Comment by artsyhonker on Belief in Self-Deception · 2011-02-22T11:17:42.233Z · LW · GW

As a theist, I don't believe in God because I perceive some positive benefit from that belief. My experiences and perceptions point to the existence of God. Of course those experiences and perceptions may be inaccurate and are subject to my own interpretations, so I can't claim that my beliefs are rational. I accept on an intellectual level that my belief could be wrong. This doesn't seem to enable me to stop believing.

However, I am involved in a religious community because there are positive benefits -- chiefly that of being able to compare notes with other people who share my irrational belief in God and my desire to do good work in the world. I can see that there might be positive benefits in religious communities for non-theists, though I don't really see the point.

Comment by artsyhonker on The Santa deception: how did it affect you? · 2010-12-30T21:20:09.768Z · LW · GW

I'd quite forgotten about force.

I see a lot of activism that is carried out by groups which, if not specifically secularist, are not explicitly religious, but this tends to be single-issue stuff. Religious communities, in my experience, tend to teach on or examine or respond to every aspect of life (though it is debateable how successful most are, as there is nowadays the problem of people leaving if they don't like what they hear). Are there secular movements which attempt to be so all-embracing?

Comment by artsyhonker on The Santa deception: how did it affect you? · 2010-12-30T18:01:07.777Z · LW · GW

That makes sense.

Assuming altruism in general is desirable:

  • how do we teach or pass on altruistic values outside a religious setting?
  • if this is difficult or impossible, is it better to convince people to perform altruistic acts even if that runs contrary to their values? Is that possible without an element of dishonesty?

I think religion can be a vehicle for the transmission of altruistic values, but I dislike the way it is often used to bamboozle people into behaving in certain ways (some of which, in more positive cases, are altruistic). I am also wary of some of the other values religion often transmits.

Comment by artsyhonker on Many of us *are* hit with a baseball once a month. · 2010-12-30T15:04:35.293Z · LW · GW

Additionally, I don't think it's all that accurate to say that the incidence of menstruation was that frequent before birth control. My understanding is that bleeding during pregnancy is comparatively rare, though not unheard of, and that significant numbers of women do not menstruate or have a reduction in menstruation during breastfeeding. It is also my understanding that women have traditionally started reproducing not long after the onset of menstruation, or even sooner (the age of menarche appears to be decreasing, but pregnancy is possible prior to a girl's first period). If these understandings are correct I would expect that the modern Western experience of roughly-monthly ovulation and menstruation is rather novel.

Comment by artsyhonker on Some rationality tweets · 2010-12-30T10:39:00.123Z · LW · GW

Train hard and improve your skills, or stop training and forget your skills. Training just enough to maintain your level is the worst idea.

Doesn't this depend somewhat on the relevance of the skill to the goal? My skills at cooking are reasonably adequate to the environment in which I live. I would classify them as better than average, but decidedly amateur. I don't particularly want to prioritise them over my skill at playing a musical instrument, for which I get paid, but I wouldn't like to lose too much of what cooking skills I do have as that would make my life more inconvenient, and certainly less enjoyable.

Within my work, musicianship can be broken down into a good many skills, all of which I need to maintain at their current levels to remain in employment, and some of which it may be worth my time and effort to improve. For my church job, if I were to try to improve my organ pedal technique at the expense of maintaining my ability to learn five hymns and two voluntaries per service to reasonable performance standard, I would not hold my position long. There is a limit to how much time I can spend practising each week, and so the pedal technique, while important, will progress more slowly than if I did not have to maintain my skill at playing manuals-only (as I am also a pianist this comes much more easily to me). When my pedal technique catches up with my manual technique I will be able to re-destribute my practice time to attempt improvement of both.

I'm having a hard time thinking of situations where there are no skills which are best kept at maintenance level, though it may be that for some people such extreme specialisation is efficient.

Comment by artsyhonker on The Santa deception: how did it affect you? · 2010-12-30T09:07:40.153Z · LW · GW

I think David_Gerard is getting at the point that because of interconnectedness, helping others also helps us. Mutual benefit is not the same as altruism, but a stronger awareness or understanding of it can encourage good acts.

If I hoover the living room, my housemates benefit more than I do from less dust, but I don't have to listen to them sneezing. If I shovel the snow off my neighbours' front pavement as well as my own, they (who don't own snow shovels) don't have to do it, but my post is easier to deliver. Goodwill from the postman goes a long way!The shelter I volunteer at makes some contribution to the safety of this neighbourhood. The money I send each month to a small school in Africa means the children who study there are less likely to be involved in violence which, while seeming far-removed from my life here in the UK, could conceivably have an effect. The idea that everything is interconnected, there are no externalities and the good of another really is to my benefit as well can be a strong argument.

It isn't altruism, though, as I understand it. Altruism is my doing these things even though the benefit to me is low compared to the benefit if I were to spend my time and energy and money elsewhere. As I also derive significant warm fuzzies and a small amount of good reputation from these actions I cannot claim to be truly altruistic, though I would like to think I am. If this is true of most idealists or altruists, I'm not certain the distinction matters.

