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).

New Comment
415 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

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)

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

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

... (read more)
8David Althaus
Brilliant! It's seldom that I can relate to every single line of a comment.
How strange.. I thought the same as well. It is curious to find my brethren, when I have so long felt alone in this.
2Adam Zerner
I can relate to a lot of what you said. Same basic wavelengths, [speechless], utterly impressed, etc. I love the phrase you used about there being an absence of the usual dissonance you feel when you read other philosophers. For me, Eliezer is the only person in the world for whom I feel (almost) no dissonance whatsoever when I read his thoughts.

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)

That's... definitely an unusual story over here. Would you care to write a top-level post about the details of this? Or are you especially uncomfortable with talking about your PTSD and the causes and consequences thereof, as well as the experience of opiates consumption? Sorry for being so insensitive, but you really have piqued my curiosity here.
I second that notion. It's just too bad we discovered this thread a year and a half after it was posted.
I cast Raise Thread.
I am afraid the spell you actually need is Resurrection; this Aleric fellow has not posted in the same span of time. In fact, his only post was this story.
You went for SRD correctness over a pun? You are getting both a downvote and a frowny face. :( Don't make me break out the really frowny one.
Not a pun; I was continuing the joke of spellcasting in a way which pointed out that the problem was not only with getting new activity in the thread, but also getting new activity from the poster. Also, just in case you are wondering, I did not downvote you.
Even if you had, there would have been no hard feelings. That comes with the territory of enjoying puns.
1Adam Zerner
Interesting. How so?

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.

Yes, joining social groups isn't the only possible cause of sudden belief changes, but since the relevant info should have been coming out pretty gradually, it is still hard to see how a sudden large belief change could be that rational. I suppose one could more suddenly see an implication of evidence one had long held, but then the suddenness should be attributed to have realized that some point of view was possible at all. A sudden move to a point of view one had already recognized as possible would harder to describe as rational. [I also mean this comment to reply to other comments besides Eliezer's but this system offers no easy way to express that.]
5Eliezer Yudkowsky
If the belief change we're talking about is becoming more rational, then the implication is that you've been irrational up until that point and failing to integrate evidence. Saying "I've been such an idiot!" is a further factor discriminating in this direction.
That's what happened in my transition.
I don't know, man. For me, joining the "rationalist" tribe only means trouble, socially speaking. It is not a tight or rewarding community, it lacks solidarity and structure, and we can't seem to agree on suff. However, I would be fooling myself by denying that being inmersed in a European environment that actively enouraged me to not only ignore the edicts of my native religion but to also positively disbelieve in it may have had a role in making a position as a Muslim untenable. However, my change as a rationalist... in the Lesswrong meaning of the term... you could say I had always been a rationalist, ever since I was a small child. The turning point religiously was "Religion's Claims Of Non-Disprovability", which, like many articles here, managed to tie many loose ends that were worrying me for years and made all the puzzle snap together. What Lesswrong did was help me organize my thoughts and show me the natural conclusions of the thought threads that I was intellectually horrified of following on my own. It helped me become more myself, so to speak. So, no, mostly it wasn't a "good social group to join" rationale, though it certainly was a deal-sweetener.
I've heard a story about a cat: The cat sat sunning itself by the window for several hours. Then it got up and walked off. My roommate said "That's how we can tell a cat has complex inner life - apparently uncaused but decisive action." Surely decisive action has more possible causes than social groups?
Seems the moral here is that humans already have a common internal mechanism for overturning belief systems that has nothing to do with rationality: outlining it completely would take me more research and probably enough space for a top-level post (it hasn't been addressed directly as far as I can tell), but it's related to the cult attractor and you can see suggestions of how it works in conditions like Stockholm syndrome. Being a lot more common over the set of all humans than having accurate intuitive access to a truly rational procedure for deciding between elements of belief systems, it makes sense to consider it a more likely cause for your own decisions in the absence of evidence for such a decision procedure.
It is sudden large belief changes that are suspicious, not decisive acts.
How about when one does not hold one belief to be prominently truer than another, but holds on to one consistent set of beliefs that their view of the universe and their morality are based upon, and which they cannot change gradually, because that would lead to inconsistency, and then one goes and accumulates enough evidence against the individual beliefs of one set and in favour of those of another set to decide to change sets entirely. Religion-coded and other similar worldviews are not buffets, you either take the whole menu or nothing at all. You can't divide it in bits the same way you would treat, for example, Marxism. It's all or nothing.
I can't speak with authority on his mental state at the time, but I was a participant in the online conversation during which his transition occurred, and I would say that it seemed like a click moment. He had already been grappling with religious issues and attempting to reconcile them in a rational way, and had started to make a headway on the sequences, and in the course of that conversation, he seemed to realize that there were simple and obvious reasons why the approach he had been taking didn't make sense, that the mistakes were correctable, and that by making a generalized effort to recognize and avoid those sort of mistakes, he could make his reasoning more correct. He already had the relevant information, but the connection was a relatively sudden event. Edit: wrote this after seeing Raw Power's comment in the recent comments bar without noticing the date of the comment he was responding to. I interpreted it as a question to Raw Power.
Sudden transition are suspicious and cation should be applied when switching world views. It does seem like you are jumping to conclusions in your guess: "Whatever your conscious thoughts, if you had a sudden transition I'm guessing that was your subconsious mind thinking something like "Yes, this looks like a good social group to join." This is a very narrow guess which you have not backed up with evidence. I also can not find supporting evidence in my own observations and/or reading. While it is a possibility it still seems likely to be an over simplification. Knowing that a previous belief system has been falsified(by some of it's foundation being disproven or thrown into doubt) it is perfectly fine to tentatively apply a new system of beliefs to experimental verify there correctness.

