Robert Aumann on Judaism

post by iarwain1 · 2015-08-21T19:13:05.917Z · score: 2 (7 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 61 comments

Just came across this interview with Robert Aumann. On pgs. 20-27 he describes why and how he believes in Orthodox Judaism. I don't really understand what he's saying. Key quote (I think):

H (interviewer): Take for example the six days of creation; whether or not this is how it happened is practically irrelevant to one is decisions and way of conduct. It is on a different level.

A (Aumann): It is a different view of the world, a different way of looking at the world. That is why I prefaced my answer to your question with the story about the roundness of the world being one way of viewing the world. An evolutionary geological perspective is one way of viewing the world. A different way is with the six days of creation. Truth is in our minds. If we are sufficiently broad-minded, then we can simultaneously entertain different ideas of truth, different models, different views of the world.

H: I think a scientist will have no problem with that. Would a religious person have problems with what you just said?

A: Different religious people have different viewpoints. Some of them might have problems with it. By the way, I'm not so sure that no scientist would have a problem with it. Some scientists are very doctrinaire.

Anybody have a clue what he means by all this? Do you think this is a valid way of looking at the world and/or religion? If not, how confident are you in your assertion? If you are very confident, on what basis do you think you have greatly out-thought Robert Aumann?

Please read the source (all 7 pages I referenced, rather than just the above quote), and think about it carefully before you answer. Robert Aumann is an absolutely brilliant man, a confirmed Bayesian, author of Aumann's Agreement Theorem, Nobel Prize winner, and founder / head of Hebrew University's Center for the Study of Rationality. Please don't strawman his arguments or simply dismiss them!

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comment by ScottL · 2015-08-22T04:31:14.179Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Anybody have a clue what he means by all this?

I think that he is essentially saying the he believes in the idea of non overlapping magisteria. It should be fairly obvious that this is a case of compartmentalization. Here is a related post religions claim to be nondisprovable

Here are some other quotes from the interview not in the OP:

Religion is very different from science. The main part of religion is not about the way that we model the real world. I am purposely using the word “model”. Religion is an experience mainly an emotional and aesthetic one. It is not about whether the earth is 5,765 years old. When you play the piano, when you climb a mountain, does this contradict your scientific endeavours? Obviously not. The two things are almost though not quite orthogonal. Hiking, skiing, dancing, bringing up your children you do all kinds of things that are almost orthogonal to your scientific endeavour. That is the case with religion also. It doesn’t contradict; it is orthogonal. Belief is an important part of religion, certainly; but in science we have certain ways of thinking about the world, and in religion we have different ways of thinking about the world. Those two things coexist side by side without conflict.

This is an example of what is behind the figure of God call it a model, a way of thinking, a way of living. It is similar, broadly speaking, to the earth being round. God is a way of thinking of our lives; translated into practical terms, it tells us how to live as human beings.

Truth is in our minds. If we are sufficiently broad-minded, then we can simultaneously entertain different ideas of truth, different models, different views of the world.

Do you think this is a valid way of looking at the world and/or religion? If not, how confident are you in your assertion? If you are very confident, on what basis do you think you have greatly out-thought Robert Aumann?

No. I won’t go into details, but see crisis of faith which also talks about Aumann. I also don’t think it’s a matter of out-thinking, per say, I think that it is more of a matter of clearer thinking. I am not a religious authority or been brought up with a religion, so I can see it from the outside. I think that a big reason for Aumann’s belief is the costs involved if he were to start to disbelieve. See the below quotes:

The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful, and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society it is about improving one’s own quality of life. For example, let’s say I’m taking a trip a couple of hours after the Sabbath. Any other person would spend the day packing, going to the office, making final arrangements, final phone calls, this and that. For me it’s out of the question. I do it on Friday. The Sabbath is there. The world stops.

The religious community, by the way, is very close. This matter of khessed, of helping your fellow man, is very strong in religious communities; it is a commandment, like eating kosher and keeping the Sabbath.

