condensed description of the same idea in an OB post from 2007.

comment by ama · 2009-04-18T04:46:54.858Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

GJM: "Bias" here and on OB generally refers to systematic errors in our truth-seeking and decision-making processes. For instance, confirmation bias: we notice evidence in favour of our beliefs much more easily than evidence against. AMA: Thanks, GJM, for talking to me an for the info on what bias means at the OB. But don't you want to know why there there is confirmation bias or any other bias?

GJM: Lots of important things happen in the brain without words. AMA: True, but we can't describe them without words.

GJM: (And, just in case that last sentence is meant to be anything more than a joke: there are obviously far more things than words, though it's not so clear whether or not there are more things than are adequately describable in words.) AMA: Hmmm Is Math English? Since all numbers are also words, and since numbers are infinite, and since there are non-number words and names, aren't there more words than numbers?

GJM: I would certainly prefer to be loved on such terms than to be hated on such terms, but in general I value someone's love and/or respect more when it is based on who I am and what I am like. AMA: And suppose you were! You cd only be loved and respected as such by another who did so for herself/himself, and you wd only accept such and be able to accept such if you already were loving yourself as such!

GJM: Consider a more specific kind of love: would you want to be married to someone who loves you exactly as much as s/he loves everyone else in the world, and whose love is entirely independent of who you are? AMA: Absolutely! Her choice of me for marriage would be honorable since she wd have chosen me in Love out of all the persons she loved, and NOT dishonorably by choosing me in Love out of all the people she hated!

To love only me while hating all the rest wd mean that she hated me or wd hate me if I were ever like all the ones she hated, and wd mean that I would be in the unenviable position of being threatened by her Love for any her dad and brothers and mom and sisters or anyone else: if she loved an old boyfriend, I wd think that she did not love me since she loved ONLY me and hated all the rest: so any Love for any of the rest wd mean NO Love for me!

To love me as all the rest, then to choose me out of Love for all the rest wd be the most reassuring choice ever: she loved us all and chose me out of Love! sigh I wd then never be threatened by her Love for anyone else!

GJM: I am skeptical; do you have any evidence that children spontaneously invent this idea themselves? I think the tradition of saying that is passed down from one child to another, and sometimes from parents to children (I don't believe that adults are completely consistent in not liking it) and the reason is not that there's any truth in it but that it's a good-sounding retort. If you're right then the idea should probably be found roughly equally in all cultures; if I'm right then it should probably be much less common in some cultures. I wonder which of these is so. AMA: I have spoken to tens of thousands of people from all over the world, and they all said so as kids! And it makes perfect sense: When you call me a name, me saying 'it takes one to know one' is more than a good-sounding retort: by ITOTKO, I am agreeing with you that what you say I am is who I am, and reminding you how you know that I am one! That's all I am doing when someone says I am chaotic or stupid or incoherent or nonsensical or any word! And as an adult, I can only do so because I have determined to love myself as all words and their opposites.

GJM: Perhaps you do, but I don't think you have enough information to know that you do. AMA: Being in-Love with all words gives us the insight and intuition to know without having any specific info!smile

GJM: It seems to me that there is a difference between having the (single, vague, abstract) thought "for all X, I love myself as X" and the (multiple, more specific and concrete) thoughts for all X: "I love myself as X". And while I can imagine (though I remain to be convinced) that the latter might turn out to be helpful in the project of loving one's neighbours, the former seems less relevant; but the latter seems to be what you're actually talking about here. AMA: As you think more about it, you'll see that each is a part of the other. Loving myself AS all words means the same as loving myself as much as any word and as much as all words, and as if I were all words.

Specific example: There is no difference or there is a difference with no distinction or there is a distinction with no difference between loving myself as a fool, and loving myself as much as a fool, and loving myself as if I were a fool.

There is no difference between a male fool and a foolish male.

GJM: I do not believe you. Would you care to explain why I should? AMA: Easy. And you already know this, but you filed it away since you were a kid.

First of all, there is nothing that is NOT a word.

2ndly: the brain cannot think without words: music is a word! Can you think of anything that is not a word? If so, please let me know what it is. smile All our words are stored in us and as us in our neurochemicals. So literally, we are words.

3rdly: Let's use the opposites Give and Take: To give is to take from yourself. To take is to give to yourself. So the opposite words, give and take, are inter-definable and mean each other, so that there has never been any giving without taking nor taking without giving in history. Therefore, any one who is really for only givers/giving and is against takers/taking, should not give in the first place since he is making others into takes by his giving; and no others should allow to give since his giving makes them takers. So in a world of only givers, there would be no 'takers.' Pun intended. This inter-definability applies to all words and their opposites.

Example: To succeed is to fail to fail. To fail is to succeed at failing. So? So those who hate failure must also hate success, or choke when it comes to the ultimate success of the exams, or in sports such as NFL or NBA and Baseball Championships.

So Love for all words and their opposites simply binds what's already bound, or rebinds them.

GJM: (Unless you mean something as limited as "one thing the brain does is to use words, and sometimes words remind us of their opposites", which is true but doesn't seem to me to offer any support for your claims.) AMA: Right, that is not what I mean.

GJM: Any and all preconceived ideas, of which most of us have far more than we care to admit. AMA: That is exactly what I am saying! Our Loves and our Hates were pre-disposed in us by teachers of all kinds so that those predispositions predispose us to certain preconceptions that explain why there is racial bias or sexual bias or confirmation bias. So by loving all words, we have one right Bias of Love which lends itself to both opposites or all angles to anything, and so eliminates the bias of Hate that favors one or the other! As above with giving and taking, it is only by applying the Bias of Love to both equally that we eliminate the unfair Bias of Hate which can only be for one or the other but never for both!

The reason Lady Justice is blindfolded is because she loves both opposites equally and so might as well be blind.

And because we justify hating others by hating ourselves, we don't want to admit our biases of self-Hate: that wd mean that we had to love those hated others because we now had to love ourselves AS them!

GJM: You can find (what I take to be) a less condensed description of the same idea in an OB post from 2007. AMA: Thank you. And thanks again for your fairness or attempted fairness: you will definitely get convicted for being fair!smile

comment by gjm · 2009-04-18T09:11:10.060Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is becoming extremely long. I shall try to be brief.

Of course I want to know why there are biases such as confirmation bias. (I am aware of some possible explanations, but so far as I know all anyone has is plausible conjectures.) I have seen no evidence that you have any accurate information about that.

There are more numbers than words. There are even more integers than words. There aren't more integers than descriptions of integers using words. Whether there are more things than words depends on all sorts of difficult scientific questions and perhaps also on exactly what your definition of "thing" is.

I remain unconvinced by your panegyrics about universal love.

"I have spoken to tens of thousands of people from all over the world, and they all said so as kids!": then I suggest that you have very strange priorities in what you discuss with them. (Actually, and I hope you aren't offended, I strongly suspect that you are lying or mistaken about this.)

"Being in-Love with all words gives us the insight and intuition to know without having any specific info!": ciphergoth was definitely right: you are either entirely unready for, or totally out of sympathy with the aims of, LW, and it is very unlikely that you will either get much benefit from being here or do much good to anyone else here.

"Specific example: [...]" You have misunderstood what I was saying, and that is not an example of anything to do with what I was saying.

"the brain cannot think without words: music is a word": No. I think you are fond of making confident statements about things you do not understand.

comment by ama · 2009-04-19T01:26:47.282Z · score: -7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I'll be brief too.

We love or hate because we have been taught to. Did you, as a child, ever hear statements beginning or ending with: ...'Whether you life it or not'...? Can you remember if it was about you eating what foods you hated?

Integers, which are infinite, are also all words. So compared to integers, words are equal in number to integers: -infinity/minus infinity to 0/zero and 0 to positive infinity are all integers which are also all words: 8 is eight. Therefore, since there are non-numeral words, the infinite set of words is greater than the infinite set of numbers/integers. qed. PS: Since by definition, infinities must be equal, there is way to equalize the larger infinity of words with the smaller infinity of integers. It's so simple that it will tend to escape readers who have not yet overcome bias against fools and foolishness, since the simplicity looks foolish and simpleminded.

It wd be strange to anyone who still has not yet overcome bias for me to talk to people about overcoming their self-hatred by reminding them about what they said as kids.

"Love to Richard Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world."Richard II, [V, 5]

And there have been tens of thousands, if not more! By the way, a mistake is a lie in words. The real lie would be me saying 'I love you' and implying I love you all the way while hating liars.

If I misunderstood you, would you please say what else you meant? I could be poor in understanding OR you could be poor in communicating. smile

Please do not let my confidence about anything now intimidate you to the point that you don't ask questions. You have asked questions. Please do not stop now. People who have not yet overcome the bias against being ignorant or fools can't ask because they don't want to admit that they don't know. If you don't understand, would you please ask more questions? I love myself as a fool and so love and respect you as one. The first thing a wise man knows is that he is a fool. And I am sure you are wise!smile It could be that I am a poor communicator or that you have poor understanding.smile

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-19T01:29:25.487Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

You need to do more reading of the archives here and on Overcoming Bias before you try commenting here.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-19T01:35:38.480Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, I'm not sure that that would help.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-19T01:31:14.549Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Since, by definition, infinities must be equal

You do not understand the relevant area of mathematics.

Please do not let my confidence about anything now intimidate you to the point that you don't ask questions.

You may rest assured that it will not. However, there are other factors that lead me not to ask you any further questions.

I don't think this discussion is achieving anything worth while. Farewell.

comment by Simulacra · 2009-04-17T00:59:43.882Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For me it began as a bored student picking up a book on probability (specifically Randomness by Deborah Bennet) and discovering my understanding of probability was seriously wrong. Following that discovery and armed with my improved understanding I began to look at what other ideas and beliefs might be flawed. I started with those beliefs that were most likely to be based on probabilities and found that nearly everything I thought was true was affected by a single inaccuracy. My mind has burned with a single question ever since: "What else is polluting my mind?"

As for how I found OB; if I recall correctly I was reading up on AI and happened upon one of Eli's posts. Fascinated, I jumped from post to post and found myself deep in rationalist territory. I found home.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-13T22:56:36.349Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

what was the one inaccuracy?

comment by Aleric · 2009-04-17T23:00:36.149Z · score: 26 (26 votes) · LW · GW

I grew up in the Northeast United States. I didn't care for school most of my life and was exposed to a mainline Protestant church. Due to socialization from the media and educational systems, I was pretty much a de facto liberal until the age of 22. When I say I was a "liberal" I mean it in the American Leftest variety and not the classical Liberalism of the enlightenment.

I joined the military at 22 in the attempt to bring some excitement to my life. After the Bush administration raised my pay by 15% I figured I must be a "Conservative?" In March of 2003 I led an Infantry team during the invasion of Iraq.

After I returned from the war--still believing I was a Conservative--I started reading pop-Conservative books. I took up many of the positions of the Right and believed "the liberals were the problem."

After being honorably discharged I moved home with an intense desire to learn and change the world. I started school and majored in political science. I also picked up an opiate addiction in an attempt to numb the physical and psychological effects of the war. It was during this time of substance abuse that I first started challenging everything I thought I "believed" in. While I don't recommend it, being under the influence of opiates allowed me to question many of the beliefs that I had an emotional attachment to.

After a couple years of abuse I got clean. Looking back at this time I now realize it was critical in changing me from a "believer" to what people at this site appear to call a "rationalist." Also important in my transformation was the study of statistics, probability, logic, economics, and Western Philosophy.

This site looked like a good place to learn more?

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T22:30:01.828Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That's... definitely an unusual story over here. Would you care to write a top-level post about the details of this? Or are you especially uncomfortable with talking about your PTSD and the causes and consequences thereof, as well as the experience of opiates consumption? Sorry for being so insensitive, but you really have piqued my curiosity here.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-13T22:54:14.072Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I second that notion. It's just too bad we discovered this thread a year and a half after it was posted.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-16T21:53:00.959Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I cast Raise Thread.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-12-16T22:15:05.000Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I am afraid the spell you actually need is Resurrection; this Aleric fellow has not posted in the same span of time. In fact, his only post was this story.

comment by Vaniver · 2010-12-16T22:42:45.268Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am afraid the spell you actually need is Resurrection;

You went for SRD correctness over a pun? You are getting both a downvote and a frowny face. :( Don't make me break out the really frowny one.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-12-16T22:55:25.589Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not a pun; I was continuing the joke of spellcasting in a way which pointed out that the problem was not only with getting new activity in the thread, but also getting new activity from the poster.

Also, just in case you are wondering, I did not downvote you.

comment by Vaniver · 2010-12-16T23:00:51.584Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Also, just in case you are wondering, I did not downvote you.

Even if you had, there would have been no hard feelings. That comes with the territory of enjoying puns.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-09-26T15:23:11.257Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

being under the influence of opiates allowed me to question many of the beliefs that I had an emotional attachment to

Interesting. How so?

comment by Aleric · 2009-04-17T23:01:12.515Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I grew up in the Northeast United States. I didn't care for school most of my life and was exposed to a mainline Protestant church. Due to socialization from the media and educational systems, I was pretty much a de facto liberal until the age of 22. When I say I was a "liberal" I mean it in the American Leftest variety and not the classical Liberalism of the enlightenment.

I joined the military at 22 in the attempt to bring some excitement to my life. After the Bush administration raised my pay by 15% I figured I must be a "Conservative?" In March of 2003 I led an Infantry team during the invasion of Iraq.

After I returned from the war--still believing I was a Conservative--I started reading pop-Conservative books. I took up many of the positions of the Right and believed "the liberals were the problem."

After being honorably discharged I moved home with an intense desire to learn and change the world. I started school and majored in political science. I also picked up an opiate addiction in an attempt to numb the physical and psychological effects of the war. It was during this time of substance abuse that I first started challenging everything I thought I "believed" in. While I don't recommend it, being under the influence of opiates allowed me to question many of the beliefs I had emotional attachments to.

After a couple years of abuse I got clean. Looking back at this time I now realize it was critical in changing me from a "believer" to what people at this site appear to call a "rationalist." Also important in my transformation was the study of statistics, probability, logic, economics, and Western Philosophy.

This site looked like a good place to learn more?

comment by Aleric · 2009-04-17T23:01:34.996Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I grew up in the Northeast United States. I didn't care for school most of my life and was exposed to a mainline Protestant church. Due to socialization from the media and educational systems, I was pretty much a de facto liberal until the age of 22. When I say I was a "liberal" I mean it in the American Leftest variety and not the classical Liberalism of the enlightenment.

I joined the military at 22 in the attempt to bring some excitement to my life. After the Bush administration raised my pay by 15% I figured I must be a "Conservative?" In March of 2003 I led an Infantry team during the invasion of Iraq.

After I returned from the war--still believing I was a Conservative--I started reading pop-Conservative books. I took up many of the positions of the Right and believed "the liberals were the problem."

After being honorably discharged I moved home with an intense desire to learn and change the world. I started school and majored in political science. I also picked up an opiate addiction in an attempt to numb the physical and psychological effects of the war. It was during this time of substance abuse that I first started challenging everything I thought I "believed" in. While I don't recommend it, being under the influence of opiates allowed me to question many of the beliefs I had emotional attachments to.

After a couple years of abuse I got clean. Looking back at this time I now realize it was critical in changing me from a "believer" to what people at this site appear to call a "rationalist." Also important in my transformation was the study of statistics, probability, logic, economics, and Western Philosophy.

This site looked like a good place to learn more?

comment by Jonii · 2009-07-15T12:22:31.371Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

When I was around 12, I figured that since adults think I'm smart, and to some degree people of my own age agreed, there must be something I can do to avoid being so clumsy, awkward and stuff. I tried to use best methods I could find to improve my goals and methods to gain those, using every single way I could find. I tried to improve on board game called "Go" to do that, I studied mathematics, read about game theory, and overall tried to gain perspective by learning about the world, and made effort to find suitable role models from fiction(Sherlock Holmes, House, Jedi knights, whatever). I tested myself against those whose beliefs I found stupid(creationists, ghost hunters and stuff), and tried to understand the nature of being wrong or right. To support that, I also read a lot about human psychology and overall epistemology and philosophy of consciousness. All uncoordinated and pretty ineffective, but then I found a website dedicated to "refine the art of human rationality".

So, the key event for me could maybe be posting this comment. I'm expecting a lot.

comment by Jonii · 2009-07-15T12:23:03.000Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I was around 12, I figured that since adults think I'm smart, and to some degree people of my own age agreed, there must be something I can do to avoid being so clumsy, awkward and stuff. I tried to use best methods I could find to improve my goals and methods to gain those, using every single way I could find. I tried to improve on board game called "Go" to do that, I studied mathematics, read about game theory, and overall tried to gain perspective by learning about the world, and made effort to find suitable role models from fiction(Sherlock Holmes, House, Jedi knights, whatever). I tested myself against those whose beliefs I found stupid(creationists, ghost hunters and stuff), and tried to understand the nature of being wrong or right. To support that, I also read a lot about human psychology and overall epistemology and philosophy of consciousness. All uncoordinated and pretty ineffective, but then I found a website dedicated to "refine the art of human rationality".

So, the key event for me could maybe be posting this comment. I'm expecting a lot.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2009-09-15T02:53:19.688Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I was born in China, and moved to the US at the age of 10. My parents were both educated in Communist China and therefore atheists. I do not recall any anti-religious education in school, but do have a fairly vivid memory of watching a state-produced television program on the evils of 迷信 (superstition), which somehow left a deep impression.

After moving to the US, I remember watching Star Trek (reruns) as a teenager and admiring the Spock character. But I don't think I ever had a strong interest in learning how to be more rational, and instead just had an intellectual curiosity in topics that happen to be related to rationality, like economics, game theory, cooperation, the nature of probabilities and anthropic reasoning, the future, the Singularity, moral philosophy, etc., which led me to OvercomingBias and then LessWrong. Even now I think I'm driven more by a desire to satisfy my curiosities than to accomplish any larger goals.

I think my experience may be a counterexample to Something to Protect and Try Harder, but I don't really see how to generalize it.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-03-02T06:13:12.381Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Most of the math and explicit rationality came later, after I learned to program, but my first step down this path was probably when I was around six. I was suspicious of the whole idea of the tooth fairy, so one night after losing a tooth I did a little experiment: I put it under my pillow without telling anyone. The next morning, I showed my parents, and they actually came clean (obviously they couldn't keep things going with santa claus or anything else like that). I think I still kept a vague sort of religion for a few years after that, though.

comment by Strange7 · 2010-03-12T01:04:40.419Z · score: 20 (17 votes) · LW · GW

When I was in second grade, about seven years old, it was my turn to do a show-and-tell project, so I decided to bring a game I'd learned from a book that purported to be about geometry or math or something but seemed to mostly involve silly arguments between a talking turtle and a greek athlete. I assumed my fellow students would enjoy it, since the rules were relatively few and simple (compared to, say, spelling homework) and the victory conditions utterly unambiguous (compared to the bitter disputes of scoring in various playground activities). It seemed to relate to what we were learning, so the teacher might even approve further study.

I could hardly have been more wrong.

The rest of the class just stared blankly, and even the teacher didn't seem to get it. "But," she said, "You've got 'mu' right there at the start. Why don't you just cross out the rest?" I protested that such a move would be against the rules, but was unable to convey the underlying significance before show-and-tell time was determined to be over.

The book was Goedel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstader. I figured that if the teacher couldn't begin make sense of it, none of the other kids were interested, and even my dad was baffled by some parts, I would have to press on alone and figure it out myself.

Of course, I was way out of my depth, and there's still quite a bit about recursion, intelligence, axiomatic systems and so on that I'm not sure I've got a good handle on. It's that basic attitude, 'the only thing I know is that I want to know everything,' and some other stuff derived from it, that keeps me honest.

comment by Duke · 2010-08-12T06:58:03.098Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just so curious. I'm the most curious person I've ever met. I'm insatiable in my curiosity.

I think this had something to do with it.

comment by beriukay · 2010-08-12T15:47:15.192Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I can't really say what defining moments could be considered my rationalist origin story. However, I can speak of my brief foray into the world of woo, and how the first virtue both endangered me and gave me a savings throw.

Back in high school, I was on the tail end of being a theist, having grown quite bored with Confirmation Classes. I saw little value in memorizing the order of the books of the bible, and was desperate to hear something more than the half-dozen stories they told week after week. In those days, I also felt like a budding renaissance scientist, since I had an unquenchable thirst for science and had gotten quite good at guessing the teacher's password. I thought that was real knowledge at the time. Consequently, it wasn't a big leap to go from absorbing authoritative claims in Popular Science Magazine to reading about how the Grey Aliens are most certainly kidnapping defenseless farmers and experimenting on them. From reading biographies of Abe Lincoln or 60s books on black holes to reading about people's auras and ghost hauntings.

I quickly absorbed as much information about those mystical subjects as I had learned about science (we aren't talking quality of data, just number of bits), and it soon felt like I had a master's level grasp of the topics. And yet I could not see auras, just afterimages. I could not contact or gain any knowledge of ghosts. I imitated my mother's tarot reading with a deck of playing cards, and crucially, I noted all the claims that turned out false (almost all) along with the ones that turned out true (not many). Even when I guessed rightly in a seemingly spectacular way, it still just felt like guessing. And so my first step away from the brink of madness came as my curiosity drifted away from these now boring matters and back to science and mathematics, which were surprisingly good at holding surprises no matter how much I learned about them. One could say that my curiosity stopped being interested in curiosity stoppers.

I have since worried many times about how different my life might have been if I stayed in lala land, or if the pendulum reversed course and I went back to it. I now think that this concern is a waste of effort, since mysticism holds no mystery like reality does. Even if all that mystery is just map-territory confusion.

comment by mayonesa · 2010-08-18T20:55:53.228Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

When I was a child, I read the classics of literature and philosophy and quickly became a realist.

I don't say I'm a rationalist because rationalism implies a universal quality to human judgment, when empirical evidence convinces me no such thing exists.

Since then, I've left behind liberalism (pure emotion, defensiveness) and become a conservative realist, monarchist, conservationist and idealist (in the Kant/Schopenhauer sense).

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-09-10T12:50:43.193Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Monarchist? There's a rational justification for Monarchy? Tom Paine must be doing 1000rpm!

comment by ErikM · 2012-09-10T13:28:58.770Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Here's one: less jockeying for power. Monarchs don't need to pander to interest groups to get elected.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-09-10T13:44:25.782Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'll. say. They don't need to take anyone else's interests into account. It would take a rather special kind of mind to treat self-interest as admirable detachment.

comment by Peterdjones · 2012-09-10T16:17:37.014Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

"Despite their claims to be a Bibul-luvin' people, the Americans are causing baby Jesus to cry. They not only refuse to adopt a monarchic system of government, but rejected the divinely-appointed monarchy of George III. This is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 17:15, in which God tells His people, "Be sure to appoint a King over you."

Thus, any American Republican, Tea-Bagger, libertarian, or otherwise who claims to be a Christian, is a filthy liar. If they are true Christians, they should be campaigning to appoint a King of the United States. Anything else is a foul, anti-Christian heresy."

--RationalWiki

comment by Kindly · 2012-09-10T16:37:00.229Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What, seriously? That's on RationalWiki? And not, say, Uncyclopedia or something?

comment by CCC · 2012-09-10T19:12:02.893Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That passage dates to just over a year ago, well before Peterdjones' latest edits. See the relevant diff page for exact times.

Having looked at the userpage of the person who made the edits, I suspect that RationalWiki was trolled and no-one who would bother to edit that page has noticed yet.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-10T16:42:23.206Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Deut 17:15 says that when the Isrealites appoint a king, the king must be an Israelite. Further, he has to abide (abide!) by the Levitical law, he cannot (cannot!) amass a great fortune in money or horses, or generally set himself above those he rules.

