Uncritical Supercriticality

by Eliezer Yudkowsky4 min read4th Dec 2007171 comments


GroupthinkAffective Death Spiral

Every now and then, you see people arguing over whether atheism is a “religion.” As I touch on elsewhere, in “Purpose and Pragmatism,” arguing over the meaning of a word nearly always means that you’ve lost track of the original question.1 How might this argument arise to begin with?

An atheist is holding forth, blaming “religion” for the Inquisition, the Crusades, and various conflicts with or within Islam. The religious one may reply, “But atheism is also a religion, because you also have beliefs about God; you believe God doesn’t exist.” Then the atheist answers, “If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby,” and the argument begins.

Or the one may reply, “But horrors just as great were inflicted by Stalin, who was an atheist, and who suppressed churches in the name of atheism; therefore you are wrong to blame the violence on religion.” Now the atheist may be tempted to reply, “No true Scotsman,” saying, “Stalin’s religion was Communism.” The religious one answers “If Communism is a religion, then Star Wars fandom is a government,” and the argument begins.

Should a “religious” person be defined as someone who has a definite opinion about the existence of at least one God, e.g., assigning a probability lower than 10% or higher than 90% to the existence of Zeus? Or should a “religious” person be defined as someone who has a positive opinion (say, a probability higher than 90%) on the existence of at least one God? In the former case, Stalin was “religious”; in the latter case, Stalin was “not religious.”

But this is exactly the wrong way to look at the problem. What you really want to know—what the argument was originally about—is why, at certain points in human history, large groups of people were slaughtered and tortured, ostensibly in the name of an idea. Redefining a word won’t change the facts of history one way or the other.

Communism was a complex catastrophe, and there may be no single why, no single critical link in the chain of causality. But if I had to suggest an ur-mistake, it would be . . . well, I’ll let God say it for me:

If your brother, the son of your father or of your mother, or your son or daughter, or the spouse whom you embrace, or your most intimate friend, tries to secretly seduce you, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,” unknown to you or your ancestors before you, gods of the peoples surrounding you, whether near you or far away, anywhere throughout the world, you must not consent, you must not listen to him; you must show him no pity, you must not spare him or conceal his guilt. No, you must kill him, your hand must strike the first blow in putting him to death and the hands of the rest of the people following. You must stone him to death, since he has tried to divert you from Yahweh your God.

—Deuteronomy 13:7–11, emphasis added

This was likewise the rule which Stalin set for Communism, and Hitler for Nazism: if your brother tries to tell you why Marx is wrong, if your son tries to tell you the Jews are not planning world conquest, then do not debate him or set forth your own evidence; do not perform replicable experiments or examine history; but turn him in at once to the secret police.

I suggested that one key to resisting an affective death spiral is the principle of “burdensome details”—just remembering to question the specific details of each additional nice claim about the Great Idea.2 This wouldn’t get rid of the halo effect, but it would hopefully reduce the resonance to below criticality, so that one nice-sounding claim triggers less than 1.0 additional nice-sounding claims, on average.

The diametric opposite of this advice, which sends the halo effect supercritical, is when it feels wrong to argue against any positive claim about the Great Idea.

Politics is the mind-killer. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you’re on, you must support all favorable claims, and argue against all unfavorable claims. Otherwise it’s like giving aid and comfort to the enemy, or stabbing your friends in the back.

If . . .

  • . . . you feel that contradicting someone else who makes a flawed nice claim in favor of evolution would be giving aid and comfort to the creationists;
  • . . . you feel like you get spiritual credit for each nice thing you say about God, and arguing about it would interfere with your relationship with God;
  • . . . you have the distinct sense that the other people in the room will dislike you for “not supporting our troops” if you argue against the latest war;
  • . . . saying anything against Communism gets you stoned to death shot;

. . . then the affective death spiral has gone supercritical. It is now a Super Happy Death Spiral.

When it comes to our original question—“What makes the slaughter?”—the key category to pay attention to isn’t religion as such. The best distinction I’ve heard between “supernatural” and “naturalistic” worldviews is that a supernatural worldview asserts the existence of ontologically basic mental substances, like spirits, while a naturalistic worldview reduces mental phenomena to nonmental parts. Focusing on this as the source of the problem buys into religious exceptionalism. Supernaturalist claims are worth distinguishing, because they always turn out to be wrong for fairly fundamental reasons.3 But it’s still just one kind of mistake.

An affective death spiral can nucleate around supernatural beliefs—particularly monotheisms whose pinnacle is a Super Happy Agent, defined primarily by agreeing with any nice statement about it—and particularly meme complexes grown sophisticated enough to assert supernatural punishments for disbelief. But the death spiral can also start around a political innovation, a charismatic leader, belief in racial destiny, or an economic hypothesis. The lesson of history is that affective death spirals are dangerous whether or not they happen to involve supernaturalism. Religion isn’t special enough, as a class of mistake, to be the key problem.

Sam Harris came closer when he put the accusing finger on faith. If you don’t place an appropriate burden of proof on each and every additional nice claim, the affective resonance gets started very easily. Look at the poor New Agers. Christianity developed defenses against criticism, arguing for the wonders of faith; New Agers culturally inherit the cached thought that faith is positive, but lack Christianity’s exclusionary scripture to keep out competing memes. New Agers end up in happy death spirals around stars, trees, magnets, diets, spells, unicorns . . .

But the affective death spiral turns much deadlier after criticism becomes a sin, or a gaffe, or a crime. There are things in this world that are worth praising greatly, and you can’t flatly say that praise beyond a certain point is forbidden. But there is never an Idea so true that it’s wrong to criticize any argument that supports it. Never. Never ever never for ever. That is flat. The vast majority of possible beliefs in a nontrivial answer space are false, and likewise, the vast majority of possible supporting arguments for a true belief are also false, and not even the happiest idea can change that.

And it is triple ultra forbidden to respond to criticism with violence. There are a very few injunctions in the human art of rationality that have no ifs, ands, buts, or escape clauses. This is one of them. Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever.

1Link: http://lesswrong.com/lw/lf/purpose_and_pragmatism/.

2It’s not trivial advice. People often don’t remember to do this when they’re listening to a futurist sketching amazingly detailed projections about the wonders of tomorrow, let alone when they’re thinking about their favorite idea ever.

3See, for example, “Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions” in Map and Territory.


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Sam Harris came closer when he put the accusing finger on faith. If you don't place an appropriate burden of proof on each and every additional nice claim, the affective resonance gets started very easily.

How does one determine the appropriate burden of proof?

-1Today9yI would say that is when there is empirical evidence supporting the claim but, try as you might, you can't find any that falsifies it.
3Nebu6yI think having a flawed (human) agent using this technique is too susceptible to the agent convincing themselves that they tried hard enough, and so we've just pushed the problem one step back: How do you know when you've tried hard enough.
2wizzwizz41yAnd the answer is that you don't; you've never tried hard enough, because you require infinite evidence to reach certainty. A good rule of thumb is that you can call it off when there are better things to do, but you can never promote your 93% certainty to 100% by virtue of having "done enough".

Apparently I left a tag open. The first paragraph is yours, whereas the second is my question.

Minor point. It is peculiar to talk about the "death of communism" when there are about as many communists in the world as there are Christians.

"Death of the Purported Worldwide Worker's Communist Revolution" is closer to the truth (and a mouthful).

How about "Death of Worldwide Revolutionary Communism"?

The problem with Communism is timing. In the future (if we survive the next century) there will be enough technological progression to create essential Communism (no-one needs to work, everyone will have necessary resources to live incredible lives and so forth). Of course, we won't call it Communism.

Haven't had a post this good in a while. With immediate application,too.

Err... did that post end up dying in a free speech happy death spiral?

Especially odd from a person who believes in the probable possibility of humanly irresistible bad arguments as a reason for not AI boxing. If there are minds that we can't let exist because they would make bad arguments that we would find persuasive this seems terribly close, from an aggregative utilitarian standpoint, to killing them.

I'm not an expert in the Rwandan genocide, but it's my impression that to a substantial extent the people behind it basically just made arguments (bad ones, of a primarily ad-hominem form like "Tutsis are like cockroaches") for killing them and people who listened to those arguments on the radio went along with it. At least with the benefit of hindsight I am reluctant to say that the people promoting that genocide should have been stopped forcibly. Similarly, it's my impression that Charles Manson didn't personally kill anyone. He merely told his followers ridiculous stories of what the likely results of their killing certain people would be.

It would be nice if, as Socrates claimed, a bad argument cannot defeat a good one, but if that was true we wouldn't need to overc... (read more)

Especially odd from a person who believes in the probable possibility of humanly irresistible bad arguments as a reason for not AI boxing. If there are minds that we can't let exist because they would make bad arguments that we would find persuasive this seems terribly close, from an aggregative utilitarian standpoint, to killing them.

Fine, let me rephrase: in the human art of rationality there's a flat law against meeting arguments with violence, anywhere in the human world. In the superintelligent domain, as you say, violence is not an ontological category and there is no firm line between persuading someone with a bad argument and reprogramming their brain with nanomachines. In our world there is a firm line, however.

Let me put it this way: If you can invent a bullet that, regardless of how it is fired, or who fires it, only hits people who emit untrue statements, then you can try to use bullets as part of a Bayesian analysis. Until then, you really ought to consider the possibility of the other guy shooting back, no matter how right you are or how wrong they are, and ask whether you want to start down that road.

If the other guy shoots first, of course, that's a whole different story that has nothing to do with free speech.

So what is your response to someone like Hitler? Assuming the thug won't listen? Die? Run? I mean before the AGI goes "phoom".

Eliezer, I first saw the distinction between "natural" and "supernatural" made the way you describe in something by Richard Carrier. It was probably a blog entry from 2007-01, which points back to a couple of his earlier writings. I had a quick look at the 2003 one, and it mentions a few antecedents.


"In the future (if we survive the next century) there will be enough technological progression to create essential Communism (no-one needs to work, everyone will have necessary resources to live incredible lives and so forth)."

-10 points for confusing means with ends.

From the article:

"[...]there is never an Idea so true that it's wrong to criticize any argument that supports it."

Or make jokes about it? Having a sense of humour ought to be mentioned as a primary piece of equipment in the Bias-Buster's toolkit. It's easy and fun... (read more)

Eli, you said:

In the superintelligent domain, as you say, violence is not an ontological category and there is no firm line between persuading someone with a bad argument and reprogramming their brain with nanomachines. In our world there is a firm line, however.

I don't think there is such a firm line. I think argument shades smoothly into cult brainwashing techniques.

Peter: It seems to me that we can draw a firm line, but on one side sits our very strictest most careful thought in the spirit of inquiry and on the other sits everything remotely aimed at influencing others, from legal argument to scientific defense of a position to advertising to flirtation to music (at least lyrical music) to conversation using body language and tones of voice to cult brainwashing techniques and protest rallies etc. It's very clear that we can't live entirely to one side of that line, or if we can, that we can only live on the side that contains, well, life, and also, sadly, violence.

"Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever."

What about knowledge which is actually dangerous, eg., the Utterly Convincing and Irresistible Five-Minute Seminar on Why We Should Build a UFAI, with highly detailed technical instructions.

2[anonymous]1yI don't understand. Are you advocating killing people who profess ideas you think are dangerous? That appears to be what you are implying.

Tom, I did not confuse ends and means.

there are about as many communists in the world as there are Christians. Really? There are a lot of Christians. From what I've read, virtually nobody in China is a communist now, just as people had stopped believing in the last days of the Soviet Union. In North Korea or among the rebels of Nepal there are still true-believers, but I don't think there are as many as there are Christians.

In general I like having a norm against using force when people make bad arguments. I deplore the anti-fascist fascists who seem to be the primary enemies of free speech to... (read more)

0trickster3yI think that you can't count most of the Chinese as non-communist. Centralized propoganda is a strong weapon and shouldn't be discounted. When people first start doubting church dogmas- in most part they developped a some kinds of heresy, not an atheism. So, they doesn't believe in offical religion, but for outer observer point of view - they beliefs was almost indistingushable from offical dogma. And in the example with Soviet Union- communist party still exsicte tin Russia. It's influence slowly dyied out, but right after the disintegration of Soviet Union they have a really good chance to win elections

Incidentally, I've taken to using the term "afaithist" for myself rather than "atheist" largely due to above mentioned issues. I'm not all that concerned so much about various religious beliefs rather than the notion of the virtue of non rational/anti rational belief, including various "must not question" flavors. Questions like existance of god/etc etc are almost incidental, questions of "mere" (eheh) fact.