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 =/

This is very good to hear.
That was one of the main things that held me (and, I guess, may others) back. That, and the promise of Hell (at least for Christians and Muslims). No, really, Cessation Of Existence still scares the crap out of mem though I have accepted is as very very probable (barring the Singularity happening very soon). What about you guys?
In the mid- or late-morning, when I'm full of energy and eager to tackle the challenges and entertainments of the day, death looks like a terrible loss, a fun-stopper to be escaped at any cost. Late at night, when my brain is exhausted and wavering, the bed is so warm and the silence blissful, never waking up again sounds like a fantastic deal. I hope to die at night.
To the best of my knowledge, it is well with my soul. I enjoy living and seek to continue doing so- but when it comes to lifespan, I start at the present and count up rather than starting at infinity and counting down.
For me, the prospect of ceasing to exist has a calming effect. Not pleasant, as such. I certainly don't want to die. But the thought that someday, I will not exist at all puts all the day-to-day stresses and worries and regrets into perspective. There's an old 'symmetry argument' to the effect that life is a thin sliver of light bounded on the one side by an eternity of non-existence before you were born, and on the other by an eternity of non-existence after you die. The suggestion is that one is no worse than the other.
The cessation of existence holds very little fear for me. Existence really isn't all that great, so it ending wouldn't be all that bad. The one thing I fear about it is that it should happen before I manage to make my net impact on the world positive. I don't want to be one of the >50% of the population that the world would have been better off without. I fear failure, rather than death.
Hmm. If you are currently below net neutral impact, then continued existence is at least as important as improving your impact on the world. If you are currently above net neutral impact, you should probably end your existence as soon as feasible to ensure you don't accidentally cause or contribute to some event that brings your net impact way down to negatives.
I don't aim solely to have a net positive impact. I aim to have as large a net positive impact as possible. My fear is not the only contributing factor to my utility function. So, if I prove capable of pulling out of the significant pit of negative impact I have produced during childhood and adolescence, I will hopefully not commit suicide until senility, when there is good reason to expect my impact to go negative again.* *(I also have a couple of mental blocks that make me committing suicide unlikely. I haven't attempted it since producing them, although their purpose was unrelated.)
Isn't this just the Sunk Cost fallacy applied in reverse?
Not this time. According to the specified value system the approach is rational. (The sunk cost fallacy is fallacious due to the way it interacts with sane human values not 'fear net negative' craziness.)
Ah, right. I should have attended more carefully to context.
Why do you think >50% of people are net losses?
Well, to start off, the reason I picked 50% is the belief that most people, had they not been born, would have been replaced by someone else. Slightly <50% of the world could expect, on average, to be replaced by someone better. (specifically, 0.5*[the proportion that would be replaced]) The reason I chose >50% is that I believe that the population at present is larger than the optimum population. I'm not sure by how much, but I suspect the optimum for our current technology level would be less than 1/3rd of our current population. Would you like me to explain why I believe the population is above optimum?
I would. Is it just the number, or is it the composition, or maybe the geographical distribution?
I understand your fear. In fact, I have the same fear. I don't agree that the world would be better off without 50% of it. If anything, it's underpopulated. There's a reason why only way of doing worse than doing nothing is to be causing mass murders.
I would be interested in hearing your reasoning for this position. As such I precommit to upvoting an explanatory post, no matter how much I disagree with its content.
And I commit to at least leaving it neutral even if I disagree with its content. And I will disagree. :)
I posted it into discussion, because it's a long explanation. Probably unnecessarily long. Do tell. I don't even claim to try to be rational (I'm not), so I'm not the one to judge, but at least try to keep an open mind? Of course, I'd appreciate your feedback even if you do disagree. True. Also, depends on how massive.
The problem with mass murders is not the effect on population.
I'm guessing you think the problem with mass murder is the effect on society of knowing that crazy people might kill you for doing things they don't like, so that murder tends to be not simply a removal of human life, but a political act, a lynching. Do you consider murdering a thousand people you don't like to be better or worse than letting ten thousand randomly-selected people die because you can't be arsed to do anything about it?
Is that the only alternative to "The problem with mass murder is its effect on human population size" that you can think of? I always thought that the problem with mass murder was about the same as the problem with normal murder except multipled by a thousand or eleven million or however many victims there are.
Is that the only alternative that you can think of? No, of course not. I just thought it was the most likely to be the one e had in mind.
For a strict utilitarian, the main problem with non-torture murder can be seen as the fear it produces in the population. Strict utilitarianism is quite common here, so guessing that wedrifid is one isn't that much of a reach.
