Is this why you do this?

Partially perhaps, but it's hardly the main reason. Language nearly always carries with it a frequency that conveys social status and a lot of talk and argument isn't much more than a renegotiation or affirmation of the social contract between people. So quite a lot of the actual content of any given typical conversation you're likely to hear is quite braindead and only superficially appears to be civilized. That kind of smalltalk is boring if it's transparent to you, and controversy spices things up for sure - so yes, there may be something to it...

But I think the ultimate reason for being provocative is because "the truth" simply is quite provoking and startling by itself, given the typical nonrational worldviews people hold. If people were rational by nature and roughly on the same page as most lesswrongers, I certainly wouldn't feel like making an effort to provoke or piss people off just for the sake of disagreement. I simply care a lot about the truth and I care comparatively less about what people think (in general and also about me), so I'm often not terribly concerned about sounding agreeable. Sometimes I make an effort if I find it important to actually convince someone, but naturally I just feel like censoring my opinions as little as necessary. (Which is not to say that my approach is in any way all that commendable, it just simple feels natural to me - it's in a way my mental pathway of least resistance and conscious effort.)

I'm not doing it all the time of course, I can be quite agreeable when I happen to feel like it - but overall it's just not my regular state of being.

" if a pastor or bishop actually knows anything about anything. (Let alone something about morality and ethics)."

I disagree.

You can't be serious, how dare you trample on my beliefs and hurt my feelings like that? ;)

...well, maybe know more about morality isn't the right phrase, but they've [theologans] thought about it more.

Sure, and conspiracy theorists think a lot about 9/11 as well. The amount of thought people spend on any conceivable subject is at best very dimly (and usually not at all) correlated with the quality/truthfulness of their conclusions, if the "mental algorithm" by which they structure their thoughts is semi-worthless by virtue of being irrational (aka. out of step with reality).

Trying to think about morality without the concept that morality must exclusively relate to the neurological makeup of conscious brains is damn close to a waste of time. It's like trying to wrap your head around biology without the concept of evolution - it cannot be done. You may learn certain things nonetheless, but whatever model you come up with - it will be a completely confused mess. Whatever theology may come up with on the subject of morality is at best right by accident and frequently enough it's positively primitive, wrong and harmful - either way it's a complete waste of time and thought given the rational alternatives (neurology,psychology) we can employ to discover true concepts about morality.

What religion has to say about morality is in the same category as what science and philosophy had to say about life and biology before Darwin and Wallace came along - which in retrospect amounts pretty much to "next to nothing of interest".

So are all those Anglican priests nice and moral people? Sure, whatever. But do they have any real competence whatsoever to make decisions about moral issues (let alone things like nuclear power)? Hell no.

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given the rational alternatives (neurology,psychology) we can employ to discover true concepts about morality.

I'm with you most of the way. On the rational alternatives though, I'm not sure what you suggest works in the way we might imagine.

Neurology and psychology can provide a factual/ontological description of how humans manifest morality. They don't give a description of what morality should be.

There's a deontological kernel to morality, it's about what we think people should do, not what they do do.

Psychology etc. can give great insights into choo... (read more)

12Vladimir_M9yThat's like saying that the job of a sports coach is a waste of time because he is clueless about physics. If it were impossible to gain useful insights and intuitions about the world without reducing everything to first principles, nothing would ever get done. On the contrary, in the overwhelming majority of cases where humans successfully grapple with the real world, from the most basic everyday actions to the most complex technological achievements, it's done using models and intuitions that are, as the saying goes, wrong but useful. So, if you're looking for concrete answers to the basic questions of how to live, it's a bad idea to discard wisdom from the past just because it's based on models of the world to which we now have fundamentally more accurate ones. A model that captures fundamental reality more closely doesn't automatically translate to superior practical insight. Otherwise people who want to learn to play tennis would be hiring physicists to teach them.
3Alicorn9yYou can quote a paragraph by preceding it with > (or multiple angle brackets to nest quotes deeper).

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.