That's actually a really cool passage, and as far as I know the oldest known statement of constitutional government.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-10T13:55:53.026Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Monarchs don't need to pander to interest groups to get elected.

Merely to keep their heads attached.

comment by UnholySmoke · 2010-08-19T14:59:53.034Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies for coming to this party a bit late. Particularly as I find my own answer really, really frustrating. While I wouldn't say it was an origin per se, getting into reading Overcoming Bias daily a few years back was what crystallised it for me. I'd find myself constantly somewhere between "well, yeah, of course" and "ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Guess the human brain doesn't tend to do Damascene revelations. We need overwhelming evidence, over a long period of time, to even begin chipping away at our craziest beliefs, and even then it's a step-by-step process.

The analogy I sometimes go over is something most people find fairly obvious like egalitarianism. You don't find many people who would attest to being pro-inequality. But all the same, you find very few people who have genuinely thought through what it means to be in favour of equality and really try to fit that into everyday life. The first step to becoming a rationalist is to admit how irrational everyone is without monumental efforts to the contrary.

BTW, I am totally on the road to de-Catholicising my mother. This is on the order of converting Dubya to Islam, so if I can manage that I'm awarding myself an honorary brown belt.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-13T22:45:32.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would be surprised if egalitarianism is a very good analogy. Politics is rarely a good example of anything.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-14T00:31:20.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I was going to make a quip about how converting Dubya to reactionary Islam isn't that hard: they have a lot in common, but that's a really offtopic slippery slope.

It has never occured to me to try and deislamize my parents. Or anyone else. I became a rationalist because of my innate character traits (especially curiosity and a healthy disrespect of authority), like almost everyone here, apparently. I have learned that some people just aren't suited for this mindset.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-30T23:42:58.624Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

WRT to de-Catholicising your mother: it has been rightly said that Catholicism is the most rational and consistent of all the religions. So, it would be a pity if you dissuaded her from Catholicism and inadvertently landed her in a less rational religion!

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T00:12:41.468Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

it has been rightly said that Catholicism is the most rational and consistent of all the religions.

What are you talking about? That's nonsense.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T01:02:50.587Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Catholicism has an interesting intellectual culture in that they do make a real effort to tie together the grab-bag of kooky beliefs that make up Catholicism with an apparently logical structure. From inside the Catholic culture they are even apparently successful, although from outside the Catholic culture it's immediately obvious that their "logical" arguments attempting to derive apostolic succession, papal infallibility, Mary being without sin, confession to an ordained member of the Catholic church being necessary to avoid eternal torture in a very specifically-imagined Hell and so on from Biblical texts are very weak.

It's almost but not quite analytic philosophy, in the same sort of way that a cargo cult almost but not quite emulates an airfield.

I don't agree with the grandparent. The versions of Buddhism that didn't allow supernatural accretions to build up around the philosophy of the (real or fictional) founder of Buddhism seem more rational and consistent to me than the self-contradcitory business of an all-loving, all-powerful God ritually sacrificing his son who is also himself so he could forgive humans for following the impulses he gave them and spare them from the eternal torture he would otherwise subject them to. However I can see how someone could say something like the grandparent and not be totally wrong. It's certainly the religion that has tried hardest to rationalise it's idiotic doctrines as far as I know.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T01:40:53.650Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the portion of your reply that was respectful!

What you may not appreciate is that some RC beliefs, while incredible to outsiders, nevertheless are logically inseparable from other beliefs that are shared with other Christians; once abandoned, other cracks form, and it all falls down, including parts which are widely accepted as true.

RC is, as you say, the religion which "tried hardest to rationalise" all its beliefs, depending on the absolute minimum of non-rational arguments (i.e., from sacred scripture or human authority). It does this with a vocabulary which, I admit, is extremely challenging to the uninitiated. (Aristotelian/Thomistic logic and hylemorphism.) Nonetheless, within that philosophical system, it is quite consistent. It's like picking up a book on string theory -- you ain't gonna "get it" on the first pass (nor the second pass, in all likelihood.)

(Sorta off-topic) I was not aware that people doubted the existence of the founder of Buddhism. If he did not exist, could a reasonable religion be attributed to him? :-)

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T03:27:01.201Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What you may not appreciate is that some RC beliefs, while incredible to outsiders, nevertheless are logically inseparable from other beliefs that are shared with other Christians; once abandoned, other cracks form, and it all falls down, including parts which are widely accepted as true.

Internal consistency is a virtue to be sure, although differences in degree of internal consistency between Christian sub-sects all of whose beliefs are based on multiple irrational and/or self-contradictory premises do not mean a great deal to me personally.

RC is, as you say, the religion which "tried hardest to rationalise" all its beliefs, depending on the absolute minimum of non-rational arguments (i.e., from sacred scripture or human authority). It does this with a vocabulary which, I admit, is extremely challenging to the uninitiated. (Aristotelian/Thomistic logic and hylemorphism.) Nonetheless, within that philosophical system, it is quite consistent. It's like picking up a book on string theory -- you ain't gonna "get it" on the first pass (nor the second pass, in all likelihood.)

As a philosopher I think that it's good intellectual exercise to get to grips with bad arguments like those the Catholic church use. However there's no truth in those arguments to "get", and there are other forms of intellectual exercise which might well be more beneficial for the general LW readership.

(Sorta off-topic) I was not aware that people doubted the existence of the founder of Buddhism. If he did not exist, could a reasonable religion be attributed to him? :-)

A religion could be the most rational and consistent of religions if its sole departure from reality was a fictional founder. Christianity, for example, has a fictional founder (the Biblical Jesus never existed according to the available evidence nor anyone substantially like him) but has lots of other departures from reality as well.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T04:13:08.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

the Biblical Jesus never existed according to the available evidence nor anyone substantially like him

What do you mean by this? Is there serious doubt that the Romans crucified someone named Jesus for religious sedition?


Since I was raised Jewish, I've got no emotional reason to think that Jesus was a divine figure or that the Gospels accurately describe the historical occurrences. Just curious about the consensus of historians.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-31T04:18:18.374Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also Jewish, and under the impression that "subversive itinerant preacher" was probably a fairly common thing in that historical period, as was "people crucified by the Roman empire".

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T14:18:08.469Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More detailed answer.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T04:26:21.764Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Christianity, for example, has a fictional founder (the Biblical Jesus never existed according to the available evidence nor anyone substantially like him)

Citation needed, or clarification what you mean by "anyone substantially like him". Because I'd be very surprised if there wasn't a real person named Jesus who was really crucified at the roots of the proto-Christian movement -- I'd probably assign less that 5% chance that Jesus was completely fictional. (though of course many other elements, like the birth at Bethlehem are almost certainly fictitious)

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T04:41:41.769Z · score: -8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

"Very surprised", indeed. The thousands of first-century Christian martyrs would be very surprised, too at this unfortunate news from our PhilosophyTutor.

FeatherlessBiped update: I withdraw the argument. As David_Gerard notes, it is not a real argument.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T04:52:58.406Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

However, people do memetically-wise genetically-foolish things (i.e. die for their beliefs) all the time and for lots of reasons. So the Christian martyrs are not strong evidence that biblical Jesus is true (whatever one means by "biblical Jesus is true").

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T05:14:02.196Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wikipedia has decent material answering your implied question in parentheses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_myth_theory

See also the related articles. Cheers!

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T05:22:24.565Z · score: -7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

My experience with Homo Sapiens (from reading about repressive regimes) is that they will say anything to keep from being killed.

If somebody holds a gun to your head and says, "all you have to say is 'I just made up this little story about my invisible friend, Joe Bob', and I will set you free", what are you gonna say? If you'd made it up, why not admit it, and go free?

This was the situation the apostles and other 1st century martyrs faced during the persecutions. Yet they all went to their deaths. That doesn't impress you?

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T05:29:50.000Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

That may be what the majority does, but history is filled with people willing to die for their beliefs. From the Maccabees against Assyrian Greeks to Falun Gong against modern China, martyrdom is not all that historically unusual. And the beliefs supporting martyrdom are so blatantly contradictory that they can't all be right.

Moreover, martyrdom is not particularly Christian. For example, Rabbi Akiva was a great Jewish martyr.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T06:52:16.962Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yet they all went to their deaths. That doesn't impress you?

Not particularly.

comment by Kevin · 2011-12-31T07:16:14.003Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're overestimating the degree to which 1st century martyrs were killed for religious reasons and not more generic treasonous revolutionary talk or anti-statism.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T13:27:51.642Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This argument is fallacious and does not address historicity in any way. People throughout history have, in fact, died for beliefs which turned out to be false, deceptive, or poorly understood; such as suicide bombers being rewarded with virgins. Just because these men so firmly believed that their beliefs were true that they were willing to die for them does not give their beliefs any credibility. Here is an extensive list of refutations to this terrible argument.

Even this is making the generous assumption that the martyrs in question even existed. Some martyr-stories are known to be completely fabricated; the hagiography of St. Catherine of Alexandria, for example, is a partial rip-off of the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, the pagan philosopher who was skinned to death with tiles (by Christians!).

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-31T16:25:48.761Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The apostles choosing death over renouncing Jesus is a popular meme, but we don't actually have a historical basis for supposing that it happened.

As Richard Carrier notes, of the little evidence we have for early Christian martyrdom, none of it was as a choice between recanting a belief in Jesus and dying. They were simply killed on trumped up legal charges from which recanting would not have saved them.

Certainly there have been people who have chosen to die rather than recant their beliefs, in plenty of different religions. It wouldn't even be particularly strange if early Christians did so, and it's certainly possible that it happened, although it would not be significant as evidence for Christianity, for reasons that others have already addressed. But it appears that all our stories of this actually happening to any of the apostles were simply made up somewhere along the line by people who were in no position to know.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T05:19:05.652Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Citation needed, or clarification what you mean by "anyone substantially like him". Because I'd be very surprised if there wasn't a real person named Jesus who was really crucified at the roots of the proto-Christian movement -- I'd probably assign less that 5% chance that Jesus was completely fictional. (though of course many other elements, like the birth at Bethlehem are almost certainly fictitious)

There is absolutely no direct evidence that dates from the time Jesus supposedly lived that any such religious leader was born, lived or died except for one contemporary reference to a rabbi called Jesus with a brother called James. Given that Jesus was not supposed to be a rabbi, and that both Jesus and James were common names from the time, and that Jesus had several other brothers and sisters who were also named in the Bible multiplying the possibilities for a false positive substantially, this is very weak evidence.

Given that Jesus was supposedly a very noteworthy figure who died in a noteworthy way founding a major religion, the total absence of any historical record of him or anyone substantially resembling him would be very surprising if he was real.

Given that lack of evidence the most parsimonious explanation is just that Jesus is fictional. An alternative, unfalsifiable hypothesis is that someone existed who played a causal role in the founding of Christianity but that they were so boring they left no trace in history and hence bore very little resemblance to the figure described in the Bible.

"Very surprised", indeed. The thousands of first-century Christian martyrs would be very surprised, too at this unfortunate news from our PhilosophyTutor.

Not just the first century ones, I would say, but this is not evidence.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T05:38:55.402Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Given that Jesus was supposedly a very noteworthy figure who died in a noteworthy way founding a major religion, the total absence of any historical record of him or anyone substantially resembling him would be very surprising if he was real."

What would you accept as evidence? Seriously.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T06:03:36.258Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What would you accept as evidence? Seriously.

Documentary evidence that dates from the time of Jesus' supposed life and death, which describes a religious leader called Jesus who started a splinter sect of Judaism would do it.

I wouldn't be in any way upset if such evidence emerged tomorrow, but I think it's very unlikely. Pious researchers have been looking very hard for a very long time for even a shred of contemporary evidence for a historical Jesus that isn't forged, and they've come up with nothing so far. When people have looked long and hard for evidence and found none the probability that there is no evidence to find gets very high.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T12:55:05.911Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Documentary evidence that dates from the time of Jesus' supposed life and death, which describes a religious leader called Jesus who started a splinter sect of Judaism would do it.

What documentary evidence for any other religious leaders that started other splinter sects of Judaism at the time do you have?

If you don't have any direct evidence for any specific one of those leaders, does that mean there didn't exist any such splinter sects at the time?

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T20:24:01.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you. This is a concise representation of the general objection I was going to make. Finding evidence of ANYTHING in that era that meets modern standards is often very difficult, if not impossible. Nearly all history from that era can be, and is, challenged.

I have yet to see a statement from PhilosophyTutor justifying his choice for a standard of evidence on this question.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T13:12:36.140Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There were quite a few troublemaking preachers who fell afoul of the law in Judaea at the time, many of whom were called Jesus - it was a very common name at the time.

However, one of the big problems with assuming one of these fellows (or another we have no documentation of) was the human seed for Christianity is the early Christian tradition of docetism - that Christ had no corporeal existence at all, and was just an idea. Paul of Tarsus certainly seems to think along these lines, despite the later caution against said notion in John.

This also helps explain the curious lack of non-Biblical evidence for such a person, in histories where one would expect it.

It is often noted by apologists that scholars think there's enough evidence to say there was a human seed for Christianity. However, "scholar" in this context is a weasel word - most are Christians and theologians, who would have tremendous trouble (personal and professional) coming to the opposite conclusion at all. The epistemological standards accepted in Biblical history in particular are generally bloody awful and an embarrassment to other ancient historians.

For a pile of stuff on this issue I recommend the RationalWiki article, which I have worked extensively on. (One of the other main contributors just so happens to be an atheist who was a student of Biblical history.)

(I find this stuff fascinating, if only for the psychopathology. And, as such strident atheists as Mencken, Dawkins and Hitchens have noted, you can't be highly literate in English without knowing the KJV, much as you need to know Shakespeare and Greek mythology. The trouble is that ... well, it's like you wanted to study the Odyssey or the Iliad but the only people to learn from were people who (a) actually believed in all the gods named therein (b) really wanted you to as well.)

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T18:01:58.315Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That stuff is very interesting. Your point about motivate teachers is fruitful. I'm adjusting my belief that there was a Jesus. That said, I learned of the historical Jesus thesis from my Rabbi, who I don't think had a motivation to be pro-Jesus. And he didn't sugarcoat religion with me (he introduced me to such anti-religious ideas like the problem of evil and the problem of miracles).

That said, I can't give very much weight to docetism, (or Gnosticism generally) because they lost the ideological/theological battle. (Wikipedia is quite coy, saying that "some Christians" think it's heretical. The Nicene Creed is a flat-out rejection of docetism, so I think it's safe to say most Christians reject it).

And generally, I don't expect much historical evidence of Jesus, because he wasn't that important in his lifetime. As ArisKatsaris says

There exist only two non-biblical pieces of evidence for the existence of Pontius Pilate -- and he was the damn Prefect of Judaea for Cthulhu's sake. How much "direct evidence" do you expect for a rather Jewish-cult-leader, one of possibly dozen such groups the time?

In other words, the assertion in Mark that Jesus was followed around by scribes is a pious lie that can easily be explained without asserting that Jesus never existed.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-31T18:32:19.756Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That docetism lost out isn't really the key point.

Consider the general case: there's some property P that is observable (for example, having a physical body). At time T, there's no agreement that I have P. At time T+ 200 years, there's agreement that I had P at T.

It seems to me that the lack of agreement about P at T is important evidence here, regardless of what agreement other people come to about P at (T+200).

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T21:19:13.300Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The people arguing not-P are theological mystics, who have substantial reason to assert not-P despite any observation, That is, a substantial amount of the motivation for asserting not-P can be explained without reference to observation.

I'm on shakier ground on the specific contents of the theological position, but Wikipedia leaves the impression was that the dispute was not about what was observed, but what was actually there. It seems consistent with docetism that Pilate believed there was a seditious preacher named Jesus, who he ordered crucified. Docetism just says that the image Pilate saw was an illusion, not a man (or even matter).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-31T21:22:58.358Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah! I hadn't realized that. Yeah, if the docetics were making the same claims about the observable world, then my argument above is irrelevant.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T21:37:10.182Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ah! I hadn't realized that. Yeah, if the docetics were making the same claims about the observable world, then my argument above is irrelevant.

Not quite. It's not irrelevant, it just becomes an argument in favor of historical Jesus, rather than against it.

If a lack of agreement among early Christian about the observable world was relevant as evidence AGAINST the existence of a historical Jesus, then by Law of Probability, agreement about it must constitute evidence in its favour.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-31T21:57:09.140Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure. Needn't be anywhere near that complicated, though.... the existence of people who believe in the existence of a historical Jesus is evidence of a historical Jesus, albeit not particularly strong evidence. If it weren't for those people, we wouldn't even be talking about it, any more than we're talking about a historical Clark Kent.

comment by soreff · 2011-12-31T22:46:34.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

any more than we're talking about a historical Clark Kent.

alternatively...:-)

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T20:22:33.419Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We have pretty good records of letters from Paul from the second half of the first century (as well as a bunch of frauds, but AFAIK there are several that stand up under analysis as being written by the same person at a very early date), who (in several of those letters) was adamant that his sect believed in an individual Christ in the flesh. So if the legend of the historical Jesus sprang from whole cloth, it did so pretty quickly- not to mention the synoptic gospels, which the most skeptical of scholars still date to around 100 AD.

More generally, I'd caution fellow atheists against getting drawn into the existence-of-Jesus debate in meatspace: unless you've done a lot of relevant study (and why on earth would you?) you won't be able to point to basic evidence that your interlocutor has heard of, only to the statements of experts that they won't trust. Better to say "Well, I'm not sure there's enough evidence even to conclude that there was a historical Jesus- but even granting that there was, and that there came to be a group of followers convinced of his divinity, that's still nowhere near the kind of evidence to make Christianity a viable hypothesis, compared to the hypothesis that it was just a rabidly successful example of what happens within cults." That's a much better place to draw up battle lines, IMO.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-07T20:31:53.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The overarching problem you outline in your second paragraph - the more general problem, faced in many fields, of having to compress a degree into a few sentences to properly answer an objection - is sadly well known. This is why the RationalWiki article (which is still patchy as heck) is a sea of nuance and caveats - it attempts to get it right in less than a book for an audience who are frequently just realising that there's actually historical thought on this matter (and look how that line of inquiry worked out for Lukeprog!). I'm very much looking forward to Richard Carrier's book on the historicity of Jesus later this year. (And not just so I can crib furiously from it.)

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2012-01-08T06:12:17.547Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(Restricting myself to two quibbles, for the sake of time):

I believe your description of Docetism gives the wrong idea; Docetism (as I learned it) did not say that Jesus was not there at all, but rather merely asserted that his corporeality was an illusion. The Docetists did not think of Jesus as "only an idea", but as somebody who staged a form of divine theater, as it were. (Research "Christological Heresies" for more on Docetism and its cousins.)

Quibble #2: not all biblical scholarship is as bad as you say -- much of it is quite rigorous and would be right at home in a secular university anthropology department.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-12-31T10:06:26.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

An alternative, unfalsifiable hypothesis is that someone existed who played a causal role in the founding of Christianity but that they were so boring they left no trace in history and hence bore very little resemblance to the figure described in the Bible.

Someone -- many people -- played a causal role in the founding of Christianity, since Christianity was, in fact, founded [1]. Does modern scholarship have anything to say about what did happen to start Christianity?

[1] I have just thought up an imaginary Christian heresy that claims that Christianity was in fact never founded at all. God planted it as an already well-developed sapling some time in the late 1st or early 2nd century "AD", giving everyone involved false memories of how it had started. That's why there's no historical evidence from Jesus' lifetime.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T13:37:09.166Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Paul of Tarsus is assumed to have existed. The only evidence for him is his works in the Bible - seven written by the same author, a few more by this author with others' text mixed in, a few clearly not written by this author - but this is evidence that one person, who called himself Paul, wrote these things. I suppose it's possible he was an entirely fictional construct, but scholars tend to go with "dude wrote this stuff." Much like Socrates (and unlike Jesus), his existence is secondary to his body of work.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T12:52:40.330Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

There is absolutely no direct evidence that dates from the time Jesus supposedly lived that any such religious leader was born,

There exist only two non-biblical pieces of evidence for the existence of Pontius Pilate -- and he was the damn Prefect of Judaea for Cthulhu's sake. How much "direct evidence" do you expect for a rather Jewish-cult-leader, one of possibly dozen such groups the time?

Given that Jesus was supposedly a very noteworthy figure who died in a noteworthy way founding a major religion,

So is it just his noteworthiness that you doubt, not his existence?

Given that lack of evidence the most parsimonious explanation is just that Jesus is fictional.

No, that's a completely unbelievable explanation. If he was fictional he'd not have been of Nazareth with a circuitous reasoning about why he was also of Bethlehem -- he'd have been directly of Bethlehem. His name wouldn't have been Jesus with a completely circuitous explanation about why "Emmanuel" also counts as his name, his name would have been directly Emmanuel.

Nor do I know of any fictional characters that are so deliberately placed recent history and yet their existence is believed by their contemporaries as real. If the Christian movement had began in the 1st century, and yet its founder placed as having lived in 3rd century BC, that explanation might make sense. But he was placed as a contemporary, and expected to be believed to be real. You don't do that with fictional founders of your order.

Jesus was a real historical figure. His being fictional just doesn't make sense -- same way that Mohammed being fictional doesn't make sense -- or do you also believe Mohammed fictional?

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T13:35:22.543Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Jesus was a real historical figure. His being fictional just doesn't make sense -- same way that Mohammed being fictional doesn't make sense -- or do you also believe Mohammed fictional?

"There is more evidence for Jesus than X" turns out not to be such a good argument either.

And there is serious historical thought that Mohammed, too, was fictional. The Wikipedia article maps out the scanty evidence.

The real problem with either question is the excessive interest in getting the "right" answer. If e.g. Socrates turned out to be a fictional character invented by Plato, philosophy wouldn't care. If Gautama Buddha turned out to be fictional, Buddhism wouldn't care. But Jesus or Mohammed existing or not is a REALLY BIG DEAL, and we really don't have a great deal of evidence in either case. Considerably less for Jesus, and a lack of evidence where it would have been expected had he existed.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T14:51:21.694Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

And there is serious historical thought that Mohammed, too, was fictional

Yeah, that's a ludicrous idea too. Some people seem to think that "fictional" is the null-hypothesis, to be believed by default unless there's an extraordinary amount of evidence to the contrary. This is nonsense: Fictional characters of historical influence aren't more common than real people of historical influence.

This is bias at its most obvious.

If you believe that someone made a fictional character up, and then he made thousands of near-contemporaries believe in his existence, that's a rather extraordinary hypothesis, which has a very low prior given that nobody else seems to have ever managed this feat ever.

Muhammed existed. Jesus of Nazareth existed. The evidence are overwhelmingly in their favour -- including the various bits of inelegancies and clumsinesses in their life-stories that only real-life people display, not fictional characters constructed at their time-period. And there's not a single piece of evidence that someone authored them as fictional characters.

The real problem with either question is the excessive interest in getting the "right" answer.

Right in quotes? Are we now pretending that truth has a subjective value now? This is about being less wrong, and people that assume "fiction" to be the default hypothesis, and that discount religious texts as evidence just because they are religious texts, they are more wrong than other people.

If e.g. Socrates turned out to be a fictional character invented by Plato, philosophy wouldn't care.

Socrates existed too.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T16:49:08.004Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, that's a completely unbelievable explanation. If he was fictional he'd not have been of Nazareth with a circuitous reasoning about why he was also of Bethlehem -- he'd have been directly of Bethlehem. His name wouldn't have been Jesus with a completely circuitous explanation about why "Emmanuel" also counts as his name, his name would have been directly Emmanuel.

These all seem to me to be false dichotomies, which assume that it's impossible either for a single creator to have embroidered their story as they went along, or for multiple creators or editors to have changed the story at different points in time.