I don't think "strict utilitarianism" refers to a specific, well-defined moral system, but my point still stands if you're referring to the general class of moral systems and methods of moral reasoning that are popular here; involuntary death is bad, whether torturous or not, so killing ten million people is at least as bad as the sum of the individual badness of killing each of them. The "at least" part is to take into account any further negative effects of mass murder, such as the one that you mentioned, but compared to millions of people dying involuntarily, I really doubt that's the dominating factor.
Well, I for one didn't look at if from a deontological point of view. Unlike other victims of coercion, murdered people tend not to make much of a fuss about having been forced to die. However, their death tends to produce sorrow and anger on those emotionally and economically reliant on them (including their creditors, superiors, subordinates, clients) and causes the loss of a hub of social network and a repository of knowledge and skill accumulated over a lifetime. In other words, murder, for a stable, sedentary, densely structured society, is extremely wasteful and troublesome. And it leads to a shitton of paperwork. That's for just one death. However, from a Golden Rule/Reciprocal Altruism POV, committing murder is an extremely bad idea because, besides the aforementioned problems with each individual murder, the fact that people can get killed, for whatever reason, may make one fear for one's safety among fellow humans ,raising stress levels to presumably unbearable heights and cause a limitless waste in resources in personal security, . Think of Israel-Palestine, where people constantly live in fear of being killed by some crazy suicide bomber or some trigger-happy teenage soldier. Despite what the actual risk of that happening might be compared to the risk of dying in a traffic accident, much more money ends up being spent on this sort of thing than on road safety. Car accidents, as the Joker would put it, are "all part of the plan". I love how effectively that character uses The Dark Side and The Fallacy Of Grey. Does anyone know any examples of similarly eloquent villains? (Besides Nietzsche that is). Hence why we are taught to heavily frown upon it. A Mongol from Genghis Khan's Golden Horde might see things differently, is all I'm saying. There are also countries like Colombia where murder is extremely common, and often absolutely senseless. Society functions, people get used to the fear. Humans can get used to a lot. Deliberately murdering a mass of p
I should not answer that question. But will(1). ;) The murdering of 1,000 people is far better. Especially if done one at a time in novel and humiliating ways. That will serve to lower the status of the group with negative value and so alter the behaviour of the rest of the population. Of course this requires 'liking' to be closely related to the consequentialist value of people whose identities fit that archetype. That said I still wouldn't murder people. Partly due to an irrational sense of morality and partly due to an ethical injunction. (1) This message will self destruct upon the first disingenuous quotation by a future social aggressor. Unless this pre-emptive expression of contempt for said moraliser is sufficient for me to be satisfied with leaving the results.
I don't think that would make sense unless you could somehow accomplish it, not only without people knowing you were responsible for the murders, but that the deaths were murders at all. Otherwise rather than lowering the status of the group, you would probably make the public view them as noble victims.
Here we disagree on a matter of fact and expectation. Historically in cases where specific groups were the target of lynchings the resulting lowering of group status has been rapid. Even members of said groups lower their perceptions of their own status such that they avoid sending high status signals (acting as equal to the persecutors) and so making themselves the next target. The same phenomenon can be observed in workplaces and other tribes within our culture, with respect to acts of humiliation, not death. The others in the tribe may view them as noble victims but victims are pitied, not respected. People, particularly ambitious people, will avoid doing things that affiliate them with the victim class. Status goes into free-fall. I did mention 'one at a time' and 'in humiliating ways' so as to minimise any potential martyrdom bonuses. Something terrible happening once is an exception, a tragedy. Something happening a thousand times is a norm, the status quoe. In a certain instinctive sense it becomes legitimate. The presence of humilitation and even the fact that it is a murder, not a valiant death in battle is also important. If the victims are raped, castrated and stoned then they just don't look as cool as if they charge into battle screaming "you may take my life but you will never take my freedom!" People at times have even placed a lot of stock in whether they are killed by the sword or by hanging - and for good status relevant reason.
Can you provide any examples? I can't think of any cases where groups were targeted for lynchings where it's clear that their status fell as a result rather than their low status causing the lynchings. You do have two tendencies working at odds here; the just world fallacy could cause their status to decrease, but being victimized for one's affiliation can also be a positive status symbol, hence why Christians will often frame themselves as being persecuted for beliefs in cases where it's clearly not accurate. If you have someone clearly going around victimizing the group to an extreme extent with the purpose of humiliating them, I expect the martyrdom effect would win out.
Given that the obvious examples are well known I suspect you would simply contradict them via a different chronological representation. I will note this, however: the motivation to lynch people exists for a reason. People do it because it works. I believe with considerable confidence that the reverse is true. Humiliating and victimizing a group will lower the status of that group. Being a victim is not cool.
I can think of plenty of cases of members of low status groups being lynched, but I can't think of any examples that would appear to indicate that lynching resulted in a decrease of status, so I'm honestly not sure what you're talking about. As for whether it works, it certainly works at killing or harming the victims, and if it didn't do that, people wouldn't bother doing it, but that doesn't mean that it works at reducing status.