Tom: If there was such a convincing eminar, perhaps it contains such a convincing argument that it's genunitely correct. Modify it to "Utterly Convincing and Irresistable Five-Minute Brainwashing Seminar On Why....." :)

1buybuydandavis9yAfaithist. That's very good. I like it.

"And it is triple ultra forbidden to respond with violence. There are a very few injunctions in the human art of rationality that have no ifs, ands, buts, or escape clauses."

I'm half-convinced that Eliezer put that one in just to see whether we'd spot him contradicting his own advice and pick up on it, so that he can catch us all out in the next post in this series. I think that

"no ifs, ands, buts, or escape clauses... Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever."

constitutes infinitely ma... (read more)

Anyway, an excellent post apart from the little "are you still awake" test at the end. It ties a lot of things together for me; i have always wondered about how to best describe the commonality between Stalinist Communism and fundamentalist religion, as I often find myself debating whether religion is a net cause of human suffering or not.

no, anonymous. The problem with communism is that it's coercive and tyrannical. A super-duper welfare state is not the same as communism. Especially as productivity goes up. The difference being: under a welfare state you are taxed a portion of what you have, and some of that goes to the poor. Under communism you are essentially owned by the state. The state can tell you when to work, what to work on, and how many hours. The state tells you what you can or cannot buy, because the state decides what will or will not be produced.

Whatever you think about welfare states, communism is something else entirely.

"Tom: If there was such a convincing eminar, perhaps it contains such a convincing argument that it's genunitely correct. Modify it to "Utterly Convincing and Irresistable Five-Minute Brainwashing Seminar On Why....." :)"

It was just an example; it was deliberately chosen to be as extreme as possible, to avoid grey-area questions. No human, so far as I can determine, has the intelligence to actually produce such a thing. Many less-extreme examples of this abound, eg., what should we do with blueprints for nuclear weapons? What about genetic databases which include deadly viruses? What about genetic databases which are .1% deadly viruses and 99.9% life-saving medical research? And on and on it goes.

in the human art of rationality there's a flat law against meeting arguments with violence, anywhere in the human world

No. You're confusing rationality with your own received ethical value system. Violence is both an appropriate and frequently necessary response to all sorts of arguments.

3taryneast10yA strong claim but without any evidence to back it up. Perhaps you could at least give some examples of arguments for which the necessary response is violence.
4wedrifid10yPossibly, but only if you roll a natural 20 on your necromancy check. You are replying to a comment that was posted in 2007 - and on a different blog! Perhaps not the ideal place to play the "my position is the default - you are the one who needs to supply all the evidence!" game. Or, then again, perhaps it is the ideal place! It is not even a question for which demanding evidence makes sense - at least without specifying more clearly what kind of observations of the world you are considering. One could assume that you mean "give me evidence that the consequences of responding to arguments with violence can positive" - but then you have already lost to Caledonian's position. When you are looking at consequences, "argument" and "violence" are just two different kinds of power. Occasionally the latter is to be preferred to the former. The only way "there's a flat law against meeting arguments with violence, anywhere in the human world" was going to hold was if it stayed purely in the ideological realm. And a Traditional Rationality ideology realm more than a Bayesian Rationality one. "Arguments" can, at times, be a greater epistemic rationality violation than mere violence.
5taryneast10y:) I did know that I was responding to an ancient response... but I had thought that Caledonian may still be lurking about this site... In a way my response was more to point out the problem with what he said - than to actually request a specific response from him. If somebody else came along later and happened to agree with Caledonian, they might point out evidence that would support his claim... thus I figured it was worth posting anyway. We keep being told to comment regardless of how old the posts are... and this is why. Nah - that's the wrong tack. I'm sure there are things where violence could be a positive response. But the claim made was that there are things for which the necessary response is violence... as though for certain situations, only violence will work. Perhaps there are such situations.. but Caledonian did not even give examples, let alone evidence to support his claim... Thus my reaction. I'd argue that there are vanishingly few situations in which the only possible solution is violence... but, as I stated, would welcome evidence/discussion to the contrary.
2ThrustVectoring10yThis might be stretching the definition of an "argument", but I think there's a class of speech that must be dealt with by violence. The key identifier of this class is that there is a time-critical danger from third parties accepting the argument. In other words, its not so much violence used to prevent Alice from trying to convince you that the sky is red, but violence used to prevent Alice from trying to convince Bob to participate in a lynching.
1taryneast10yI'd disagree that violence was the only option in that case. I think the best option might be to spirit away the potential lynchee. If they've already got him strung up - then firing a shot in the air, followed by harsh words from the local law-maker would be the next option... violence is still an option, but not the only one, and not necessarily the first port of call. I think it's quite rare for violence to be the only option available.
7TheOtherDave10yDrawing a sharp distinction like this between violence and the implied threat of violence (e.g., firing weapons and "harsh words" and the invoking of authority backed by force) is problematic. The efficacy of the latter depends on the former; a law-maker known to be reliably nonviolent firing a harmless noisemaker would be far less effective.
0[anonymous]10yAn easier and less politically charged example: libel is a crime iff you knew it was false at the time you said it.
1Larks10yActually, I think he got banned - if you look at his last comments, he certainly thought it likely that he was going to be.
1taryneast10yYeah - could be. I also read a comment from EY saying that it was specifically his vote keeping him unbanned. I've read other comments from EY that seem to suggest that Caledonian was being kept around as a kind of troll-in-residence.... including one that seemed to indicate that EY used responses to Caledonian to determine whether or not he'd got his point across well enough :)
1TheOtherDave10yInteresting. I don't remember those, but I do remember several discussions where EY wanted to ban Caledonian and various other people talked him out of it.
1jhuffman10yYou may be right, but I wanted to point out that I think that violent repression of speech is an accepted part of common law and is an available remedy in the United States and other countries based on English common law. Civil actions related to libel and slander ultimately carry a threat of violence by the state in recovering judgments found against someone in a civil court; you never see it actually happen, and often judgments are not collected at all but it is completely possible you could be found in contempt or have a lien against property that eventually results in an arrest warrant.
0Will_Sawin10yMy understanding is that it's supposed to be a "Bayesian Rationality on leaky hardware" thing. This makes finding evidence for and against very subtle, because you have to come up with some kind of reference class that's objective in a certain hard-to-define way. But some kind of argumentation is necessary and has some chance of working.

From what I've read, virtually nobody in China is a communist now, just as people had stopped believing in the last days of the Soviet Union. In North Korea or among the rebels of Nepal there are still true-believers, but I don't think there are as many as there are Christians.

I find it useful to distinguish between the Chinese and the Swedish. I call the Chinese form of government "communism", and I call the Swedish form of government "socialism". If they are all sub-tribes of "Canadians" to you, then you don't prize dis... (read more)

And it is triple ultra forbidden to respond with violence.

I agree. However, here are my minority beliefs on the topic: unless you use Philosophical Majoritarianism, or some other framework where you consider yourself as part of an ensemble of fallible human beings, it's fairly hard to conclusively demonstrate the validity of this rule, or indeed to draw any accurate conclusions about what to do in these cases.

If I consider my memories and my current beliefs in the abstract, as not a priori less infallible than anyone else's, a "no exceptions to Freedo... (read more)

A rule of human rationality becomes flat when the probability of falsely perceiving an exception to the rule, vastly exceeds the probability of ending up in a real-world situation where it genuinely makes sense to violate the rule. Relative to modern Earth which includes many violent people and many difficult ethical dilemmas, but does not include the superbeing Omega credibly threatening to launch a black hole at the Sun if you don't shoot the next three Girl Scouts who try to sell you cookies.

I think a lot of the commenters to this thread are also missing the counterintuitive idea that once you fire a gun, the target or their survivors may shoot back.

Isn't the probability of ending up in a real world situation where the entire world is in terrible danger and only you can save it vastly smaller than that of falsely perceiving such a situation? Despite that, I'm glad Petrov made his decision. Expected costs and benefits have to be considered, not just probabilities, but then you are back in normal decision theory or at least normal but not yet invented "decision theory for biased finite agents".

Not murdering people for criticizing your beliefs is, at the very least, a useful heuristic.

Isn't the probability of ending up in a real world situation where the entire world is in terrible danger and only you can save it vastly smaller than that of falsely perceiving such a situation? Despite that, I'm glad Petrov made his decision.

Fair enough. s/probability of/expected utilities associated with/

But you can still end up with a "flat" rule for the human art of rationality, when the expected negative utilities associated from biased decisions that "the end justifies the means, in just this one case here", exceeds the expected... (read more)

Agreed Nominull, spectacularly useful. Definitely the sort of heuristic one would sensibly like to promote.

Rolf: It seems to me that you are trying to assert that it is normative for agents to behave in a certain manner because the agents you are addressing are presumably non-normative. The trouble is, using that strategy you guarantee no normative agents. The non-normative agents are not corrected by adopting your strategy, as it only mitigates their irrationalities, while any normative agents are adopting an inappropriate strategy. You can never cho... (read more)

in the human art of rationality there's a flat law against meeting arguments with violence, anywhere in the human world

"No. You're confusing rationality with your own received ethical value system. Violence is both an appropriate and frequently necessary response to all sorts of arguments."

I want to note that Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, famously encountered a man who denied that humans have ever gone to the moon but that the videos of Buzz on the moon were filmed in arizona. Buzz's response when the man presented his argu... (read more)

2aphyer9yI realize that this comment has been up for a long time, but just in defense of Buzz Aldrin: the punch was less in response to the man claiming that he was wrong, and more in response to the man being verbally abusive (don't believe everything you hear, search on Google for Buzz Aldrin Punch and you can get a video for yourselves.) There's a difference between violence being the appropriate response to reasoned argument and violence being the appropriate response to abuse/someone else's violence/etc.

In this case it seems that Eliezer is a bit biased toward defending his stated position, despite the fact that it is entirely obvious that his "flat rule" is in fact a leaky generalization.

For example, he keeps mentioning consequences that result from the response of the person attacked or the imitation of others. These consequences will not follow in every case. There will be no such consequences when no one (including the person attacked) will ever find out that one has responded to an argument with violence.

One can easily think of many theoret... (read more)

It seems to me Eleizer has arrived at a line of arguing that mirrors buddhusm and other similar systems. People are attached to certain ideas, concepts, beliefsystems etc, and when two opposing ideas clash together the result is killing, and a destructive spiral. The challenge is to transcend the situation, by being able to keep the mind cold when the rest of society goes amok. Unfortunately while scientists are good at discribing a situation, when it comes to giving normative advice they are mostly useless.

Another thing, faith is so often brought up as a... (read more)

Indeed; unknown has a good point. It's perfectly possible for violence to be the only action which will avert terrible outcomes, and it's perfectly possible for violence to not lead to further violence. As for

"A rule of human rationality becomes flat when the probability [expected utility] of falsely perceiving an exception to the rule, vastly exceeds the probability [expected utility] of ending up in a real-world situation where it genuinely makes sense to violate the rule."

why do special rules need to be invented here? A rational agent should a... (read more)

But you can still end up with a "flat" rule for the human art of rationality, when the expected negative utilities associated from biased decisions that "the end justifies the means, in just this one case here", exceeds the expected positive utilities from cases where the universe really does end up a better place from shooting someone who makes an argument you don't like after taking all side effects into account including encouragement of similar behavior by others.

That might deserve a post of it own...

There will be no such consequenc... (read more)

"You'd need a murder-suicide to pull this off properly..."

Reminds me of Agatha Christie's "Curtain". Of course this is fictional evidence, and in any case I was thinking of more obviously justified cases.

You can think of reasons to be violent, you can think of the good that violence might create, but consider this:

The only human being who is remembered as being completely good because he shot someone was Hitler, when he shot himself.

The list of possitive changes accomplished in the REFUSAL to shoot anyone is much longer.

I don't believe violence can ever have a positive effect, except when used to defend against greater violence.

