Way too much of my motivation for ‘having true beliefs’ breaks down to ‘maybe then they’ll like me.’

Way too much of everyone's motivation for anything breaks down to "maybe then group X will have/stop having attitude Y towards me". And the vast majority of the time, we're completely unaware of it.

So actually, you've got a leg up over all the people who are doing the same thing, but have a different X and Y than you and are unaware of it. (AFAICT, people who orient on "true beliefs" tend to be more about respect/status rather than affiliation, but apart from motivating slightly different behaviors, it might as well be the same thing. Affiliation-based motivation often results in "nicer" behaviors though, so that's actually a plus for you.)

I really think that you should be less dismissive of the possibility that some people really are trying to form their beliefs in order to act on the world, rather than on other people.

1Caesium9yDo you have any recommendations on how to combat this? Obviously, mixing with groups that reward behaviour you wish to cultivate would be a good first step, but what other steps can one take? Do you think making a concious effort to identify more/feel friendlier towards people whose behaviour you consider laudable would help? This would be a step much more readily made for most people than changing their actual social group.
4Friendly-HI9yMassively agreed. Break down almost any human effort and at the bottom of it you'll usually find a struggle for social status, which is/was directly conductive to reproductive success (especially for males, for females it's more about looks when it comes to attracting a partner, but social status of cause still plays a critical role for surviving and thriving in a social group). I seriously doubt any one of us can outrun our nature without cognitive engineering, so my preferred way of dealing with this side of human nature is to look at it as a "serious game" not terribly different from competitive poker. Win some, lose some - take it serious but don't obsess over it to the point where you make it the core and center of your very existence. It's not "meaningful" enough, or indeed meaningful at all given a transhuman perspective. If we could upload and re-engineer our minds tomorrow, I'd probably strongly advocate to cut this "social status" nonsense from our cognitive make-up. By now it has outstayed its purpose and as far as I'm concerned its welcome, it has only brought untold misery upon humans and there are much more worthy things to be motivated by. Hell, social status is even a significant roadblock for discussions among rationalists. Almost any possible communication between humans has an undercurrent that carries information about social status. So arguing and disagreeing were never ways to arrive at rational conclusions to begin with, they are actually ways to impose your will and influence and dominance onto others - so when we level a criticism or disagreement even to a fellow rationalist around here, we often feel the need to first make a little linguistic dance of appeasement to ensure our fellow apes don't take our disagreement as an assassination attempt on their social status. Especially not while everyone's watching from their desktops and treetops . And sometimes, if you're really lucky it actually works.

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.