Fictional evidence, but the victims in the SAW movies weren't seen as noble.
I haven't seen them, but point taken. Am I right in assuming though, that they were deliberately built up as unsympathetic prior to being gruesomely killed? If you want to lower the group's status, it's that build up, where their characters are given a systematically negative portrayal, that you want to aim for, not the gruesome comeuppance.
Yes. The method of murder bore some (often ironic) link to flaws in the victim's psyche or character.
It ought to be better. None of the factors of either option (murder, don't like, allow to die, randomly-selected, death due to apathy) are worth more than one human life. Thus, it is a simple question of scale. All the possible consequences - such as 'now people will be afraid if I don't like them', 'well, I can't be held socially or legally responsible for their deaths' - just do not outweigh 9,000 human lives. That said, if I ever encountered this situation in real life, I would be immediately convinced that I had made a mistake in my reasoning, and would spend as much time as I possibly could looking for the alternative where nobody dies.
On the other hand, there's the consolation that if and when you do cease to exist, you will no longer be bothered by fear of failure or anything else. You will have no regrets, no regrets at all.
I prefer to exist with regret and be bothered by the fear of failure than non-exist. And besides, the universe isn't me-centric. If I invented the cure to all human diseases, solved poverty and prevented the world from blowing up by nukes, I wouldn't "die happy knowing what a positive impact I've had." In the scope of things, there would be that person who's me who did all that, and then ceased to exist.
Why does the net impact = zero part matter? Certainly the only thing that matters is how much total good there is, not how much was done by you. Even if it is, wouldn't +1 QALY be just as much better than 0 as 0 is from -1 QALY?
You can do something about that. At least for your own bubble.
Not to dispute your main point here (that emotionally-protected false beliefs discourage contact with reality), but do you really think that many religious practices were developed consciously and explicitly for the purpose of preventing contact with outside ideas? It seems to me that something like kosher law was more likely the combination of traditional practice and the desire to forge a sense of social identity than a structure explicitly designed to stop interactions. Group differences hinder interaction between groups, but that doesn't mean that the purpose of group differences is to do so. I don't disagree with you on the point that religion often explicitly discourages contact with nonbelievers, either, but that seems to me to be more easily explained by honest belief than Dark Side practices. If you believe something is true (and important to know the truth of) but that someone can be easily persuaded otherwise by sophistic arguments, then it's reasonable to try to prevent them from hearing them. If someone believes in global warming but doesn't have a firm grasp on the science, then you shouldn't let them wander into a skeptics' convention if you value valid beliefs.
It seems very likely to me that tribal groups in prehistory observed that "eating some things leads to illness and sometimes death; eating other things seems to lead to health or happiness or greater utility" and some very clever group of people starting compiling a system of eating rules that seemed to work. It became traditional to hand over rules for eating, and other activities, to their children. Rules like "If a garment has a visible spot of mildew, either cut out the mildewed spot with a specified margin around it or discard it entirely, for god's sake don't store it with your other garments" or "don't eat insects that you don't specifically recognize as safe and nutritious" or 'don't eat with unclean hands, for a certain technical definition of 'unclean', for example, don't touch a rotting corpse then stuff your face or deliver a baby with those hands" etc. etc. Then much much later, some of the descendants of some of those tribes thought to write a bunch of this stuff down before it could be forgotten. They ascribed the origin of the rules to a character representing "The best collective wisdom we have available to us" and used about ten different names for that character, who was seen as a collection of information much like any person is, but the oldest and wisest known collection of information around. Then when different branches of humanity ran into each other and found out that other branches had different rule sets, different authority figures, and different names for the same thing as well as differing meanings for the same names in many cases, hilarity ensued. Then a group of very very serious atheists came and said "We have the real truth, and our collective wisdom is much much better than that of the ancient people who actually fought through fire and blood, death and disease and a shitstorm of suffering to hand us a lot of their distilled wisdom on a platter, so we could then take the cream of what they offered, throw away the rest, and make
(I'm neither a theology scholar nor an anthropologist, so I may lack some important background on this.) I agree that the idea of early church leaders isolating members in order to explicitly limit the introduction of new ideas sounds far-fetched. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would only be said after the fact, by a historian looking for meaning in the details. But attributing those member-isolating rules to something like "preserving group identity" seems like the same thing. I find myself wondering if something like the anthropic principle is at work here, i.e. the only religious groups to survive that long are the ones who historically isolated their members from outside ideas. There's probably a more general term for what I'm getting at.
Survivorship bias?
Now that I think about it, "natural selection" seems more appropriate.