Nor do I know of any fictional characters that are so deliberately placed recent history and yet their existence is believed by their contemporaries as real. If the Christian movement had began in the 1st century, and yet its founder placed as having lived in 3rd century BC, that explanation might make sense. But he was placed as a contemporary, and expected to be believed to be real. You don't do that with fictional founders of your order.

As long as it's far enough away in time and space that your claims can't be checked, what difference does it make? This seems to me like a post hoc justification for believing the Bible story, not an argument that anyone would have come up with if they didn't have a pet hypothesis to defend.

Also we don't have any evidence that Jesus' contemporaries believed he was real. The reports of people believing Jesus was real come from long after Jesus supposedly died.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-31T17:07:34.763Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

These all seem to me to be false dichotomies, which assume that it's impossible either for a single creator to have embroidered their story as they went along, or for multiple creators or editors to have changed the story at different points in time.

According to the messianic prophesies (of which Jesus fulfilled practically none even according to generous interpretations) the messiah was supposed to be born in the land of David, which was Bethlehem. Being from somewhere else was inconvenient for a prospective messiah, so his followers had an incentive to claim that he was from there even if he really wasn't. The hypothesis of a real cult leader whose followers wanted to believe he was the messiah predicts the nonsensical census story better than the hypothesis of an imaginary figure who was invented to be a messiah; much simpler and more convenient to simply say that his family was from Bethlehem.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T17:17:26.765Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also we don't have any evidence that Jesus' contemporaries believed he was real. The reports of people believing Jesus was real come from long after Jesus supposedly died.

And considerable evidence of belief in the first century that Jesus was not corporeal, but an ideal (docetism). This was a major point of theological contention. The notion of a human Jesus did not achieve popularity until well into the second century.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-01T11:05:58.335Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Even "docetics" seem to have believed he was really seen by people and really seen to be crucified. They didn't argue he was fictional.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T17:25:46.614Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nor do I know of any fictional characters that are so deliberately placed recent history and yet their existence is believed by their contemporaries as real.

How about Huangdi?

"Throughout most of Chinese history, the Yellow Emperor and the other ancient sages were considered to be real historical figures. Their historicity started to be questioned in the 1920s by historians like Gu Jiegang, one of the founders of the Doubting Antiquity School in China. In their attempts to prove that the earliest figures of Chinese history were mythological, Gu and his followers argued that these ancient sages were originally gods who were later depicted as humans by the rationalist intellectuals of the Warring States period. Yang Kuan (楊寬), a member of the same historiographical current, noted that only in the late Warring States had the Yellow Emperor started to be described as the first ruler of China. Yang thus argued that Huangdi was a late transformation of Shangdi, the supreme god of the Shang pantheon.

[snip]

Most scholars now agree that the Yellow Emperor was originally a deity who was later transformed into a human figure."

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T21:05:18.593Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I said placed in recent history, and contemporaries. The Yellow Emperor seems to have been placed millenia in the past, compared to when belief in him existed.

The proper comparison of the Yellow Emperor would be someone like Noah or Enoch - someone placed many centuries or even millenia in the past of when he was known to be believed in -- and I certainly would consider Noah and Enoch to be most likely fictions, never to have been based on real people at all.

Jesus is a different sort of fish altogether.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-31T22:14:33.150Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hm. Good point. I'm unwilling to give up the search quite yet, however, because I feel the boundary between myth and reality is so fragile in the past that an example like what you're looking for must surely exist.

One gets a bit closer with Cú Chulainn and some other figures from the Ulster Cycle; the gap there is merely seven or eight centuries instead of two millennia.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-01-10T18:47:30.011Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Seven or eight centuries is an awfully long time in a culture that doesn't keep good records.

I remember reading with some surprise a transcription of some tribal history of a group of Plains Indians, which ended with the assertion that their forefathers had been so living there for "at least seven generations, perhaps more." In reality, it had been much, much longer, they simply hadn't been keeping track.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-01-10T19:15:07.605Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If that's an accurate quote from the Plains Indians, it's much to their credit-- they weren't making claims wildly beyond their knowledge.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T23:00:56.738Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Jesus is a different sort of fish altogether.

So, Jesus is the kind of fish that exists only as a symbol of Christian group identity? ;)

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-01-07T19:47:18.767Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Philip K. Dick would have a lot to say on this.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-01-07T23:31:09.697Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Philip K. Dick would have a lot to say on this.

About the casual use of double entendre? I bet he does.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T21:24:09.346Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

These all seem to me to be false dichotomies, which assume that it's impossible either for a single creator to have embroidered their story as they went along, or for multiple creators or editors to have changed the story at different points in time.

You know there's no impossibility -- that's why I said "I assign less than 5% probability", I didn't say "I assign 0% probability". I'm talking about the probabilities of each scenario. Conditional and prior.

If you considered that, and you didn't treat "completely fictional" as the default, needing extraordinary evidence to decide against it, but having hardly any evidence in its favour, I think you'd reach the same conclusion as I

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-01T05:06:54.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You know there's no impossibility -- that's why I said "I assign less than 5% probability", I didn't say "I assign 0% probability". I'm talking about the probabilities of each scenario. Conditional and prior.

In that case substitute "highly improbable" for "impossible" in the grandparent and exactly the same argument still goes through. Why is it improbable for a cult leader to make up a story, and then later decide that they need to embroider the story further to reconcile it with some existing myths? It seems to me your argument-form also fits the following argument: "If Jesus was fictional then the Bible would say he was born at Christmas, but since it doesn't say Jesus was born at Christmas this is evidence he was real".

I just don't see why it's in any way improbable that one bunch of people made up the Jesus myth, then another bunch of people made an editorial decision of convenience that Jesus was "the reason for the season". In the same way I see absolutely nothing improbable about one person making up Jesus the Nazarene preacher, and then the same person or someone else later saying "Oh and by the way, he also fulfilled all these different prophecies in convoluted ways".

If you considered that, and you didn't treat "completely fictional" as the default, needing extraordinary evidence to decide against it, but having hardly any evidence in its favour, I think you'd reach the same conclusion as I.

The idea that "completely fictional" is the default position is a straw man argument. I lean towards the completely fictional interpretation because of the total lack of supporting documentary evidence, which I would find very surprising if he had existed given the enormous effort that has been dedicated to finding such evidence.

As others have pointed out, Jesus wasn't even an uncommon name and itinerant preachers weren't even an uncommon phenomenon. Yet we don't even have a decent bit of documentary evidence that could be a false positive. The prior probability that Jesus had some kind of factual basis is not incredibly low, but it's very low after we've conducted a major search for such evidence and come up empty.

Similarly the reason we are very sure that vaccines don't cause autism is that the hypothesis has been studied exhaustively and absolutely no sign of causation has been found. It's not that "vaccines are harmless" is the default position, it's that evidence for the non-default position has been searched for at great length and no such evidence has been found.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-01T11:02:34.200Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As others have pointed out, Jesus wasn't even an uncommon name

For real or for fictional people?

and itinerant preachers weren't even an uncommon phenomenon.

Doesn't that mean you should increase the estimation of the prior you have for him being real? You seem to be using it in the opposite direction.

What's the average amount of documentary evidence that an average real such itinerant preacher leave behind, so that we compare it with the amount of documentary evidence that Jesus left behind?

Unless Jesus left behind less "documentary evidence" than the average iterenant preacher, that's not argument against his existence.

Why is it improbable for a cult leader to make up a story, and then later decide that they need to embroider the story further to reconcile it with some existing myths?

What is unbelievable is that he wouldn't have made a better messianic story in the first place.

I see what kind of stories cult leaders make, and the Jesus story doesn't fit in with them, not at all. Cult leaders seem to make stories of visions they had, like Paul did, or they make stories of people hundreds and thousands of years in the past, like Ron Hubbard did. Or both of the above, like Joseph Smith did.

But mostly those stories fit in with a specific message they want to impart.

The Jesus story makes sense only as the embroidered/enhanced story of an actual person; which has a basic outline (basically the fact of his crucifixion) that's unchangeable because it's known among the core believers; but no coherent singular message. So sometimes it's about forgiveness and sometimes it's about faith, and sometimes it's about patience until God's wrath smites the wicked. So they widely differ on interpretation but not on core events -- everyone agrees that he was called "Jesus of Nazareth", everyone agrees he got crucified during the rule of Pontius Pilate. Everyone agrees he had disciples and a living mother when he died. But nobody's quite sure what it all meant, and everyone's a bit uncomfortable with all the ways some parts of his story don't make sense, and then some completely fictional elements are added.

The idea that "completely fictional" is the default position is a straw man argument. I lean towards the completely fictional interpretation because of the total lack of supporting documentary evidence

That's what making it the default position means, no? Because lack of enough evidence (according to you) that he was real, you treat his fictionality as a default position, even though you don't have any evidence in favour of it -- no evidence in favour of the existence of that supposed "cult leader" who authored him; and yet somehow was completely unknown to history.

Who authored Jesus? With what purpose? Why didn't Jesus life have a more coherent message than it did, if he so authored it?

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-01T11:23:12.522Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's what making it the default position means, no? Because lack of enough evidence (according to you) that he was real, you treat his fictionality as a default position, even though you don't have any evidence in favour of it -- no evidence in favour of the existence of that supposed "cult leader" who authored him; and yet somehow was completely unknown to history.

Perhaps you can explain where your reasoning differs from mine using the vaccination/autism example? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but absence of evidence after a search that should have found evidence if there was any evidence to be found is evidence of absence.

I don't have a default position that there is nobody on the footpath outside my house. However if I look outside at the footpath and I can see that there is nobody there, then that is strong evidence in favour of the hypothesis that there is nobody there.

Regarding your other arguments, I do not find the argument that the Jesus story is exceptional because it has elements X, Y, Z etc. not found in other messianic stories persuasive because it is a highly general argument. You can always find something in your favourite story which is not in other commonly-known stories and claim that this is evidence your story is exceptional.

The fact that some elements of the story are relatively constant is not persuasive evidence of a unitary historical founder either, any more than the fact that the basic story of King Arthur or Batman stays the same despite many reinterpretations is evidence that there must have been a real person behind those myths.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-01T14:19:38.284Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps you can explain where your reasoning differs from mine using the vaccination/autism example?

I don't have sufficient knowledge of medicine to have a discussion about vaccination and autism. Either way, it's also an irrelevant discussion.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

Of course it is. But it has be weighed accordingly.

but absence of evidence after a search that should have found evidence if there was any evidence to be found is evidence of absence.

You've not given me any reason that it "should have found evidence". I've asked you how much documentary evidence the average itinerant preacher left behind. Even ones that were relatively well-known at their time. How can you say that Jesus should have left documentary evidence, when you don't know if other itinerant preachers left "documentary evidence"?

I don't have a default position that there is nobody on the footpath outside my house.

I have. It's the default position because most moments there's nobody on the footpath outside my house. The prior for it is higher therefore.

What was the more common occurrence though in the 1st century AD: real itinerant preachers, or stories about fictional itinerant preachers who were nonetheless believed to be real? Where are the evidence that such fictional stories existed?

Answer: the former. Thus the default hypothesis should be that Jesus was a real itinerant preacher -- because the prior for that is significantly higher.

Regarding your other arguments, I do not find the argument that the Jesus story is exceptional because it has elements X, Y, Z etc. not found in other messianic stories persuasive because it is a highly general argument. You can always find something in your favourite story which is not in other commonly-known stories and claim that this is evidence your story is exceptional.

You're disregarding everything I say. I'm not saying anything is exceptional in the Jesus story. It's not any more exceptional than the Mohammed story, or the Joseph Smith story. It seems to me a very ordinary story if it's based on an actual human being, an actual preacher/faith healer/etc.

It'd be an extraordinary story if it was completely fictional, because other than some specific fictional elements ( the humble, danger-filled but also miracle-filled birth -- following the mold of Moses/Perseus, etc -- the deification/glorification after death ) it doesn't follow the mold of such stories at all.

The fact that some elements of the story are relatively constant is not persuasive evidence of a unitary historical founder either, any more than the fact that the basic story of King Arthur or Batman stays the same despite many reinterpretations is evidence that there must have been a real person behind those myths.

Actually the story of Arthur has significantly changed, between the original welsh tradition and the time he was enhanced to King of the Bretons by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

But more importantly, in those stories the most crucial elements remain the same. Batman fights against criminals dressed as a giant bat, motivated by the death of his parents. Robin Hood leads a band of merry men, steals from the rich, and sometimes gives to the poor. Hercules was a monster-slaying son of Zeus with enormous strength. The core of the story is summarized in the relevant elements.

Also the prior of successful costumed superheroes being fictional is much higher than them being real.

In the Jesus story the most non-meaningful elements remain the same, but the ones that would be most widely known: e.g. he was of Nazareth. The public crucifixion. There's no inherent meaning or moral in that -- not nearly as obvious a meaning as "The Heavens themselves proclaimed the significance of his birth by having a new star appear in the heavens above him" -- whose analogies we see in the semi-deification of the Kims in North Korea. But because the crucifixion was a public event, it had to be present in every story and be given meaning it did not inherently possess.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-02T01:33:38.357Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You've not given me any reason that it "should have found evidence". I've asked you how much documentary evidence the average itinerant preacher left behind. Even ones that were relatively well-known at their time. How can you say that Jesus should have left documentary evidence, when you don't know if other itinerant preachers left "documentary evidence"?

If the historical Jesus was an "average itinerant preacher" then he isn't the Biblical Jesus in any meaningful sense. The widely-believed story is that Jesus was notable and politically significant in his own lifetime, founded Christianity in his own lifetime in the form of a number of followers who knew him personally and knew he was real, and that modern Christianity is a linear descendant of that original group.

There's simply no evidence of any such person or any such group of personal followers. That seems to me far more consistent with Jesus being made up out of whole cloth after his purported life and death.

You're disregarding everything I say. I'm not saying anything is exceptional in the Jesus story.

In my terms you are saying that. You have said twice now that you find the Jesus story plausible because it has elements that you think would make it exceptional amongst made-up stories of miracle-working messiahs. My point is that you could use the exact same argument for any such story just by picking out the story elements which are unique to whichever story you wish to privilege.

As for the comparison with Batman, Robin Hood and so forth it seems to me that your division of story elements into "meaningful"/"core"/"crucial" and not-meaningful/core/crucial is post hoc. To the Christians of, say, 80AD it might well have been that Jesus being crucified and being from Nazareth were just as much a part of his story as murdered parents and a bat suit are to Batman. My recollection was that crucifixion imagery was a regular motif in Christian thought by the second century at the latest, so it became an important part of the story very quickly.

I think a lot of Christians uncritically buy an implicit argument that goes like this: The Christ story got increasingly ridiculous over time, as demonstrated by the increasingly silly things in the later Gospels. Therefore if you draw a line back through the graph of ridiculousness over time you'll eventually get to the origin point which will be a real story with zero ridiculousness. The problem is that the origin point could equally well have been a fictional story with a low level of ridiculousness, and given the total lack of evidence from Jesus' time that he or his followers existed that seems more likely to me.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-02T03:26:27.344Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If the historical Jesus was an "average itinerant preacher" then he isn't the Biblical Jesus in any meaningful sense.

If there was a real guy called Jesus of Nazareth around the early 1st century, who was crucified during Pontius Pilate, and his disciples and followers that formed the core of the religious movement later called Christianity, to argue that Jesus was nonetheless "completely fictional" becomes a mere twisting of words that miscommunicates its intent.

At this point no matter how much evidence appear for a historical Jesus, you can argue that he's fictional because he doesn't match well enough the story of the Bible. Well, yeah, ofcourse he won't match up well enough the story of the Bible, because the story of the bible is filled with lies and embellishments. But at the bottomline either one or more people sat down and thought "We'll make up a character called Jesus of Nazareth, and have him preach to people and get executed by crucifixion by the Romans", or there was a real Jesus of Nazareth who preached to people and got executed by crucifixion by the Romans.

As for the comparison with Batman, Robin Hood and so forth it seems to me that your division of story elements into "meaningful"/"core"/"crucial" and not-meaningful/core/crucial is post hoc. | Well they're not.

To the Christians of, say, 80AD it might well have been that Jesus being crucified and being from Nazareth were just as much a part of his story as murdered parents and a bat suit are to Batman.

I'm getting tired, and this is becoming ludicrous. You're not telling me why these things were important, if they weren't real. Why would someone create such horrible ill-fitting to prophecy elements as the name "Jesus" and the location "Nazareth", when it was the name "Emmanuel" and the location "Bethlehem" that were the significant ones? What is the meaning of the crucifixion? Christian still don't agree on this, only saying that it is for some reason part of the divine plan, but they don't have a reason on why.

Why? Why? Why? If you can't answer that, then the simplest explanation is that the name "Jesus of Nazareth" and the crucifixion were not elements that were authored, they were elements they were stuck with, because they were real

I think a lot of Christians uncritically

I'm not a Christian, I'm an atheist. That doesn't mean I have to ignore what the evidence tells me.

And Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure. So was Mohammed. And Socrates too. That's what the evidence tell us.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-02T04:24:49.185Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If there was a real guy called Jesus of Nazareth around the early 1st century, who was crucified during Pontius Pilate, and his disciples and followers that formed the core of the religious movement later called Christianity, to argue that Jesus was nonetheless "completely fictional" becomes a mere twisting of words that miscommunicates its intent.

Isn't that just what I said? I contrasted such a Jesus-figure with one who did not do those things, and said that the Jesus-figure you describe would count as a historical Jesus and one that did not do those things would not.

At this point no matter how much evidence appear for a historical Jesus, you can argue that he's fictional because he doesn't match well enough the story of the Bible.

When I start doing that then you can legitimately criticise me for it. Until then you are blaming me for something I haven't done yet.

I'm getting tired, and this is becoming ludicrous. You're not telling me why these things were important, if they weren't real.

There could be many reasons, but the most obvious possibility is that Paul (or whoever) made up a story with those elements, and those who came afterwards had to work within that framework to maintain suspension of disbelief. If you've been proclaiming on street corners for years that you are followers of "Jesus of Nazareth" it could well be hard to suddenly rebrand yourself as followers of "Jesus of Bethlehem" when you figured out you'd have broader appeal if you claimed your messiah was the foretold Jewish messiah. They might wish with hindsight that they'd said he'd been born somewhere else to different parents with a different name, but you can't change your whole brand identity overnight. That doesn't mean the story is true, it just means that the person who made it up didn't perfectly foresee the later opportunities to piggyback on other myths.

If you think about it, the argument that they must have had to keep those elements because they were real doesn't actually make any sense. From the late first century onwards neither the people making up the Christian mythology nor their audience would have had any means to check whether those elements were factual or not. There would have been constraints on their ability to change their story, but historicity would not have been one of those constraints.

I'm not a Christian, I'm an atheist. That doesn't mean I have to ignore what the evidence tells me.

I'm still not clear why you assume the zero point of the graph is a real story, as opposed to a made-up story. The fact that they changed it later isn't evidence it's real, just evidence that you can't turn a cult on a dime.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-01-03T02:05:34.469Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't that just what I said? I contrasted such a Jesus-figure with one who did not do those things, and said that the Jesus-figure you describe would count as a historical Jesus and one that did not do those things would not.

I don't understand. My version just has four elements: being an itinerant preacher, being called "Jesus of Nazareth", being crucified by the Romans, and having his followers begin the Christian movement.

You already conceded there were many itinerant preacher, so that's nothing special that we'd expect documentary evidence about for any specific one of them. You already conceded that the name "Jesus" was commonplace, so there's nothing special about that either. We know as a matter of historical fact that the the Christian movement thought themselves as followers of Jesus of Nazareth. That' s indisputable. So the only thing that's so extraordinary that you expect "documentary evidence" for you to you believe it happened, was that there was a crucifixion of this person? You don't believe crucifixions happened in Judaea, is that it?

What exactly is this extraordinary hypothesis that you disbelieve in without the presence of documentary evidence?

There could be many reasons, but the most obvious possibility is that Paul (or whoever) made up a story with those elements,

And again you can't explain why those elements were inserted. You just don't have an explanation for them if they were fictional, you just call it a mistake on part of the unknown authors and move on.

Cult leaders don't make up stories about fictional people with their own divine missions, they make up stories about their own visions, their own supposed divine missions. Show me a cult leader that ever invented other fictional people to be the messiahs, instead of themselves.

You aren't addressing any of my points, you have just written your bottomline.

I'm still not clear why you assume the zero point of the graph is a real story, as opposed to a made-up story.

That's very simple.

Besides all the arguments I've already given you about none of the story make at all sense as fictional, and goes against everything we know about how religious groups write their stories, there's the plain fact that when asking if a person that's supposed to have lived in existed for real or not. I give significant weight to the beliefs on the subject of the people that lived in his/her time, or as near it as we can get.

I haven't seen "documentary evidence" that Socrates existed. It's just that his contemporaries believed him to exist, and his life story doesn't make sense as a fictional story. Same with Jesus and his own near-contemporaries.

comment by Desrtopa · 2012-01-10T18:43:08.830Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Why would someone create such horrible ill-fitting to prophecy elements as the name "Jesus" and the location "Nazareth", when it was the name "Emmanuel" and the location "Bethlehem" that were the significant ones?

Maybe it's down to all the fantasy stories I've read, where prophesies are almost always fulfilled in an unintuitive way (although the Greek oracles were like this too,) but I've always found the theological explanation for Jesus's name entirely satisfying. Emmanuel means "God With Us," and if Jesus was really God incarnate, it would be an entirely appropriate descriptor; his "true name" as it were. And in any case, I'd have a hard time taking seriously the straightforward fulfillment of a prophesy which could so easily be fulfilled by any pair of parents with particularly high hopes for their kid, or by any preacher who decided to pop up in an unfamiliar location and start going by a different name.

In any case, there are already more than enough messianic prophesies to deal with that Jesus never came close to fulfilling in any sense. The entire doctrine of the Second Coming was born mainly as an effort to reconcile all the large scale, unmistakeable achievements that were prophesied of the Messiah with all the things Jesus never did, and the whole census story has about the same degree of plausibility as "some anonymous black man did it while I was in the bathroom".

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-12-31T12:23:57.695Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Please don't do this. The sarcasm and weak argumentation. This is beneath the standards of LessWrong. Millions of first-century people would be very surprised at lots of things that are nonetheless true.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T19:14:08.235Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Please forgive my inappropriate style. I am new, here.

For what it's worth, I agree with your comment at 4:26 am, above, calling for a <5 % chance that Jesus was completely fictitious. Although I am Catholic, I acknowledge that by certain standards of proof, the existence of the Jesus as described in the Gospels is uncertain.

Personal biographical note: 30+ years ago, I called myself an atheist.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T20:25:36.811Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Although I am Catholic, I acknowledge that by certain standards of proof, the existence of the Jesus as described in the Gospels is uncertain.

Those pesky standards that don't consist of "faith". ;)

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T22:13:37.775Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Winky-face noted and appreciated!

But seriously, by my accounting, every standard of evidence I know includes an element of faith. The only differences between them are (a) what is taken on faith and (b) how credulous that faith is.

Namely, I find faith elements in believing:

  • first/second/third-hand reports, even by trained, neutral observers

  • expert consensus

  • single expert opinion

  • by contradiction

  • the evidence standards of American civil and criminal trials (note the plural, "standardS". The standards are different between them.)

  • induction, including (perhaps) mathematical induction

  • "engineering quality" proof

  • "mathematician quality" proof

My professional practice as an aircraft mishap investigator is to identify and apply the highest feasible standard from the above list, based on what information is available. "Best practice" in this industry dictates that selection and application of a standard of evidence is a matter of prudential judgement, based on the consequences and probabilities of being wrong, the resources available (evidence, time and $), while being scrupulously open about ones methods.