There might also be an element of learned blankness. That is, going to Rabbis to sort out moral dilemmas for you instead of thinking about it yourself. Without religion it often becomes harder to know what is right or wrong and perhaps Aumann does not like that.

There was a period fifteen, twenty years ago when stealing software was considered okay by many people, including many academics. There was an item of software that I needed, and I was wondering whether to steal it or make a copy of which the developers of the software disapprove. Then I said to myself, why do you have to wonder about this? You are a religious person. Go to your rabbi and ask him. I don’t have to worry about these questions because I have a religion that tells me what to do. So I went to my rabbi a holocaust survivor, a very renowned, pious person. I figured he won’t even know what software is will have to explain it to him. Maybe there is a Talmudic rule about this kind of intellectual property not really being property. Whatever he’ll say, I’ll do. I went to him. He said, ask my son-in-law. So I said, no, I am asking you. He said, okay, come back in a few days. I’ll make a long story short. I went back again and again. He didn’t want to give me an answer. Finally I insisted and he said, Okay, if you really want to know, it’s absolutely forbidden to do this, absolutely forbidden. So I ordered the software. In short, you can be a moral person, but morals are often equivocal. In the eighties, copying software was considered moral by many people. The point I am making is that religion at least my religion is a sort of force, a way of making a commitment to conduct yourself in a certain way, which is good for the individual and good for society.

a confirmed Bayesian

I would be careful here. I find it useful to think that to be a 'rationalist' you actually have to be a rationalist. That is, you need to actually practice what you have learnt otherwise you only know about rationality. Aumann knows a lot about Bayesianism, but this doesn't necessarily make him a confirmed Bayesian. It just means that he knows a lot about what a Bayesian agent would be.

comment by Fluttershy · 2015-08-22T19:53:29.325Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Non-overlapping magisteria" is absolutely the right phrase to use when describing Aumann's defense of his religious beliefs. Further, I'd point out that it seems like Aumann really wants Judaism to be true, in that he enjoys being Jewish, and feels that he'd lose tangible benefits (such as being able to enjoy the sabbath) by becoming a secular person. I think it's somewhat common for religious people to feel threatened by the thought of losing something in the process of becoming atheists, and that this fear can push them into adopting positions (such as the non-overlapping magisteria position) they wouldn't have otherwise adopted. I'm not sure that most religious folks adopting such positions for such reasons are aware that these reasons are their true rejections of atheism, though. Sometimes, making people feel comfortable (with, for example, the idea that they can have supportive social networks without being religious) is half of the battle.

On a personal note, I was raised in a religious family, and I always enjoyed the peace and warmth that came along with the Christmas season. Since becoming an atheist, I've found that I can get the same warm feelings by being nice to others, and by drinking spiced black teas. Similarly, I still like gregorian chants just as much as I did years ago. Very little is lost upon becoming a secular person.

comment by iarwain1 · 2015-08-23T15:01:01.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks to everybody who responded. I read all the comments and did some more thinking. I also found this PDF (Hebrew) of a speech he gave on the subject. Here's my summary of what I think he means, more or less:

Scientific statements are models of physical reality, but they're the map and not the territory. Religious statements are also models, but they're primarily maps of one's personal version of an aesthetic / emotional / moral system of "reality" rather than physical reality. If to experience the beauty of Judaism that means using a model that views the world as having been created in 6 days, that's perfectly fine because it's only a model in our mind anyway and it doesn't have to conform to physical reality.

Stated in other words: I think he's appealing to the idea of separate magisteria, but he's extending it way beyond saying that religion deals with values while science deals with reality. He's saying that even the statements of fact, like young earth creationism, are a separate magisteria from scientific statements of reality. That's sort of compartmentalization, although it's more similar to suspension of disbelief. But ultimately I think it's more of a combination of all of those concepts.