In argument, short of the entirely impossible situation where an abominable idea is irrestable to everyone else, (and assuming tha... (read more)

Let me rephrase: Hitler's action (suicide) was for the good. Not he as a human being, or pretty much anything else he did. (With the exception of painting, those weren't bad.) I really should proofread this before I come off as saying something completely different.

There are plenty of situations where violence is the correct answer. There are even situations where being the first to initiate violence is the correct answer, for example, to establish a property-ownership system and enforce against anyone being able to wander in and eat the crops you grew, even if they don't use violence before eating.

However, in real life, initiation of violence is never the correct answer to a verbal argument you don't like. Anyone can "imagine" exceptions to the rule, involving definite knowledge that an argument persuading other people is wrong, and (more difficult) absolute knowledge of the consequences, and (most difficult) themselves being the only people in the world who will ever pick up a gun. Except that it's easy to forget these as conditions, if you imagine in a naively realistic way - postulate a "wrong argument" instead of your own belief that an argument is wrong, postulate "I shoot them and that makes the problem go away" instead of your own belief that these are the consequences, and just not think about anyone else being inspired to follow the same rule. Real ethical rules, however, have to apply in the case of states of knowledge, rather than states of reality. So don't tell me about situations in which it is appropriate to respond to an argument with violence. Tell me about realistically obtainable states of belief in which it is appropriate to respond to an argument with violence.

0[anonymous]10yI've found this response to be incredibly useful in other discussions of morality. I hadn't found it formulated elsewhere, and had been looking for something like it for a long time.
4Benquo3yWhat was the point of quoting Deuteronomy, then? The Deuteronomy quote is very specifically about introducing the worship of foreign or novel gods. Conflating this with a general decree to punish critics is a totally implausible reading to anyone who’s actually bothered to pay attention to the Bible; ancient Israelite prophets frequently claimed that Yahweh’s instructions had been wrongly construed, and that the dominant power structure (including both kings and the priesthood) was in error. They seem to have been a sufficiently protected class that kings and priests would sometimes yell at them, but rarely physically injure them. The correct modern analogue to advocating the worship of a foreign god, is advocating cooperation with a foreign government. The contemporary analogue to stoning the person introducing the worship of foreign gods, would be imposing legal sanctions against Facebook for colluding with Russian intelligence services to manipulate American election results.

It seems to me that normative statements like "let us go and serve other gods" aren't really something you can have a rational debate about. The question comes down to "which do you love more, your god or me", and the answer should always be "God"... according to God.

Similarly, one could have a rational debate about whether a command economy will outperform a market economy or vice versa (although the empirical evidence seems pretty one-sided), but a statement like "all people ought to be socially and economically equal" seems like something that just has to be accepted or rejected.

So don't tell me about situations in which it is appropriate to respond to an argument with violence. Tell me about realistically obtainable states of belief in which it is appropriate to respond to an argument with violence.

I don't exactly agree with this, but I can see it as a social signal. As Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes seem to express it, when somebody makes his argument that you utterly despise, you hit him to show that you refuse to engage in rational argument with him. He is your enemy and beyond the pale and his position is not one that you consid... (read more)

If you met John Barnes and he argued that he's doing the right thing, would it be appropriate to sock him in the jaw?

No, because the statement that "the only appropriate response to some arguments is a good swift sock in the jaw" is not itself one of the arguments whose appropriate response is a sock in the jaw. There may or may not be any such arguments, but socking him in the jaw is admitting that he is fundamentally right. Of course, it might be appropriate to sock him for some other reason :-)

One can argue that Buzz Aldrin had a special righ... (read more)

GW, to what extent should we treat people as we want them to treat us, and to what extent should we treat them the way they say is right and the way they treat others?

Sometimes it's polite to treat other people by their own standards, and it isn't an admission that their way is right and ours is wrong.

J Thomas: Ideally you knock him out and he falls down and hits his head on the floor, and when he wakes up he will be a chastened antisemite, a subdued antisemite, a far more submissive antisemite. He will not annoy you with logical argument.

Gosh, I hope no one ever tries anything similar on a Jew.

TGGP writes:

"I recognize that in some situations it could hypothetically be the case that free speech leads to bad outcomes, in which case I'd be alright with restricting it. I think such cases would be fantastically rare..."

What about the "Werther Effect"? Journalism guidelines are drafted on the assumption that it is real, and browsing through PubMed suggests that the evidence is strong enough.

So, if imitative suicide is facilitated through art or media stimuli in predictable ways, isn't the empirical question as to whether there are... (read more)

What about the "Werther Effect"? I'm not really that bothered by a bunch of people I don't know killing themselves. It's your life to make or take.

Unless you don't think suicide is a bad thing, I suppose. I think my more apathetic attitude toward human life separates me from transhumanists/immortalists. I discuss that a bit here. I'm thinking more along the lines of violent totalitarian ideologies that have a reasonable chance of taking over and really screwing things up.

You can see the Buzz Aldrin punch on Youtube.

I heard he also roundhouse kicked a holocaust denier through a plate glass window and karate chopped a 9/11 truther in the balls.

DaCracka. Hitler’s paintings were bad. Unfortunately. If the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna had accepted him, he would not have become a dictator. Communism and Socialism had common ideas. The Socialists and Communists (Marxists) in the Europe after the First World War wanted to give power to the working class, establish more fairness and empower disempowered people. I am sure you all are aware of the political and historical aspects. Marx’s idea of Communism was a form of capitalist evolution. Certainly you all have read ‘Das Kapital’. I think the idea o... (read more)

dutz, as paintings, yes, they weren't any good. But still, much better than genocide.

Violence may convince your opponent it isn't worth arguing with you. But it will convince your audience that you're an emotional, impulsive, irrational person, no matter how right you were.

People can see someone as less than human. Until they see the getting beaten with fire hoses, and then pity sinks in.

I think in the original context, Eliezer was talking about violence commited by a society/sect/police force against an individual.

I happen to believe a swift punch in the ... (read more)

DaCracka: I think these are two issues related in a different way. His paintings were not better than genocide. This is like saying butter is better than a smack in the face. This is kind of illogical. Though, if his paintings would have been better there would have been a chance to avoid this genocide, because the Academy would have accepted him and he might have become a painter instead of a dictator. About the violence thing. I agree nobody should react with violence to an argument. There are people out there who do so. They do it because they are eit... (read more)

"But there is never an Idea so true that it's wrong to criticize any argument that supports it. Never. Never ever never for ever."

Was it wrong for the guy who thought Buzz Aldrin helped fake the moon landing to present his arguments to Buzz?

One of the hungarian Manhattan-project physicists had a slogan that went "It is not enough to be rude, one must also be wrong." When it comes time to decide whether to answer a verbal argument with violence, does it matter whether the argument is wrong, or is it enough to be rude?

-1Bruno Mailly2yWe are not fooled : Moon landing hoaxers do not "present arguments", they hammer and they monologue. Nothing, absolutely NOTHING Buzz could have answered or done would have worked, because they are so deep down the spiral that absolutely EVERYTHING is taken as confirmation.

guts, I would prefer butter to a slap in the face anyday. I'm sure you would, too.

The point I was making about the paintings, (in the tradition of the late Mr. Vonnegut,) is that Hitler was a person. Being a person, he should've stuck to painting, rather than violence. We should encourage more video games where people make art rather than shooting things. We should be less upset about children seeing naked people and more upset about them seeing dead ones.

In terms of a punch in the jaw:

We'd all agree that beating a child is wrong, and that Mike Tyson isn't... (read more)

That looks like a verbal argument to me. Kind of bare without any supporting evidence, but he might have been about to provide supporting evidence. Hard to tell what he was about to do.

About violence and society. What do we define by violence? Do we also define intrusion in our personal sphere, psychological re-programming, etc. as violent activities?
You should read Randall Collins.

What about the Resistance in countries that were occupied by Nazi Germany?
Did they actually accomplish anything? I think it was the violence of the opposing armies that actually ended Nazi occupation.

Thanks for pointing out Randall Collins.
Resistance certainly achieved something. I mentioned it as an example for 'justified' violence.

What did the Resistance accomplish? I already stated that it seemed to me that it was the opposing armies that got rid of the Nazis. If you disagree on that or have something else you think they did, state it.

The Resistance pinned down occupation troops that otherwise would have been available to fight opposing armies.

Anyway, it's different committing violence against people who kill you if they catch you disobeying them, versus committing violence against people who are only presenting a verbal argument. Some of us take the moral stand that it's wrong to hurt people just for what they say, while others of us figure that the practical thing is to stop bad stuff at whatever stage is most effective.

About violence and society. What do we define by violence? Do we ... (read more)

0Hul-Gil10yYou're only stopping bad stuff if it's something like a threat - in other words, a declaration of intent. I can't imagine thinking it is appropriate to "sock" somebody for a dissenting opinion. Surely this is how the Inquisition, or Stalin's U.S.S.R, was justified. I guess you wouldn't complain if I hit you for expressing these opinions. (Woo, necromancy!)

Eliezer, your post appears to at least in part be animated by a frustration with people who are incapable/unwilling/don't make a serious enough effort to both pursue interesting tangents that could later be developed into other full-length conversations and stay on topic overall. Granted, this probably describes a vast majority of people. Nevertheless, presuming the straying from topic though tangent acknowledgment to be an affliction of conversation with all people unfortunately leads you imply a necessary trade-off between the values of rigorous word d... (read more)

Rolf: It seems to me that you are trying to assert that it is normative for agents to behave in a certain manner because the agents you are addressing are presumably non-normative.

On a semantic level, I agree; I actually avoided using the word "normative" in my comment because you had, earlier, correctly criticized my use of the word on my blog.

I try to consistently consider myself as part of an ensemble of flawed humans. (It's not easy, and I often fail.) To be more rigorous, I would want to condition my reasoning on the fact that I'm one of the... (read more)

About the word "supernatural"... isn't this whole concept not bogus?

This is obvious if we assume the there was No Design(er). However the same applies more widely. Anything that happens or exists will be natural by definition.

Consider this: Let's assume for arguments sake that Intelligent Design is correct. Then all of nature is created and hence unnatural by definition. Depending on the nature of the designer it might be the only really natural thing around.

Conclusion: So unless intelligence is considered supernatural, the simple conclusion must be that nothing supernatural exists.

This has of course been pointed out, but "And it is triple ultra forbidden to respond to criticism with violence... Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever." --- doesn't make sense. It's a bizarre authoritative / normative assertion completely out of place in all of this. And Eli knows that, I'm sure. I suspect that he's just had this directive beat into him in previous encounters, in objection to the "coldness" of purely utilitarian decision-making. If e.g. an argument-ending bullet is what it takes to ensure humanity gets off-planet, then the utilitarian answer is to shoot.

Of course.

There is one type of claim for which a bullet does provide relevant evidence: claims about bullets themselves, such as "Your bullets will not harm me." (For example, an armored vehicle that is supposed to protect its occupants from gunfire will certainly end up being tested against actual gunfire at some point before its design is put into widespread use.)

Not replying to the comment thread: I think the quote might actually be Deuteronomy 13:6-10 in the King James Version.

(Deuteronomy 13:7-11)

Talk about a successful meme strategy! No wonder we still have this religion today. It killed off its competitors.


If you don't place an appropriate burden of proof on each and every additional nice claim, the affective resonance gets started very easily. Look at the poor New Agers. Christianity developed defenses against criticism, arguing for the wonders of faith; New Agers culturally inherit the cached thought that faith is positive, but lack Christianity's exclusionary scripture to keep out competing memes. New Agers end up in happy death spirals around stars, trees, magnets, diets, spells, unicorns...

In the August 2010 open thread, Risto_Saarel... (read more)

Look I know this is a stupid quibble. But I have a quibble. One of those little things that just bugs me and snaps me out of reading the article specifically to complain about it.

Stalin was religious and lifted the ban on religions put in place by Lenin. Stalin trained in being a minister before he started being a communist. (Check wikipedia for evidence)

That having been said: Other then that this article is pretty good, and I can understand not wanting to actually get into the religion vs aethisim debate or spending the time to correct my quibble... Other... (read more)

2TheOtherDave10ySometimes, I have debates with people where it turns out that our disagreement is not due to differences in our base assumptions rooted in emotions, cultural heritage, and instinct, but rather due to differences in our proximal observations of the world, or our recollections, or our reasoning processes, or various other things. I had thought this was true of everyone... is it not the case for you?