On historical questions about events of 20 centuries ago, the quality of evidence is not very good. About pretty much everything. What we are left with is Bayesian stuff. Anybody who goes to 0% or 100% draws the raised eyebrow from me. :-)

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T22:53:36.468Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Anybody who goes to 0% or 100% draws the raised eyebrow from me. :-)

Indeed. They pretty much fail at thinking.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-01T14:10:48.971Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This is, in practice, a form of equivocation between epsilon uncertainty and sufficient uncertainty to take seriously as an argument.

  1. There is technically no such thing as certainty.
  2. Therefore, the uncertainty in [argument I don't like] is non-negligible.

Step 2 is the tricky one. I suggest reviewing But There's Still A Chance, Right? Humans are, in general, really bad at feeling the difference between epsilon uncertainty and sufficient uncertainty to be worth taking notice of.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2012-01-01T17:10:26.302Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I reviewed your link--thanks, that was interesting.

Maybe we're in agreement. Let me try a more audacious assertion...

All I was saying was that practical demonstration or persuasion takes place within an unquestioned frame of reference. For purposes of the topic at hand, I would say, for example, that using the available evidence, I could convince 9 of 12 jurors under American rules of evidence and jury instructions applicable to civil trials, that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh and blood historical figure. I think I could do this every week for a year and win 90% of the time. If we change the rules to "establish it beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 of 12 jurors", then my success rate goes way down, obviously.

(Of course, I am assuming that I make no intentional misrepresentations and call only expert witnesses with recognized technical qualifications and unimpeachable character. I.e., no "funny stuff".)

In other words, I am claiming to not be anywhere in the neighborhood of epsilon.

comment by David_Gerard · 2012-01-01T18:40:46.681Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm almost entirely unconvinced (somewhat greater than epsilon) that's a useful measure - humans can be convinced of just about anything. But, an upvote for suggesting a measure. Still thinking of what I'd accept as a measure.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T13:22:50.805Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Argumentum ad martyrdom is utterly fallacious.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T05:10:26.596Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

FYI, this seemed decent:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_myth_theory

The preponderance of the evidence would seem to be that he really did exist.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T05:30:14.198Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The preponderance of the evidence would seem to be that he really did exist.

Bible scholars have a consensus that this is the case, although whether they are doing any actual scholarship with regard to the issue is questionable. Atheists by and large do not become Bible scholars, and the mind-killing effects of religion mean that theists tend to do notably poor scholarship in this particular area.

However when a rationalist tries to drill down to the actual evidence you find that nothing is there, apart from Bible scholars reading the Bible and saying "this Paul guy seems legit, I don't think he'd have made that up".

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T05:38:55.763Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What do you say about contemporary historians like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger? They all seems to think that an originally uninteresting preacher named Jesus was executed (via crucifixion) by Pilate, and that this preacher was the inspiration of the religion now known as Christianity.

ETA: You asserted in your other comment that "Jesus was supposedly a very noteworthy figure who died in a noteworthy way." I'd never gotten the impression that seditious preachers were noteworthy to the Romans or that crucifixion was a noteworthy method of execution.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T05:56:34.551Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Josephus's claimed writings mentioning Jesus can be divided into two groups: those universally agreed to be fraudulent interpolations by pious forgers like Eusebius, and those which look very much like such fraudulent interpolations but which people still disagree about.

Tacitus and Pliny both wrote long after Jesus' supposed life and death and are just reporting what people of their times claimed to believe.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T14:14:39.042Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The bit in Josephus was a complete forgery, likely inserted by Eusebius (well-documented as a chronic and unapologetic liar for the Church).

Neither Pliny nor Tacitus wrote anything about Jesus - they wrote about Christians, the existence of whom is not in question. Further, it's well documented that Tacitus was tampered with.

The notability is that Jesus was claimed to be known to all, with scribes following him about.

Look, these objections really are standard, long-standing and pretty well documented. Reading up in the area is absolutely fascinating. Wikipedia is a half-decent start.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T06:15:54.717Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Atheists by and large do not become Bible scholars

Although the reverse is often the case. That's the problem with actually taking your beliefs literally!

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-31T07:07:35.901Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Did Paul exist? What about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2011-12-31T07:49:23.712Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Paul did, and claimed to have met Jesus. So either he's a liar (hardly a surprising quality in a cult leader as we know from modern cult leaders) or someone resembling Jesus existed. I think the former substantially more likely given that the Jesus he claims to have met is absent from all contemporaneous documentation.

I'm afraid I'm I'd have to look up the literature about the historicity of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and whether there is hard evidence to show that their purported authors were real people with those names who really wrote those texts. I don't know offhand. It's not a topic that's ever been of interest to me.

However I do know that all of the Gospels were written long after Jesus' supposed life and death. Hence they don't count as contemporaneous accounts even if you don't automatically discount them as historical evidence because they are religious manifestos and not historical records. They aren't eyewitness reports, they're collections of myths put together by people who weren't alive at the time the supposed events took place.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-31T08:13:08.470Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

In no way did Paul claim to have met living Jesus. Resurrected Jesus, yes - via miracle. Living, pre-crucifixion Jesus, no.

comment by PhilosophyTutor · 2012-01-01T05:14:20.121Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the correction, and upvoted for keeping me honest. Was it that he claimed to have met people who had met Jesus, or something similar? I recall something of the sort but I'm not fully trusting the memory.

comment by orthonormal · 2012-01-07T20:29:33.738Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes- he mentioned his interaction with the other disciples, and said that they'd had the privilege of meeting Jesus in the flesh. It's in Romans or Hebrews, I forget which.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-12-31T14:13:32.218Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Paul did, and claimed to have met Jesus.

Er, no he didn't. He specifically did not claim this.

"Matthew", "Mark" and "John" were tags added later to those Gospels. "Luke" is traditionally attributed to Luke the Evangelist, a companion of Paul's, who wasn't an eyewitness to Jesus.

The gospels are dismal failures as history - even apart from the miracles described therein.

comment by juliawise · 2011-12-31T15:42:57.568Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Atheists by and large do not become Bible scholars

No, but many Bible scholars become atheists after they realize how nonsensical their study material is.

It seems likely to me that there was some person who served as the nucleus for a Jesus myth, just as it seems likely there was a real Briton general who served as the nucleus for a King Arthur myth. But we have no way of knowing anything about either, and I don't see that it matters much either way.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T19:31:41.072Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have a reference to support your first claim?

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-01T16:01:03.131Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard of several. I don't know stats on what proportion of Bible scholars de-convert.

Bart D. Ehrman - author of a book saying lots of the New Testament was forged

Francesca Stavrakopoulou (unclear when she became atheist)

Robert Price - went from Baptist minister to Cthulu mythologist. Not kidding.

Jacques Berlinerblau, who does say he knows few openly atheist biblical scholars.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2012-01-08T21:18:31.460Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The second sentence of this response is a non-defense of your thesis, and the rest of it does not help your case, much. I am open to evidence of your claim that "many" have become atheists. For the sake of argument, I would admit that >10% conversion rate would count as "many", as would, say, some absolute number such as 1,000 in the last 100 years.

Perhaps you can find some authority who has researched this question?

comment by juliawise · 2012-01-10T11:41:20.089Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sorry, I intended my above comment to mean: "There are some, I found these four, but apparently (according to Jacques Berlinerblau), there aren't many."

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-12-31T15:56:02.496Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps the most compelling argument I've heard for the existence of a real historical figure by whom the gospels were inspired was actually put forward by Eliezer (in a discussion on the tvtropes forum, where he visits occasionally.) That is that Jesus appears much more like a cult figure who failed to live up to the expectations of his followers, and so they modified their expectations and rationalized, rather than an ideal messianic figure that people would simply have made up.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T19:41:50.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Jesusmyththeory wiki article describes a number of significant rigorous, academic (and non-friendly) challenges to the accuracy of the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. Every honest person acknowledges uncertainty, exaggeration, and literary license. The question (for me) is: disregarding the deluded and dishonest, how would the honest brokers vote? I don't claim to have the answer.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-31T01:03:47.214Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What I am talking about is my claim that the RC religion integrates religious and non-religious knowledge to an extent I have not seen in any other religion. Is this the claim you say is nonsense?

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-31T01:52:43.886Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

it has been rightly said that Catholicism is the most rational and consistent of all the religions.

By whom? Catholics?

comment by ShiroiTora · 2010-08-28T09:21:03.424Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I wish I had a great story to tell...I do not. I am a very simple man...with a simple mind. My memory is terrible....for me to remember things...I must understand concepts. There never was a time that I have thought differently...I have never been religious...I am an Atheist. I operate on basic country common sense. I am neither highly educated nor am I especially intelligent.

I argue essential points for its pragmatic value. If an argument is purely an academic one....one in which the answer holds no value to true application in life...I do not value it.

My understanding of Rationalism:

Rationalism is simply the way of understanding, in what is, the simplest, most effective and efficient manner. To know what is...what was...what will be...and to correct wrong by giving the what should be. In short...the scientific method.

If I am wrong....please tell me...I am the above...whatever name has been given it.

comment by Will_Newsome · 2010-09-19T08:45:39.128Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I bet my experience is pretty typical: it's just been one really long of string of oops, as far back as I can remember. I realized I was wrong, I updated. I started with nothing... no beliefs, just professions that I think I realized were transient. Slowly but surely I converged on agnostic Buddhist Epicureanism with a little Sagan, then atheist scientific liberal majoritarianism at RationalWiki with a little Dawkins, then neorationality here with Yvain and Eliezer, then hyperrationality at SIAI with a whole bunch of really strong thinkers, and now I just keep on working at it. Lately I've been reading a lot of source materials (Tooby/Cosmides, Dawkins, Jaynes, Buddha) and asking a lot of "Why do I believe what I believe?"s which have both been rather useful at sharpening my thinking. I'm not sure where to go from here; keep learning math, I guess? Read more source materials? I think I'm getting diminishing marginal returns and might soon start having to really paint my own art. That said, at this point it seems the true field of battle will be on the front of instrumental rationality.

comment by MartinB · 2010-09-21T01:05:15.974Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you read this far you might actually want to read my story: Borrowed one of these 'popular misconception' books from my grandfather who was slightly into conspiracy stuff and revisionism, esp. in regards to Russian/German WW2 plans. Was super surprised that some really basic ideas of the book completely failed to be understood by anyone I talked to about. Had the same with some minor content of my first lecture on Economy. Read a lot, got weird hobbies, did PR work for some, got surprised by disinterest and/or hostility toward them. Systematized, that its not a property of topic X, but of the person I talk to and my presentation. Got a somewhat reasonable opinion on many many many topics, found out that libertarianism leads to many of those by easier reasoning. Became an atheist. Read the common know Feynman books somewhat before. (actually had those recommended to me by a physicist, who is a member of a little known religion from the 1844s). Discussed with atheists, learned some rationality stuff. Found OB, read OB. Got a rationalist girlfriend that pointed out the flaws in OB/LW writings, learned to some degree to understand that. Had my brain hacked by someone who claims rationality, and shares many many ideas with me, but got important things very wrong. Left that group, left libertarianism and basically ran out of political labels. Read Harry potter and laughed a lot.

Not all in this order.

The hook point on OB was 'that alien message' which I found over reddit, and tried to understand by reading it three times over a few days. Then I went all awwww and since then I basically read stuff and try to implement it.

The first hookpoint into reasoned thinking seems to have been the lexicon. (They became quite popular here. Its a bit like myth busters without the stunts, and in writing.) But I was already really curious before. Being the youngest of three brothers with a age gap of 6,7 might have created a runaway optimization pressure, because for years I was always the one knowing least. That has changed by now. Same for having bright older friends. What also helped was doing different things with/in different groups of people, and having a inhomogeneous circle of friends. Both age and occupation wise. Its odd how many people seem to know only folks their own age, doing basically the same thing. Sadly no one I learned from took anything from me. And also there was no one to recommend GEB to me at any point. The book is 2 years older than me! My curiosity to understand things lead me pretty far, and I value it much. But there is still a long way to go to WIN

comment by Perplexed · 2010-09-21T01:19:22.003Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

... a member of a little known religion from the 1844s ...

This is a pretty well-informed crowd. You don't need to explain what a libertarian is, you don't need to explain who Feynman was, and most people will know what you are talking about if you mention Bahai. And those who don't know how to use wikipedia.

comment by MartinB · 2010-09-21T01:29:38.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I do not think I explained things, did I? The Feynman books influenced me at a time, when they were new to me, thats why they play a part in my story. If I only heard about them here, then the effect would be far less.

The reason for not mentioning Bahai is because I do not want to spread the name everywhere I go.

comment by Mass_Driver · 2010-11-25T10:05:53.841Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The first time I explicitly saw myself as someone who cared more about rationality than the people around me was on the playground, in third grade. Like other kids my age, I was fond of playing kickball at recess. We often had arguments over whether a baserunner had been successfully tagged out.

The odd thing was that, even though most people in the group didn't like watching arguing for more than a minute or so (you could tell because people started yelling things like "Shut up" and "Just play" with big scowls on their faces), nobody could resist the temptation to take sides in the argument long enough to end the argument. Yes, people thought that it didn't much matter whether Eddie was out at second, but they also couldn't help but point out that Eddie was obviously safe/out, inevitably prompting a renewed outburst of cries that Eddie was obviously out/safe. Sometimes we argued about whose fault it was that we were arguing so much instead of playing.

I never took sides. At some level, I already cared more about my goal (having fun playing kickball) than I did about tribal politics.

The kickball thing quietly but powerfully framed the way I looked at friendships, dating, school, and pretty much everything else in my little world -- I knew that people could do flabbergastingly pointless things, over and over again, even though there were worthwhile things to be doing.

Various classes were useful eye-openers for me -- 10th grade European history put me in touch with the idea that irrationality had consequences on the global stage, and not just on the playground; freshman college statistics showed me how little of what passes for institutional "science" is actually based on sound empiricism AND sound logic.

It is only within the last year or so that I started identifying primarily as a rationalist. I used to have other prominent identities, but various acts of stupidity have slowly been stripping them away. Four years ago, a respected scholar of modern Jewish ecclesiastical law confidently explained to me that the basis of Jewish law was itself -- he apparently believes, without doubt or regret, that although the system has no external justification whatsoever, Jewish law should still dictate one's morals, habits, priorities, and attitudes. Matching his actions to his philosophy, he managed to delay the advance of gay rights in the Jewish community by about 15 years, and he similarly retards progressive thinking about end-of-life care. Although I really enjoy participating in a wide variety of Jewish activities, I find it hard to share a religion with people like him, and I believe that all religions are well-stocked with similar characters -- after meeting him, I tend to be more concerened with whether people take a rational approach to religion than with whether they have any theological beliefs in common with me.

More recently, a junior at Harvard College attempted to explain to me that the world was only 6,000 years old, and that fossils were planted in the ground by Satan to tempt us. I attempted to explain what carbon-dating was, but had to stop for 20 minutes to teach the kid about the difference between the concept of an element and the concept of an isotope. He brought his evangelist friend over, another Harvard student, because they both thought this "isotope" thing was kind of a cool new idea. So I don't have much faith in higher education these days either...I think it's more important to learn how to assess probabilities, correct biases, and evaluate claims than it is to get a "good education," whatever a vague term like that is supposed to mean.

comment by Raw_Power · 2010-12-13T17:33:58.690Z · score: 35 (35 votes) · LW · GW

This was going to be a Discussion article where I panicked about becoming a Yudowksy fanboy, but I thought it might fit better here. Maybe.

I am extremely embarrassed by what I am going to write, but is has been weighting on my mind, and I was wondering if other Lesswrongers were feeling similarly.

See, the more sequences I read, the more amazed I am by the man's work. I mean, back at the beginning, I used to grudgingly respect the guy. Then, the deeper I delved into it, the more sucked-in I was. It was like finding a goldmine. We had the same "basic wavelength", for lack of a better term. There wasn't the dissonance I usually felt when reading other philosophers or writers. He viewed the world from a perspective very similar to mine, and derived his ethics and morality in much the same way I would. Except... we clearly aren't equals. The sheer volume of his work is staggering. The depth of his insights, and, more importantly, how diverse they are, all the fields he covers... He talks about nearly everything that I have ever thought to be relevant or interesting. And he keeps pouring them out. One article a day, isn't it? And then he has his fanfiction. And his day job on top of all that. Where does he find the energy? Despite the evident flaws that seem to be there to remind us that this is a human being rather than some... supernatural creature, after a while my attitude changed from "hey, this guy is pretty cool" to "[speechless]". I feel this is dangerous. "Admiration is the feeling that is furthest from understanding". But that's exactly it. I feel I cannot comprehend, cannot classify and make a model of Eliezer Yudkowsky in the same way I can make it of most humans. It's just too big. Even supposing a large chunk of his massive periodic output of Deep Thoughts is second hand, it makes me wonder where he had the time to read all that, process it and build something new out of it.

This distresses me. It distresses me that I am starting to unconsciously adopt a heuristic that, by default, I should trust his opinion. On a couple of occasions, he deliberately and declaredly left a flaw in his articles. Which I have been unable to find. It distresses me that he is the first author I read that can truly and completely fool me without me noticing something fishy. It distresses me to have found a Living Philosopher and only be one of the Disciples, like the kids in Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum. If he keeps this pace up, I don't think I'll be able to formulate anything original in my life: the weight of his work is just too huge even to translate.

There is the relief I felt when I finally discovered something wothwile to read. I had despaired of philosophers, and litterate scinetists, and journalists, and social commentarists. I desaired of revolutions and dreams of the future, and I beleived we would be lucky as a species if we could avoid the major ecological catastrophe that's coming upon us. Everywhere I only saw lofty old people thinking they were the be-all and end-all, postmoderns endlessly talking out of their asses (excuse my Klatchian) and people intellectually walking in circles, pacing without a horizon or a compass. Then I found this guy and the shapes behind the darkness were brought out. The insanity behind most people's decisions was classified, labeled. My own self-delusions were painfully taken apart. Thoughts I had never dared to think, but were nibbling at the back of my mind, were gloriously developed to their ultimate conclusions. Pains I felt when looking at the world (including myslef) for which I had no name were sorted and tamed.

So. I can confidently say that I was a "proto-rationalist" ever since I had memory. That I always asked the difficult questions. Always went for the most complete point of view, analyzing a situation from all angles and perspectives I could think of. Which is the reason I could never believe my enemies were "evil mutants". But I was alone. Utterly alone. By the time I was seventeen, I thought I was the Only Sane Man alive. It was terrifying. I couldn't trust anyone. I could never relax my critical senses. My bullshit-detector was so sensitive most works from the media that weren't fiction were thoroughly unenjoyable.

Then I stumbled upon this place. While now I can detect bullshit much more easily, it affects me a lot less. Because now I know how normal it is. I know why people are like that. This has brought me such a peace of mind.

Another thing that has brought me much peace was the abandonment of the Quest For God. At last I knew why no one, regardless of political leanings or actual observance, seemed to take religion seriously and be consistent with it. And doing away with that pain, with the moral anguish of believing in a god that seemed to have values so different to yours, that was so incomprehensible if you took Him at face value, but so, oh so simple when you treated Him as a piece of fiction meant to hold a group together... Suddenly, I was alone. But the world was vast. Where to begin now, I asked myslef?

Then I found out that we guys could become a community. Join forces against evil. Problem being, most of you guys live in the USA. This is kind of inconvenient. The other problem is that, if I become a militant rationalist, I am certain to have a Sword of Damocles upon my head in Divine Right Absolute Monarchy of a home country. Should I exile myslelf, when there is so much I could do there to raise the sanity waterline?

I am now faced with interesting choices. "May you live Interesting Times" indeed:

comment by wallowinmaya · 2011-06-02T10:43:09.510Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Brilliant! It's seldom that I can relate to every single line of a comment.

comment by salij · 2014-05-11T03:22:39.884Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How strange.. I thought the same as well. It is curious to find my brethren, when I have so long felt alone in this.

comment by adamzerner · 2015-09-26T15:12:47.297Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I can relate to a lot of what you said. Same basic wavelengths, [speechless], utterly impressed, etc.

I love the phrase you used about there being an absence of the usual dissonance you feel when you read other philosophers. For me, Eliezer is the only person in the world for whom I feel (almost) no dissonance whatsoever when I read his thoughts.

comment by gwern · 2010-12-15T04:00:22.196Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My story isn't very interesting, sadly.

As a very young child*, at Sunday School I was told that prayer was supposed to be a conversation and not a monologue by just me. After a year or two with no one talking back and no other religious experiences to speak of, I began to wonder if there really was someone at the other end.

A year or two later still, I decided that if there was, I would have heard something by now, and became a full-blown atheist. (Although to avoid jeopardizing Christmas and Communion and Easter, and because it'd probably annoy my family, I told no one.)

Everything else - the labels like 'atheist' or 'theist', discovering science fiction, learning logic, reading tons of scriptures and theology and philosophy and occultism - everything else came later.

* I think around age 4 or 5. Surely not after 7.

comment by waveman · 2011-01-17T00:18:06.003Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

On one account, our rational brains exist to provide convincing rationalizations for our actions for the benefit of other people. Often the stories we tell ourselves are a lot of cobblers.

E.g. We invaded Iraq to the Iraqui people can be free, or to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction (not because of their oil!).

I will try to tell the true story of my conversion from religion.

I was about 12 years old. My parents were forcing me to be 'confirmed'. As part of this I had to make various affirmations. At that age my brain, incited by various hormones, was waking up from the slumber of childhood and beginning to feel the need for autonomy. My reaction was simple: my parents had the power, through threats and violence, to force me to do what they wanted, but they could not control what I believed. I still remember the moment of 'confirmation' - I said the words but I did not believe them.

From that time on, I thought of myself as an atheist, but I retained a fascination for religion. Some of my best friends are religious to the point of having theology degrees.

It was only when I read Nietzsche that I realized that, like most people who thought of themselves as atheists, I had not really shaken off Christianity. One thing about Christianity that proved hard to shake off was the notion that feelings can be sinful/evil.

A year reading pre- and non- Christian writings has helped to remedy that somewhat. Read Homer and see what a different world we live in post-Christianity.

comment by Tripitaka · 2011-03-21T14:49:03.159Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Having been born/brought up in germany, where religion is almost a nontopic, I always read Science Fiction/Fantasy and always felt inclined to rational decisions. In my 12/13th year of school I had an exceptional good philosophy teacher, and found myself to find Utilitarism on some level logical. Again some years later (some before the time of the comment) I finally updated my mind/made the rational conclusion:

I should choose the most efficient path to reduce suffering in the world. I saw only two conclusions, getting really rich or becoming a successful uncorrupted politican. Since I was to lazy, felt not being able to assign relevant probability to reach either of these goals, and did not want to overthrow my other ethical views (dont become a power-hungry-politician or bad capitalist) I did not pursue it further. I started to study mechanical engineering, it gives like, A LOT of money and will enable me to further suffering-reducing technology.

Then I stumbled upon Eliezer Yudkowskis argument: most bang for the buck/euro by accelerating FAI. A better writer than myself wrote:

" I felt my entire ethical system restructuring over the course of about five seconds - a very peculiar feeling, let me tell you."-and lost focus again due to having a completely broken motivation system and psychological problems- I am running on even faultier hardware than most. I am working on both topics now. Around nine months later I discovered HP-MOR via TV-Tropes-recommended FanFics and voila- here I am. Right now I am taking my time to decide wether or not I really assign FAI à la Yudkowski any relevant probability or its just a lazy excuse, and wether its cultish salvatory-aspects do worry me or thats just some kind of bias. Updating ones mind is hard!

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-07-12T23:09:10.950Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I resolved my typical adolescent existential crisis (for the time being) in a somewhat atypical fashion, concluding after much deliberation that I ought to pause the crisis until I know what's True and what's not, which might mean pausing it forever.