But the upshot seems to be that he doesn't think religious "facts" correspond to external physical reality. As he says, many religious people wouldn't agree with him on this. Having grown up as an Orthodox Jew myself, I'd say this is an extreme understatement. Most Ultra-Orthodox Jews (I'm not so sure about Modern Orthodox, since I didn't grow up in that community), and most of the rabbis he looks up to, would probably consider such a statement to be complete heresy.

I'm also curious if Aumann puts the entire concept of God into this alternative personal "map of reality" that doesn't really correspond to "physical" reality. Does he think there is a God that really (in quasi-physical terms) created the world and/or guides the world and/or answers prayers and/or rewards and punishes people in heaven / hell?

comment by Viliam · 2015-08-24T07:33:16.842Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Does he more or less say that religion only exists in a virtual reality, which he "believes" only because doing so is aesthetically pleasant?

So, if I choose my "religion" to be e.g. Tolkien's canon, it is equally valid as Judaism, and any objections can only be made on the aesthetical level (such as "I find circumcision to be more cute than elves and orcs")?

comment by shminux · 2015-08-21T22:16:13.583Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you believe http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/opinion/sunday/oliver-sacks-sabbath.html it was an emotional/aesthetic decision:

“The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful,” he said, “and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society — it is about improving one’s own quality of life.”

Seems quite rational to not deprive oneself of beauty.

comment by MrMind · 2015-09-07T09:31:47.580Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

and is impossible without being religious

I don't really understand this... "Impossible"?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-07T12:55:27.177Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, it really depends on the individual. It would probably be impossible for Robert Aumann to find it beautiful without being religious, but some people could.

comment by shminux · 2015-09-12T07:42:59.292Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"The observance of the Sabbath" makes no sense, and the ritual itself certainly isn't all that beautiful to an outsider.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-12T13:03:08.050Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He explains why he thinks it makes sense, namely that it is good for human beings to have a day off from time to time, and that people will be less likely to do this if they don't have a fairly strict rule about it. How does that not make sense?

Regarding the second thing, Aumann is not an outsider, so it is not relevant to his reasoning. He doesn't say anywhere in that interview anything like, "everyone should accept Judaism."

comment by shminux · 2015-09-12T18:28:26.143Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I did not say he was an outsider, just that the ritual would likely not be "extremely beautiful" to one, according to Aumann. Certainly a day of rest is generally a good thing, few people disagree. But useful and beautiful are not at all the same thing. His argument, as quoted, was completely backwards from the usual ones ("you have to observe Sabbath if you are Jewish"): "Sabbath ritual is beautiful, but one must be religious to observe it, so I better be religious". Whether he really thought that or not, I do not know.

comment by wubbles · 2015-08-22T06:00:35.298Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mordecai Kaplan would be unhappy to hear that commitment to ritual and tradition requires belief . Committing oneself to a hard line to avoid backsliding is justifiable without divine command theory.

comment by pragmatist · 2015-08-23T03:42:34.389Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mordecai Kaplan would be unhappy to hear that commitment to ritual and tradition requires belief

I think the issue is not whether commitment to ritual -- as in, a commitment to go through the motions -- requires belief, it's whether experiencing ritual as beautiful requires belief. I think it's plausible that immersing oneself in the context of the ritual, including the requisite belief set, makes it far more meaningful and awe-inspiring. Merely aesthetic appreciation of ritual may not inspire the same depth of feeling as you would experience if every move in the ritual were wrought with spiritual significance for you.

So participating in the tradition without believing may also count as "depriving oneself of beauty". I wouldn't really know, though. I've been a non-believer my entire intellectually aware life, so I have no basis for comparison. I will say that I can't imagine any ritual or tradition driving me into the kind of frenzy you see at some charismatic Pentecostal churches, for instance. But I can't really imagine being driven to the kind of frenzy you see in the average audience for the The Price is Right either, so this may be an issue of personality rather than belief.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-12T13:05:57.349Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, participating in a ritual without believing in it tends to make it feel less beautiful.