Concerning many comments already here that I am not sure which one I should reply to:

Never an argument to warrant violence? Or OK against superintelligences but NO against humans? Do not suppose there's a sharp line between human and superintelligence situations. To me some of you may well be akin to superintelligences, that I cannot outwit. No absolute line between argument and verbal abuse either, when I think about it. Also, I think I have some examples of dangerous/disgusting arguments - nothing exists, you should die, your consciousness doesn't exist ... (read more)

If God is real, and he actually said the thing about killing people who want to divert you from your faith, then he has every right because he is the one true god etc., and if God doesn't exist and he didn't say that, then Christianity IS a bad thing.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
4chaosmosis8yPossibly, but only if you think that morality would stem from authority even if God existed. Some people would disagree and say that humans should do what they think is right even if there is a God who tells them to do otherwise.
-3Rixie8yBut if God made people and our entire existence is up to his design, then a) He know's something we don't or b) The world is a cruel, cruel place. And anyway, if he created humans, he planted our sense of morality too. I think the lesson here is: Don't go chasing after other gods or you will get killed.
2chaosmosis8yI don't understand how any of those three possibilities refute what I said.
-1Abd8yThey don't. However, what you said posed a created contradiction. There is more than that, to be sure. Rixie is saying one piece of this: implying that there will be no contradiction, because your "sense of morality" comes from God. I think that's a bit naive, but not totally off. That is, I can think all kinds of crazy stuff. That's not the same as knowledge. The "other gods" implies a context where there is one, yours. What is that? Is this your identity or is it something deeper? If Rixie is right, "chasing" some other source of meaning could be fatal. What could that mean? Chaosmosis, you objected elsewhere to my capitalizing Reality, I think. Reality is my substitute-name for God. So if I am chasing another "god" besides Reality, I'm literally going crazy.
-1chaosmosis8yRixie's point was operating within the hypothetical of "If God is real, and he actually said the thing about killing people". Rixie defended that point with an appeal to authority. I pointed out that appealing to God's authority only works if we believe what God said. That somewhat invalidated Rixie's initial point. If Rixie now wants to argue that God would never order us to do something wrong, or something else like that, then Rixie needs to not only point out that the claim isn't necessarily founded on an appeal to authority but also needs to add an additional argument which the claim could be legitimately founded on. I initially didn't catch on that Rixie was abandoning the hypothetical because Rixie never took that second step. I don't understand your middle paragraph. What context is this in, where is the "other gods" quote from? I can't understand your last paragraph very well until I understand the relevancy of the middle one. I objected to capitalizing words like Reality because that sort of capitalization only occurs when you think of something like a proper noun, and thinking of things like proper nouns when the things aren't proper nouns often adds a level of mysticism to the concept of those things which is detrimental to rationality.
-2Abd8yOkay. First, I don't really care who said what when, my goal is something like consensus or shared vision, and how we get there, and who stumbled and how, isn't so important to me. "other gods" was from Rixie: This is proposed as a message to you. (You could choose to take it impersonally, as having nothing to do with you, but Rixie did use "you." That might be accidental, but I like to start with what people actually wrote or said. Kind of the point I've been making here, in fact.) So someone says to you, chaosmosis, "don't go chasing after other gods, or you will get killed." The principle of exegesis that I was taught was to assume that statements are correct. In fact, every statement can be true or false, but assuming that statements from others are true is the most powerful place to start. Assuming that the truth is literal and fixed would be irrational; this is just about communication process. When people start with skepticism and rejection, they can only come to understand statements when they are lucky enough to find serious proof. That's actually rare, the approach is highly inefficient. So what would "other gods" mean for you? I proposed a meaning. What do you think of it? "Other god" implies "God." What would your God be if the words meant something? Rather than anticipate an answer, I'll stop. As to capitalization, I use it with proper nouns. You assume that words are proper nouns or not. That depends on context. What you think of as "mysticism" could be a level of meaning that perhaps you don't recognize, and you assume it is detrimental to rationality. Is that a fact? How would you know? What, indeed, is "mysticism"?
-1chaosmosis8yYou contend that starting by believing what others say to be true is true is the fastest way to truth. I disagree. I think we should take others opinions as evidence, but that we should evaluate truth on a probabilistic level. There are no defaults, and we shouldn't unfairly privilege any hypotheses. I think the truths you arrive at through that method aren't true if they can't be arrived at through the other method. People say many false and nonfalsifiable things. People assert things that they have no way of knowing or that make no sense at all. There is no reason I should believe people in these cases. You conflate different instances of claims by people, essentially, viewing them all as equal. I make distinctions, and say that people's opinions are good approximators of the truth in some cases but bad in other cases. This seems faster because it ensures that I don't get stuck whenever I hear someone make a nonfalsifiable claim. There is an invisible and untouchable dragon behind you who will eat you and send you to hell if you believe nonfalsifiable claims. If you truly followed the system where you believe everything anyone tells you until you get contrary evidence, you would now have a terrible paradox on your hands. How do you make the jump from this communications based model of evidence to a model which incorporates evidence? It seems like there's a huge disconnect there, if the default mode is acceptance of others ideas then there would never be any reason to make the jump towards evidence. I don't think I have any god, so I don't know what "other gods" might mean for me. I'll speak metaphorically then. I would say that to the extent that I have a god, it's a nonomniscient and nonomnipotent god that I find sort of pathetic most of the time, and his name is chaosmosis. Chasing other gods would be impossible for me because everywhere I go there I am. However, I can change as an individual, and I can pursue "other gods" by changing myself. Thinking like
-4Abd8yMany issues of weight -- at least to me --are raised here, I could spend weeks writing in response, and would lose everyone. What's on-topic here? The rest can be addressed with new posts. The original post is "Uncritical supercriticality." The emphasized text from Deuteronomy prescribes a violent response to unfamiliar, alien thought, proposals of "other gods." Yudkowsky is suggesting that this entire class of responses is inimical to rationality. He brings the problem down into social phenomena that stifle communication, such as reluctance to criticize evidence for the locally popular view. I'm extending this a bit. I'm claiming that we cannot have a real dialog on an issue where there is an appearance of disagreement, at the outset, unless we first understand the other side. One of the first distinctions transmitted in the Landmark Forum is "Already Always Listening." That's the set of priors that come up based on immediate, often unconscious, associations. I see someone and immediately judge them as interesting, likely to be boring, beautiful, ugly, nice, unpleasant. I hear a few words and have an opinion, instantly, about right, wrong, smart, ignorant. The training is to recognize it, not to make it wrong. AAL is human, and necessary for survival. If I see a flash of tiger-stripes in the foliage, there is no time to run a conscious Bayesian process on it, let's hope that my habitual responses are sane. However, if we can't distinguish these learned or instinctual responses from reality, what is actually present, we have become locked into an established world-view. If we start with an immediate assumption of wrongness, and if we have the normal human habit of inventing arguments to support assumptions -- we are really good at that -- all we can see is the wrongness of the other person. It seems to be assumed that I'm proposing "belief" in what others tell us. No. I'm proposing conscious assumption. In order to have a true dialog, I must start with underst
-3Abd8y"Some people" (i.e., me) would say that God tells you to do what you know is right. (In Arabic, ma'ruwf, "good," the root is 'arifa, implying knowledge.) So, on the authority of God, do so, even if someone tries to tell you God wants you to do something else. Today you don't need to kill him, but he might be trying to kill you, i.e., to destroy your freedom. If God tells you, directly, to do something else, try getting the right medication, you've got some killer voice in there. God doesn't do that. If your name is Abraham, my condolences. I hope people don't mind my tossing in the perspective of a Muslim rationalist here. Not all Muslims think this way; in fact, the particular school is the Mu'tazila [http://http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%27tazila], though the errors and maybe some innovations are mine.
-1chaosmosis8yIf God only tells you to do what you know is right, that's fine. God's authority doesn't add anything to the obligation though. It would be just as right without a God as there is with it. I have problems with the idea that God is the source of our understanding of right and wrong though. If you accept that idea then contradictory preferences are evidence against the existence of God, and it's pretty clear to me that preferences contradict all the time. Plus, I don't think you're justified in ignoring the Abraham data point, it seems like a significant and revealing event.
-3Abd8yAgreed. However, do you ever need to be reminded of something? A bit of a fish bicycle, eh? Or, a tautology? At best, the idea is not a truth, it is a way of looking at life. It either works or it doesn't. It's empowering or not. That's all. If used to make a personal sense of right and wrong into an absolute, it's been corrupted. Contradiction of preferences is decent evidence that the personal sense isn't absolute, but that doesn't bear on the existence of God. God made us different, that we might recognize each other. That, again, is Qur'an. Most arguments for and against the existence of God are rather equally silly. I used to lecture university students on Islam, and once an atheist proudly asserted his position, "I don't believe in God." I asked him, "What God don't you believe in?" I think he was already a bit confused, I forget his answer, if there was one. I then said, "The God that you don't believe in, I don't believe in either." He was speechless. He'd expected an argument. Of course, it was an argument, just one he'd never heard before. I wasn't being silly, and I was telling him what was true for me. (I was more combative in those days. Now, I'm a little ashamed to tell that story. Did I actually communicate something to him -- or discover something with him --, or did I merely humiliate him? The fact that I don't know indicates something was missing.) I didn't "ignore the Abraham data point." After all, I brought it up. To cover the Aqedah, though, could take more than I'm prepared to address today. I wrote, "my condolences," because that was truly a trial. Can you imagine? I have seven children. Abraham didn't have the option to check himself into a psychiatric unit. I would. Still, somehow it worked out anyway. And, should I mention that it is just a story? Again, a Muslim view, from the Qur'an: God tells stories. There are more details in the Qur'anic story, but it's not really necessary here so I'll leave it.
-1chaosmosis8yI wasn't talking about contradictory preferences between different people, but within one individual person. I want to be famous but also want to not talk to people. I want to be strong and a hard worker and smart and also want to sit on the couch all day watching TV. I want to be happy but I also enjoy moments of extreme sadness. My preferences don't make sense at all, they're not coherent and they change over time and they're shaped significantly by my genetics and my childhood environment, so it's extremely more probable that they're the product of a random process like evolution than that they're the product of a God. If a God is responsible for my preferences, he is insane and incompetent. Your ability to confuse one naive college atheist isn't very strong evidence for anything. The atheist should have replied that he didn't believe in any gods. You weren't making an argument, just confusing him. Or if you were making an argument, then I've missed it, and I need the premises more clearly stated. I think you probably confused him, or he was bad at thinking on his feet and responding to new ideas, but that afterwards he thought about it and figured out what his reply should have been. I would expect that "I don't believe in any gods" is a fairly obvious reply to most people. He was probably annoyed with himself, and abit upset at you for confusing him, and he might have been a little embarrassed too. That's fine, it's a big issue. I felt like you were lampshading it, but if you've got a lengthy complicated explanation of it that you'd rather not go into I sympathize and agree. I'd rather not go into detail with it either.
-3Abd8yGreat. What is this thing called "responsible"? There are at least three major possibilities here, once we get past a definition. Feel free to add other possibilities. * God is responsible. * You are responsible. * Nobody is responsible, these are just circumstances, meaningless. The conclusion (insane and incompetent) does not follow from the premise, however. It requires unspecified assumptions. Which one of these shall we examine first?
0chaosmosis8yI don't mean responsible, I guess. That was poor phrasing. If God intentionally chose my preferences and my preferences contradict in ways that don't make sense then God is crazy or incompetent or doesn't care about my preferences because my preferences wouldn't contradict if they were designed for any sort of reason.
-2Abd8yIn most of these conversations, God is a fish bicycle, isn't that obvious? There is a possible conversation about what "God chose," but the theologies that make sense to me essentially zero out the God contribution, beyond creating some expectation that it all makes, in the end, some kind of sense, and that we can search for that. God is, I'll just say, outside of time and so placing God's choice in the past, again, makes no sense. What is "God," anyway? Since you don't accept the idea of God, whatever reasoning you create about God is made up, fantasy about fantasy. Was there any choice at all involved in the creation of your "contradictory preferences"? What are you talking about? What is "choice"? Okay, the core: you assume that contradictory preferences mean that something is wrong. Otherwise you would not conclude from them that God is crazy or incompetent. I'll just make up something not-wrong. You have differing preferences because they give you different points of view, and when you can see from more than one point of view, you get depth perception, right? Is depth perception valuable? My own answer, by the way, about the three possibilities is All of the Above. Those are simply three stories we can tell about responsibility. Each one produces, if held in mind, consequences. Each has a value, but generally the most empowering is the second: you are responsible for your identity, which includes what you describe as your preferences. Isn't that obvious? Okay, maybe it's not. We don't ordinarily think of ourselves as something that we created, we tend to "blame" it on our parents, society, or circumstances. But our identity was formed out of how we reacted to those factors. Did we chose these reactions or were they just automatic and predetermined? I'll leave the question there for now.
-4Abd8yIt was not asserted as such (remember, I wrote that I was "a little ashamed"). Consider it dicta, but it does contain an argument about atheism, one which I'd expect would be well-known, here. Perhaps someone will point me to consideration of it. In the original conversation, it was just "God." But the problem is the same. What is this thing that is being disbelieved? The words "God" and"gods" have very different meanings for different people, even among people who supposedly are part of the same "sect." What is it, precisely, that is being accepted or rejected? Or is the concept being accepted or rejected at all, is this just another form of "I'm right" and "You and people like you are wrong," which, like any such expression of identity, bears no relation to any reality other than personal? What I confronted with that student -- this was about 18 years ago -- was his assumption that he knew what I believed. If I "believe in God," I must think this and that and the other thing. Do I "believe in God"? That would be a fair question, eh? It wasn't asked. Nor have I been asked it here. Nor have I been asked to define my terms, -- what is "God," after all? -- and what I've indicated about it has not been heard (by anyone who responded). Hint: it's related to that capitalization issue. You've seen enough to be able to say what I believe, if you've been paying adequate attention -- or you will if you pay it now. Chaosmosis, is there anything that you do "believe"? We need, of course, a definition of "believe." People can argue with each other for years, getting nowhere, because the terms being used are never specified so that fundamental disagreement -- if it exists, sometimes it does not, and I have some suspicion that it never exists outside of psychopathology -- can be identified.