How can I resolve an existential crisis without knowing what meaning, purpose, value, etc. Truly are? Rationality makes the most persuasive claim to the distillation of Truth, so I am an aspiring rationalist.

comment by albert · 2011-11-05T05:26:48.339Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I was brought up to be a "traditional rationalist". My parents were atheists/traditional rationalists and never tried to indoctrinate me with any mysticism, spirituality, 'mystery' explanations or fairy tales (i.e. Santa Claus). Being a very small child I think my intuition was that some form of god was true with a probability of 25%. That number went creeping down until basically 1% (for "intelligent design") and much less than that for an interventionist god. Also, even as a child, I always had the intuition (and still do) that reality has always existed (or time is an illusion and past and future are just different parts of some atemporal symmetry that exists). I've recently started reading a lot of popular physics books on that matter but it's taking a lot of repetition and effort to be able to grasp concepts which are well above my IQ level. In far mode, I've always valued rationality and tried to be as responsive to evidence and reality as possible. In near-mode, however, only fairly recently (last 7-10 years, now being 27) have I considered myself rational. My memories of childhood of social relationships, responding to life challenges, making (practical) life goals, etc. were all very instinctive, emotional, and VERY sub-optimal. During adolescence it got worse, and I made every cognitive error possible (science as attire, blue vs green, pure tribalism, hatred for different ideas, wanting to "win" debates, etc etc.) most of it was emotional rage due to hormones I think.

Then when I reached about 19 years of age, my life changed a lot. I quit college to play become an professional poker player (which I was VERY successful, even though in retrospect I think it was 75%opportunity/being at the right time at the right moment, 20% discipline and just 5% IQ), and at the same time made a side-goal of striving to learn and self-improve (so as to not fall behind other people in terms of cognition. Since most of my friends continued to study and/or had more mentally stimulating jobs). I got into politics debates and study groups and was instantly drawn towards anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism (according to the popular saying "a young person who is not a socialist has no heart, a old person who is not a capitalist has no brain" I was an Ice-cold rationalist!), but somewhere along the line I started to think I was being dishonest to myself and was falling into the trap of having beliefs in order to signal being a contrarian, have a tribal mentality and dismiss any argument of differing beliefs. So I made probably the rarest political-mentality journey of them all of starting out as a strict libertarian to being a moderate libertarian, and from being a moral absolutist (like Ayn Rand) to a moral relativist (or amoralist depending on definitions). Then about 2 years ago some other relevant things happened. Poker ceased being profitable to me (after some good 6 solid years) so I retired from that, and a bit after that I met Patri and David Friedman on a visit they made to Brasil. Having conversations with them, I immediately saw that they were at a whole other level of rationality (one that I haven't encountered in ANYONE in my local country). So In the last year, I started reading Overcoming Bias and found out that all my intellectual interests (rationality, economics, evolutionary biology, philosophy of mind, future tech) were all closely related in certain academic circles, notably the link between GMU economists, Singularity Institute, Future of Humanity institute, Humanity+, etc... So I got the opportunity to come to GMU and spend some time here and I have to say, this is the most interesting, brilliant and imo unbiased group of social scientists anywhere in the world at the moment. I don't have any long term life goals and am currently just living the present and satiating my intellectual appetite. I feel I have to somehow be involved with this group of people/community but I am insecure about my intelligence (I saw the results of the last LW poll and everyone had 140+ IQs) and sometimes I think I'm way over my head in terms of my interests. I feel it takes a LOT of time reading and re-reading the same concepts over and over for them to assimilate. I wish I could upgrade my brain, I would trade almost any amount of money to be able to read G.E.B. without having to skip over the parts where logical code is presented. Only the simplest kinds of notation are manageable to me! My inference machine however is very well calibrated intuitively. I now work part-time with trading/investments and dabbled successfully with pro sports betting also, so these are practical skills to have on these jobs. Maybe I should just give up on formalism/logic/physics, trust the relevant experts, and stick with what I'm better at?

Anyway, I'm just rambling now! I hope to go to some LW meetups now that I'm living temporarily in the U.S.

comment by satt · 2011-11-05T18:28:44.342Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I feel I have to somehow be involved with this group of people/community but I am insecure about my intelligence (I saw the results of the last LW poll and everyone had 140+ IQs)

I wouldn't take that result too seriously. If everyone posting on LW had an IQ of 140+ it'd suggest LW posters exclusively came from the top 0.4% of the IQ distribution or so. I think selection bias and/or overestimates of people's IQ is more likely.

comment by Dmytry · 2012-02-25T08:53:54.709Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Everyone having 140+ is not very plausible, its unlikely everyone took iq test, even (i didn't, and i exclude the online ones)

comment by crxp · 2012-02-25T10:02:24.332Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's perhaps unlikely from a statistical point of view, though it is indeed entirely possible.

Regardless, there is no reason why someone should refrain from engaging in an intellectual activity if they feel inclined to participate; there are certainly limitations that make IQ tests inaccurate predictors of intelligence for many individuals. I've personally known someone who scored ≈70 points higher when a better clinician administered the test and neuroatypicality was considered.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-02-25T11:13:51.687Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't take that result too seriously. If everyone posting on LW had an IQ of 140+ it'd suggest LW posters exclusively came from the top 0.4% of the IQ distribution or so.

The entry requirement for MENSA is 148 on the Catell IQ test. Mensa only requires the 98th percentile. The selection effect could be on which IQ test result they wish to report. I certainly report the thing that sounds better whenever in such a situation. If people are mislead by me reporting an IQ that is through the roof that is their fault for taking such an ambiguous and meaningless number like "IQ" seriously in the first place.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2012-02-25T10:58:37.113Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome - your story is interesting and I hope you stick around!

I've sung this song before, but from what you say your worries are, one thing that would give you a real lasting boost in your general effectiveness would be learning to program. Have a look at CodeYear - online lessons that start slow, lots of my friends have been having success with them, and you can ask me for help if you get stuck - paul at ciphergoth dot org. Not only is it a directly useful and highly employable skill; it teaches useful habits of thought in several distinct ways.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-02-25T11:48:29.655Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Another thing I'd recommend if possible is giving as little attention as you can (even down to none at all) to the question of whether you're intelligent enough. Such concerns can be remarkably draining.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-25T17:27:07.582Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with NancyLebovitz about not focusing on your IQ. You story and actions show that you are more than intelligent enough to get along doing whatever! Your curiosity, and willingness to do things (like move to a different country) in pursuit of your goals are way more important than having to read things a couple times to understand them.

Friendly advice- Try breaking long chunks of texts into much smaller paragraphs. It makes reading your story (and it's a very interesting story that deserves to be read!) much easier. If you don't feel like figuring out where natural paragraph breaks are, then just go through and put one every couple sentences!

It sounds like you're in DC. They have a pretty active LW group, afaict. If you haven't yet, you might want to join their google group here.

comment by FeatherlessBiped · 2011-12-30T23:36:38.001Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If by "rationalist", the LW community means someone who believes it is possible and desirable to make at least the most important judgements solely by the use of reason operating on empirically demonstrable facts, then I am an ex-rationalist. My "intellectual stew" had simmered into it several forms of formal logic, applied math, and seasoned with a BS in Computer Science at age 23.

By age 28 or so, I concluded that most of the really important things in life were not amenable to this approach, and that the type of thinking I had learned was useful for earning a living, but was woefully inadequate for other purposes.

At age 50, I am still refining the way I think. I come to LW to lurk, learn, and (occasionally) quibble.

comment by Kutta · 2011-12-31T00:06:28.809Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to Less Wrong!

You might want to post your introduction in the current official "welcome" thread.

... then I am an ex-rationalist.

LW's notion of rationality differs greatly from what you described. You may find our version more palatable.

comment by soreff · 2012-01-01T00:35:18.035Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm probably also an ex-rationalist. Simply looking at the list of biases that I should really be correcting for in making a decision under uncertainty is rather intimidating. I'd like to be right - but do I really want to be right that much?

Frankly, the fact that I still maintain a cryonics membership is really status quo bias: I set that up before

  • Reading The Crack of a Future Dawn - downgrade by 2X if uploads/ems dominate and are impoverished to the point of being on the edge of survivable subsistence.

  • Watching the repugnant Leon Kass lead a cheerleading section for the grim reaper from the chairmanship of W's bioethics council. Extending human lifespans is a hard enough technical problem - but I hadn't imagined that there was going to be a whole faction on the side of death. Downgrade the odds by another 2X if there is a faction trying to actively keep cryonicists dead.

  • Watching Watson perform impressively in an open problem domain. The traditional weakness of classical AI has been brittleness, breaking spectacularly on moving outside of a very narrow domain. That firewall against ufAI has now been breached. Yet another downgrade of 2X for this hazard gaining strength...

comment by ksvanhorn · 2011-12-31T01:30:23.883Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Oddly enough, politics was the catalyst for me.

I grew up in a very religious, very conservative Mormon family. From my father I acquired the attitude that there are few things more shameful than dishonesty. From reading science fiction, particularly Asimov and Heinlein, and reading science books, I acquired the ideal of intellectual honesty. My father had very strong religious and political opinions that brooked no dissent. In attempting to formulate a consistent political philosophy of my own, I found my opinions diverging from his, but I lacked the courage to openly contradict him. After I had been away from home for several years, in my early twenties, I went through a period where I made a serious effort to root out any inconsistencies in my political philosophy and just honestly follow the consequences of my principles wherever they led. I ended up a libertarian anarchist.

I didn't know it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end for my religious beliefs. Intellectual honesty had long been an ideal for me; now it was an important part of my self-image. I found that I could no longer ignore the special pleading I engaged in when it came to my religious beliefs. If I applied to my religious beliefs the same standards I used to evaluate non-religious claims, they started to look pretty shaky. But everyone in my family and everyone in my social circle was Mormon. I had spent a year and a half as a missionary for the Mormon church. My wife was a devout Mormon. I had just started my graduate studies at BYU, a university owned by the Mormon church.

And my father reserved his most vociferous condemnation for "apostates".

The critical point came when I was 28, during an interview with my bishop for a temple recommended. One of the questions he asked was, "Do you believe in God the Father, and in his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost?" I realized that, in fact, I did not, and my upbringing did not allow me to lie about it. I went home without a temple recommend... and then had to explain to my wife why.

Everything else since then has just been filling in the details.

comment by Dmytry · 2012-02-25T08:49:07.593Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You see, there's always that thing about religion... I just can't get how people can be honestly religious. There's the part of brain honestly believing in a dragon in the garage - and there's the part of brain having a perfectly good model of nonexistence of the dragon. And they honestly don't collide. It's easy for people who honestly can't see they are being dishonest to very strongly promote honesty; this sometimes works as it should, pushing away those who do understand they need to reconcile their beliefs with each other to be honest.

comment by ErikM · 2012-01-26T12:45:59.031Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The distant: I am diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). I was unpopular at school, I understood poorly how to fit in, but I understood well how to get smarter. I took high school completion mathematics exams in primary school, university exams in high school, and while I never bit a teacher like in HPMoR, I did punch a student one time and demand that the teachers back me up.

As I remember it, said student was talking about a "tirus" which was supposedly like a next-generation virus which would eat up your computer unless you washed your motherboard properly with soap and water. Being a nerd with some technical aptitude, I told him that he was a bullshitting liar and he was to show me what he was on about or stop it immediately. He continued, so I told him to shut up or I'd hit him. He still continued, so I punched him in the stomach, which winded him and made him shut up. The student was surprised that I had carried through my threat, the teachers were surprised that I was unapologetic, and I was surprised that the teachers (this was at a religious school) were putting a distinctly man-made and exception-deformed rule about limits to hitting over a clear and obvious divine commandment against lying.

In retrospect I think I was somewhat lucky here. I was a youth in an argument turning violent, which is hardly a rational state to be in at the best of times, and in the process of trying to excuse myself for committing violence, I happened to take a stupidly defiant stance on the ground of "He was lying!" and got this bound up with my identity, the boy who really hates lies, for the next few years.

The local: I was arguing on Civilization Fanatics' Center in the Off Topic forum some years ago when a poster named Integral gave me a link to 'applause lights' at Overcoming Bias. I then read OB a lot, read the posts that would eventually get moved to Less Wrong, and ended up here.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-25T05:08:25.392Z · score: 27 (27 votes) · LW · GW

For me, it all happened quite quickly. My family was never very religious (my grandparents are ardent anti-theists, my mother is an atheist, and my father is a nominal catholic who hasn't been to church in at least twenty years).

Still, when I was a young child, I was well-equipped with the standard delusions: Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and a vague idea of God (never really considered in any detail, at that point). Then, one day, when I was thinking about it, I realized that Santa Claus was, in a difficult to pin down way, fundamentally different from nearly everything else in my mental hierarchy of being. Santa didn't play by the rules. Santa used magic. Thinking about it, I decided that magic was more like books than it was like real life, and I had to throw the deity out with the bathwater. I stopped believing in Santa Claus and Jesus over the course of about five minutes of really clear thinking.

I've refined my methods since then, and discovering Less Wrong has been absolutely fantastic, but that was the start.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2012-02-25T05:40:36.117Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW · GW

It's nice to know that sometimes, somewhere, things work out the way they should.

comment by pleeppleep · 2012-02-26T23:41:27.731Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I would never have identified as a rationalist had I missed this site. I never had a very strong commitment to the truth, as I am something of a chronic liar. I used to make deliberate attempts to try and manipulate people in ways borderline to the Dark Arts.

I did however desire to have a consistent set of philosophic rules that eventually led me into an existential crises of sorts. I was raised by a deeply conservative (in ideology, but certainly not action) father who is easily the smartest person I know personally at the moment. He was intelligent enough to defend his own biases. I ended up believing in intelligent design argued from an almost logical point of view.

I became an objectivist for a short time, and followed the ideas presented to me to their logical conclusion, giving me my first taste of rationality. unfortunately i then decided to study philosophy and based many of the ideas I developed subsequently on internal reasoning rather than observation. This led me dangerously close to postmodernism (shutter), without realizing it.

I never cared much for science, being raised with moderate distrust of scientists who, i was led to believe, arrived at irrational and convoluted conclusions to promote politically-inspired ideas (proven by the ridiculous borderline pseudoscience the media tends to get a hold of). I also came to possess a highly contrarian attitude and abhorrent social tendencies (i get along fairly well with most people but often demonstrate quirks that lead several people to label me a sociopath. Think of the guy in the hat from XKCD only more realistic).

I came to be a rationalist after reading the chapter in HPMOR in which Harry first conjures a patronus. I had ceased to believed in an afterlife long before, but never considered the idea that death could be stopped. Unlike most people, i noticed that a lifespan of 100 years, being less than nothing in cosmic terms, rendered human life almost insignificant. This ironically led me to lose any value i put in my life and seriously consider suicide.

When i realized that humanity had a fighting chance against death, I regained the will to live and a purpose to strive for, which inevitably led to seeking out any tool that would help. Of course, having gotten the inspiration from Eliezar in the first place, i returned after reading the fic to learn all i can about "what Rational!Harry knows and then some" and discovered the sequences. So it was that I became a rationalist, not out of moral commitment to truth (I developed that later), but out of need for a weapon with which to destroy evil. I learned directly from Eliezar that the strongest weapon man has is the ability to locate truth.

comment by Dichotomous · 2012-02-28T02:54:03.046Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I began my journey to becoming a rationalist at the age of six. This was the time when I first began to read fantasy. There are other contributing factors such as my parents inclination to free thinking. In following my dad's work we moved considerably, introducing me to many ways of thinking and setting me up for a bookish, introverted perspective (friends are much more difficult to stuff into boxes and ship to Africa.)

Choosing to read fantasy was the first conscious choice I made that influenced my development towards rationalism. I've always found the mixture of sci-fi and fantasy in libraries a rather strange practice, I suppose it makes some sense when you consider that cowboys with swords and cowboys with lasers are major facets of the genres. Realistically all such books should be lumped in with military fiction and labelled "general adventure" purely on the basis that few things are more disappointing than getting 30 pages into a book only to realize the protagonist is nothing but a sword with a helpful, brainless body to swing it.

But that's beside the point. Transferring from fantasy to science fiction was easily done thanks to their proximity. Once I had shifted I fell deeply in love with Asimov, Greg Egan, and other speculative fiction writers. I avidly read anything that showed a new perspective on the future of humanity.

All that combined with AP courses in biology and chemistry, a marathon reading of Richard Dawkin's complete work and utter rejection of religion left me intellectually capable of rationalism. HPMOR solidified and affirmed my growing beliefs and validated practices I already engaged in, such as a refusal to eat any animal that showed signs of intelligence.

The emotional event that pointed me towards rationalism was the death of my mother. Without any religious assurances to comfort myself I faced the pain of knowing she had ended; there was no hope of retrieval, no hope of ever seeing her again. This event focused me into who I am today; her loss gave me the incentive and the perspective to embrace rationalism completely.

It is probably clear at this point that I am still young and many of these events happened quite recently. I am still trying to come to terms with who I am, the nature of rationalism and how the two will exist together.

Naturally I'm happy to be here.

comment by Jotto999 · 2012-02-29T02:50:22.098Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, Less Wrong.

With no particular or unusual intellect (that I could objectively test aside from an IQ test in elementary school, which scored somewhere around 115-125), as well as low school grades, I found myself as a teenager who took issue with religion. I suppose my journey in becoming rational started when I decided I was an atheist. I was finding various flaws with religion, as well as enjoying material put out by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I consider that as the starting point because it was when I realized that humans are inherently terrible at understanding reality, and that merely not succumbing to wrong beliefs is something the vast majority of people fail at, let alone actually understanding reality to even the vague degree our brains could comprehend. I would describe this point as "when I started thinking", or at least trying to do so.

My interest in being studious grew over time. The next milestone related to politics. I was a very typical bleeding heart liberal throughout my teenage years, having such simplistic convictions as "corporations are bad!" and "pictures of oil-soaked penguins mean we should hold back industry" and "we might as well socialize most industries!". Eventually I began studying economics, which caused me to go from liberal to libertarian. I had so many irrational beliefs about policy and society, it's a bit shameful for me to think back on it. I now frequently speak against Keynesianism, and finally am beginning to understand the subtle but huge negatives of government intervention.

But I'm not sure my journey as a rationalist was even in an uptrend. I was just absorbing material other people put out, and wasn't really able to make good decisions for myself. I was just cynical and suspicious of commonly held views.

I flipped through Less Wrong, came across Eliezer's article "Cynical about cynicism", and then I realized I was...full of it. I thought I was being rational, but now I realize I was being childish and angsty. In fact I wonder if that should be part of the sequences, I know many people who would benefit from it, many of them are either environmentalists or atheists (or both). It was the article that made me realize I have so, so much work to do yet before I can consider myself rational.

Which brings me here, now. I am working my way through the sequences, and occasionally re-reading previous ones to try and learn it as well as I can. I am highly fortunate to be here, I can escape my irrational past, and hopefully have something similar to Yudkowsky's Bayesian enlightenment. I feel as if in many ways I am starting over, and...it feels very, very good.

comment by tomme · 2012-03-14T20:30:50.002Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I started to see myself as a rationalist when I was about 13.

Growing up in a very religious culture, I never bothered to question the beliefs that had been instilled in me. But one day, somehow, I began contemplating death, "How do I know what happens after I die?" or "Will I go to Heaven or Hell?" were questions that bewildered me profoundly. It was then that I realized that everything I had believed about death and the so-called afterlife was pure nonsense. It took me a while to accept that "absence of evidence is evidence of absence" though.

Consequently, I became atheist. Better still, I learnt a very important lesson - that you should always question your beliefs. This skepticism has been my weapon of choice against falsehood ever since.

comment by UngnsCobra · 2012-04-01T12:13:19.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(I'm sorry about the grammar etc, hope the content comes through) I was 17, when I first had a "burst" of enlightenment, it was more or less the time I started to think critically for myself, coming from a society that I found to be very narrow minded, I at that point felt an urge to read more, learn more and be better. I heavily started to write about my experience's and yielded a great content from it. I naively adopted the notion that: we are what we sculptures us into, our potential is unrealised and too wide and deep to be generalised. With this mantra I came a long way through school, but came out on top without a narrative and started to lack, not being aware of the fact that I was starting to indulge more and more into biases, and the results of my operations started to decline. Then I felt like on a degree of rationality and "winning" I took some steps back. Then around 1.5 years ago in one of my courses at University I started to study the "perception model" and through trajectory I came across books by Nassim Taleb, Malcom Gladwell and finally Bias and Heurestics by Kahneman and Tversky. And after that I have just been rolling along those lines.

comment by OrdinaryOwl · 2012-04-15T03:07:36.520Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I followed the standard Questioning Religion(TM) route. When I was twelve, our family had a bit of a crisis: my dad's job looked insecure, my mother was having difficulty with her side of the family, and I was home schooled and acutely aware of the fact that this was why I had no social contact with my peers. At all. The solution, as my fundamentalist curriculum (complete with pictures of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden with dinosaurs(!) in the science texts (!!!) ) put it, was to pray for God to magically fix it. Which of course he could do, he's omnipotent! He's God! And he loves all the little children, right?

Several weeks of ardent praying later, my twelve year old self began to smell something fishy. Coincidentally, in the mandatory Bible class (these were DVD correspondence courses), the teacher told the class, "God answers prayers with 'Yes, no, or maybe.' "

"Well, what on earth is the point of praying, then?" said my twelve year old self. I stopped praying. Coincidentally, my life drastically improved after that, so I felt that prayer hadn't altered the outcome one iota. I came to the gut conclusion that Christianity couldn't be right. Mandatory reading of the Bible convinced me that the God of the Bible was a pretty evil guy, if he existed. However, I was limited by the aforementioned abomination of a science text, revisionist history books (which identified all groups who disagreed with the author's exact viewpoint as being wrong and/or Communists), and I was too intimidated by my mother to go check out some decent books on evolution to get the counter-arguments to the Fundamentalist propaganda I was being fed. It would take me another eight years to actually be able to fully back up why I wasn't religious.

On a side note, my grandmother used to be really into New Age... stuff. She gave my mother a whole bunch of books on meditation and seeing energy in trees. The ridiculousness of this stuff probably inoculated me against religion in general, because I could easily see that New Age stuff didn't match with reality (I couldn't see energy in trees) and that left me skeptical of all religion. Also, my dad himself is non-religious. He never really spoke about his lack of belief to me (I think my mother pressured him not to), but he set an example as a completely awesome, well-put together guy who didn't need religion to prop up his life. Also, we watched a lot of Star Trek and astronomy shows together.

Once I hit college, I focused on shoring up the leaky holes in my education. I finally got my hands on Dawkin's The God Delusion, which finally killed the specter of religious indoctrination that had been lurking in the background. I found LW's Sequences not too long ago as well, they went a long way towards explaining why people around me seemed so insane and illogical. I gave myself a new commitment towards seeking the truth and have finally started slowly coming out as an atheist and a rationalist. (Working on my mother, now, and very much not looking forward to that conversation.)

So yeah. It was oddly anti-climatic, really. Once I escaped to the relative sanity of community college, the religious stuff stopped being so controlling in my life, and my dad is very supportive of my atheism/rationalism. I am oddly grateful for religion giving me that initial distrust of authority that turned me towards rationalism.

comment by Mindey · 2012-05-08T02:41:46.255Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had certailny been influenced by my father, who, after my parents divorced, told me to have my own goal of life. However, I wanted to have a truly good one, not an evil one. It caused me to search for precise definition of "universal good," - a precise criterion for deciding, what action is universally good and what action is not.

I know Bayes theorem now, such a wonder! But when I was a kid, I had not such a romantic and beautiful event as Elizer had, so I came up with a different criterion. The best is to let the world exist, and the worst is to destroy the world. The "world" here refers to the universe as a whole, as well as the universe as every no matter how small its part.