My best guess as to how to systematically inculcate altruism is by practical, structured volunteering coupled with discussion. With a bit of luck the warm fuzzies should kick in. In London I thought the Unitarians were fairly strong here but ultimately the community was too small and not theist enough for my other requirements.

I have learned or "caught" warm fuzzies from others being kind to me even when the benefit to them was small. Many of these people are theists but a significant number are not. I submit that if altruism is contagious, then acting altruistically whenever you can may help encourage altruism.

Comment by artsyhonker on Is it "bad" to make fun of people/laugh at their weaknesses? · 2010-12-29T23:19:13.932Z · LW · GW

In terms of the effect on others, I think this is very context-driven. Sometimes I am quite happy to be the brunt of a joke, other times not, and I wouldn't like to try to formulate a rule. I know that in face-to-face interactions I am least comfortable with jeering from complete strangers, and more kindly disposed toward those who I know well enough to jnderstand they don't mean to cause serious hurt, but there may be some bias there too in that those who care about me have learned which topics I find most hurtful and tend to avoid those. Online I generally take more care to avoid poking fun at others, but don't tend to react as strongly to others poking fun at me.

I do think that poking fun at others' weakness purely to make oneself look better actually makes one look rude, irrational and unkind. While I hesitate to label it "right" or "wrong" I would go so far as to say this behaviour is unwise if one values social status among people who in turn value politeness, reason and kindness.

Poking fun for other reasons (for example, to educate) can be less self-incriminating, but it is still going to be somewhat context-dependent. It is as well, too, to remember that our desired outcomes and the actual effects of our actions may not always match.

Comment by artsyhonker on I'm scared. · 2010-12-29T22:11:13.949Z · LW · GW

I think it's quite understandable to fear for your future based on the evidence presented.

I find the worst thing about such fears is the way they can detract from my ability to take useful actions.

I find one helpful method is to re-frame my thinking. No, I have no guarantee that everything will turn out "all right" for any given value of that. However, so far I have been through more than I once thought I could cope with. Am I unscarred? Certainly not. But I have work that I enjoy, people in my life I love and who care about me. I have food and shelter and access to reasonable medical care. I'm in a lot less physical pain than I was a few years ago, and more importantly have learned that pain, while unpleasant, is more tolerable than I had imagined. When I can appreciate how far I have come, the unknown territory of how far I have yet to go is less daunting. Sometimes if I'm really struggling I turn this into a written exercise.

The other thing I find helpful is to distract myself by getting really stuck in to work, to the point that worries about things I cannot control or predict get crowded out by more immediately topical concerns. I'm not certain this is wholly beneficial, but as much of my work is project-based it is moderately self-limiting. A variation on this technique is to go on holiday, if I can do so without seriously endangering work. The change in routine can be disorienting but sometimes seems to encourage me to think differently, perhaps because in an unfamiliar environment I must pay more attention to my immediate surroundings.

These are more pragmatic responses than rational, and your experiences may vary.

Comment by artsyhonker on Move the help button? · 2010-12-29T20:40:01.095Z · LW · GW

I certainly hadn't realised it was for formatting and might have had a look had I known.

Comment by artsyhonker on The Santa deception: how did it affect you? · 2010-12-29T11:02:54.769Z · LW · GW

I don't remember believing in Santa Claus. It was always a game to be played with grown-ups.

My experience of other children believing in Santa was very much one of them not quite realising it was a game, and my not wanting to spoil their fun.

Conversely, I did and still do believe in God, though again I have no memory of believing in the old man on a cloud version often given to children.

Comment by artsyhonker on Being Rational and Being Productive: Similar Core Skills? · 2010-12-29T09:57:50.259Z · LW · GW

In a book called "The Happiness Hypothesis", Jonathan Haidt described the unconscious mind as an elephant and the conscious mind as an elephant rider or driver. I wonder if a similar metaphor is useful here. His book certainly spends some time talking about how we might control our emotions to our benefit, though I don't know that it's more useful in that regard than most other pop-psych-with-a-side-of-CBT offerings.

I don't take it as a given that the problems of survival and reproduction are solved, though their context has certainly changed. I've not yet met anyone who could live forever if they so chose, or anyone who can reproduce without the help (with or without permission) of another person.

Comment by artsyhonker on Welcome to Less Wrong! · 2010-12-28T13:36:56.132Z · LW · GW

I came across a post on efficiency of charity, and joined in order to be able to add my comments. I'm not sure I would identify myself as a rationalist at all, though I share some of what I understand to be rationalist values.

I am a musician and a teacher. I'm also a theist, though I hope to be relatively untroublesome about this and I have no wish to proselytize. Rather, I'm interested in exploring rational ways of discussing or thinking about moral and ethical issues that have more traditionally been addressed within a religious framework.

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T12:02:04.562Z · LW · GW


Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T12:00:37.253Z · LW · GW

In the world of humans, a bit of hands-on participation makes it far more likely that they will bother to continue to contribute to that charity at all.

Exactly what I was trying to say, but much shorter! Thanks.