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-22T14:38:32.416Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see why so many people are assuming that Aumann is accepting a literal creation in six days. I read the article and it seems obvious to me that he believes that the world came to be in the ordinary way accepted by science, and he considers the six days to be something like an allegory. There is no need for explanations like a double truth or compartmentalization.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T02:26:05.671Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's not at all obvious what he believes. He didn't use the word allegory, metaphor, or anything similar in his explanation. He never said anything to indicate that he saw science as "true" and religion as "false". He simply said that they're two different ways to look at the world.

comment by Diadem · 2015-08-24T08:51:34.058Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly the easiest explanation is just that Aumann is a very muddled thinker when it comes to religion. That's hardly a surprising explanation - muddled thinking is extremely common when it comes to religion. And it doesn't mean that such a person can't otherwise be very rational. I know I'm being blunt here, but I see no reason to look beyond superficial appearances here. Just because a statement is religious doesn't mean it's deep.

All this stuff about non overlapping magisteria is honestly just confused nonsense. There's only one truth. Sure you can approach that truth from different directions, but not if those directions directly contradict each other. Spending a great many pages talking about this just obscures that obvious fact.

And it's all good and beautiful to say that "Religion is very different from science. The main part of religion is not about the way that we model the real world". But I've never met a religious person who said that and then didn't immediately turn around and started applying their religion to the real world. Aumann also does that. In fact in this very interview he literally says that copying software is wrong because his religion says so. So he clearly is modelling the real world based on his religion.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-12T13:01:15.807Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think he was saying that copying software is wrong because his religion says so. When he is talking about that example, he says:

"In short, you can be a moral person, but morals are often equivocal. In the eighties, copying software was considered moral by many people. The point I am making is that religion - at least my religion - is a sort of force, a way of making a commitment to conduct yourself in a certain way, which is good for the individual and good for society."

In other words, he is saying that copying software is bad for society, but vague enough that it's easy for people to cut corners. His religion prevents that sort of thing, and in that way it is good for people.

I don't agree that copying software is bad for society, but in any case I don't think he was trying to prove a fact about the world from his religion.

comment by SanguineEmpiricist · 2015-08-22T02:12:47.780Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

We know that religion is false but it does something extremely difficult to do which makes it difficult for the atheists(such as myself) to continue, that it is the solution to the extended family. It increases trust among heterogeneous population bases and increases trust among unrelated peoples. Trust is a very scarce resource. Many people forgot to consider this and this is something that I have had to do a complete 180 on. I can no longer continue anti-religiousness as it is anti-civilization and anti-cohesiveness for a society.

I hope this makes you happy.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-12T13:38:43.961Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have a post at my blog about the meaning of saying that a religion is true or false where I discuss this interview. Basically I think he thinks that the practice of Judaism is good for him, and, at least for him, does not involve saying much about the world. That is clear from things like this:

"Religion is very different from science. The main part of religion is not about the way that we model the real world. I am purposely using the word "model." Religion is an experience, mainly an emotional and aesthetic one. It is not about whether the earth is 5,765 years old. When you play the piano, when you climb a mountain, does this contradict your scientific endeavors? Obviously not. The two things are almost - though not quite - orthogonal. Hiking, skiing, dancing, bringing up your children - you do all kinds of things that are almost orthogonal to your scientific endeavor. That's the case with religion also. It doesn't contradict; it is orthogonal."