-1chaosmosis8yIt's a bad argument against atheism. Atheists don't just disbelieve in any particular God, they disbelieve in all of them. Of course, if you redefine God to mean "potato", then atheists will believe in God. But that's a bad use of language, and the default assumption is to use the word in its normal context. Any beings which have supernatural powers or knowledge aren't believed in by atheists. This would include everything that is normally considered a god, and a few extra things too. No, you confused him. That doesn't mean he understood this point. What God do you believe in? Your point only makes sense if your understanding of God differs from the conventional one(s) in some important respect, which it probably doesn't. Are you basically a deist? Definition of believe: "to accept as true or real". I don't believe with certainty in anything. (Technically, my intuitions are certain about certain things. Other parts of my brain disagree with their confidence though.) I slightly believe in everything, in that anything is possible because I'm fallible. But for everyday purposes, I believe that I am a human, that the sky looks blue sometimes, that rain is wet, and about ten million billion other things. Sure.
-3Abd8yYou persist in this, Chaosmosis, in assuming "against." What I presented was not an argument "against" atheism, per se, it was a question as to the nature of atheism. If "atheism" is disbelief in "God," then there must be some definition of "God," or it's totally meaningless. I don't define God to be a thing. I equate God with Reality. What is that? I do not assume that I understand God. I did not invent this understanding, I found it. It's actually pretty standard Islam. God has many names, and one of them is al-Haqq. The Truth or the Reality. Because this is a reference to a singleness, I capitalize it, this is not a reference to the ordinary individual realities, the body of facts, all of which are conditional and relative. I don't "believe" in this, I "trust" it, which is a better translation of the word in the Qur'an which is ordinarily translated as "believe." That is, there is an operating hypothesis here, on which I lean. It has effects. But it happens to be one which does not constrain my reasoning, that encourages it. But it is arbitrary, it's a choice. I am responsible for it. And you have your own choices to make. In any case, "belief" is about an assumption of truth. "Trust" is only about a mind-state, in fact, or what I more routinely call a "condition of the heart."
-1Ben_Welchner8yIf I unpacked "disbelieves in God" to "has not encountered a concept of God they both believed ("did not disbelieve", if you prefer) and did not consider a silly conception of God", would atheism still be meaningless? Would that be a horrible misconception of atheism? Are you sure there's nothing bundled in with "God is Reality" beyond what you state? Let's say I said "God is Reality. Reality is not sapient and has never given explicit instructions on anything." Would you consider that consistent with your belief that God equals Reality? I'm not trying for Socratic Method arguing here, I'm just not quite sure where you're coming from.
-2Abd8yI pointed to the Mu'tazila in another post to connect my position with an old tradition, one which is frequently thought to be heretical. The real story is that the Rationalists were very successful, early on, which might say something about the compatibility with the "proof-texts" of Islam, i.e, the Qur'an and the stories of the Prophet, but they asserted their power to attempt to crush contrary opinion. No surprise, they then lost power, and were in turn crushed. To be fair, it was not the rationalist theologians who did this, it was their powerful supporters, who made the reserved and rational interpretations into a state-enforced dogma. Perhaps we could say that they did not adequately restrain their supporters. Many "Muslims" would consider my comments heretical, I've run into this. I was considered to be too accommodating to "non-Muslims," who, they believed, were doomed to Hell if they did not "accept Islam." This got to the point that when I recited and translated a section of the Qur'an to a group of visiting Christian seminary students, the imam of the mosque was waving frantically at me to try to get me to stop. His religious affiliation trumped any concept that our responsibility might be to convey what was actually in the Qur'an. He was mostly ignorant of it. Small mosque, in a small town, a big fish in a small pond. Great. Could we say that you believe in your experience? I would put it a little differently. You trust your experience. But for what? In any case, can we distinguish between experience and what is concluded or expected from it?
4shminux8yI am somewhat curious how you define "Muslim rationalist" and how such a rationalist is different from, say, a Sikh rationalist, and whether the two can come to an Aumann agreement [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann's_agreement_theorem] in religious matters.
-2Abd8yYou may be interested in difference, I'm more interested in agreement. I gave a link to the Wikipedia article on the Mu'tazila, not because I'm an "adherent" of the school, but simply to connect myself with Muslim tradition. I would expect, however, that a rationalist will find ample agreement with any other rationalist, as long as they have some substantial shared experience. Thanks for the link on Aumann agreement. From the article, I find this hilarious. I know that's not what is meant, but the obvious pun is beautiful. If I know my own ass (presumably from a hole in the ground), I will know the ass of others who likewise know their own ass. However, I do think that we can agree to disagree. Not necessarily rationally, that's all, as to rational completeness. Sometimes we make choices that the work involved in tracking down the necessary conflicting assumptions or reasoning is not worth the expected gain. The assumption of Aumann's theorem is an empowering one, because it leads to expectation of agreement, making it far easier to find -- and build or create -- than with a contrary expectation.
3shminux8yNo, I am interested in the definition, and you haven't given one. My guess is that a qualifier for rationalism indicates a certain degree of compartmentalization [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Compartmentalization], a refusal to give up some cherished beliefs [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jy/avoiding_your_beliefs_real_weak_points/]. So I expect these beliefs to show up in your definition of a Muslim rationalist. And yeah, the unintentional pun is hilarious, but also instructive: "I know my own ass" tends to be a false statement, as people are notoriously bad at noticing "the log in one's own eye", sorry for the biblical reference.
0Abd8yYou asked about the difference. "Muslim" was not a "qualifier" of "rationalist." I'm a rationalist who is a Muslim. I could just have easily have written "rationalist Muslim." Your expectation was not unreasonable, but a poor guess. I was using "ass" to refer to knowledge of self, including one's one "assholery." It's true that most people don't know it -- or won't admit it.
4shminux8yI'm just having trouble reconciling faith with rationality, so I hoped you'd explain how you do it.
-4Abd8yFaith is a condition, you have faith, I'm sure, the question is in what. Faith is not about text, credo, truth. What do you trust, shminux? The Arabic word is imaan, trust, safety, security. It has nothing to do with right and wrong. In my own world, it means that I trust reality, as if it were my parent. That doesn't resolve to any specific expectation. And, by the way, this is normative for me. I do not absolutely trust reality, I'm afraid of this or that anyway. If you have trouble reconciling apples with oranges, I'd think you could discriminate the difference. What is the difference between faith and rationality? Do you trust rationality?
3shminux8yFunny how you try shifting focus from my questions to you by getting defensive and asking me questions instead, but sure, I'll play. My approach is similar to instrumentalism, so reality is just another useful model. So are right vs wrong, which are useful in some limited contexts, and faith, whose usefulness is even more limited, mostly to cognitive studies. Now, what I asked you is "why Muslim?", and you keep evading the question. I will disengage unless I see an honest attempt at an answer.
1Abd8yWhy Muslim? I'm Muslim, that's why! "Muslim" is an Arabic word, and the Qur'an distinguishes it from Mu'min, "faithful." Faith is a higher condition. You did not ask me "why Muslim," in the post to which I was responding. You "hoped" that I would explain how I "reconcile" faith with rationality. Apples and oranges. You want me to answer questions, but won't define the terms in your questions. So if you prefer to disengage, fine. I'm losing Karma with every attempt to answer. Basically, you ask a question, +3 for you. I answer, -2. You challenge, +2. I answer, let's see what happens. It's not looking good. I will say that it all looks to me like prior rejection. Not surprising, I suppose. Walled garden?
1shminux8yFWIW, I'm not the one who downvoted you. Actually, I'll upvote your every comment in this discussion now, since I appreciate you being engaged. And I hope others will switch from "I don't like this comment" mode and into "it's interesting to see a Muslim openly discussing faith and rationality, so it's worth an upvote. Well, presumably you were brought up as one, or maybe converted as an adult, as many do. If it's the former, why not have a look around for what you look in faith and see if Islam is the best? Maybe Buddhism or something would work better? If it's the latter, how did you choose Islam over other religions?
1Abd8yThanks, shminux. I'm quite accustomed to being quickly rejected. (I've been "conferencing," we used to call it, since the 1980s on the W.E.L.L., where I was a moderator.) The common comment is tl;dr. But when I'm succinct, I'm also not understood. Getting it just right, under most conditions, can be a tad difficult in writing, which is very narrow-bandwidth. Sometimes it's not clear that there even is a "just right." The optimized writing, for some readerships, might be none at all. Now, to your questions. Along with most who accepted Islam as adults, we don't say "converted." I started out as an agnostic/atheist in my teens, but then life demonstrated something else to me, and that's a long story. I was, for a time, a student of Buddhism, and could still be called a Buddhist. I translated the Heart Sutra from the Sanskrit, in my 20s, and had some great correspondence with Edward Conze. Fun. However, I eventually read the Qur'an, and saw something in it, a, shall we say, familiar message. Some of it seemed really weird. So, eventually, I began to read it in Arabic. The weirdness almost entirely disappeared. Artifact of translation. Again, this would be a long conversation in itself. I did not "choose Islam over other religions." There is no "over" and, in a sense, there is no "other" as well. Rather, I accepted what I came to understand was the Qur'an. I trust it as a "message from Reality." The definition of "Muslim" can be boiled down to that, essentially. But everything is a message from Reality. The Qur'an appears to me as remarkably clear, but that certainly could be because Arabic is a context-driven language, each word is derived from root meanings, with the specific meaning being supplied by context, and that context includes our individual understandings. If I thought that beating women is a-okay, there is a famous verse that could confirm it for me. However, given my own context, that verse, as commonly translated, seemed quite weird, uncharacteristi
1shminux8yI'd love to hear it. If you have it on your blog, feel free to link. Or PM me, if you like. That confuses me. My understanding is that Muslims warship the same God Hebrews and Christians do, so one must accept this concept over whatever other religions profess. Well, clearly you have a need for a supernatural component in your worldview, apparently due to your life experiences. This is hardly unusual, though often suppressed, and EY confesses to nearly the same in The Magnitude of His Own Folly [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ue/the_magnitude_of_his_own_folly/]: though his alief [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alief_\(belief\]) at the time was in a Just Universe [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis] rather than in an explicit God. So why is it that when you read Qur'an in Arabic? Do you think that this is one of those untranslatables (like those EY described in his short fiction Three Worlds Collide [http://lesswrong.com/lw/y7/the_super_happy_people_38/]), or can it be expressed in English?
1Abd8yNone of this would be particularly usable in terms of argument or convincing someone else. I saw "coincidences" on a level that made no sense, without there being what could be called "something more" than the ordinary world of cause and effect, operating only locally. Like three events that did not occur to me before or since, that would be rare for anyone, and that all happened, seemingly independently, one after the other, on one day, in about an hour. And that seemed to mean something. Basically, something like "Don't worry, it's covered." And I also experienced something directly, it would be called "mystical" here, except that it's really quite ordinary. It's a shift in perspective. Suppose that we are seeing all of life through a mirror. We don't realize this, because we don't see the signs that the mirror exists, we don't see the edges. Sometimes we might see that the mirror is dirty, though. I won't go there yet. However, what does a mirror look like? Suppose that a mirror has a certain characteristic color. Let's call that color "clarity." Suppose that one has a faculty for seeing that color. (I suspect we all do.) This isn't "scientific." There is no way to show that there is any "clarity" other than the reality of what is reflected. Or directly seen. It's an experience, though, and because of it, the whole elementary level of Zen koans became transparent for me, and when I asked a Zen master about this, he confirmed it. I was something like 22 years old. I didn't have training, I was just lucky, or something. I don't consider this truly significant, but I could probably write a book about it. It's not the way I think any more, particularly. Again, all this did for me was to connect me with wide religious traditions, which I saw, then, as referring to experience that was not the "ordinary way" of looking at things. I've not fully expressed this at all, I was just describing the gateway that I walked through. Because I wasn't taught by any individual
0MBlume8yIn the local parlance, "supernatural" is used to describe theories that have mental thingies in them whose behavior can't be explained in terms of a bunch of interacting non-mental thingies. Pretty sure the definition originates with Richard Carrier [http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/01/defining-supernatural.html].
1Abd8yI have no idea what limits there are on what "interacting non-mental thingies" can do. As an example, I don't know what an "angel" is, much less how one works. I accept -- as a Muslim -- that the mention of angels in the Qur'an means something, it isn't just stupid, but I don't know what it is, but I somewhat assume that it refers to psychic forces, i.e., patterns in the mind, or patterns of patterns, etc. (Actually, the first mention makes sense even though I don't know what the angels are. That passage is really about us and what we do, and it's a story that leads into the story of Satan, which I know is a psychic force, the hatred of the human -- that is, pure intelligence that is full of disdain for this wet mess, this bag of shit. Okay, recognize.)
0Abd8yI read Carrier. Interesting. Reality, for me, is either Theostoa (without the ether construct) or SuperTheostoa, and I can't distinguish them, and I can't imagine how to distinguish them. Any mental thingie that might be ascribed to SuperTheostoa might be a not-understood, non-mental characteristic of Theostoa. But both Theostoa and SuperTheostoa are covered by the word Reality. Aside from reality, there is nothing. When we "worship" other than Reality, we are led astray, leading me to the credo of Islam. Laa ilaaha illa 'llah, there is no object-worthy-of-worship (ilah, god) except The Object (al-ilah, the god, shortened to Allah). All the lesser "supernaturals" seem like fantasy to me. There may be realities -- defined as actual experience -- behind them, but ... there are other possible explanations as well. I distinguish "experience" from what we take it to mean. Setting up Reality as God, then, as a mode of thinking, leads to study, testing, falsification, rejection of dogma, clarity (in many senses), etc. It leads to trust in Something behind life, though for some it could lead to fear, even terror. It depends on what is already in the heart. "Heart," again, can be understood as a pile of mental thingies (high-level patterns of patterns) that are made up of interacting non-mental thingies (patterns), arising from the machine (the brain) and the programming (memories and interactions of memories). Or it is a "mental thingie" with its own existence, i.e., supernatural, but I don't see evidence for that. A piece of meat is trying to figure out if there is anything other than itself. Perhaps I'm actually agnostic, full circle, except that I'm also Muslim, by the definitions. This is overthought, but maybe it's useful to someone.
1shminux8yOK, thank you for describing what you mean by being a "Muslim rationalist". Certainly EY or most regulars would not use the word rationality to describe your worldview, because it appears incompatible with Reductionism, though I suppose it should not prevent you from being instrumentally rational.