Ever since I came up with this criterion, this thought didn't seem to lose its importance. In fact, I made this idealistic motto "let everything exist," which is the extropic side of this criterion.

I would say, it helped me to overcome great difficulties of life. I guess, I'm not alone, in fact, one of the posters here, Wei Dai, has a mailing list about the very idea that "that all possible universes exist" ( http://www.weidai.com/everything.html ).

comment by AnthonyC · 2012-05-27T13:25:27.999Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think my first step came from Christmas movies. I stopped believing in Santa when I realized that if he existed, all the adults in the movies would know there were presents under the tree that they hadn't put there- belief would have nothing to do with it. I didn't make the connect with religion until 15 years later- I was never religious, but I didn't actually call myself an atheist until a few years ago. I then benefitted in elementary school from having one or two not-very-smart teachers. This prompted me for the first time to start learning on my own, mostly about science. It was fantasy (esp. introspective heroes like the ones R.A. Salvatore writes) that first got me into philosophy. I didn't read about utlitarianism until college, and it just clicked. It was obvious to me that this made sense as a fundamental rule. Luckily I also knew enough about physics and computability etc. to realize that it is impossible to account for all future consequences of even a single action. So without an effective procedure, I decided that as long as I did all I could to do things that are right and think things that are true, I would do pretty well. And that led me here.

comment by Blackened · 2012-06-12T11:20:51.103Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

To a considerable degree, I was "born rationalist" (although I can easily see how I could have been born as a lot more of a rationalist than I was). I have always passionately sought efficiency, and I liked rigor.

I was raised by irrational people and it took me long to break some of the irrational beliefs - I was 16 when I realized that "older people are nearly always much smarter than kids, and this implies that they are also right in nearly all cases" is wrong. At that time, I already knew about expected outcome - in the past few years, I had the feeling that I have "greatly improved since last year", but I don't have a clue on what have caused that feeling. So, I was 16 when at one moment, I had a deliberate idea for something which was against my emotions (who were inactive during planning) and when it came to executing it, I found myself very hesitant, seeking ways to convince myself to discard the plan (all of my arguments for that were ridiculous) and I realized that my emotions might intervene in my thinking without me realizing it. That was a moment of big realization for me. After that, it became "my most important idea" and I don't remember how exactly did it help me, but I was very convinced that it helped me a great deal. It still didn't make me a skeptic, because I was usually thinking that "it's most likely to be true if so many people support it" and "if there was any contrary evidence that is publicly available, every follower of the idea would just look up the evidence and resign from the idea, it would spread like fire". That's why I also believed in some supernatural ideas. There was even a popular TV show in my country for competing clairvoyants!

Until I was about 18, I believed my father is very intelligent and should give very useful advice (I imagined myself after 20 years). At that point, I thought any sign of irrationality to come from lack of intelligence. Then I moved in London to live with him and study there. To my big mystery and surprise, I noticed that he has this "emotional thinking" and I couldn't think of a possible explanation ("maybe I'll be like that when I get 40 years old? I must preserve my rationality"). Then I received a PM on an online community and after a few messages, we exchanged Gmails and started chatting. That person familiarized me with the concept of dysrationalia, skepticism and biases. Until then, I only knew little of biases and I haven't yet heard of the other ideas. But even before that, I always followed the expected outcomes and felt that all the fuss about terrorism is exaggerated and strongly avoided alcohol (although I liked it) because of the expected outcome again and so on. After my encounter with that mysterious Internet person (which lasted more than a month), I was a full-blown rationalist.

And through all of that time, I was close with another person who thought like me. Then he met another guy who was like us and I "converted" someone I knew online and now there is 4 of us. We have some additional ideas about rationality that aren't popular in the Sequences (not sure about the comments or the community as a whole).

comment by Epiphany · 2012-08-12T08:01:59.092Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"How do you interest people in rationality?" is a question I have been thinking about for a very long time. The most important insights I have into this are below.

How I crossed the first divide:

There was a sense of being expected to think for myself by my peers as a teen - the "think for yourself" mantra was a core part of our culture. This seems especially relevant because peer pressure gets through to people who aren't rational.

After being influenced by the "think for yourself" mantra that was being repeated by the other teens, I was motivated to start observing that there were flaws in the ideas being presented to me.

Realizing that there were flaws everyplace was key. I had to realize that even the adults were wrong, even teachers could be wrong, even books could be wrong, authorities could be wrong, all of it could be wrong. I needed to see examples of incorrect information in each category before I woke up to the fact that every possible source of information could have flaws in it. I would not have believed there was a problem if I hadn't seen it myself. Without that, I would not have been interested in the solution.

A critical aspect of this was in realizing that really important information could be wrong. I also needed to know how wrong information affected me. Not everyone is going to notice so many flaws on their own and realize the implications - especially if they haven't developed their thinking skills very far. I was lucky to be able to do this for myself. I think a lot of people will benefit from it if you show them how the dots are connected, as they may not have been taught the skills to do it themselves.

I have observed that if you overwhelm a person with too many shocking problems at once, it's too much for them, they go into denial and reject you entirely. If I wanted to wake a person up to the fact that that the world is full of incorrect information, that it can be found even in important places, and that they are likely to have learned a lot of incorrect information, I would use baby steps.

After I knew that there was a problem, it had to occur to me that the solution was to avoid accepting new incorrect information and to go through and correct all my existing information. For me, the idea of correcting the information was obvious. For some, it may not be (they may choose drugs, or some other escape) so if I were to present people with the problem, I would also describe the solution well enough that they felt that there was an option for them that is likely to work.

Then, there was a sense of trepidation. You don't sound like you had this experience, but consider this: Most people grow up in a culture full of irrationality with no knowledge of logical fallacies and an underdeveloped ability to think critically... let alone any idea what Bayes's Theorem is. They have too few defenses against irrationality, so they end up building their entire lives on this mixture of irrational beliefs and whatever facts manage to make it through. There is (for lack of a known term for this) an "information debt" - very much like software debt (for anyone who doesn't know, software debt happens when you code your program in a way where it is so disorganized that it needs to be reprogrammed before you can build on it - this is called refactoring and it can be very time-consuming). You don't have to be a coding genius to immediately sense that taking apart your beliefs and refactoring them is going to be a gigantic job, and that it's going to be super complicated. Becoming a rationalist is a huge investment to anyone who has an information debt of any size. Most people weren't lucky enough to have developed thinking skills as a child... a lot of people have this huge debt of wrong information to correct.

In addition to the sense of needing to invest a lot of time, I was afraid of what would happen if I challenged my current world view and it fell apart. What if I wasn't able to put it all back together after I took it apart? Can that make you crazy?

To make things worse, the fact that I had never been exposed to even so much as a list of logical fallacies meant that I had NO CLUE that tools existed to help you figure out the difference between true information and false information. I felt like I was opening Pandora's box.

In my case, the way I overcame the trepidation was in asking myself questions about what would happen if I left my world view the way it was. This resulted in more trepidation than the idea of correcting it, so I chose to make the massive investment and take the risk of making a huge mess of myself.

That's how I became a rationalist.

I think, though, that anything you can do to reduce the sense of trepidation is a necessity. For instance, letting people know that there are powerful tools to cut through these would empower more people to choose to become rationalists.

Once I discovered logical fallacies, I found myself referring back to them after I got into an argument with someone. They make excellent self-defense weapons. I think they might become popular and serve as a positive introduction to rationality if they were presented as a solution to the problem of losing arguments. After all, it does feel pretty cool to be a logical ninja - able to win the majority of my arguments. (:

The above was my dissection of how I became a rationalist. The story version has been written up and saved for later. I'd have added it here, but I didn't want to make my comment a billion pages long.

comment by William_Quixote · 2012-08-22T20:54:43.934Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Edited

comment by mytyde · 2012-08-31T22:08:03.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When I was in elementary school, I had a few very good friends. Every day after school, I would walk around the school fields with this small group of 3 friends and play D&D-like pretend games. Being that I was very healthy and athletic with good self-esteem, I was foremost confused by a large number of my classmates who attempted to bully me. Taking pity upon them, in the 3rd grade I began wondering what was wrong with them and, yes, I even posited that it was better for me to be the target of scorn than others when I could defend myself and even strive to beat my classmates in any mental or physical feat (which I often did). I found the education system oppressively dull, as well. Obviously girls were favored and-- later I read studies that confirm this was likely-- I was discriminated against because I wasn't as cute as other students and liked to write things differently.

I think the simultaneous experiences of being accepted in a fulfilling and creative group which explored new possibilities while being rejected from the traditional track for reasons that were obviously irrational made it easy for me to become an individually-fulfilled autodidactic student of philosophy and, from there, a student of everything else. I formally adopted rationality 6 months ago after encountering HPMOR, analyzing it from a philosophical and psychological basis, and finding that it was a stupendous new arena for me to hone my skills within and perhaps utilize for affecting broad-scale social change.

Yudkowsky, in response to your query: I believe these issues are mostly settled in childhood (at least before the age of 18, perhaps younger). In the short run, to affect change, it may be best to simply have lots of children and raise them very well (this idea is very comforting). The most important point in the macro-scale is, of course, to overcome class contradictions which interfere with the creation and utilization of scientific data to improve people's lives, i.e.: "The purpose of socialism is to liberate science from its class ties and make it available for the transformation of society." -Marx

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-07T00:47:30.121Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a little puzzled as to why the question contains the phrase "how you came to identify as rationalist." My introduction to what I think this site means by rationalism (not the "rationalism" of Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza I HOPE) was through Robert Anton Wilson's books Quantum Psychology and Prometheus Rising (although this just watered some seeds planted earlier). R.A.W. led me to Korzybski and his famous "is of identity" polemics. So why does a site which attributes much of its influence to Korzybksi as me a question that (apparently) flies in the face of Korzybskian rationality? I'm not trying to be contentious. I'm sure there's a perfectly REASONABLE explanation which I'll patiently await.

DeeElf

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-09-07T01:20:03.140Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Since, I didn't write this post post I can't answer your main question, but I can shed some light on:

what I think this site means by rationalism (not the "rationalism" of Descartes, Leibniz and Spinoza I HOPE)

We're entirely about rationality, not rationalism. I've mentioned that this can be confusing, unfortunately we couldn't think of a better alternative. This should clear up what we mean by rationality.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-09-07T02:48:05.202Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Korzybski and E-Prime are not well-known on LW. LW's ideal of rationalism is an AI which reasons perfectly using the available evidence and whose actions really are optimal for its particular goals. The Sequences are full of introspective tips and behavioral tests for telling whether you're on the right track, so in that sense the philosophy has been given a human form, but the rational ideal which LW humans seek to approximate is described mathematically and computationally, in formulae due to Bayes, Solomonoff, and others. It's a different culture and a different sensibility to what you find in RAW.

By the way, Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza aren't so bad, especially if you remember that they created the ideas that we now associate with them. Who wouldn't want to be a creator and a discoverer on that level? Their shortcomings are your opportunity.

comment by Manfred · 2012-09-07T04:09:21.122Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Korzybski and E-Prime are not well-known on LW.

Well, I mean... "the map is not the territory" is Korzybski. Eliezer just sucked at citing clearly.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-08T02:02:47.222Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seemed like everywhere I went on this site yesterday talked about maps and territories. I don't recall exactly where, but I thought it was rightly attributed to Alfred Korzybski (AK). The map and territory heuristic is, AFIK, AK's coinage, and I just assumed all the map and territory references alluded to a strong Korzybskian foundation.

E-prime was the invention of someone else (I forget his name-easily Googleable or Wikipediable) but closely followed AK. I find it impractical for language, but more helpful for reasoning.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-09-07T06:56:42.580Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I know about Korzybski and his general semantics, but very little about the actual substance of the stuff. Beyond E-Prime, which seems cutesy but too flimsy for any serious lifting. My brain keeps wanting to slot him up in that weird corner of mid-20th century American ideaspace that spawned Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard. He has the pulp science fiction connection, the cranky outsider contrarian fans who think the system as the end-all of philosophy, and yet his stuff seems mostly ignored by contemporary academia. None of this is an actual indictment, but with no evidence to the contrary, it does keep me from being very interested.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-08T02:20:44.229Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the cranky outsider contrarian fans who think the system as the end-all of philosophy, and yet his stuff seems mostly ignored by contemporary academia.

i haven't heard that end-all of philosophy bit (could come from his strong following of Wittgenstein) , but I do know he is considered to be a principle predecessor of self-help psychology, which might explain the anti-academic bias...i would not stereotype him with likes of Rand or Hubbard (yikes!)

The only academic I can recall talking to him about was my Learning and History & Systems of Psych. prof. who knew who he was (he had dual Ph.Ds in psych. and philosophy) but expressed being baffled as to why I liked him...however, this is the same guy who also said stuff like you don't need to read Wittgenstein to know language is a game, and, "Philosophy's a bunch of bullshit and Kant's the biggest bullshitter of them all," and who when I lent him my copy of RAW's Quantum Psychology held it up to the whole class the next day and lectured on why you shouldn't read books like that. He also was a cranky (outsider-ish) contrarian...but maybe he was right...maybe you don't need to read RAW or AK to know the map's not the territory

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2012-09-08T08:05:43.008Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

i would not stereotype him with likes of Rand or Hubbard (yikes!)

Yeah, there's the difference between deciding that his stuff is actually the same kind of stuff as some very iffy stuff, and then skipping it, and just noting a vague and very possibly unfair surface resemblance to iffy stuff, and then not bothering to investigate further since the stuff is 70 years old and there should be more people saying it's important if it really is.

I lent him my copy of RAW's Quantum Psychology held it up to the whole class the next day and lectured on why you shouldn't read books like that.

What should I know about this one? I know that when a book has "quantum" in the title and is not a physics book, the odds are that it really is a book you shouldn't be reading. If my quick-and-unfair pattern match for Korzybski was Hubbard+Rand, my quick-and-unfair pattern match for something titled "Quantum Psychology" is The Secret.

Then again, I do know that RAW should be more interesting than that, though I also have the suspicion that his stuff may be a bit too stuck in the counterculture of the 60s and 70s to really have aged well.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-08T01:54:46.407Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"AI" as in artificial intelligence? Please link me to the explanation of that on this site. Thanks (if I don't find it myself first). I'm still reluctant to use phrasing like "LW humans" as that type of definitionalism sends up "group think" red flags. I'm not saying it's bull but that I need some persuading and time to snoop around (this site is HUGE).

I didn't mean to say I'm entirely dismissive of rationalism, just that I want to be clear on what it means at LW. Epistemologically, I've generally been an empiricist, but have changed my mind on that, as some of my experiences with Buddhist practice has made me at least be open to the possibility that at least some of our knowledge comes from something other than "sense experience."

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-09-08T02:23:14.918Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

They mean 'rationalist' in the sense of following a rational approach, which we loosely associate with Bayesian thought. As for AI, this seems like the most relevant connection and also mentions a limitation of pure Bayesian reasoning. Then there's the middle icon at the top right of the page.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-08T02:38:23.849Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's a different culture and a different sensibility to what you find in RAW.

I don't know enough about LW's culture to say yet, but for a site--and correct me if I'm wrong--whose "mission" includes taking the "curse" out of "singularity" Robert Anton Wilson's technological optimism strikes me as a great support for such a pursuit...no?

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-09-08T15:17:26.395Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes but:

  • RAW was chronically skeptical of everything, LW believes very strongly in the "reality-tunnel" of natural science.
  • RAW was very interested in parapsychology and the "eight-circuit model", to LW that's all pseudoscience and crackpottery.
  • RAW had an interest in mystical states of consciousness and nondualist ontology, LW in mind-as-computation and atheist naturalism.

Eliezer's general ideas are the sort of thing that Wilson would have partly assimilated into his personal mix (he would have loved the site's name), and partly rejected as "fundamentalist materialism". Also, LW has a specific futurist eschatology, in which the fate of the world is decided by the value system of the first AI to bootstrap its way beyond human intelligence. There are people here who seriously aspire to determine safe initial conditions for such an event, and related concepts such as "paperclip maximizer" and "timeless decision theory" (look them up in the LW wiki) are just as pervasive here, as are the distinctive concepts of LW discourse about general rationality.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-11T03:28:53.636Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

RAW was very interested in parapsychology and the "eight-circuit model", to LW that's all pseudoscience and crackpottery.

How do you and/or LWers distinguish among science, pseudoscience and crackpottery?

RAW had an interest in mystical states of consciousness and nondualist ontology, LW in mind-as-computation and atheist naturalism.

How do you and/or LWers distinguish mystical mental states from mind-as-computation mental states (that looks like cognitive reductionism from my perspective). Have you read his Nature's God? One could make a case for a naturalistic atheism from that and his similar works?

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2012-09-13T13:06:35.013Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How do you and/or LWers distinguish among science, pseudoscience and crackpottery?

Such a question demands a serious and principled answer, which I won't give. But it's a cultural fact about this place that parapsychology (and all other standard skeptics' whipping-boys) will be regarded as pseudoscience, and something like the eight-circuit model as too incoherent to even count as pseudoscience. There are thousands of people here, so there are all sorts of ideological minorities lurking in the woodwork, but the preferred view of the universe is scientifically orthodox, laced with a computer scientist's version of platonism, and rounded out with a Ray Kurzweil concept of the future.

How do you and/or LWers distinguish mystical mental states from mind-as-computation mental states (that looks like cognitive reductionism from my perspective)

Mysticism isn't a topic that LW has paid any attention to. I think it would mostly be filed under "religious mental disorder", except that, because of the inevitable forays into reality-as-computer-program and all-is-mathematics, people keep reinventing propositions and attitudes which sound "mystical". This is a place where people try to understand their subjectivity in terms of computation, and it's natural that they would also do this for mystical subjectivity, and they might even regard an evocative computational metaphor as a plausible theory for the cognitive neuroscience of mysticism. For example... maybe mystical states are what happens when your global cognitive workspace is populated with nothing but null pointers! You could turn that into a physical proposition about cortical columns and neural activation patterns. That's the sort of "theory of mysticism" I would expect a LWer to invent if they took up the topic.

These are topics in which I deviate somewhat from the LW norm. My trademark spiel is all about qualia-structures in quantum biology, not universe as Turing machine. Also, LW isn't all scientific reductionism, there are many other things happening here at the same time. In framing RAW vs LW as tolerance for mystical nondualism versus preference for atheist naturalism, I'm just singling out the biggest difference in sensibility.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-13T14:44:13.142Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mysticism isn't a topic that LW has paid any attention to.

Meditation has received some attention here, though I can't think of other sorts of mysticism. Perhaps Crowley's writings.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-14T07:30:12.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you please refer me to the discussions on meditation you're thinking of?

This is a sticky subject. "Meditation" and "mysticism" differ from context to context. E.g., Christian mysticism (the telos of which is union with God) and what Crowley meant by mysticism are fundamentally different (the latter sharing more in common with Hindu yogi praxis where union or samādhi is not necessarily restricted to a Diety; and in Buddhist mediation the purpose of samādhi is subsumed under a different goal altogether.). Meditation can refer to so many different things the term is basically useless unless one gets very specific. But I'm not sure if that serve LW's purposes so I'll hold off saying anything else for now.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-14T12:29:55.617Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here are the two main posts tagged with Meditation, and here are the three discussion posts. Also see DavidM's posts (1 and 2, 3 appears to have never been written) and a more recent thread about it. I missed a few posts you can find by searching for meditation.

The impression I get is that there are several people who find it interesting/useful, but it hasn't penetrated deeply enough to become part of the LW core. (I personally don't meditate, after a few initial tests suggested that noticeable effects would take far more time input than I was willing to give it.)

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-14T07:12:30.052Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough. I like your sense of humour and you (and pretty much everyone I've interacted with here) are very polite and civil which I appreciate a bunch. I've spent some substantial time on some internet forums and shit can get pretty heated in a hurry. I'm sure people go to battle here occasionally, but I haven't encountered anything to volatile (yet?). Anyway, just my way of saying thanks. Besides, I'm not here to make sure LW fits into to my perceptions about RAW et al. I'm here to learn more about rationality.

comment by DeeElf · 2012-09-11T09:55:40.184Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

RAW was chronically skeptical of everything

This mis-characterizes him. He was too optimistic about humanity, technology and the future for this to be true. Furthermore, he preferred zeteticism over skepticism.

...nondualist ontology...

please detail what you mean by this...I think I know but want to be sure before I proceed .

comment by arundelo · 2012-09-10T09:19:10.428Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Eliezer got some early influence from the General Semantics-inspired Null-A books by A.E. van Vogt.

(I'm leaving two versions of this comment in different threads because buybuydandavis also asked about Korzybski and LW.)

Edit: I realized that this comment doesn't make much sense as a direct reply to yours. Consider it an addendum to Mitchell_Porter's comment.

comment by learnmethis · 2012-10-23T01:54:28.226Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I’ve got kind of a fun rationalist origin story because I was raised in a hyper-religious setting and pretty much invented rationalism for use in proselytisation. This placed me on a path of great transformation in my own personal beliefs, but one that has never been marked by a “loss of faith” scenario, which in my experience seems atypical. I’m happy to type it up if anyone’s interested, but so far the lack of action on comments I make to old posts has me thinking that could be a spectacularly wasted effort. Vote, comment, or pm to show interest.

comment by Cakoluchiam · 2012-11-27T19:33:17.655Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I want to say that my own origin lies in having been raised Unitarian Universalist with the most amazing minister who never invoked "God" as anything more than the common good or interpersonal kindness. I want to believe that UU Sunday school attendance, or, more interesting to me even at that young age, ditching class and sticking through the "adult" section of the worship, where she would give the most awe-inspiringly inspirational sermons, would be enough to awaken any child as a rationalist. Alas, I am fairly certain I was prepared for rationalism even before my family moved to the church while I was in elementary school, and alas, that minister retired all too soon.

Another possibility is the fact that I was raised in a neighborhood co-op, where each afternoon I would spend at the home of a different friend, experiencing their family culture, and the diversity among those households—race, religion, nationality, economic status, orientation, language, profession—instilled an early understanding that any adherence to convention was a matter of choice.

There is one more influence, less grand, perhaps, than the others, but I think perhaps most concrete as an awakening "event". My grandfather used to visit often when I was young. He liked to play a game with my siblings and me where he would point at an aeroplane flying overhead and declare "there goes a bird!" and my sisters and I would reply "grandpa, that's a plane!", and he would point to a squirrel and say "look at that groundhog climbing the tree over there!" and my sisters and I would reply "grampa, that's a squirrel!", and so on for all manner of things.

My grandfather also smoked, and from everything I'd learned even at that early age, smoking was bad. One day, I decided to ask my grandfather to quit, because that was what you were supposed to do with bad habits. He told me that he would quit smoking if I would stop being silly and call those little feathery animals that flapped around in the air by their proper name: 'aeroplane', and those furry little critters that dug up the garden and left burrow holes all over the park 'squirrels'.

And I did.

It was a while before I saw my grandfather again, and eventually he came to stay with my family for his final years, but after I resolved to speak his language around him (even if I kept to the "real" terminology elsewhere), I never saw him light another cigarette. I don't know if he actually quit, and for the sake of the fable, it doesn't really matter. What I carried from then on was an understanding that there was a clear distinction between fact and fiction and that each has value, but as much as I might enjoy my conversations with my grandfather, and the benefit of humouring his fiction, I needed to place a filter between that and my true model of the world. That is, my curiousity in one (fact or fiction) wouldn't always suffice for an understanding of the other, but even the existence of a fiction had the potential to influence reality.

