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).
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.
This is a nice one for irony.
"Oft evil will shall evil mar indeed."
I've just got to say awwww to this one.
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 typi... (read more)
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
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
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.
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...
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.
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.
It's nice to know that sometimes, somewhere, things work out the way they should.
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 ... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 a... (read more)
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."
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.
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.
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 prot... (read more)
cringes just a bit
In the scope of things, this all seems a bit silly to worry over now =/
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 ... (read more)
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.
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 l... (read more)
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
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.
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... (read more)
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 b... (read more)
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 go... (read more)
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)... (read more)
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.
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 thin... (read more)
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. Manda... (read more)
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.
In no way did Paul claim to have met living Jesus. Resurrected Jesus, yes - via miracle. Living, pre-crucifixion Jesus, no.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 th... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 ap... (read more)
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....
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.
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.
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,... (read more)
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 had... (read more)
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 enou... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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 as... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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.
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.
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 w... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 m... (read more)
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, ... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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(Sherl... (read more)
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 ex... (read more)
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 wi... (read more)
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... (read more)
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".
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.
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
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 mathemati... (read more)
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.
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, girl... (read more)
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.
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... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 yea... (read more)
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 inhe... (read more)
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 selec... (read more)
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.
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.
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.
When I realized in graduate school how difficult it was to resolve disagreements, and how disturbingly common crucial disagreements were.
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!
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 ... (read more)
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... (read more)
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, w... (read more)
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).
Monarchs don't need to pander to interest groups to get elected.
Monarchs don't need to pander to interest groups to get elected.
Merely to keep their heads attached.
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.
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 ... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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 thi... (read more)
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 m... (read more)
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 R... (read more)
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, a... (read more)
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.
"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... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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 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 loo... (read more)
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.
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.
Added a post scriptum, see above.
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.
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...
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 o... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 reinfor... (read more)
(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 ... (read more)
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 learne... (read more)
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.
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 val... (read more)
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 pollutin... (read more)
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.
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.
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).
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 alteri... (read more)
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)... (read more)
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.
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.)
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 liv... (read more)
does anyone know a program that calculates bayesian probability?
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... (read more)
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 accepte... (read more)
"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.
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 stri... (read more)
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... (read more)
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 ... (read more)
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 a... (read more)
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 i... (read more)
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.
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?&quo... (read more)
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... (read more)
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.
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... (read more)
BY THE END OF THE DAY
BY THE END OF THE DAY
Out of curiosity, what time zone are you in?
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