Basically he is saying that his religion is a practice, not a belief. To the extent that it involves saying things about reality, those are mostly metaphorical or something similar.

comment by lukstafi · 2015-08-23T17:55:39.280Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps a satisfactory answer can be found in "Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life: Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, Wittgenstein" by Hilary Putnam (who seemed to me to be a reasonable philosopher, but converted to Judaism). I've just started listening to its audiobook version, prompted by this post.

comment by TheAncientGeek · 2015-08-22T20:34:16.306Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe he thinks religion and scence are both metaphors?

comment by Elo · 2015-08-22T10:32:25.781Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would say; (as said below) I agree with the boxing of beliefs; and the holding onto the ones that make you more effective in life; even if they are sometimes not true.

an example: "pain is weakness leaving the body" is an example of a lie that can encourage you to do more pushups, and therefore be more effective at doing what you want to do; even if its not true.

comment by cousin_it · 2015-08-22T09:50:05.490Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess you can view religion as a metaphor of morality, like poetic advice that uses a ton of strange concepts, but somehow makes your life better. Though I'm not sure that Aumann would put it in those terms, because in the interview he also talks about the nature of truth and factual claims and such.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-08-21T20:18:56.232Z · score: -1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think this is a valid way of looking at the world and/or religion?

Yes.

a confirmed Bayesian

Give it a rest already.


The antidote to cultishness is reading things by a diverse selection of smart people.

comment by iarwain1 · 2015-08-21T21:10:50.142Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So can you please explain what he means? I really don't understand in what sense it can be said that "the world is 15 billion years old" and "the world was created by God in six days" can both be literally true. And it doesn't sound like he means the Omphalos argument that the world was created looking old. Rather, it sounds like he's saying that in one sense of "truth" or in one "model of the world" it really is 15 billion years old, and in another sense / model it really is young, and those two truths / models are somehow not contradictory. I just can't seem to wrap my head around how that might make any sense.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-21T21:25:23.434Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

IHe's explaining the process of compartmentalization. I suspect if he had to bet on it for the background of a scientific fact, he would choose option A, but if he were discussing with a Rabi, he would choose to option B... he's reallly just choosing which compartment of belief to draw from.

comment by V_V · 2015-08-22T22:03:43.672Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

He agreed to disagree with himself. :)

comment by PeerGynt · 2015-08-21T21:30:47.330Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So there is free money to be had by posing as a rabbi and offering a bet to Robert Aumann?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-22T16:25:44.179Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Try it :-P

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-21T21:48:48.601Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose his compartments might get a bit confused at that point, but the scientific one would win out :).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-21T21:30:11.422Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but what is the purpose of compartmentalizing beliefs into bin A and bin B where the things in bin A are true and the things in bin B are false?

A religion can be seen as a metaphor, or as a way of organizing or prioritizing thoughts, but saying "Truth is within our minds" is, well, false.

That reminds me I'm planning a post on "higher truths" in literature. The short version is that I think that when people talk about "higher truths", they really mean "things fuzzy enough that I can twist them to say whatever I like."

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T00:21:09.213Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but what is the purpose of compartmentalizing beliefs into bin A and bin B where the things in bin A are true and the things in bin B are false?

There is a deep deep bias on LW of thinking that truth is the only aspect of belief that has value. But there's tons of other aspects of beliefs that have value - how happy they make, how much social acceptance they get you, how useful they are in achieving your goals - an many times these things are at cross purposes with the truth.

The beauty of compartmentalization is that you may be able to get the benefits of the truth while ALSO getting these other benefits.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T02:53:23.712Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is a deep deep bias on LW of thinking that truth is the only aspect of belief that has value.

It's not a bias, but an expected-value calculation. Most falsehoods are utterly useless to believe, along the lines of "The moon is made of green cheese." Merely affecting a belief-in-belief can be useful for the vast majority of other cases without actually spoiling your own reasoning abilities by swallowing a poison pill of deliberate falsehood in the name of utility.

The issue is that without possessing complete information about your environment, you can't actually tell, a priori, which false beliefs are harmless and which ones will lose and lose badly.

When you have a sophisticated meta-level argument for object-level wrongness, you're losing.

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-22T15:13:09.984Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

If you are a Muslim in many Islamic countries today, and you decide that Islam is false, and let people know it, you can be executed. This does not seem to have a high expected value.

Of course, you could decide it is false but lie about it, but people have a hard time doing that. It is easier to convince yourself that it is true, to avoid getting killed.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T20:37:48.991Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, you could decide it is false but lie about it, but people have a hard time doing that.