0Abd8yYou are welcome, shminux. Since you used this collection of letters, "reductionism," and appear to posit that my view is "incompatible" with it, I looked it up. Yukdowsky's article [http://lesswrong.com/lw/on/reductionism/], for starters. Aside from EY using the device of positing a series of stupid arguments to refute, and being a bit naive about what others "believe," when he actually gets to the definition, it seems quite like the way I think. In fact, if I hadn't noticed this many times, reading his work, I'd not be bothering with LW at all. Yet I'm suspicious of any "ism," a high-level abstraction, proposed as if representing reality. Indeed, wouldn't a reductionist be suspicious? Reductionism as a practical approach, fine. Now, I notice that EY, in the post, capitalizes Reality. He's expressing, first, a reductionist position. It is indeed an "ism." It proposes itself as what is "really" so (but, to his credit, he qualifies it: as far as we can tell. Setting aside a quibble about "we," that's fine). He is pointing to a unity, but is describing that unity in terms of present understanding ("elementary particle fields and fundamental forces"). Take out the "really," understand "physics" as a heuristic, a method of making predictions, a map rather than the territory, and I'm right with him, down to capitalizing Reality, because it becomes a proper noun. A proper noun that happens to have, it seems, amazing "computing power." Now, my question: is this "computing power" intelligent? If you have an answer, coming from knowledge, I'd love to hear how you know it. I'd answer the question myself, but these comments are already long.
0MixedNuts8yDude, you don't get to distrust "ism"s when you belong to an organized religion. Some even-handedness, please! I've seen a lot of things, like bananas, planes, philosophical dissertations, moods, religious experiences, and equations. In each case where I was able to look, I found that those things were made of parts, and that if you removed the parts and their interactions there was nothing left over. In each case where someone told me otherwise, they had no convincing evidence. Therefore, I don't believe anyone who says "Maybe the true laws of nature aren't reductionist after all" if they can't show me an exception to current theories that looks non-reductionist. You said earlier and talk about reality being intelligent. The way I understand your claim is a sort of pantheism, where the universe is an intelligent, divine being. (I know very little of Muslim worldviews but that's not the sort of theological claim I associate with Islam.) I can see the appeal, but if there's intelligence, where's the brain? I've never seen intelligence that didn't come from a very specific kind of structure. Show me how the universe has that structure, or why the mountains of evidence against disembodied intelligence are invalid. You also said Augh what the fuck is wrong with you, reality kills 150000 people everyday and does nothing against torture, why would you ever trust it? On an unrelated note, which bits of the Qur'an struck you most? I've tried to read the thing several times, but it's even more boring that the genealogical parts of the Bible, and all I've gathered so far is "OBEY", which is right there in the name, and platitudes like "Be just, don't be evil".
0Abd8y"Belong to an organized religion." Huh? Do they own me? MixedNuts thinks I don't mistrust "Islamism?" Where did that come from? Problem is, this is a non-reductionist point of view, because it asserts that a map is the territory. "Reductionist" is, as described by Yudkowsky, an absence rather than a presence, but it is being asserted here as an absolute quality of "the true laws of nature." Nature doesn't have laws, AFAIK, we invent them as summary methods for predicting our experience, and someone who believes Nature does have this construct called "laws" is not reductionist. Want to be a reductionist, toss that belief. I'm not seeing that I'm being read carefully. I did not "talk about Reality being intelligent." I asked a question. I didn't claim what was asserted. Rather, I note it as some kind of possibility. In one sense, though, I can state something logically. If we are intelligent, and if we are real, then Reality must be intelligent. However, I do have some doubt about our intelligence, as well as our reality. MixedNuts, you have a concept of "Muslim" as if it comprehensively identifies the world view of someone who admits being Muslim. I pointed to the Mu'tazila [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mu%27tazila] as a historical counter-example, what is called the "rationalist" school in Islam. Not that I "believe in" the "Mu'taziliyya positions." It seems to be that you are attempting to stuff the thinking of an individual (me) into some set of fixed categories. How does that work for you? Does it help you to understand people? Fascinating. Where is your brain, MixedNuts? Does it exist in the universe? (These are questions, not insults!) Does your brain have the quality of "intelligence"? If so, then does not Reality necessarily have the quality of intelligence? Where did you get this "disembodied" from? (That might be something to do with SuperTheostoa.) I asked a question about Reality and intelligence. It could also be considered to be a question as to
-1MixedNuts8yI don't think you don't mistrust Islam as a concept. I think you tackle the concepts directly, rather than adding an extra barrier of "this is an abstracted ideology, I don't buy those". You call yourself a Muslim, not an independent theologian with ideas from Islam. Well obviously, once you accept that everything else follows. What I'm asking is why you think that, give that it looks very lawful: objects fall down, energy is conserved, if a prediction is true on Monday it stays true on Tuesday, every exception to known rules turns out to obey deeper rules with practical consequences we can exploit. Why can't we just say "The thing has looked absolutely lawful for millenia, case closed"? ?!?!?? As I see it, the reduction that works best is "Here are the elementary particles, here are the laws that govern them, everything else follows from that. Maybe the particles and laws are also made of parts, we're still looking.". I can't see what's non-reductionist about natural laws - I'm not even sure reductions are possible without some laws, though they don't have to be as rigorous as ours look. Cell membranes are permeable to water, I contain cell membranes, I am not permeable to water. By "reality" we do mean the set of cell phones and pineapples and copies of Alice in Wonderland and horses and so on, right? Clearly, whether it's real-in-some-philosophical-sense or not, it contains intelligence: you, me, Deep Blue. But the whole set doesn't seem to be intelligent itself; to coordinate its intelligent parts into a higher-level structure, or to build intelligence out of non-intelligent parts. And if it's not an intelligent being that can make decisions, or even a perfectly lawful mechanism you can control if you understand it well enough, I have to stop asking why you trust it and ask what trusting it even means. I have no clue what I said that sounded even vaguely like that. I mean, I know at least two Muslims, so I can see there's no Muslim hive mind. And I said in
0Abd8yI mistrust all concepts, in theory. In fact, of course, I rely on concepts in daily life. In practice, I trust some. But they are all suspect, because, compared to the pure possibility of emptiness, they limit us. We trade that loss for utility. Concepts are great! But the map is not the territory. If I want to know the territory, I have to experience the territory, any map will distract me. If I have chosen to travel from A to B, then a map can be very useful. Ideally, I have the map, I can plot a course from A to B, but if I pass by C, of greater interest than B, I'll still see C, even if it's not on the map of All Places of Interest. It's more fundamental than that. I mistrust any interpretation. Abstracted ideologies are merely further from what I do trust, Reality. Sensory data is an aspect of reality. What that data can be made to mean is interpretation. I wear a Muslim hat. I'm not a theologian, though I do think about what might be called theology. Islam, as I define it -- which happens to resemble the sources -- is not theology, though it has theological implications. In many ways my approach is Buddhist, if one wants an "ism" to try to contain it. Most of us are so distracted by words.
0Abd8y"Okay" is a human judgment. Any story that makes it "okay" is a human story, invented, because "okay" does not exist in Reality, just as "not okay" does not exist. So you aren't convinced by this or that story. That only tells us something about you, not about Reality, and "you" don't exist, in Reality. "You" are a concept, an illusion, not a reality. As am I. You are looking for explanations of an illusion. It can be done, I'll claim. That is, by the way, a reductionist claim. Right? I will also claim that an experience, a state of being, is possible that doesn't make "evil" okay, "evil" being shorthand for the "detestable," but it leads to something else, an acceptance of Reality that also gives us maximum power to change, to create transformation. Call it clear thinking if you like, that leads to maximized probability for effective action, rooted in fundamental values. What's "fundamental"? Well it's probably written in our DNA. It isn't an absolute, it's a quality of life as it evolved, so this is reductionist. Or there is something beyond Theostoa, there is SuperTheostoa, and I can't tell the difference. Not yet, anyway, and it may not be possible.
2MixedNuts8yThanks for replying. Unfortunately I understand exactly nothing of what you wrote. Certainly "okay" is not fundamental. And certainly any judgement and subsequent action of something being okay or not is going to come from an okayness-judging being (that would be humans), which may be flawed. (And whether "okay" comes from humans or not is confusing, but not germane to my point.) But I'd be... surprised... if "okay" didn't refer to a thing that exists. Marlene is happily married and raises her long-awaited child. Manda died at seven in a freak accident. Those situations evoke strong emotions in me. I desire to create more situations like the former and fewer like the latter. I desire to ally with those who share such desires, and oppose those who don't. Is this mistaken? If you cut me, do I not bleed? Maybe the knife is a concept and the blood is an illusion, but I still want to know how the concept and illusion work. Well yeah, if you're telling me "Don't rage against malaria", you've got some splainin away to do. I don't understand the words and can't parse the sentence. Does "detestable" mean the usual stuff - people starving to death or being burned alive or dropping their ice cream on the sidewalk and so on? If not, can you give some examples? What do you mean by "acceptance"? Is it something like "Yes, I am lost in the wilderness - no whining about how terrifying that is, no denial about how likely I am to die, it's time to focus on survival alone."? If so, that's a beneficial attitude. But there's no trust or security here - you know on a gut level that bad things happen, and want them to stop happening. And you don't like the universe that lets such things happen. So unless you're arguing for "Reality is evil, burn it" that's either not what you mean or I'm missing a step.
0Abd8yWell, "superior" has a lost, unspecified standard. I've never encountered anything else like the Qur'an. It claims that it is not the first "message", and I can see traces elsewhere. However, the best alternative mentioned above is the "blank piece of paper." If you can receive the message in a blank piece of paper, you would receive the message in all the rest. I could justify this statement from the Qur'an itself. Setting aside issues with "believe," there is no difference. You could say that the Qur'an is a mirror which shows me, if I pay attention, what I know, or think I know. Yes, there is a danger. However, if the basic message is accepted, if I stick with the blank piece of paper, and don't believe anything that is not on it, I won't actually create persistent error.
0Abd8yAristotelian logic, right? Look at the assumption: "entirely unrelated." Where did that come from? If they are intelligent, and if the Reality that they encounter is connected, they are not unrelated. Something is missing here. There is an intelligence that transcends human intelligence, and it is possible for any of us to experience it. Landmark routinely accomplishes this, failure is rare. It's called the Self in Landmark, sometimes they capitalize the whole word, SELF. My theory or understanding is that the Self is what arises or is experienced when two (or more) human brains are entrained, when their thinking is coherent and free. It's not mere "social reality," where people agree on memes. The intelligence of the Self. compared to that of an individual human, could be like the intelligence of an ant colony compared to that of an individual ant. To me, faced with this experience, the Self seems to be unlimited. However, I do assume that it is limited, in fact, it's simply operating in another realm, a realm not accessible to me as an individual. By the way, in Landmark, this distinction is communicated in the Advanced Course. The Forum brings people into contact with it, but not explicitly. I tested this. I told a story to people who had taken the Advanced Course (and that requires the Forum as a prerequisite). "The Forum is about becoming free of the limitations of our past -- they nod -- the Advanced Course is about this." Everyone who has taken the AC, when I've said that, has lit up. It's palpable, I'm sure it could be measured psychometrically. (And I just met a neurologist, a scientist, just completing the same training I completed, who is working on that). People who haven't, mostly, ask "About what?" And if I try to explain it, well, I may be reacting from within my own world of survival, looking good, being right, blah blah. I'm not being there. And for that test to work as a test, I have to be there, with that very person. While people who ha
0MixedNuts8ySo, your deity-like thing is distributed among human brains, and synchronizes by communication between humans? Once when attending Mass a a child, I felt like I was connected to some unfathomable entity, and connected through it to the other people in the church. Is that anything like what you're referring to? (The other people were actually bored out of their skulls and discreetly making fun of the prayers. Probably a bad example.) So, yeah, if groups of appropriately behaving people can and do act as morally better and smarter than individuals, that's awesome and possibly worship-worthy. (Possibly because I worship anything that looks at me the right way, but still.) But I was under the impression that Islam involved a deity that created the universe, and had more power over it than a group of well-coordinated humans. (Like, programming an oven to announce floods.) The only way I see this claim could be salvaged is heavy solipsism (well, it's more like pluripsism in that case), that non-sentient objects are created by this hive mind. In which case, who's the asshole who decided on malaria?
0Abd8yOkay, this is a "deity-like thing." It's not a deity. It's a thing. I gave examples showing the arising of something more than individual intelligence, and by that I mean immediate intelligence, not something built up (like the collection of experimental reports -- which is another kind of intelligence). I assume that your experience was real. What you were experiencing, and what you might make it mean, are distinct. I'm referring, though, to something more demonstrable, that might have been present for you in that moment as a beginning, a taste. Not as the full monte. Someone else might have a similar experience with scientific insight. Suppose that the "unfathomable entity" was simply Reality, and everyone there was in some kind of relationship with Reality. Some might be bored, contemptuous, but some might be in awe as well. Frankly, I think Reality is awesome. You are still defining all this as if your personal judgment of "better" is real, but, yes. It's not that your personal judgment is "wrong," that would be just as much of a story. And your comment about your response to what "looks at you the right way" is an accurate description of what most of us do, most of the time, even if we think we are "rational." The concept behind the impression is one that separates the "deity" from the "universe," one object that controls another. Reality allows us to imagine that we have power over it, but that's a product of how we think about it. For survival, we have found that results are usually correlated with our actions, in certain ways. If our actions are not founded in an acceptance of reality-as-it-is, however, they are likely to be ineffective, so the more effective actions likely involve "acceptance." Islam is the Arabic word for this. (If we have developed an inaccurate model, that perhaps worked under some circumstance but not others, what happens when we encounter the "deviations" depends on whether we believe the model or not. I.e., believe that the mo
1MixedNuts8yDo you mean "Reality" as in "this stick of deodorant, and this penguin, and this meson, and this symphony, and this greengrocer, and so on"? Because it is pretty cool, and everything in it has ties of various natures and strengths to everything else which is pretty cool to, and totally has the number two spot on the list of things I worship. (Number one is the ability to feel worshippy-awed emotions. Bootstraps.) But it seems to want things like "quantum evolution should be unitary", not things like "no child should be driven to suicide". I admire the set-of-things-that-exist, but I don't approve of it. Yes, it contains moral agents, and those agents have to change it from the inside because there's no outside, but it also contains shitty parts. Can't see why I should be accepting the whole deal. Dude. You need separate words for "believing it exists" and "not shrieking 'Augh kill it with fire'". Of course if I pretend the stove can't burn people it won't be harmless. That doesn't mean I'm fine with the stove burning people. Behaving as if a model works is most of what I mean by "belief" in the first place. Sure, don't get overattached to a model, and keep checking it. I'm not sure I get it. If you mean "Whatever happens is what reality wants to happen", then clearly reality only ever wants the force to be equal to the charge times the electric field or something. Yeah, fine, it also wants some people to have a desire to eradicate malaria and a good shot at succeeding after a few millennia. But since it can do anything, why didn't it want malaria not to exist in the first place? If your answer is along the lines of "It can't decide to want stuff", please explain why it's something you like rather than an extremely shiny toy. If it's along the lines of "It decided that way", please explain why it's something you like rather than an unspeakably evil cosmic monster. If it's along the lines of "Foolish mortal, your talk of 'good' and 'evil' is a mere human illusion