As an educator, I recognize this sort of potential in all young children, who create entire worlds of make-believe, complete with their own characters, societies, codes-of-conduct, and even laws of physics, each of which world is kept quite distinct from the others. The point where imagination becomes rationality is the point where the child can recognize, consciously, for any rule in their imagined world, "how is that different from the world we live in?", and "what else would be different if that were the rule?", and establish a curiousity about those sorts of inferences. That is, when the child's fiction genre of choice shifts from Adventure to Speculative.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-20T21:06:25.359Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, I'm not quite sure if I'd say I have a "story", but there was definitely a series of factors that pushed me toward becoming a rationalist. As a child, any time I was involved in some sort of group vote, upon winning or losing (being in the majority or minority), I noticed that my desire was focused more on whether I won or lost, rather than whether the agreement the majority reached was fair or not. I suddenly stopped being a majoritarian, and began seeking the right answer, rather than the "right" answer. This was further reinforced by subsequent uses of rhetoric I noticed people using to strengthen their arguments. I thought "this person is using connotations rather than logic to make himself sound right, if he actually believed he was right he wouldn't need to do that". Soon enough, I realized that I didn't care much for winning arguments, I just wanted to be on the side of it that's correct. Mario party also helped because it got me thinking not just about what to do to win (forward planning) but also whether a win was earned or handed out by luck (backward analysis).

comment by anansi133 · 2013-01-11T06:35:40.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"becoming rationalist"- there's an 'ism' there that raises my hackles a little. But there was one experience not long ago that piqued my interest in cognitive bias: I quipped to a friend, "When I do it, it's processing. When you do it, it's drama."

He called that attribution bias, and now I've started a collection of biases that I think I understand in my gut. Most of them seem highly mental and theoretical, but that's mostly because I have so few points of contact with other people.

comment by Epsilon725 · 2013-05-18T21:08:48.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For as far back as I can remember, I have always been a Rationalist, even before I knew what it was. I'd examine something from all angles, and think about things most people from my home town would not even consider. I saw this as me being smarter than them. I actually am smarter than them, but not only for that reason.

I could never really relate to anyone, back home. I saw them as dumb, uneducated, boring people that refused to think about anything. They openly refused to understand logic. They were stupid. They wasted their childhoods failing school and playing football and joining gangs. And I was not into that sort of things.

I was alone. I was a nerdy shut-in that would rather read than go outside, because Outside was where all the boring people lived.

My parents sent me to Archbishop McGrath Catholic school, becuase my parents thought it would be hilarious to send me, an athiest, to a catholic school. I wasted asn entire year-and-a-half excluded from everything. I woke up, I went to 'School', I sat in a corner, and when my hours were done, I'd go home. I'd read books and watch anime, and then go to sleep late at night. Sometimes, I'd stay up all night reading, and sleep during the day. They didn't care. I wasn't religious, and I'd never be.

I should porbalby menion that back then, I was a wimpy, pathetic doormat. I might sound absurd for blaming my parents, but they used to be physically and emotionally abusive. Now, they are only emotionally abusive.

Eventually, I was in a road accident caused by the Art Teacher, when she drove her car into me. They covered it up, had me expelled, and spread lies about me.

I was diagnosed with Aspergers, because apparently, there's a disorder for the smartass-ness that I developed as a defence mechanism, and the aversion to touch that my parents gave me. "Is your kid not normal? Don't worry, it's not your fault! There's a disorder for that!"

I was sent to Heronsbridge School, a "Special School", where I wasted 3 years of my life colouring in line drawings of puppies, and answering what 2+2 is on every baby worksheet they can download and print in front of me.

I stayed firmly Rational, to try and keep everyone's emotional abuse from hurting me. Their opinions and belief regarding me are illogical. They are based on predetermined guesses and assumptions, rather than observation or fact. Therefore, I should not be bothered by the fact that I am despised and hated by everyone in school, at home, even in my own home. My parents call me a disappointment and a failure. Even though they sent me to these places.

At that time, I thought it was Logical. Like Spock, and the Vulcans. I did not know about Rationalism back then, and I thought it was called 'Logical'. I liked how it prevented me from feeling bad about my life, and allowed me to focus on Writing, rather than falling into a despairing wangsting emo-pile.

Because I'm probably not going to be able to get a job without any qualifications or grades, I'm going to make money by becoming a writer.

I have already written a few books, mostly fanfics and original stories. I have taught myself to write books.

Anyway, I recently came upon a certain fanfic. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I downloaded an audiobook of it, so I can listen to it at night, when I can;t use my 3DS or Laptop.

I really, really like that that fic had done to Harry. I read the TvTropes page for that fic, and then I looked at LessWrong.

One of the comments I saw, about a funny webcomic, claimed that "It was a perfect depiction" of a certain logical fallacy, I cannot remeber which one. At that point, I found what I had always dreamed of: An entire website full of smart, rational people. I didn't have to be alone anymore. I could meet and befriend people as smart as me. I could meet and befriend people smarter than me. I could even learn new things, and that sealed the deal for me. I suppose I should find it odd that my 'School' is where I relax and sleep, and my 'Home' is where I feel bad, and my 'Free time' is when I learn. But honestly, I'm finally learning, so I'm okay with it.

comment by SwitchContext · 2013-07-26T09:56:38.497Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Disclaimer: Cognitive science says that this incident probably didn't happen the way I remember it.

When I was 5 years old, my mum sent me to Sunday school because she was casually Church of England and that's what you did. It was only the second or third time I'd been and after the lesson they had us pass around a box full of sweets and told us each to take one. I remember thinking that there was something I really didn't like about this as the box was coming around so I passed it on without taking a sweet. One of the women running the group noticed and asked the other children to pass the sweets back to me, assuming I'd forgotten to take one. I stopped them and said that I didn't want a sweet thankyou. When she asked me why I paused for a moment and then said 'I don't think Jesus would like you bribing us to believe in him'.

She gaped at me a little and there was a very awkward pause but nothing was said immediately. When my mum arrived to collect me they asked for a word with her while I waited in the car. When she came back, she sat down and asked me what had happened. When I explained the story to her she burst out laughing, told me I'd done well and that I wouldn't be going to Sunday school any more. On the way home she explained that my conclusion about the sweet was right but saying so had upset the ladies in charge, especially because I'd said it in front of the other children, and they'd asked her not to bring me to Sunday School again. This confused me because the only explanation that made sense was that I'd been excluded because what I'd said was correct but 'dangerous' in some way.

At the time I believed in god in a childish, unquestioning sort of way but I'd already had a few problems with the idea that I should believe in God because I wanted to go to heaven and because if I didn't I'd go to hell and the sweet incident was the first time I'd put my finger on the problem. If I was going to believe, I wanted to believe based on truth not bribes or punishment.

It wasn't an 'aha' moment exactly but the incident stuck with me over the years and the idea that I wanted my beliefs to be true rather than based on what I want to be true has, I think, kept me heading in the right direction.

comment by ourimaler · 2013-07-26T18:01:18.263Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I spent the first six years of my life in Israel, and the rest in France. Now, my immediate family wasn't really religious, but cultural osmosis did lead me to believe in the better-known Old Testament stories - a vague belief in God, as others might believe in Santa Claus (I also believed in the Tooth Fairy. And that she looked like Gonzo in a skirt. Muppet Babies may have been to blame).

Around age 8-10, I became enamored with science, which became central to my worldview. Now, one of the books I owned around then was a children's animal encyclopedia, and it had a couple pages explaining old animal-related superstitions, ranging from "black cats bring bad luck" to "ants fighting means an enemy army is approaching". It was my first introduction to the concept of superstitions. But then, when I stopped, and thought of those examples, and what I knew of science, and what I knew of God and all those biblical stories... It occurred to me that religion sounded remarkably like superstition. It would be an overstatement to say I became a rationalist at that specific point, but that's when I became an atheist; furthermore, it was around then that I decided superstition, and incorrect beliefs, were something to oppose and grow out of.

In retrospect, I can see that a lot of the fiction I read around that time helped shape my worldview. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court showed me superstition being used to manipulate a nation, while displaying the power of science. Odyssey from River Bend showed me post-apocalyptic heroes searching for lost scientific knowledge. Rahan showed me a caveman using reason to overcome superstition.

Of course, all of this only constituted early steps. I was years later that I would formalize my philosophy, and learn that "believing in rationalism" was, at most, the first step to actually being rational.

But if I had to point out where it all started...I'd say it was my childhood science magazine, and that animal encyclopedia.

comment by Polina · 2013-08-01T08:01:16.308Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Once my mom told me that when I was three years old, I suddenly asked her a philosophical question, “Mom, who gave birth to all the people on Earth?” Surprised, she answered, “Well, I gave birth to you, your granny gave birth to me, your great-granny gave birth to your granny...” Her explanation didn’t satisfy me, “No, Mom. I mean who gave birth to all-all-all people?” Now I am thirty-four and still curious about he answer. Darwin’s evolution theory seems to provide the most reasonable explanation available, but still is not conclusive enough to be accepted by all human beings.

Definitely, many highly-intellectual people believe in some super-natural force. My father, a University professor, vigorously follows Orthodox Christianity rituals, including fasts, church services and regular conversations with priests. A good friend of mine, a bright woman in her mid-thirties, became a Buddhist. Now she lives in Nepal and India and does her religious practices at least three hours daily in order to be reborn human in her “next life”.

I found it a bit hard to accept reincarnations belief wholeheartedly. What if they don’t exist? At the moment of death, say, forty years later, a Buddhist would simply find out that they lost about 40x365x3 = 43 800 hours of their life for something that didn’t yield the expected result. Feeling a bit upset that I could not find common ground with my parents and some friends, all of whom had certain religious, mystic or esoteric beliefs, I couldn’t understand why I had no faith or, at least, a theory to rely upon. Then I came across Harry Potter and Methods of Rationality.

After reading the fanfic, I started browsing the Internet for numerous articles on cognitive biases and rationalism as life philosophy. I felt fascinated. I saw the light. I was on top of the world. No longer did I feel guilty that I can’t trust in something supernatural without experimental evidence. A cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett told an anecdote about this issue in his speech, "Once I gave an interview for the Christian radio station. The interviewer was beside himself talking with me. He said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Are you telling me that you don’t believe there’s some force that governs the whole universe and protects our lives and all the rest?” I said, “Oh, I do, I really do. I call it gravity.”

My exploration of cognitive biases has helped me not only to understand my own shortcomings and irrational decisions, but also to improve considerably. I do not waste money on lotteries and I try to avoid Bandwagon effect, Just-world Hypothesis, Gambler’s fallacy and Impact bias. I am still learning how to become a true rationalist but rational approach became an integral part of my personal philosophy.

Now I know what I will answer my kid if he asks me who gave birth to all the people on Earth, “Why don’t you find it out yourself, using your own Reason?”

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-01T19:24:22.715Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He said, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Are you telling me that you don’t believe there’s some force that governs the whole universe and protects our lives and all the rest?” I said, “Oh, I do, I really do. I call it gravity.”

I also believe there are three more such forces, namely electromagnetism, the weak interaction, and the strong interaction!

comment by Polina · 2013-08-02T15:17:28.437Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What if they discover another force some day?

comment by Cthulhoo · 2013-08-02T15:29:34.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A Nobel prize is awarded?

comment by [deleted] · 2013-08-02T20:50:15.816Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Then I'll believe in one more force (assuming I'm convinced the discovery is not a fluke).

comment by Document · 2013-08-07T16:07:14.707Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Reminder to others: downvotes are a limited resource; you can only cast up to some multiple of your karma.

comment by Document · 2013-08-07T16:38:28.634Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

BY THE END OF THE DAY

Out of curiosity, what time zone are you in?

comment by seez · 2013-08-09T04:33:22.527Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Hi everyone. Just to note from the beginning of this comment, I'm a bit different from the typical LW demographic, so maybe this will help shed light on another way of coming to rationalism.

I was born into a mildly Jewish agnostic household, but when I was about 4, I became strongly drawn to Christianity. I didn't know much about it, but I somehow heard about heaven and hell, and that was definitely what drew me in. I was terrified of the idea that people didn't get what they deserved, that bad things happened to good people, that when people died they were really gone forever. When I asked my mother about concern she explained that life isn't fair. But I knew that couldn't be true. Because if it was, if there was no supernatural protection against evil and death, then of course everyone would be frantically working to make it better all the time. I knew there were kind, intelligent people in the world, and they weren't doing this, so they must have a good reason, like that they didn't need to for reasons I didn't know about. I was very confused, and the idea that most people believed in heaven and hell, and it was "okay" that life wasn't fair and we were all going to die because the afterlife was fair and lasted forever, made a great deal of sense to my 4-year-old self. I was quite relieved.

But when I learned more about the Christian afterlife, and realized you either got profoundly inexpressibly screwed forever or bliss forever, and which one you got depended more on where you were born and how much you followed the rules than anything else, I realized that was no more fair. Maybe less so, since the result would last forever. And, I thought, if Christians really believed that, why didn't they go around trying to convert people 24/7? Were they psychopaths? They thought everyone's eternal soul might be condemned eternal torture and they didn't spend every waking moment eating, pooping, or prosthelytizing? Little-me tried to think about being tortured for an hour and not being almost done. And a day and a year and a hundred years and I realized it all didn't make sense.

So I modified my belief to fit my moral code, making my own personal version of the afterlife a new life where everyone got exactly what they deserved. Which helped me rest easy for a short while. But I noticed that other people didn't like my version of the afterlife as much. And they didn't seem that interested in how unfair the world and their vision of the afterworld were so lacking in justice. I know I was a naive little kid, but I felt very alone, like I was the only person really trying to make sense of things. But the truth, that we die, sometimes young and sometimes horribly and sometimes after being treated like shit for our whole lives, was too terrible and strange for little-me to believe in for a while.

I remember the first time I heard about cryonics, when I was 7. I was staying up late with my father watching some scientist talk about some new cryoprotectant. It took about 5 seconds to convince me that cryonics was a good idea. I started crying and my father couldn't understand why. I simply hadn't realized there might be another option besides dying within my lifetime. But even this possibility disrupted my fair-afterlife fantasy. It didn't seem to make sense to base all of my actions off of incredibly slim chance that everything would suddenly get fairer when someone died, especially if I was willing to abandon the belief when I learned I might not have to die. So I kept trying to find out something that didn't depend on a frail, unknowable hope.

I think the disparity between what people professed to believe was true and what they acted like was true initially pulled me away from rationalism. I felt like there had to be some big simple explanation that I had somehow missed but made it all make sense. When I realized this wasn't true, I became much more rigorous about examining my beliefs and the beliefs of others, to make sure everything I was learning wasn't logically insane. I started informally studying psychology to try to understand the why people don't all sign up for cryonics, and why Christians don't spend all their time converting non-believers.

There were a few notable "aha!" moments.

One was that same night, at age 7, asking my father whether he had signed me up for cryonics, and hearing him say no, because he thought death was beautiful and lent meaning to life. I asked him whether, if every other parent had signed up their children, he still wouldn't sign me and my little siblings up because death was "beautiful", and hearing his voice crack as he struggled to lie to me with a straight face was one of those.

Learning about phrenology and angelology was another, because it confirmed my suspicions that just because lots of people did lots of work for many years in a respected field didn't mean everything they were doing wasn't wholly useless. I realized I needed a tool to make sure everything I did wasn't useless. Rationality seemed to help with that.

Other moments included:

  • randomly picking up Peter Singer's Animal Liberation at age 12, and thus learning about utilitarianism.

  • realizing that I could win arguments even when I knew I was wrong and the other person was right (because I didn't want to lose my reputation as the local smart person), which meant I could probably win arguments against myself to protect myself from similar discomfort.

  • reading Watchmen and thinking about a scenario where (spoiler) the enemy turned out to at least maybe be right all along, and maybe (which contrasted, at least in my mind, with "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" and the idea that utilitarianism was wrong in some ineffable way that could be proved through storytelling).

Since finding HPMOR and LessWrong, I've had many more, but I think the priming that came before was necessary, at least for me. A lot of the time, just hearing someone else say the ideas I've had all along, but felt weird/crazy/unwelcome for trying to articulate has been crucial.

comment by Vika · 2013-10-23T02:32:59.701Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Here is my long-winded origin story, with an emphasis on the importance of community.

My first exposure to a community of like-minded intelligent people was in high school math camps. The amount of motivation could almost be felt in the air. After a whole day of lectures and problem sessions, when there was finally time to chill out and play some card games, many people were still discussing the most interesting problems from the sessions, or whatever other math they had on their minds. It was a place where it was ok to care about something enough to work on it all day, and I could never match that amount of cognitive output during an ordinary day at school. Even the card games were of the more mentally challenging sort, like Mao with its ever-accumulating arbitrary rules to be guessed and kept track of. Thinking was not considered effortful.

The Canadian math camp community made my high school years a golden age of sorts. It did, however, have a narrow focus that was unsustainable on the long term. Math contest problems are neat and challenging and elegant but they are still just toys - made to be solved within an hour or two, guaranteed to have a nice solution, even if devilishly difficult to find. Applicability to the real world, even remotely, wasn’t of interest, only challenge and elegance. Most of them went into pure math afterwards, and continued to work on fascinating theoretical problems. I was one of the few to go into an applied field.

A much more prosaic problem with math camps as an environment was finiteness. After a few years of accumulating knowledge and contest awards and friendships, I got to the end of the road - namely, I graduated from high school. I came to visit during my university years a few times, and did some teaching, but it wasn’t the same. I had fallen out of the loop. But I walked away with a sense of what an awesome community of smart people is like, and how much more people can do together with the right set of values and social norms.

During my undergrad years, I was often finding myself being ineffective and confused, chasing tasks that were handed to me instead of figuring out what I actually wanted to do. Then I went to rationality minicamp, and I was struck by a sense of deja vu. It was another group of smart people solving problems together, only the people were adults and the problems were real. They were throwing their intelligence and creativity at optimizing life.

Finiteness was still a thing, though. The week of learning useful life hacks and deep conversations and bonding came to an end, and everyone dispersed around the country. We set up regular skype chats to keep in touch, and they even happened for a year or so. I tried many of the techniques, but found myself increasingly bogged down in my old habits of thought and action. The buddy chats, though encouraging and useful, were too infrequent and distant for a significant effect.

I did get sufficiently inspired by the community aspect of minicamp to start going to local LessWrong meetups in Boston. Regular meetings with the same people were helpful for reconciling my usual worldview with rationalist memes. Last year, I visited the newly formed New York rationalist house, then called Winterfell, and felt ridiculously envious. While I got out of my grad school bubble to go to the meetup once every few weeks, these guys met every day, knowing and supporting each other much more deeply. This was the kind of place I wanted to live in, and the kind of social environment I wanted to have.

At one of the following meetups, I brought up the idea of forming our own rationalist house in Boston, and a number of people put their names down. In summer 2013, we found an awesome 7-bedroom apartment in a vibrant Somerville neighborhood, and thus Citadel came to exist.

When we moved in in early September, the first thing that struck me about living here was the sheer overdose of socializing of high information density (spoken as an extrovert). The layout of the house is admittedly ideal for running into each other - two floors with all the rooms adjacent to large common areas that are connected by a spiral staircase. It was surprisingly easy for me to add structure to our social evenings by “decreeing” weekly rationality sessions. The first week, we had a quorum for the goal factoring, and the writing, and the strategic review, and the habit training. Later, we tacked on a communal dinner at the beginning of these, and while the sessions are generally late, they still happen. I am now spending much more time on self-improvement activities than I would be able to do alone, and having the input and support of my housemates has been immensely helpful.

We are generally good at developing systems for group dynamics, from chore allocation to a token economy of gems that we use for reinforcing each other. There is also a lot of playfulness - ever-changing titles, silly drawings posted on the walls, dancing outings, a countdown since the last occurrence of Pascal’s Mugging… We care about each other, we help each other be awesome, and we have a lot of fun doing it. After all these years, I feel like I’m in the right place, and this time there is no obvious reason for it to end.

I used to think that my default environment doesn’t matter, and that I “should” be able to be effective in any setting. I came to realize that this is like expecting to be healthy and strong while living on junk food, because default settings are extremely important. I hope that more people will figure out how to create a supportive social environment for themselves and each other.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-12-03T12:13:34.525Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hello. I don't identify as a rationalist. I try not to identify at all, but I fail: next best thing, I identify as 'urban scum' - a term I use in an idiosyncratic sense. Individualist, pro-freedom (not necessarily liberal), self-reliant, network-conscious, versatile. A hippy, maybe. And a discordian. The story is very long, so I'll condense it: for a variety of reasons (not least of which were the encounters between my grandparents/parents and WWII), I came out of childhood as somewhat damaged goods. I emigrated from my native Hungary in 1986, at age 17, and lived in the UK for 9 years. Then I moved back. I haven't had a job for about 26 years now: I don't think I could hack it. Working at home, using a variety of professions is my ideal. Having your smarts about you and distinguishing between neocortical and older urges is an important part of that. But I don't think that a rational stance is all there is to life: in fact, I think most of what there is to life is not available from a purely rational stance. So there. :)

comment by Shield · 2013-12-03T14:41:56.262Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't consider myself a rationalist, I feel that would indicate a confidence I don't have. I'm certainly trying, which is by far the most important step I think.

I suppose it was the first time I heard to proper definition of evidence, in that anything that is true only ever makes anything else more likely to be true if the latter has a higher chance of being true if the former also is (dumbed down but that's how I heard it). Id always been a bit skeptical of - effectively stated - all the bullshit but that's what really got me thinking about religion and some of the things my parents taught me.

I believe I was 10 or so. I was mildly astonished at the fact no one considered this relevant information until now. I'd been in school for 4 years and no one taught me the concept of evidence.

The depths of my naivety are revealed to me now.

comment by Fossegrimen · 2014-02-03T16:43:37.242Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I never had a watershed moment when I ‘discovered' rationalism. For those of you who grew up with religion and take faith as a more or less given part of society, I must have had a rather peculiar childhood; When I was little, I spent quite a lot of time with my grandfather who was an uneducated farmer and had never heard of Bayes’ Theorem. (But loved it when I recently explained the basics to him.) I remember starting sentences with "I believe…" and I never got any further before being interrupted with "If you want to believe, you can go to church. Around here we go with the evidence”. Upon being asked about the possibility of an afterlife, he went: “If there is an afterlife, it can not be observed, and if it can not be observed it is certainly not important enough to talk about”. He is a rather abrupt old man. Another nugget of wisdom was “There is an infinite supply of possible mistakes to choose from, so there is no point in making the same one twice.”

I also live in a country where about 80% of the population are Atheists/Agnostics, which makes religion something the crazies are talking about. Empiricism and rationalism has simply been the default position for my entire life, even if not expressed explicitly or in mathematical terms.

Even atheists who are taught from the age of five that ‘belief’ is not a permissible word are not exempt from biases of course, and the first time I consciously noticed that particular problem was right after I died (which could count as a watershed moment.) In my early twenties, I went through a bit of a mental/emotional crisis (for reasons that I may end up covering in another post) that I handled through extreme amounts of exercise and caused me to lose weight. During my yearly checkup at the doctors, he noticed that I was severely underweight. (we’re talking a BMI of about 12 here, so severely is not an understatement) He spent quite some time going over my eating habits and couldn’t find anything wrong. Two months later, I was found dead by the roadside and revived in the ambulance. Random passersby who know CPR is a good thing (TM). My body had simply shut down due to spending more energy than I had absorbed over an extended period of time. After recovering for a bit at the hospital, I slowly realised that the doctor had observed something wrong (a very low BMI) and upon finding that the normal explanation (anorexia) didn’t apply, he had discarded the observation rather than looking for other possible explanations. I was quite upset about this, and I also started examining myself with respect to why I hadn’t noticed that something was wrong either.