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.

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.

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

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)

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

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)

I wouldn't take that result too seriously. If everyone posting on LW had an IQ of 140+ it'd suggest LW posters exclusively came from the top 0.4% of the IQ distribution or so. I think selection bias and/or overestimates of people's IQ is more likely.
The entry requirement for MENSA is 148 on the Catell IQ test. Mensa only requires the 98th percentile. The selection effect could be on which IQ test result they wish to report. I certainly report the thing that sounds better whenever in such a situation. If people are mislead by me reporting an IQ that is through the roof that is their fault for taking such an ambiguous and meaningless number like "IQ" seriously in the first place.
Everyone having 140+ is not very plausible, its unlikely everyone took iq test, even (i didn't, and i exclude the online ones)
It's perhaps unlikely from a statistical point of view, though it is indeed entirely possible. Regardless, there is no reason why someone should refrain from engaging in an intellectual activity if they feel inclined to participate; there are certainly limitations that make IQ tests inaccurate predictors of intelligence for many individuals. I've personally known someone who scored ≈70 points higher when a better clinician administered the test and neuroatypicality was considered.
5Paul Crowley
Welcome - your story is interesting and I hope you stick around! I've sung this song before, but from what you say your worries are, one thing that would give you a real lasting boost in your general effectiveness would be learning to program. Have a look at CodeYear - online lessons that start slow, lots of my friends have been having success with them, and you can ask me for help if you get stuck - paul at ciphergoth dot org. Not only is it a directly useful and highly employable skill; it teaches useful habits of thought in several distinct ways.

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.

I agree with NancyLebovitz about not focusing on your IQ. You story and actions show that you are more than intelligent enough to get along doing whatever! Your curiosity, and willingness to do things (like move to a different country) in pursuit of your goals are way more important than having to read things a couple times to understand them. Friendly advice- Try breaking long chunks of texts into much smaller paragraphs. It makes reading your story (and it's a very interesting story that deserves to be read!) much easier. If you don't feel like figuring out where natural paragraph breaks are, then just go through and put one every couple sentences! It sounds like you're in DC. They have a pretty active LW group, afaict. If you haven't yet, you might want to join their google group here.

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.