1shminux8yThis would be a good time to define what you mean by a physical law. Likely it is not the same as what Abd means. I am guessing that you assign some meaning to this term other than "it's a useful mathematical model for humans to explain and predict some of the stuff they see sometimes". I'm guessing further that Abd concludes from your implied (and possibly misunderstood) definition that if physical laws are guiding "reality" than they are not reducible to quarks and leptons themselves, which does call the whole idea of reductionism in question. I'd suggest clarifying this concept first before arguing about it.
0Abd8yThanks, shminux. Yes, you understood me. I do get the sense, though, that MixedNuts is getting it. We'll see.
-4Abd8ywhen I wrote that Nature does not have "laws," I did not mean what I did not write. I did not write that Nature was arbitrary, for example. What we call "laws," however, are interpretations, heuristics, models. Nature has no problems to solve, needs no predictions. We have problems, and an AI will have problems. It is obvious that Nature is commonly predictable. However, "commonly" is not enough. Can Nature disobey, for example, her own "laws"? It looks like she can, because what we have come to is an understanding of probability. If a situation can resolve as A or B, with some probability for each, we can develop laws that predict probability, but that does not predict any particular behavior in an individual instance. We have developed a probability. Nature doesn't handle itself that way. However, you can believe that Nature does follow laws if you like. And you can attempt to determine those laws. And that is highly useful, even necessary. However, if you believe what you have created, as if Nature were bound by the :"laws" you have inferred -- and, hopefully, tested -- you will become less able to see the exceptions. If by any chance, you notice one (the cards are stacked against it), you will dismiss it as some error. When I read Yudkowsky, I interpret him as I interpret the Qur'an. That is, I assume that he's right. It's just a temporary assumption that facilitates understanding. So I have interpreted "reductionism" in a way that makes it -- to me -- right. It's consistent with what I've read, so far. However, applying this, Yudkowsky is not always fully reductionist. Essentially, he's human. So far, anyway. Seems to me that he acknowledges this. I could write more, but I'm in awe.
0TimS8yIn the abstract, there's nothing incoherent about using others' technical vocabulary with different meanings. But: 1) You are misleading yourself if you think you are communicating effectively with them. 2) Your statements about their positions will make no sense to them. 3) It comes off as quite arrogant - essentially you are asserting you know better how a concept works without even attempting to justify the assertion (or even noticing that such an assertion is necessary) If Eliezer says he is a reductionist1 and you say he is not a reductionist2, you haven't done anything particularly clever or praiseworthy.
0MixedNuts8yBuilding on what TimS said, I would make a lot fewer assumptions if you explained things as you would to a toddler rather than express complex ideas in five highly ambiguous words and then complain I didn't interpret each word exactly the way you meant to. You still haven't answered the question of why nature looks a whole lot like it has laws. Even if true, how can you possibly know that the model we have tested ten thousand times and confirmed each time is a surface model and not the truth? Disagree. First, a probabilistic law is still a law; take nondeterministic Turing machines for example. Second, with the exception of some interpretations of QM, probabilistic models claim to be approximations of the true (or still approximate but a level deeper) laws when the human trying to use it lacks information or time to compute. Sometimes we find nature disobeying situation A's law in situation B, but there always turns out to be a law that governs A, B, and C. Clearly we're not using "believe" the same way. I call bullshit. Physicists catch exceptions to current theories all the time, and then work hard to find where it came from, and either devise new theories or fix the loose cable in their setup. Where's the list of exceptions discovered by mysterians? You should probably interpret it as "what most reductionists advocate" and use "the version of reductionism I think is right" for the other thing, if you hope to talk to people who call themselves reductionists without making them shout "What the actual fuck?".
0MugaSofer8yHow? Incidentally, I suspect that you would not hold some of the beliefs you appear to hold if you had read the sequences. That's not a criticism as such, but still.
1RichardKennaway8yYes. No. A few small parts of it do: human brains, to a lesser extent other animals, and that's it, as far as we've seen. There might also be intelligent aliens somewhere in the vastness. If that's enough to say that Reality has the quality of intelligence, it is also enough to say the Reality has the qualities of being inebriated, sober, radioactive, inert, rarefied, dense, at 3 degrees C, at 10 million degrees C, every possible colour and none. ETA: In other words, "Reality has the quality of intelligence" is a deepity [http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Deepity]: true in a trivial sense and false in a trivial sense, but when the two senses are expressed by the same sentence, it sounds profound.
1shminux8yI guess we should first agree on what the term "intelligent" means. I do not have a good definition, but let's borrow the one given by Eliezer [http://lesswrong.com/lw/vl/recognizing_intelligence/]. It ought to be an instrumentally good one, given that constructing an intelligence (a "friendly" one) is his life's goal: Now, I assume that your definition would not be identical to his, so feel free to express it here.
0Abd8ySmart. [edit: I didn't see an alternate meaning for what I wrote. I meant that it was smart to check for or seek agreement on the meaning, not that "intelligent" means "smart," a mere synonym.] The post refers to a definition, but doesn't state it. A previous post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/va/measuring_optimization_power/] has a definition: I read this as an ability to "solve problems" efficiently, "cross-domain," i.e., not just in some narrow field. In our discussion, I quote EY as referring to Reality as if it has huge computational ability. My own thinking has reflected on the "omniscience" and "omnipotence" of God as being almost a tautology: Reality knows all things, and over all things has power. Reality, however, is not an "artificial intelligence," although artificial intelligence may exist, may be real. If it exists, it is limited by its computational power. The computational power of Reality will necessarily be greater. It may not be unlimited though. The Many Worlds interpretation might extend the power of Reality almost infinitely. On the other hand, is Reality "efficient"? I have no confidence in these ideas as "truth," but do see them as possibly useful, in terms of the relationship with Reality that might be fostered by them.
1shminux8ySo, if you agree with EY's definition of intelligence, where do you think you two diverge, him being an atheist and you a Muslim?
-1Abd8yI don't know that we diverge. We have not discussed this. Do remember, above, that I said that the difference between a theist and atheist was only a thin space. It might not even be an important space. However, that could depend on what he means by "atheist" and what I mean by "Muslim," which has been the whole point of this discussion, coming as commentary on EY's "Uncritical Supercriticality." His post seems to me to be about this problem we have of making assumptions about people and positions from affliiations, and what amount to political responses to real or imagined difference. "The affective death spiral." Thanks, shminux, for the questions you ask, which, in my experience, bring insight.
0shminux8yYou are most welcome, though my assessment of our exchange is less glowing, given that neither of us changed their worldview to any significant degree.
-1Abd8yGive it time.
1RichardKennaway8yIs this specific to the Arabic language, or is it just the mismatch there will be between any two languages? I note that Christians take a completely different view of their sacred text: it must be provided to everyone in their own language, the better for them to understand it. I would be interested to see your exegesis of some specific passage from the Qur'an along these lines. Perhaps as a top-level discussion post. I've read it in English translation (this [http://www.amazon.co.uk/Quran-Oxford-Worlds-Classics/dp/0192805487/] translation), and to my eyes it consists mostly of exhortations to believe and promises of doom to unbelievers, and almost nothing about what anyone is expected to believe or to do beyond allegiance to the tribe. Randomly dropping into this online version [http://quran.com/] yielded eight suras consisting of nothing else, and two that contained that plus some rather sketchily recounted stories. What is it a reminder of? My reading of it reminds me only of the leaders of the ant colonies in T.H. White's The Once and Future King [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Once_and_Future_King].
-1Abd8yIt's not specific to Arabic, but Arabic is particularly amenable to such wide interpretation. Well, what Christians? Some Christians do insist on studying the "relatively original" texts. And the problem Christians face is different. To some extent, they don't have the original text. They only have translations (at best) and rumors (in the other direction.) Much Christian opinion (as with much Muslim opinion) is preposterous. In order to revere the Bible, as "the Word of God," and especially what they will hold up and thump or whatever they do, they have to create a whole doctrine of "inspired translation." They have to assume, as well, that there is a message that can be translated, one size fits all, equivalent. No wonder the standard Christian story is so ... dumb. (I hasten to add that there are lots of Christians who understand it differently, and, in my experience, they more that they actually know about their religion, the broader their view. The naive fundamentalist view is largely ignorant of Christian tradition, not only of other possibilities.) What happens with a text like the Qur'an, or the Torah, or the Gospels, is that they are interpreted, and that the interpretations come to be considered the original message, so much so that the original message practically disappears -- even if the text is being read in the original language. I read what's reported of Jesus in the Gospels, and don't notice that he claims to be God. He said some other things that are so interpreted, even though there are alternate interpretations that, in some cases, are extremely simple and consistent with the context. I've gone over these passages with Christians, on occasion. It is as if they can't hear the alternate meanings, they keep saying, "But he said ...!" However, they don't know what he said. He didn't speak Greek, for starters, as far as we can tell. The only actual words of Jesus purportedly preserved were the words on the cross, kept in Aramaic, the language
2RichardKennaway8yIf communication is the purpose, that is a defect, not a virtue.
-1Abd8yYes. If accurate, unambiguous communication is the purpose, that's true, though for that purpose, even in English, terms must be specifically defined for context. Jargon. Seems to me that this happens around here. If a different form of communication is the purpose, such as with poetry, Arabic might even be optimal. However, the Qur'an does explain why it's in Arabic. It's because Muhammad was Arab. And so was his community. Did you notice the place where I mentioned that each of the seven "dialects" (sets of meanings for words) and the seven "interpretations" was confirmed by the Prophet as being legitimate? I assume, for some purpose. The Leader Astray is one of the names of God, for example. The Qur'an is not a science textbook, in spite of some rather naive and enthusiastic claims by some Muslims.
0RichardKennaway8yWell, duh. For the same reason, the Torah is in Hebrew, the New Testament was originally in Greek, and the Buddhist scriptures were originally in Pali. It's almost as if, to communicate an idea to people, you have to express it in their language. Fancy that! I did, but I lack your faith in the value of ambiguity and obscurity, regarding them instead as deepity engines.
0shminux8yI'd caution against creating a TLP on virtues of Islam, or any other religion for that matter. While it might be obvious to you that Islam is like nothing else, the inferential gap to the LW community is basically uncrossable, so you will only get whacked again. The general understanding is that Eliezer has adequately dealt with faith and religion when discussing belief in belief, and that Reductionism does not need faith, let alone any specific religion or scripture. I am guessing that the inferential gap works the other way, too: you likely misunderstand some of the standard ideas accepted and discussed here. It would be a good exercise in rational thinking to identify and analyze such inferential gaps between you and the more mainstream LWers.
0fubarobfusco8yThe general understanding is that none of that particular topic is unique to Eliezer, who mentions (but doesn't always cite) his sources on "belief in belief" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i4/belief_in_belief/] — specifically Sagan and Dennett. I would also caution against using the idea "mainstream LWers" ....
0shminux8yRight. I did not mean to imply that it was original research, though I suspect that he reproduced much of it on his own before matching with the existing literature. My definition of a "mainstream LWer" is someone who adopts the Reductionism sequence without any significant reservations. Whether it's a good definition may be open to debate.
-1fubarobfusco8yMy definition of "phyggery" is ... ah, never mind.
-1Abd8yThis "general understanding" might be so for some (most?) in the LW community, but my prior on that is, like, highly unlikely that a single individual in a few words has "adequately dealt" with centuries of human experience and thought and inquiry. What is quite possible is that EY has addressed certain outlines of the subject;.Generally I'm in agreement with him, but also see certain unexplored points. I'm continuing to read, and as I read more, I find both more agreement and more of what I usually call "edges." I wouldn't dream of "creating a TLP on 'virtues of Islam.' Wrong place, for sure. I'm far more interested in rationality and the stated goals of this blog. However, there was a whole school of Islam, dominant for a time, called the "rationalists," and science was considered compatible with Islam for centuries. That's an Islam that, I assume, most LWians haven't contacted. So there may be some room for this, that's all. I'm quite aware that atheism is the standard belief here. However, is that a rational necessity? (And if it is, I'm still interested in the question of what atheism is. I do not think of it as being "wrong.") What is "obvious" to me is not what is being inferred by some from what I've written, nor would I expect it would be obvious to others who don't share the necessary referents. I simply offered to respond if asked. Fubarobfusco, thanks for the link. I'll check that out. I do not imagine that LWers are monolithic, though some may imagine that their own opinions are the opinions of the group. Maybe. More likely, not, though they might dominate. edit: I'd already read that, and TheSimpleTruth [http://sl4.org/wiki/TheSimpleTruth]. I've been looking for a while, and I haven't seen an examination of "faith and religion," but only of certain naive ideas about them. I'm pretty sure that a higher degree of sophistication exists here. But I can't yet prove it. Where should I look?
-4Abd8yYudkowsky was a bit naive here, after all, this page is five years old. He ascribed the passage, Deuteronomy 13.7-11 to "God." Why would we say that "God said that"? Well, a quite incautious, naive, religious belief. It is a Christian trope that the Bible is the ":word of God." But this was part of the Torah, and it's a part where Moses is telling his people the Law. I'm not a theologian or an expert on scriptural exegesis, but, on the face, Moses, explicitly, in this story of what he said, says "I command you."' As a Muslim, I've no obligation to accept the literal buffeted text we call the Bible as, in itself, the Word of God, perfectly preserved. But suppose I accept that it is true. That would mean, only, that Moses said this. It would not mean that God said it. Again, following the story, Moses was obeying God, but doesn't say,. "God said...." This is a command of a tribal leader in tribal times, regarding the preservation of tribal identity, which is life-and-death under those conditions. It's crazy to take this tribal command as a universal truth, applicable to all times and conditions. Sure, some do that. We already know that some people are crazy. Yes, I could go further. But for now I'm merely suggesting that before drawing major conclusions from what is in any text, that we read the text itself, what it says about itself, and what we know about the context. What others say about the text exists on another level, which may have little or nothing to do with the text itself.
0chaosmosis8yIf he used a different passage in his example, you would have no objection?
-2Abd8ySurely that would depend on the passage and how he uses it. However, wasn't arguing with Yudkowsky here, just pointing out that the little late discussion here was spinning off on that particular piece of unexamined exposition. I reread the piece, and I do come to something that may be interesting. Yudkowsky is ascribing an "ur-mistake" to that passage, but he generalizes it, into a rigid adherence to a dogma or tightly-defined mission or, most importantly, group identity. That qualifies as an ur-mistake to me, at least for our time. It disables us from seeing the world-as-it-is, and that is now precisely our mission, our task as humans. It leads us into the "affective death spiral," and in some of the examples that came up, it's literally a death spiral. If so many people were not so harmed by it, it would be funny, the similarity between the fanatics in the world of Islam and the fanatics in the world of, say, fundamentalist Christianity. They are, from my point of view, on the same side, the side of hatred. In religious language, the side of Satan, whose goal is precisely that we fight each other, in order to demonstrate what pieces of dirt we are. (That's almost a literal translation from the Qur'an.)