This experience made me rather obsessed with cognitive science and nutrition / exercise (which may be worth another post, this community seems interested in the topic); enough to take a year of pre-med, a year of psychology (which didn’t help much) and to read all I could find about cognitive theory (which did, especially Gödel, Escher, Bach which is also a wonderful book when considered only on it’s merits as literature.) This was in 1994, so quite a time before OvercomingBias and LessWrong, or I would most certainly have found this place back then. (btw, we have free tuition here, so I take at least one college course per semester, hence the odd academic choices. This year I’m doing introduction to quantum mechanics which led me to stumble upon the quantum physics sequence which led me to read HPMOR, which made me lurk around this site for the last five months and reading the rest of the sequences before creating an account.) (this comment counts both as a 'hello' post and a 'Origin story' post :)

comment by Visser_One · 2014-04-15T13:38:02.505Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I grew up in a Reconstructionist Jewish household with an Orthodox dad and an Israeli mom. I'm sure they used to think that I'd become this great Jew - I was sent to a Jewish private school, and I realise now that I was (and still am) a perfectionist, which meant I felt the need to do all the prayers and ceremonies properly. The first push towards rationality came sometime in second grade, when I asked my parents if I was adopted (long story) because I'd never heard a solid answer in either direction from them before. When they said I was and that they hadn't been intending on telling me, something in me must have started ticking towards science and rationality, because that was when I discovered that adults lie to their children.

I started noticing the lack of evidence for events from the Torah, and even from the rabbinical tales. Science, on the other hand, had rocks that dated back millions of years, or bones from animals never mentioned in the Torah. Armed with that knowledge, I realised the idea that one being (god) being lord and master over the whole universe didn't make sense. So I dedicated myself to science and became an atheist, or at the very most agnostic. I started holding truth-with-evidence as best thing to do, having noticed the general hypocrisy I was being surrounded by in school and at home.

In middle school and high school I managed to find my way into Wicca and Paganism, more interested in the idea that magic could be real (fantasy books have always been my favourites) than in the mythology and deities involved. Somehow over the years that morphed into belief-in-belief (which I only realised yesterday after encountering the self-deception posts).

College saw me reading anything and everything I could get my hands on, and changing my major three times. I tried computer science, astrophysics, theatre, linguistics, and criminology. I took classes in psychology, statistics, programming, physics, backstage rigging, and so much more besides. I kept up with science magazines like Discover and Scientific American, reading them from cover to cover to absorb as much scientific knowledge as possible. Religion of any sort fell by the wayside and was mostly forgotten aside from the bonfire holidays and Halloween.

After college I found HPMOR while on a fanfiction marathon and that's what really got me started down the road. Reading about Harry and his thoughts made me want to think and be more like that. Breadcrumbs led me here, and I'd been intending to start the Sequences for the past year or more. A few weeks ago I finally sat down and started the Sequences. And now I'm here and trying to think better.

comment by salij · 2014-05-10T22:10:58.434Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I grew up in a strict Christian household. I did not seriously question the way I was raised until about 12-13, when I started experiencing depression. I thought something was wrong with me since I was not able to fit in with society, and so I became a frequenter of the self-help section of libraries and bookstores.

My senior year, I journaled that my life goal was to see things objectively, separate from myself, because I realized that seeing things through a faulty lens was what was causing me to suffer. I did not know how to, though.

I did not know that Rationality was the method I was seeking until four years ago, when I was in my second year of university.

In my second year of university, I fell in love with my studies, for I had found something I was passionate about: biblical Hebrew and translation. Even though I was not a Christian anymore, I recognized that the Bible is one of the most important books of Western Civilization, and so I wanted to read it in its original language (both biblical Hebrew for the Hebrew Bible and Koine Greek for the New Testament), since translation is just interpretation. I loved studying this so much that I thought I would go to grad school for it. I was a hard-working student, taking more classes than anyone else I knew, even having to request special permission to do so, and working a part-time job at the same time. I quietly found it amusing when others would complain that they didn't have time to do their schoolwork.

It was around this time that I journaled that I realized for the first time that I was unconscious. I was so depressed at the time that I knew I had to do something to change, but what that something was, I did not know. I had already made a calendar of my life plans. Graduate university. Attend grad or law school. Write some books maybe. Get married. Have kids. Is not that what one does? Is there any other option?

Two weeks after having journaled the above, my friend and I met a brilliant autodidact at the donut shop. I had pre-judged him as an ordinary military man, and I lacked interest in his and my friend's discussion of philosophy (my friend was a philosophy major). I do remember feeling embarrassed when my friend said that this man reminded her of Nietzsche, for I thought: “Geez, I only took one class and I know that this guy’s philosophy is very different from Nietzsche’s.” I felt embarrassed, because I thought that she was making our university education look really bad, and I (though I did not realize it at the time) wanted to defend the university system, since this man told us that the university system was a joke. I moved to another table to study French, because I did not care about their conversation, and I wanted to focus on my studies instead. I had taken only one class in philosophy, and it did not interest me. I found it confusing, and thought it something for people smarter than myself.

They moved over to my table, for some reason that I cannot remember. I continued to study French while they spoke. But then the man mentioned something about the Bible, which caught my interest, since I was studying biblical Hebrew. We got into an argument about the truth of some fact, and he ended up being correct. We then started talking about Kabbalah and esoteric interpretations of the Bible, because I was really into that at the time. He said:

“Do yourself a favor. Study rationality instead. Mysticism will get you nowhere, if you lack method. Understand this: mysticism provides conclusions without method, the method of ratiocination provides the method for obtaining accurate conclusions. How can you know whether the conclusions received from mysticism are valid or invalid, if you lack method of discernment? Western philosophy provides the method, Eastern philosophy provides the conclusions.”

He then referred me to John Stuart Mill’s A System of Logic. We went through the first couple of pages together very slowly, and he helped me to understand. We spent the whole night talking. He gave me his copy of the book, which I wrapped in protective covering, and carried around with me everywhere thereafter, although it was heavy, as though it were my Bible. I copied out the definition of almost every word in it. I still have the document of that. I started doing this to important books that I could not initially understand. I called them “treatments” of books, and I later learned that they are similar to medieval glosses.

The day after I met him, even on no sleep, I spent the entire day in the library, copying out the Oxford English Dictionary (foolish, now that I reflect, but perhaps a necessary unnecessary step), and researching all the concepts he had introduced me to. I was so excited; I felt like I was embarking on a great journey; this was the opportunity I had been waiting for, the opportunity to begin living. That was the first day I neglected my schoolwork at university. Even just after a brief introduction to Logic, my classes started becoming unbearable. French was the only class that was OK to me, because it was a language class. But I was taking a class on the American Revolution, in which class we were quizzed on our teacher’s opinion about the founders being exploitative capitalists, and my suffering increased exponentially. I knew that I could not go on existing the same way I had before I had begun my study of logic. I started plotting dropping out of university.

Right after I began plotting, my summer classes ended, and I went to Europe and then to an archaeological dig in Israel, since it had already been planned. I did not enjoy my travels as much as I probably would have before. I was still fascinated by all the historical sites, and the beautiful landscapes, but being around people was becoming more and more unbearable, as they became more and more predictable, and I just wanted to return to my studies and solitude. Whereas before, I used to love talking to, and was even unusually trustful of people, particularly strangers, which could have gotten me into some serious danger, but, as things have turned out, they did not.

I got back to the States, cancelled my housing contract (pissing off my housemates in the process) because I wanted to be financially independent from my parents who were paying for my rent, dropped out, and started sleeping in the woods. I lost almost all of my “friends” at this time, who thought I had joined a cult, or that I wanted strength so much that I wouldn't be fun anymore, or that I was having an "identity crisis."

Two years after devoting myself to the self-study of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric (giving myself the Trivium education which I wished I would have gotten in my earlier years), I directed my attention to Sir Bacon's inductive/experimental method, realizing that Logic was not enough- for logic concerns itself primarily with the evaluation of propositions as a whole, and does not provide method of discernment as to whether the Names of the Subject/Predicate in the propositions are indeed based in reality. My most recent development has been, a couple of weeks ago, stumbling across LessWrong and HPMOR, and it was much needed. I am with much gratitude towards Mr. Yudkowsky, and the LessWrong community.

Thus has begun my journey.

comment by Dues · 2014-08-05T05:02:36.856Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I was a child, my parents took me to church a few times. My brother and I always pitched a fit, so eventually our parents gave up. I would love to say that was the start of my journey and that we did it because the things they tried to teach us didn't make enough sense, but that would be a lie. The real sin that the local church made was to be super boring. So with my sanity waterline firmly unraised, I started my own religion. It had aliens, because aliens were cool. I even got a convert. (You are now free to laugh at middle school me.)

Eventually my friend decided that he didn't want to play the game anymore. (This also included an awkward conversation where he asked if I actually believed what we were talking about.) I remember holding firm to my beliefs because admitting that I was wrong would be embarrassing. This was my first taste of my brain really going crazy and rationalizing 'dangerous thoughts' away. My first steps happened when my brain finally calmed down and let rationality take hold. I realizing that I never wanted to do something like that again and I needed to watch my thoughts.

(I also learned that being a cult leader is super fun. If you ever need priest for the Bayesian Conspiracy I will be there with a funny robe on.)

comment by SystemsGuy · 2014-11-26T02:50:45.630Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hi all. I'm a seasoned engineer, BSEE plus MS in Systems Engineering, with a couple of decades in electronics systems architecture, team management, and now organization management. I'm a big picture guy who can still somewhat do the math, but not really much anymore (ahhh, back in the day.......). Myers-Briggs says I'm an INTJ.

I've had some classes and additional practical experience in decision theory, statistics, communications theory, motivation, common biases and fallacies, utility, and such basics. I am beset with an interest in almost everything technical (I'm a T person, with the depth in electronics systems and the breadth in general engineering and technical topics), but heavily skewed to applied technology, not research. The observable world to me seems to be horridly sub-optimized, largely to human short-sightedness and apparent inability to plan ahead or see the bigger picture of their actions. I much like games and what-ifs. Favorite quotes include Einstein's "you can't solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them", an unattributed "people are not rational creatures, but rationalizing", and one I use to limit analysis-paralysis "I can afford to be wrong, but not indecisive".

I am individualistic and introverted by nature, but I've become more socially conscious and communicative as I've progressed in my career and life with wife and kids. I'm here because I'd like for the world to be a more rational place, especially for my children, but honestly my expectations for success are low. I like the moderated format and technically leaning of this site, though to be honest my readings over the last few days indicate the discussions are more like a debate room than a crowd-sourced problem-solving machine. I'm not saying that is bad, but I can't help but wonder where the "action verbs" will come into the game.

comment by Vaniver · 2014-11-26T15:14:17.124Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome!

I like the moderated format and technically leaning of this site, though to be honest my readings over the last few days indicate the discussions are more like a debate room than a crowd-sourced problem-solving machine. I'm not saying that is bad, but I can't help but wonder where the "action verbs" will come into the game.

Function follows form; a forum website mostly leads to forum-style discussions. But other things are going on in forms that are more conductive to action verbs, like physical meetups or workshops run by CFAR. (And the changes mostly happen in the lives of people reading the site, like you could see in the bragging threads or rationality diaries.)

comment by SystemsGuy · 2014-11-27T03:23:27.897Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the welcome!

I will review CFAR, as at a glace it has some significant clients and at least some success.

There are no meetups near me, it seems.

I appreciate the feedback.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-11-26T16:29:03.210Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I like the moderated format and technically leaning of this site, though to be honest my readings over the last few days indicate the discussions are more like a debate room than a crowd-sourced problem-solving machine.

If you have a specific problem that you want to get solved that you think fits the website, feel free to open a thread in discussion.

But I don't think there's no problem solving. Out of the first site at the moment there are:

1) Request for suggestions: ageing and data-mining (The thread is about chosing how the OP focuses his scientific research which is a practical problem)

2) Breaking the vicious cycle (Solving a community problem, that important for some members)

3)The Centre for Effective Altruism is hiring to fill five roles in research, operations and outreach (Recruitment is a clear practical problem)

4) I just increased my Altruistic Effectiveness and you should too (Shares a practical technique about increasing the size of donations)

5) Shop for Charity: how to earn proven charities 5% of your Amazon spending in commission (Practical technique for increasing money going to charity)

6) Memory Improvement: Mnemonics, Tools, or Books on the Topic? (Sharing of practical techniques)

7) I Want To Believe: Rational Edition (Sharing of practical techniques)

8) Financial Effectiveness Repository (Sharing of practical techniques)

9) How to build the skill and the habit of experimentation? (Sharing of practical techniques)

I don't consider that a bad output.

comment by SystemsGuy · 2014-11-27T03:18:25.830Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the welcome!

This site is unusually populated with internal links -- that must take some discipline for the posters (and either good search tools or good memories, or both!).

I will review your links, and I much appreciate your sharing.

comment by timeholmes · 2014-12-23T20:02:26.487Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am a sculptor of the human body and a deeply religious person. So I come from a sector far from most others here. That's why I believe I may have a useful perspective. Primarily this might surface as a way of looking at reality that includes things that might be invisible to many in our increasingly mind-driven world. I believe that intelligence comes with a frightening blind spot that causes me increasing concern (outlined in my TED talk, "The Erotic Crisis" on YouTube). The body's intelligence is every bit as complex and sophisticated as the mind's, but has access to neither logic nor language. And we minimize it to our dire peril.

This means I also probably come to the place of concern over AI from the opposite direction of most here. I see the abandonment of the body throughout human history as our most alarming existential threat, and one that culminates in the looming specter of AGI. I feel this spells nothing less than the end of the human era. It would be a shame if after millions of years of evolution and the whole beautiful human story with its monumental art, thought and marvelous creations, we were to create a tool that extincted us as its first act!

To hear the arguments about the rise of AI and the Singularity causes me much grief due to the lack of focus on the deeper issues. Like for instance as much as we talk of saving humans from extinction by AI, I hear little discussion of what human really means. Along with everyone, I feel the daily pressure to become more machine-like ourselves. Yet there is little acknowledged awareness of this threat. The AGI we build might preserve all of human history and art in exquisite detail, but there may by then be no sentience left to make meaning of it. This is my chief concern.

(For anyone interested, I'm giving a keynote about this at the "Be/Art/Now" Earl Lecture in Berkeley, CA on 1/29/15) -Tim Holmes

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-12-31T19:36:35.652Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

am a sculptor of the human body and a deeply religious person. So I come from a sector far from most others here. That's why I believe I may have a useful perspective.

To be useful you actually have to be able to argue your perspective in more depth. It's quite easy to say that you find the human body important, but alone that's no reason for other people to also find it important.

comment by Gram_Stone · 2014-12-29T12:26:26.308Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, everyone. I feel that I have taken an unusually circuitous route to becoming a rationalist. I started out close to rationalism in ideaspace, went really far, and then came all of the way back. I have to begin by saying how rationalism was 'epistemically proximal' to my early beliefs. After that, I'll show how far I went. Then, I'll show how I came back.

I think it can be said that my intellectual influences have been relatively epistemically favorable. I think it all started with the film adaptation of Jurassic Park when I was a kid; I think that it made me find joy in the merely real. If dinosaurs are that awesome, and they were dead and science brought them back, then science must be awesome! Then I became interested in outer space and all of the other things that kids automatically love when they love science. When I was older, like many others, I sometimes felt the urge to write science fiction. If I remember correctly, I was researching terraforming for one story, and then I came across a Wikipedia reference to Robert Freitas' respective estimations for how long it would take biological organisms and nanotechnological machines to sequester all of the carbon dioxide in the Venusian atmosphere. That led me to his book Xenology. Therein, he discussed various alternative forms of government that alien civilizations might use, and mentioned Robin Hanson's work on idea futures/prediction markets, proposing a form of government based on prediction markets called "futarchy." I didn't follow the Wikipedia page to Overcoming Bias, which really sucks because I think that this was right around the time that Eliezer was still posting on OB what later became the sequences, or around the time that LW was coming about.

Later, I got into lifehacks like mnemonics and speed reading and stuff, and I found the list of the best textbooks on every subject. I still didn't become a user or even a lurker.

Then, less great things happened.

I became an intellectual contrarian and decided that people hadn't 'given enough credit' to psychodynamic psychology and the historical contributions of psychoanalysis. It didn't help that there were people supporting this who are Nobel laureates and have written leading texts in the field of neuroscience, or that a lot of people are trying to shoehorn Freud's theories into neuroscience. Then I became a meta-contrarian and decided that Lacan was, as Prof. Chomsky would put it, a conscious charlatan, but that Sartre was alright. Then Sartre got me into existentialism, and existentialism got me into continental 'philosophy' in general. I decided that analytic philosophy (read: philosophy) and science were imposing themselves upon a domain in which they did not belong.

During this time, my friend, who is a huge Harry Potter fan, showed me Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I was like, "That's cool," and didn't read it.

For a reason that I can't remember, I ended up looking up the textbook list again a few days ago, and, fortunately, I thought: "This is my fifth time here in as many years and I haven't seen what they have to say. Maybe I should give it a shot." And then LW convinced the everloving hell out of me.

comment by nitrat665 · 2015-03-26T08:57:22.060Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Here is the story of my path to becoming a rationalist.

As far as I remember myself, I used to read anything I could get my hands on – my mom even jokes sometimes that I learned to read before I learned how to speak. So, long story short, at some point, when I was about 5-6 years old, I got my hands on a Bible. Having thoroughly studied that particular document, I decided to go forth and become baptized. I guess that I am one of the rare cases of child baptism being a somewhat educated decision – at least, I took time to familiarize myself with the tenets of my religion and made the decision to convert myself.

While my parents are not particularly religious, they took my request well enough (you want to go to church? Fine, enjoy yourself and don’t forget to come back in time for dinner!), and so I was baptized in a Russian Orthodox church. I did not become a severely religious child, but I did attend church of my own volition once in a while (though, honestly, most of the times I found that reading cool adventures of Philistine-slaying Jewish heroes in the Bible was significantly more fun than church attendance).

As time went on, though, I became increasingly interested in science. As a result, eventually, starting from the age of 8 - 10 or so I started getting my hands on some science fiction, then textbooks and encyclopedias on biology, geology, chemistry and physics. At the same time, I have discovered that there are various religious paths in the world other that Orthodox Christianity, Judaism and Paganism (of the latter two, I knew from the Bible). Well, actually, I also knew quite a lot about the Greeko-Roman pantheon a lot too by that time, but I generally considered those a fantasy story sort of thing, not a religious path. So, as the amount of information available to my mind grew, I started getting less and less satisfied with the Christian interpretation of the world.

By the time I entered high school, I started roaming around, trying to get a sense of what kind of religion would be satisfactory to explain the observed reality. For some time I fluctuated around, once in a while picking a religion and trying it on to see if its explanations would fit, however, most of them failed. I looked into writings of some esoteric authors – out of those guys, I most fondly remember a Russian esoteric writer Daniel Andreyev, who wrote a book called “Rose of the World” about unity between different religions. I looked into Buddhism, and I still retain the thought that if there is any religion that is “less wrong” than the others, Buddhism might be it. I tried to embrace the communist doctrine. I have spent some of my teenage time being a typical straw-man atheist of the type that yells at old babushkas “Your god is an illusion, fool! Repent! Everything is biochemistry and physics!” (Yes, I was an obnoxious youth at times.) I also tried to invent my own religion or three, though I wasn’t successful in making one that would suffice for explaining the reality or converting people. Those particular attempts, no doubt, did not help my public image at school at that time, so a lot of people thought I was nuts. However, I should say, trying to make my own religion was fun, and if I ever get enough time to sit down and write a fantasy novel (I do get that temptation once in a while), I will have some material ready and waiting for me from back then. And all the while, I studied more and more science, winning at some major competitions and preparing for college. My primary interest at that time ended up in Chemistry.

When time came for me to go get my undergraduate education, it happened so that I ended up going into a Christian school in America (for a major in Chemistry and Maths, though). Being surrounded by Christians (well-educated Christians too, who could argue their points and solve some of the difficulties I was facing) cooled me down for a while, so I became a somewhat satisfied Christian for a while again. Yet, as time passed, I still found that Christianity couldn’t provide me a satisfactory world model, even as explained by the trained theologians at my school. As I did not want to raise a scandal, I ended up maintaining my image of a functional Christian until I graduated, but by the time I left school I was certain that whatever I may honestly call myself, it is not Christian.

With time, as I encountered more materials on atheist and rationalist philosophy I lost the remaining shreds of my religious needs, and gradually became an atheist and stayed one ever since (a bit of an anti-climax to that exciting story, i guess). Similarly, with the rest of rationality both instrumental and fundamental, as my knowledge of the world grew, I ended up updating my beliefs more and becoming a more generally rational person as well. So, I guess I never went through a dramatic deconversion or rationalist awakening – in the end, I feel I just grew up.

comment by hoofwall · 2015-04-11T11:53:23.841Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

After seeing an image I thought was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen I tried to create an imaginary friend of her and after she became established enough in my mind I guess, she immediately gave me ideas on what it truly meant to be right(which was a first to me since my philosophy on everything was very unfortunate prior) and I've been effectively living vicariously through her since...

comment by mrexpresso · 2015-07-23T21:18:18.007Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

does anyone know a program that calculates bayesian probability?

comment by kiboy · 2017-04-26T16:49:14.813Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It was with my first hit of LSD in 1970 that I started to be conscious of thinking (rationally?) and that (in my environment which was emotionally and intellectually poor and extremely abusive) put me at odds with the most of my world and with time I'd have to say it's only gotten worse for me. Spending long survivalist stretches in the Great Basin alone or with a dog has been the best of it for me.

But I can't honestly say what thinking rationally means? I do know that I can easily see flaws in much of humanities arguments based on my experiences of living and thinking but that is all. I really don't have much going in the way of formal education and am possibly way out of my league here.

Most of what I consider my rational thinking and conclusions would be abhorrent to the vast majority of humanity. For instance embracing Antinatalism. I rationally don't see a "cost effective" way to "fix" what life seems to be. Especially as a human animal. It seems all of us can go in almost all ways due to a little push from chance and chance is not likely to be lucky IME.

comment by tototavros · 2017-08-31T05:05:02.665Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of my (recently met) good friends is a rationalist, on LW, etc. She had made some offhand comment about "Tell Culture", so I looked it up, found Thing of Things and started reading about it; it sounded like a good idea. Linked at the bottom was "Cis-By-Default", which described my feelings on my gender better than anything else. I started reading SSC after reading a lot of Thing of Things, then decided to make an account here!

comment by Liam Goddard · 2019-04-13T18:27:14.137Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My path to rationality started with atheism. I had always believed in the Christian God, and never questioned it. But one day I heard a reading in church about how if a city of villains contained but one innocent, God would not strike it down. I remembered the story of the Plagues of Egypt. Um... how was that possible? I thought about how evolution contrasted with "Adam and Eve" and started to wonder how reliable the Bible was. What if God was different from what it said? And then the question I had never asked before came into my head- "How do we know there's a God?"

About an hour later, I had found a total of zero evidence and converted to atheism.

Ever since then, I rebelled against my parents. I knew they weren't always right. If they didn't have a good reason for a rule, I tried to ask them why they were doing it, and since they rarely even gave any reasoning, flawed or not, I usually just acted as if they had never said the rule.

I also enjoyed Harry Potter fanfiction, and one day in February 2019, just over two months before this post, I thought that HPMOR might be interesting, and clicked on it. After discovering all of Eliezer Yudkowsky's writings, I started asking myself, "What do you think you know and why do you think you know it? Why do you believe what you believe?" I found that a large percentage of the beliefs that I held were incorrect.

I've been reading Overcoming Bias, Less Wrong, and other writings by Eliezer Yudkowsky and other rationalists in order to determine what flaws in my reasoning I still have, what biases I hold, and how to fix it ever since then.