It's really not that hard, especially in countries with institutionalized religions. Just keep going to mosque, saying the prayers, obeying the norms, and you've got everything most believers actually do, minus the belief.

comment by V_V · 2015-08-22T22:12:49.707Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

But lying your entire life, even to your children (you can't risk teaching them anything other than the official truth) can be mentally exhausting.

Add the fact that core religious ideas seem intuitively appealing to most people, to the point that even ostensibly atheist people often end up believing in variants of them, and you get why religion is so popular.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T21:10:40.508Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think David was saying that lying is hard - but that lying convincingly is hard. There's a whole bunch of non-verbal, unconscious signals we send out, that at the very least, make it seem like "something is off" when we lie.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T21:21:28.880Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but Islamic societies don't actually have a Thought Police. They care about the public affectations and the obedience to norms associated with religion, not about private convictions. Honestly, do people in the West really think Arabs actually believe 100% of the nonsense they spout?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T22:05:05.655Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm talking out of my ass now (I'm not sure if you are, have you lived in or studied the culture?) but I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.

If you truly came to resent the culture and beliefs of those around you, and didn't compartmentalize, I suspect two things would happen:

  1. You would be incredibly unhappy.

  2. Others would be pick up on your contempt, and it would be harder to make friends.

comment by David_Bolin · 2015-08-22T22:13:55.351Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, both of these happen. Also, it's harder to be friends even with the people you already know because you feel dishonest all the time (obviously because you are in fact being dishonest with them.)

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T13:45:14.078Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, they do compartmentalize. They're also fairly unhappy, but not to a level where they're going to disrupt their entire social sphere and be ostracized (at best) from polite society for speaking up.

(Knowledge level: have talked to an n > 7 number of Arabs from the Arab world, usually Jordanians, Palestinians and Egyptians.)

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2015-08-22T23:11:57.733Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Honestly, do people in the West really think Arabs actually believe 100% of the nonsense they spout?

Yes. Maybe not 100%, but 75-95%.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-23T13:47:43.896Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let me attempt to phrase this well: people in the West believe that one shows status through high-handedness, by concealing emotions and not getting riled-up. People in the Middle East believe that one shows status through bombast and braggadocio.

They mostly know the nonsense they're spouting is nonsense, but in their minds, they'd be weak and low-status not to spout it, even in the expectation that nobody would really believe it (because it's nonsense).

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T02:57:14.813Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Merely affecting a belief-in-belief can be useful for the vast majority of other cases without actually spoiling your own reasoning abilities

Agreed. This is what I was saying about compartmentalization.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-22T16:32:40.971Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The issue is that without possessing complete information about your environment, you can't actually tell, a priori, which false beliefs are harmless and which ones will lose and lose badly.

I am not sure what is the point that you are making. Without "possessing complete information about your environment" you actually can't tell which of your beliefs are true and which are false. Humans make do with estimates and approximations, as always.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T20:36:31.820Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure what is the point that you are making.

That if you start deliberately believing false things, it's not actually useful, it's harmful. Expected regret almost always goes up from deliberately believing something you know to to be wrong.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2015-08-23T15:07:43.634Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is true, but one could use some other terminology rather than abuse the word "truth". Aumann is giving ammunition to every continental philosopher who argues that truth is relative or arbitrary, then tries to bring that into public policy.

I lose respect for Aumann for saying this. I have respect for Anders Sandberg, who in the past practiced some neo-paganism, with religious trappings, but when asked about it would explain (IIRC) that he was tricking his mind into behaving.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2015-09-12T13:17:49.947Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is what he says:

"It is a different view of the world, a different way of looking at the world. That's why I prefaced my answer to your question with the story about the roundness of the world being one way of viewing the world. An evolutionary geological perspective is one way of viewing the world. A different way is with the six days of creation. Truth is in our minds. If we are sufficiently broad-minded, then we can simultaneously entertain different ideas of truth, different models, different views of the world."