While reading, i tried to think of a case when i fell in affective death spiral, and interesting thing came to my mind. Falling in love falls under Halo Effect? Butterflies in stomach, worshiping the beloved, etc... That means that who overcomes this bias can't fall in love that way anymore?

1Viliam_Bur6yThere is a difference between infatuation and love. (Similar to the difference between "Hollywood rationality" and rationality.) Affective death spiral is infatuation. A person who overcomes this bias will not say things like: "Oh, if this amazing person I met five minutes ago will not friend me on facebook then my life has no meaning and I have to slash my wrists."
0Lu936yYes, infatuation is what i really wanted to say.(I'm not native speaker) So, two points: 1. Affective death spiral has leading role in existence of humanity, (if none had it, less children would be born.) 2. It's kinda shitty to find out that butterflies are consequence of false beliefs, which could lead to people being resistant to accepting this whole idea.

Am I the only one who hears Eliezer's "Never ever never for ever" voiced roughly like HJPEV?

Not all wrongness is innocent error. Sometimes people are lying, consciously or unconsciously. This is violence directed at the listener to control their behavior. Even advertising that makes no false claims is often in this category, when it raises the salience of something for basically adversarial reasons. (Hard sells and infomercials are less like this, branding is more like this.) If it never ever never for ever gets bullet, then eventually a bunch of thugs barge into your nice unwalled garden (walls being a form of structural violence) and ruin it.

Se... (read more)

It's worth pointing that phrase "atheism is also a religion" is essentially an accusation. So, the notion that religion is a bad stuff is so ingrained even in beliviers mind, if they think that phrase "you have a religion" can be used as an acusation

(looks around at 2020)