I was going to make a quip about how converting Dubya to reactionary Islam isn't that hard: they have a lot in common, but that's a really offtopic slippery slope. It has never occured to me to try and deislamize my parents. Or anyone else. I became a rationalist because of my innate character traits (especially curiosity and a healthy disrespect of authority), like almost everyone here, apparently. I have learned that some people just aren't suited for this mindset.
I would be surprised if egalitarianism is a very good analogy. Politics is rarely a good example of anything.
WRT to de-Catholicising your mother: it has been rightly said that Catholicism is the most rational and consistent of all the religions. So, it would be a pity if you dissuaded her from Catholicism and inadvertently landed her in a less rational religion!
What are you talking about? That's nonsense.
Catholicism has an interesting intellectual culture in that they do make a real effort to tie together the grab-bag of kooky beliefs that make up Catholicism with an apparently logical structure. From inside the Catholic culture they are even apparently successful, although from outside the Catholic culture it's immediately obvious that their "logical" arguments attempting to derive apostolic succession, papal infallibility, Mary being without sin, confession to an ordained member of the Catholic church being necessary to avoid eternal torture in a very specifically-imagined Hell and so on from Biblical texts are very weak. It's almost but not quite analytic philosophy, in the same sort of way that a cargo cult almost but not quite emulates an airfield. I don't agree with the grandparent. The versions of Buddhism that didn't allow supernatural accretions to build up around the philosophy of the (real or fictional) founder of Buddhism seem more rational and consistent to me than the self-contradcitory business of an all-loving, all-powerful God ritually sacrificing his son who is also himself so he could forgive humans for following the impulses he gave them and spare them from the eternal torture he would otherwise subject them to. However I can see how someone could say something like the grandparent and not be totally wrong. It's certainly the religion that has tried hardest to rationalise it's idiotic doctrines as far as I know.
Thanks for the portion of your reply that was respectful! What you may not appreciate is that some RC beliefs, while incredible to outsiders, nevertheless are logically inseparable from other beliefs that are shared with other Christians; once abandoned, other cracks form, and it all falls down, including parts which are widely accepted as true. RC is, as you say, the religion which "tried hardest to rationalise" all its beliefs, depending on the absolute minimum of non-rational arguments (i.e., from sacred scripture or human authority). It does this with a vocabulary which, I admit, is extremely challenging to the uninitiated. (Aristotelian/Thomistic logic and hylemorphism.) Nonetheless, within that philosophical system, it is quite consistent. It's like picking up a book on string theory -- you ain't gonna "get it" on the first pass (nor the second pass, in all likelihood.) (Sorta off-topic) I was not aware that people doubted the existence of the founder of Buddhism. If he did not exist, could a reasonable religion be attributed to him? :-)
Internal consistency is a virtue to be sure, although differences in degree of internal consistency between Christian sub-sects all of whose beliefs are based on multiple irrational and/or self-contradictory premises do not mean a great deal to me personally. As a philosopher I think that it's good intellectual exercise to get to grips with bad arguments like those the Catholic church use. However there's no truth in those arguments to "get", and there are other forms of intellectual exercise which might well be more beneficial for the general LW readership. A religion could be the most rational and consistent of religions if its sole departure from reality was a fictional founder. Christianity, for example, has a fictional founder (the Biblical Jesus never existed according to the available evidence nor anyone substantially like him) but has lots of other departures from reality as well.
What do you mean by this? Is there serious doubt that the Romans crucified someone named Jesus for religious sedition? ---------------------------------------- Since I was raised Jewish, I've got no emotional reason to think that Jesus was a divine figure or that the Gospels accurately describe the historical occurrences. Just curious about the consensus of historians.
Also Jewish, and under the impression that "subversive itinerant preacher" was probably a fairly common thing in that historical period, as was "people crucified by the Roman empire".
More detailed answer.
Citation needed, or clarification what you mean by "anyone substantially like him". Because I'd be very surprised if there wasn't a real person named Jesus who was really crucified at the roots of the proto-Christian movement -- I'd probably assign less that 5% chance that Jesus was completely fictional. (though of course many other elements, like the birth at Bethlehem are almost certainly fictitious)
FYI, this seemed decent: The preponderance of the evidence would seem to be that he really did exist.
Bible scholars have a consensus that this is the case, although whether they are doing any actual scholarship with regard to the issue is questionable. Atheists by and large do not become Bible scholars, and the mind-killing effects of religion mean that theists tend to do notably poor scholarship in this particular area. However when a rationalist tries to drill down to the actual evidence you find that nothing is there, apart from Bible scholars reading the Bible and saying "this Paul guy seems legit, I don't think he'd have made that up".
Perhaps the most compelling argument I've heard for the existence of a real historical figure by whom the gospels were inspired was actually put forward by Eliezer (in a discussion on the tvtropes forum, where he visits occasionally.) That is that Jesus appears much more like a cult figure who failed to live up to the expectations of his followers, and so they modified their expectations and rationalized, rather than an ideal messianic figure that people would simply have made up.
Although the reverse is often the case. That's the problem with actually taking your beliefs literally!
No, but many Bible scholars become atheists after they realize how nonsensical their study material is. It seems likely to me that there was some person who served as the nucleus for a Jesus myth, just as it seems likely there was a real Briton general who served as the nucleus for a King Arthur myth. But we have no way of knowing anything about either, and I don't see that it matters much either way.
Do you have a reference to support your first claim?
I've heard of several. I don't know stats on what proportion of Bible scholars de-convert. Bart D. Ehrman - author of a book saying lots of the New Testament was forged Francesca Stavrakopoulou (unclear when she became atheist) Robert Price - went from Baptist minister to Cthulu mythologist. Not kidding. Jacques Berlinerblau, who does say he knows few openly atheist biblical scholars.
The second sentence of this response is a non-defense of your thesis, and the rest of it does not help your case, much. I am open to evidence of your claim that "many" have become atheists. For the sake of argument, I would admit that >10% conversion rate would count as "many", as would, say, some absolute number such as 1,000 in the last 100 years. Perhaps you can find some authority who has researched this question?
Sorry, I intended my above comment to mean: "There are some, I found these four, but apparently (according to Jacques Berlinerblau), there aren't many."
What do you say about contemporary historians like Josephus, Tacitus, and Pliny the Younger? They all seems to think that an originally uninteresting preacher named Jesus was executed (via crucifixion) by Pilate, and that this preacher was the inspiration of the religion now known as Christianity. ETA: You asserted in your other comment that "Jesus was supposedly a very noteworthy figure who died in a noteworthy way." I'd never gotten the impression that seditious preachers were noteworthy to the Romans or that crucifixion was a noteworthy method of execution.
The bit in Josephus was a complete forgery, likely inserted by Eusebius (well-documented as a chronic and unapologetic liar for the Church). Neither Pliny nor Tacitus wrote anything about Jesus - they wrote about Christians, the existence of whom is not in question. Further, it's well documented that Tacitus was tampered with. The notability is that Jesus was claimed to be known to all, with scribes following him about. Look, these objections really are standard, long-standing and pretty well documented. Reading up in the area is absolutely fascinating. Wikipedia is a half-decent start.
Josephus's claimed writings mentioning Jesus can be divided into two groups: those universally agreed to be fraudulent interpolations by pious forgers like Eusebius, and those which look very much like such fraudulent interpolations but which people still disagree about. Tacitus and Pliny both wrote long after Jesus' supposed life and death and are just reporting what people of their times claimed to believe.
The Jesusmyththeory wiki article describes a number of significant rigorous, academic (and non-friendly) challenges to the accuracy of the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels. Every honest person acknowledges uncertainty, exaggeration, and literary license. The question (for me) is: disregarding the deluded and dishonest, how would the honest brokers vote? I don't claim to have the answer.
Did Paul exist? What about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
Paul did, and claimed to have met Jesus. So either he's a liar (hardly a surprising quality in a cult leader as we know from modern cult leaders) or someone resembling Jesus existed. I think the former substantially more likely given that the Jesus he claims to have met is absent from all contemporaneous documentation. I'm afraid I'm I'd have to look up the literature about the historicity of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and whether there is hard evidence to show that their purported authors were real people with those names who really wrote those texts. I don't know offhand. It's not a topic that's ever been of interest to me. However I do know that all of the Gospels were written long after Jesus' supposed life and death. Hence they don't count as contemporaneous accounts even if you don't automatically discount them as historical evidence because they are religious manifestos and not historical records. They aren't eyewitness reports, they're collections of myths put together by people who weren't alive at the time the supposed events took place.