I don't think he's talking about separating beliefs into true ones and false ones.

The point of his discussion of the roundness of the world is that in order to say that, we are idealizing and approximating. Idealizing and approximating are things that happen in the mind, not in the world; that is why he says that "truth is in the mind," and in that respect he is right, even if truth is in things in another way.

Obviously the world was not formed in six days even in the way it is round. You cannot simply idealize and approximate in the same way and get that result. Aumann is aware of this, since otherwise he wouldn't say that you need a different way of looking at the world; you could look at it in the same way, as young earth creationists do. That makes it clear that he does not accept a literal six days; if he did, he wouldn't say you need a different way to look at things.

He was making a comparison. Idealizing and approximating are a scientific way to make statements about the world. Metaphor is another way, and that's what he was talking about. But metaphor is not simply about making false statements, so separating literal and metaphorical statements is not simply dividing between true and false.

comment by V_V · 2015-08-22T21:39:39.248Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The sentence "Frodo carried the One Ring to Mount Doom" is not literally true, but it is true within the fictional narrative of the Lord of the Rings. You can simultaneously believe it and not believe it, in a certain sense, by applying the so called "suspension of disbelief", a mental mechanism which probably evolved to allow us to consider hypothetical conterfactual beliefs for decision making and which we then started using to make fiction.

I think that theists like Robert Aumann who support the non-overlapping magisteria position are doing something similar: they accept "the world is 15 billion years old" as an epistemic "Bayesian" belief which they use when considering expectations over observations, and they apply suspension of disbelief in order to believe "the world was created by God in six days" in the counterfactual context of religion.

comment by WalterL · 2015-08-22T05:59:03.730Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

World is created in 6 days, with evidence indicating 15 billion years of whatever. For that matter, earth was created one second ago, your memories included.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2015-08-23T13:08:40.864Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's what the Omphalos argument is.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-08-21T22:47:29.073Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I really don't understand in what sense it can be said that "the world is 15 billion years old" and "the world was created by God in six days" can both be literally true.

Where did you get young earth creationism from above? Where did you get "6 day creation is literally true given earth days"? If this is how you are parsing Aumann why are you even talking about this?

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-08-21T22:55:17.494Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If we are sufficiently broad-minded, then we can simultaneously entertain different ideas of truth, different models, different views of the world.

And a "different way is with the six days of creation."

Now he doesn't strictly say that he holds both simultaneously, but I think that can be implied.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-08-21T23:06:50.258Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I repeat, where did you get literal 6 days, as in 6 24 Earth hours? Isn't there a steelman custom on LW?


I can invent lots of reasonable interpretations for the Genesis myth of creation after thinking about it for a little bit. Isn't there a concept of "day of Brahma," and so on? I am sure smart theologians who spend their lives on this can, too!


I think Aumann's deeper point is about map/territory, and how we should treat modeling as more-tentative-than-currently-customary (almost everything is modeling, and since all models are false it is useful to hedge/diversify). A lot of modern science is actually conditional on "convenient" statistical models that are not easy to defend.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T02:50:19.994Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't there a steelman custom on LW?

Yes, but there is a point where we should put our feet down.

I think Aumann's deeper point is about map/territory, and how we should treat modeling as more-tentative-than-currently-customary (almost everything is modeling, and since all models are false it is useful to hedge/diversify).

Even a very diverse map has to bother with object-level predictions that fit the object-level territory. Religion has so far been an utter failure at doing so.

Of course, one could charge that it's not intended to do so, and yack on about separate magisteria or compartmentalization, but in that case, bite the bullet and simply admit that words like "true" or "real", in their everyday sense of mapping a territory, do not apply to religion.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-08-22T16:30:20.454Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

but in that case, bite the bullet

I am pretty sure Aumann is biting the bulet.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2015-08-22T04:57:00.183Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that Aumann's statement can only be interpreted as six 24 hour days?

