I didn't catch your comment for a long time, because it wasn't in response to my own and thus didn't light up the red message symbol. Just stumbled over it by accident, so here's my response a mere 1,5 months later:

I feel next to no conflict or friction between my rational and my emotional self, whether I'm on my own or with company. I radically adhere and submit to the guiding principle that "if it is true, I want to believe it and if it is false, I want to reject it". So if I happen to have some kind of innate feeling or intuition about some objective topic, I immediately catch it and just kill it off as best I can (usually pretty good) in favor of a rational analysis. But these days I usually don't have many of these "emotional preconceptions" left anyway. Over the years I buried so many of my favorite emotional preconceptions about every imaginable topic in favor of what appears to be "the truth", that the act of giving up some idiotic emotion about a serious topic in favor of a better model hardly stings at all anymore. It feels quite good to let go actually, it's a kind of progress I thoroughly welcome. Often I really don't have any discernible emotion one way or another, even towards highly contentious and controversial topics.

Now if I am in the company of other non-Bayesian people (especially women, with whom the whole point of interaction usually isn't information-related but purely emotional anyway), I put my rational machinery to rest and just let my instincts flow without paying too much attention to how rational everything I (or they) say is. That's because enjoying human company is first and foremost about exchanging emotion, not information or rational argument. (Although I have to admit that it always feels like a shocking slap in the face, if suddenly it turns out that she believes in astrology et al. I have to admit that a brain failure of that magnitude kills my libido faster than the kick of a horse). So yes, my red "light bulb" that says "irrational/unproven belief" still gets triggered a lot in typical conversations with the average Joe and Joy, but not every instance justifies the break of rapport in favor of starting an argument. Actually I realize that I tend to argue much more often with guys (maybe because arguing can be a way to establish social status) than with girls, where I often just skip the logical loopholes and inconsistencies in favor of maintaining rapport.

Come to think of it, that is actually a rather rational strategy, given my heterosexual utility-function ;)

If I am interested in improving or expanding my mental model of reality on the other hand, I crank up my "bias & rationality" machinery and have a careful in-depth conversation with someone who is up to the task.

If I'm doing something irrational like procrastinating or playing a game instead of furthering my goals, then often the rationality module kicks in and says I'm a bum wasting my precious (though hopefully unlimited) life-time. Often I can't (or raher don't want to) stop having fun however, so I just gently smother the rational voice in my head with a pillow and score a new record time in Dirt 3 instead. I suppose that's roughly the highest peak of conflict between my emotional needs and rational goals - but unfortunately, especially when it comes to hedonistic procrastination, the rational component doesn't put up much of a fight, which is certainly less than optimal.

Actually, I'm procrastinating right now instead of studying Psychology, so farewell.

In conclusion: It seems we aren't all that different, except that for some reason you seem to have some kind of problem with the "conflict" between your rationality and your emotions, which is something I don't really care about. The important thing is that I can use my rationality when I actually need it, not that I constantly use my rationality to smother every single possibly irrational emotion at every given opportunity. So where is your particular problem and why is any of this important again?

(especially women, with whom the whole point of interaction usually isn't information-related but purely emotional anyway)

This evidently didn't bother me a few years ago when I wrote this post, but I want to say that if all of your interactions with women are like this, you are doing something wrong. It may be that the society around you is the main culprit for doing stereotypes wrong, but as a woman I still find this attitude frustrating.

EDIT: This comment was unclearly and unhelpfully worded; I was having fun being indignant at the expense of being specific. Will add more specificity when I'm not trying to run out the door to work.

0SRStarin9yI agree, it seems we're pretty similar in this arena. I think maybe I just feel more negative emotion about, as you put it, hedonistic procrastination than you do. Those are the times I feel the most unpleasant conflict. I should just stop procrastinating, I guess. I'm working on that, getting better about it. Anyway, I don't need to go into too much detail on this side topic. Thanks for the reply.

Reasons for being rational

by Swimmer963 2 min read1st Jul 2011183 comments


When I found Less Wrong and started reading, when I made my first post, when I went to my first meetup….

It was a little like coming home.

And mostly it wasn’t. Mostly I felt a lot more out of place than I have in, say, church youth groups. It was hard to pinpoint the difference, but as far as I can tell, it comes down to this: a significant proportion of the LW posters are contrarians in some sense. And I’m a conformist, even if I would prefer not to be, even if that’s a part of my personality that I’m working hard to change. I’m much more comfortable as a follower than as a leader. I like pre-existing tradition, the reassuring structure of it. I like situations that allow me to be helpful and generous and hardworking, so that I can feel like a good person. Emotionally, I don’t like disagreeing with others, and the last thing I have to work hard to do is tolerate others' tolerance.

And, as evidenced by the fact that I attend church youth groups, I don’t have the strong allergy that many of the community seem to have against religion. This is possibly because I have easily triggered mystical experiences when, for example, I sing in a group, especially when we are singing traditional ‘sacred’ music. In a previous century, I would probably have been an extremely happy nun.

Someone once expressed surprise that I was able to become a rationalist in spite of this neurological quirk. I’ve asked myself this a few times. My answer is that I don’t think I deserve the credit. If anything, I ended up on the circuitous path towards reading LessWrong because I love science, and I love science because, as a child, reading about something as beautiful as general relativity gave me the same kind of euphoric experience as singing about Jesus does now. My inability to actual believe in any religion comes from a time before I was making my own decisions about that kind of thing. 

I was raised by atheist parents, not anti-theist so much as indifferent. We attended a Unitarian Universalist church for a while, which meant I was learning about Jesus and Buddha and Native American spirituality all mixed together, all the memes watered down to the point that they lost their power. I was fourteen when I really encountered Christianity, still in the mild form of the Anglican Church of Canada. I was eighteen when I first encountered the ‘Jesus myth’ in its full, meme-honed-to-maximum-virulence form, and the story arc captivated me for a full six months. I still cry during every Good Friday service. But I must have missed some critical threshold, because I can’t actually believe in that story. I’m not even sure what it would mean to believe in a story. What does that feel like?

I was raised by scientists. My father did his PhD in physical chemistry, my mother in plant biology. I grew up reading SF and pop science, and occasionally my mother or my father’s old textbooks. I remember my mother’s awe at the beautiful electron-microscope images in my high school textbooks, and how she sat patiently while I fumblingly talked about quantum mechanics, having read the entire tiny physics section of our high school library. My parents responded to my interest in science with pride and enthusiasm, and to my interest in religion with indulgent condescension. That was my structure, my tradition. And yes, that has everything to do with why I call myself an atheist. I wouldn’t have had the willpower to disagree with my parents in the long run.

Ultimately, I have an awfully long way to go if I want to be rational, as opposed to being someone who’s just interested in reading about math and science. Way too much of my motivation for ‘having true beliefs’ breaks down to ‘maybe then they’ll like me.’ This is one of the annoying things about my personality, just as annoying as my sensitivity to religious memes and my inability to say no to anyone. Luckily, my personality also comes with the ability to get along with just about anyone, and in a forum of mature adults, no one is going to make fun of me because I’m wearing tie-dye overalls. No one here has yet made fun of me for my interest in religion, even though I expect most people disagree with it.

And there’s one last conclusion I can draw, albeit from a sample size of one. Not everyone can be a contrarian rationalist. Not everyone can rebel against their parents’ religion. Not everyone can disagree with their friends and family and not feel guilty. But everyone can be rational if they are raised that way.