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T11:54:27.190Z · LW · GW

The security of one's own access to physical necessities is an interesting factor in this. Are those whose security has been unstable more or less likely to donate time or money to charity?

For me personally, uncertainty about my own circumstances is a double-edged sword. If I am feeling a bit skint I'm unlikely to give money to someone begging on the street, and if I know my budget will be limited I am stingier than usual about charity boxes in shops. At the same time, an awareness that it is only because of the kindness of others that I am not homeless myself makes me eager to pass that kindness on in unstructured ways (being kind to others where I can in the course of my work and leisure) and more formally (this winter, volunteering at a local night shelter).

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T11:18:53.906Z · LW · GW

(Sorry for bad html, I'll try to learn to use the interface when I'm next at a real computer.)

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T11:17:09.186Z · LW · GW

It is not only not obviously moral, it is immoral, if that means anything, for a government, or a person, to spend every last dollar on helping the unfortunate before spending any money on education, roads, defense, art, or even entertainment.

This seems a false dichotomy; the unfortunate will also be helped by money spent on education, roads and other measures which increase the common good (so long as they do not make the plight of the unfortunate worse).

Whether to spend money on medicine for the sick, education for those who cannot get access to it with their own resources, or art and etertainment by which a culture might examine these problems strikes me as being a bit like medical triage in an emergency room. Perhaps it makes sense to treat personal resource management similarly.

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-28T10:43:39.377Z · LW · GW

Thanks for the welcome.

I wonder how it's possible to quantify encouragement and the value of relationships. I have been on the receiving end of a good deal of care and encouragement at a time when my physical health was poor and nothing could immediately be done to improve it. This gave me great hope and is experience I still draw courage from when I find life challenging. I don't have a spare me to experiment on so can only imagine how I might have fared without that support, but I know it has seemed more influential than the practical support I had, and in some cases I would not have sought practical support had I not had steady emotional encouragement. I am fortunate in that I have never been without sufficient food or adequate shelter, but that would not have been the case had I been left to my own devices. I can only experience the world as myself, but for me, loving kindness and unconditional positive regard have been extremely important, and are probably the deciding factor in my subsequent attempts to help others.

On a wider scale, I've often wondered why we don't simply set up a tax system such that everyone can have a decent physical standard of living. Population concerns aside (given the lower birth rate that appears to result from increases in standard of living this should sort itsrlf out) I think some of this comes back to our tendency to prioritise kinship or clan groups over the common good. I would argue that not having a direct relationship with the people we are trying to help makes us more likely to withdraw aid at the first hint of danger. Certainly those withdrawing benefits or financial aid from the most disadvantaged in Britain right now are not those who work with the disabled and the homeless on an ongoing basis. Yes, good people ought to donate to charity, and funds should be used efficiently, but the idea that paying taxes, voting, donating a bit to charity and perhaps writing to an MP or going on a protest is enough seems flawed. I think that for the changes to occur which would guarantee everyone a decent standard of living, people need serious motivation. I see that motivation coming from personal involvement and relationships more than from a cost/benefit analysis of how to spend the "charity" portion of a household budget. The latter is important and I am glad there are organisations like GiveWell which attempt some of the arithmetic, but I question whether money-only donors will, in general, evaluate the rest of their spending and activity with a view to increasing the common good, and I suspect that the abstract connections formed by financial donations are frail, making such aid more likely to be withdrawn if it is inconvenient.

I don't suggest that people who donate money to charity should discontinue that support but I do think it helpful if they also spend some time, perhaps as little as an hour per week or month, doing some kind of aid work that offers the opportunity for a genuine relationship not based on who has more money. As most people do not spend all their waking hours working, this need not detract from their financial contributions.

I would be interested in seeing any data that support or refute this; I am extrapolating from my own observations.

Comment by artsyhonker on Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... · 2010-12-27T13:43:25.849Z · LW · GW

I think this might be correct but that humans are prone to prioritising the welfare of kin and close friends, and so someone working directly with people and forming some kind of relationship with them may be more likely to donate financial resources to that group in future. The lawyer may be more willing to spend money to keep a beach safe and free of litter if he or she has some personal experience which increases the importance of that beach in his mind. Most of us don't give much weight to mosquito nets because our own experience doesn't even put that on the radar.

I make a point of buying only FairTrade chocolate. My mental hack for times when I feel tempted to buy the ordinary kind is to think about people I love and admire, and imagine that my spending decision extends as far as having an immediate impact on whether they are paid fairly for their work. This is not, directly, how the market works, but as a re-framing exercise it does help me in sticking to a resolution when my own desires seem more compelling than those of the people who produce the chocolate.

I also question whether money is always more directly effective than time. I think the human relationships which might draw people to further financial support are often in and of themselves beneficial. That has certainly been my experience in formal and informal mentoring situations. No amount of money can buy lovingkindness, and while a kind word will not fill an empty stomach, someone with their immediate food, shelter and medical needs met may still be very much in need of that kind word. Encouragement and genuine care should not be overlooked as factors in increasing someone's quality and duration of life.

These things are hard to quantify but, for me, they tip the balance toward contributing time and energy directly to local causes, especially as I earn very little money anyway.