In no way did Paul claim to have met living Jesus. Resurrected Jesus, yes - via miracle. Living, pre-crucifixion Jesus, no.

Thanks for the correction, and upvoted for keeping me honest. Was it that he claimed to have met people who had met Jesus, or something similar? I recall something of the sort but I'm not fully trusting the memory.
Yes- he mentioned his interaction with the other disciples, and said that they'd had the privilege of meeting Jesus in the flesh. It's in Romans or Hebrews, I forget which.
Er, no he didn't. He specifically did not claim this. "Matthew", "Mark" and "John" were tags added later to those Gospels. "Luke" is traditionally attributed to Luke the Evangelist, a companion of Paul's, who wasn't an eyewitness to Jesus. The gospels are dismal failures as history - even apart from the miracles described therein.
What I am talking about is my claim that the RC religion integrates religious and non-religious knowledge to an extent I have not seen in any other religion. Is this the claim you say is nonsense?
By whom? Catholics?

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.

Well, I am utterly shocked that at such a young age you didn't even consider the possibility that God was real and that you could pray to him. Seriously, what gives? Where did this sense of distinction between fiction and reality come from? How did you distinguish the Bible from, say, History?
By age 4 I think I had figured out that stories about magical or super-powerful beings always turned out to be made up. I did believe it when adults told me that people had souls though, until I got a book that showed the location of organs in the human body and I noticed it wasn't in there.
Argh, how I envy you guys. Me, I used to believe All Myths Are True at first, and then I selectively and methodically disbelieved those that I (very gradually) discovered to be inconsistent. I guess I've always had the tendency to completely immerse myself in stories. Even now, I still take stories and fiction way more seriously than I should...
I had basically the same origin, just born/raised rationalist I guess and mostly agnostically christian enough to have done sunday schools and nightly prayers. Things like magic and such never really made sense, as much as I liked to imagine them, and used to hallucinate a different world frequently in which I had such abilities. Obviously I was just crazy but rational enough to at least accept that others didn't see the things I did and thus it just made more sense that they weren't real, that imagination and reasoning were clearly two different things (not mutually exclusive, you can combine them as this place seems fond of trying to do in some way or another). If anything I've felt too restricted by leaning to far toward rationality for most of my life and feel as if I'm only just beginning to understand that Maybe All Myths Are Actually True Somewhere. Regardless, that's more philosophy than science and until we find such a somewhere or such a true myth (which we frequently do in smaller scale concepts) doesn't seem too worth worrying about, but that's my natural rationalist bias that I'm struggling to "overcome."
Well, what are your boundaries on "consider"? I remember entertaining the possibility of God's existence at a pretty early age -- somewhere between two and four, but infantile amnesia's eaten the specifics -- but always as a hypothetical, a playing-pretend game. It took me quite a while to realize that my peers weren't consciously participating in a pleasant fantasy; as late as age eight or so I remember making decisions that could only have been predicated on the opposite assumption. For context, I was raised in a pretty obviously Christian cultural milieu -- picture books of Bible stories, a sense that it was normal to go to church on Sundays even if you and your parents didn't -- but most of my very early authority figures didn't make a conspicuous show of belief. "Secular" might be the word, but only implicitly so.
I also never took the idea of a real interventionist god seriously, and while I've only lived one childhood and so can't compare the effect of this influence to its absence, it might have had to do with the fact that I learned about dead religions at a very early age. By the time my fundamentalist grandmother started proselytizing to me at the age of three, I already had significant exposure to Greek mythology, and I mentally filed "Grandma's beliefs about God" into the same class as "Ancient Greeks' beliefs about gods." It didn't even occur to me until I was about eleven that these were beliefs I was expected to take seriously and have an emotional investment in. I did experiment with the idea of a non denominational god as a kid, but I never felt the need to make excuses for the hypotheses if they turned up null results. I concluded that if there was a god, it wasn't giving me any reason to worship or believe in it, so I might as well assume it didn't exist.

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)

You see, there's always that thing about religion... I just can't get how people can be honestly religious. There's the part of brain honestly believing in a dragon in the garage - and there's the part of brain having a perfectly good model of nonexistence of the dragon. And they honestly don't collide. It's easy for people who honestly can't see they are being dishonest to very strongly promote honesty; this sometimes works as it should, pushing away those who do understand they need to reconcile their beliefs with each other to be honest.

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.