Of course, one could charge that it's not intended to do so, and yack on about separate magisteria

This is a very jarring dismissal of a very difficult to resolve problem, despite it being very old. Here are some maps that do not yield testable predictions:

-Other people exist

-Other people are conscious

-I was not created in the last minute with all of my current memories

Epistemology is much more than creating testable predictions.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T12:57:46.560Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think that Aumann's statement can only be interpreted as six 24 hour days?

No, it can also be interpreted in uselessly non-predictive ways.

This is a very jarring dismissal of a very difficult to resolve problem, despite it being very old.

I very much disagree.

Here are some maps that do not yield testable predictions:

-Other people exist

-Other people are conscious

-I was not created in the last minute with all of my current memories

Excuse me, but any sensible forms of those hypotheses do yield testable predictions -- unless you're confused about the meaning of words like "exist" and "conscious". Let's list things out:

  • Other people will exhibit object permanence, a consistency of state across observations. This is a simple prediction, and in fact, "other people exist" is the simplest hypothesis explaining it. Since "I am in the Matrix" is much more complex, it requires its own unique evidence to differentiate it from the simpler "other people exist".

  • Other people will behave as if they can introspect on internal experiences. Again, simple prediction (though actually reasonably complex: it requires me to have a theory-of-mind), but a prediction generated by a muuuuch simpler hypothesis than "Other people are p-zombies." In fact, if others are p-zombies and I'm not, then we've got a suspicious, weird uniqueness that would itself require explanation.

  • My memories will be consistent with present and future observations. And in fact, to be even more specific, the world will be consistent with my previous existence in ways that I don't possess memories matching-up to: I might find my keys somewhere in my apartment where I didn't remember leaving them, and then remember how I dropped them there yesterday night when very tired. Again, you could posit a Matrix Lord or a malevolent deity who's deliberately faking everything you experience, but then you just need an explanation for that which still accords with no Matrix-y stuff happening (like the same black cat walking past you twice, in the same direction, in two minutes).

Please leave the philosophy-woo back in undergrad alongside your copy of Descartes' Meditations.

comment by pianoforte611 · 2015-08-22T13:21:39.181Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

From your last line, I think its unlikely that unlikely that this is going to be productive. It sounds like you think that epistemology is simply erudite nonsense and philosophers need to just accept probably Bayesianism or the scientific method or something. I think this is quite disappointing, mathematicians could have similarly dismissed attempts to ground calculus in something other than loose arguments of the form "well it works what more do you want" but we would have a much less rich and stable field as a result. But if this is a mischaracterization of your view of epistemology then please let me know.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-08-22T20:42:05.297Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds like you think that epistemology is simply erudite nonsense

Much of it is, yes.

philosophers need to just accept probably Bayesianism or the scientific method or something.

This would require that "Bayesianism" or "the scientific method" or "or something" actually be a full, formalized solution to How to Reason Inductively. We currently possess no such solution; this does not, by any means, mean that no such solution can exist and we all have to resort to throwing intuitions at each-other or adopt broad skepticism about the existence and contents of reality.

What I recommend is to move past the trivialities, having accepted that the eventual solution will be abductive (in the sense required to dismiss skepticism about the external world or the consciousness of others as silly, which it is), and set to work on the actual details and formalizations, which are of course where all the hard work remains to be done.

(By the way, the reference to philosophy-woo is because professional epistemologists tend not to be radical skeptics. The idea that there just isn't an external reality is mainly only taken seriously by undergrads first learning the subject.)

comment by Manfred · 2015-08-22T01:54:04.545Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Directly above the passage quoted in OP is this:

When I was young, there were many attempts by religious people to "reconcile" science and religion. For example, each of the six days of creation can be viewed as representing a different geological era. There was - and perhaps still is - a view that science contradicts religion, that one has to reconcile them. It is apologetic, and I don't buy it.

He is swallowing the bullet on separate magisteria, here.