Perhaps it's not worth complaining, but historically "rationalist" was contrasted with "empiricist." Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza were rationalists, while Locke and Hume were empiricists. Obviously that's not a contrast you mean to be invoking, though maybe that use of "rationalist" is rare enough that there's no risk of confusion.
More recently, rationalist has tended to have a meaning closer to its current one, but with strong negative affect associated with it. Peter Drucker, for instance, seems to use it as a term of reproach in "Adventures of a Bystander", to mean the sort of small souled narrow-minded person who thinks that they can be right and others wrong and are allowed to say so because they have reasons for their beliefs instead of having made them up to express feelings but the assumption is that one shouldn't do this because doing it leads to communism, fascism, or other forms of authoritarianism. If people don't have the right to believe what they want then some authority must have the right to tell them what to believe. Traditional conservatives can associate this attitude with communism and other badness. Basically, rationalism is used to mean affiliation with authoritarian regimes who claim the prestige of science.
@Daniel, I agree with this observation. Minimizing being wrong is a pretty recent intellectual development. Epistemic minimax is probably logically a better name, although it sort of sucks.
We don't want to minimax since we aren't playing a zero sum game. We just want to maximize expected utility with a few caveats and with a few blanks filled in.
Apparently, "aletheia" is Greek for truth, and "veritas" is Latin. You can pick either and stick "phile" at the end. So, say, veritophile. (My reliable source is two minutes with online dictionaries)
'Info-maximizers'? It's too bad we can't use 'philosopher' – you'd think you just provided it's definition.
How about "asymptotist"? A Google search suggests it is available.
The James Randi definition of skeptic seems to have much overlap. I would guess that what EY is looking for has James Randi definition of skeptic as a subset of EY's rationalist belief processes.
'Aspiring rationalist'? I don't get a sense that Rationality significantly diverges from truth-seeking, especially the philosophical sense of the concept. What associations of 'rational' are beyond truth-seeking?
An interesting question. I've been unwilling to accept EY's use (rescue) of "rationalist", though that might just be because I've been calling myself an "irrationalist" (in the spirit of Nietzsche's "amoralist") for many years now (for some values of "many").
I agree that rationalist has baggage in the minds of most people, and it evokes rationalization and related antithetical concepts for many. If Less Wrong expands the community and shapes future discussions on rationalist topics in the way that I expect it to, this might just be the last good time to coin a new term. I nominate righters and truthers, in that order.
"righter" is straight out - it sounds like "writer" in spoken English. .
It would be clear from context which was intended. English has many homophones, and they don't seem to cause much difficulty. Is that not your experience with the many existing homophones?
I wouldn't say that English has 'many' homophones. And yes, I think they're generally very annoying, when they can be used as the same part of speech. There isn't much confusion between 'led' (past tense of 'to lead') and 'lead' (the heavy metal). However, it always takes a moment to catch up when someone uses 'right' as a verb, and I imagine 'righter' would be even worse, especially as an obscure jargon term.
We are getting a bit off-topic, so this is my last post in this thread. I'd argue that this constitutes many (note the restrictions too, which result in excluded entries). With regard to how noticeable homophones are, it feels to me like there is a priming effect due to the context, which results in the sense that was intended being obvious and coming to mind effortlessly. For example, cents and sense sound the same in some dialects, but I doubt many would even consider interpreting the sound in question as cents if they heard the previous sentence spoken. I think most homophones are like that, most of the time, and that it usually takes effort to even notice them, as when trying to think of a pun. I will grant you though that righter and writer are more alike in terms of their meaning, and thus easier to confuse, but I just wouldn't consider that sufficient reason to not even consider it as an option.
Truthers is already used for people who think Bush was behind 9/11. Righters isn't used for anything that I know of, but sounds like it means "people who think they're right all the time", which was one of the problems with "rationalist". It also sounds like it could mean "right-wingers" or "people who believe in rights".
In my dialect of english, "righter" and "truther" have unpleasant connotations about as strong as the connotations around "rationalist". My dialect may be different than yours, of course.
What is your dialect? In my dialect (Californian American), neither word has much of a connotation at all. They both have a vague feel of something I might read in a modern science fiction book talking about different factions of posthumans, or something in that vein, but I don't think most people where I live (in the SF bay area) would think they have any connotation. I was intentionally trying to think of a new word without any pre-existing baggage.
I live in the american northeast. To be specific, "Righter" sounds to me like religious right and righteousness. "Truther" sounds like 9-11 truther and Colbert's truthiness. It might just be me.
Interesting. I've heard right-winger, but never righter alone. I hadn't heard of 9-11 truther, but that definitely rules out truther for sure. I am familiar with truthiness, but it didn't come to mind for me in thinking about truther. It's interesting how idiosyncratic language is, especially when it comes to connotation.

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)

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

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.

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

... (read more)

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 ( 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.

Or maybe the evidence he has justifies his belief in the possible solution to the paradox, and similarly for you. Its only after you two share your evidence and fail to agree that one of you can be called a non-rationalist (on these grounds).
No. He believes he has a proof now. But he said that he tried to build a proof because, before finding a proof, he believed there must be a proof - and it seems, from what he wrote, that he found the lack of such a proof offensive. That's faith.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
That's a mixture of Trust in Bayes and the original driving purpose that causes me to define the word "rationality" a certain way. In any case, I did find an elegant answer and so I have no reason to label the driving intuitions involved as wrong.

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.

Did I really say "Dominicans"? I meant "Jesuits", of course. It's been a while.
Didn't we have an article on the Jesuits and their investigation of doubt?


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