A novice rationalist studying under the master Ougi was rebuked by a friend who said, “You spend all this time listening to your master, and talking of ‘rational’ this and ‘rational’ that—you have fallen into a cult!”
The novice was deeply disturbed; he heard the words You have fallen into a cult! resounding in his ears as he lay in bed that night, and even in his dreams.
The next day, the novice approached Ougi and related the events, and said, “Master, I am constantly consumed by worry that this is all really a cult, and that your teachings are only dogma.”
Ougi replied, “If you find a hammer lying in the road and sell it, you may ask a low price or a high one. But if you keep the hammer and use it to drive nails, who can doubt its worth?”
The novice said, “See, now that’s just the sort of thing I worry about—your mysterious Zen replies.”
Ougi said, “Fine, then, I will speak more plainly, and lay out perfectly reasonable arguments which demonstrate that you have not fallen into a cult. But first you have to wear this silly hat.”
Ougi gave the novice a huge brown ten-gallon cowboy hat.
“Er, master . . .” said the novice.
“When I have explained everything to you,” said Ougi, “you will see why this was necessary. Or otherwise, you can continue to lie awake nights, wondering whether this is a cult.”
The novice put on the cowboy hat.
Ougi said, “How long will you repeat my words and ignore the meaning? Disordered thoughts begin as feelings of attachment to preferred conclusions. You are too anxious about your self-image as a rationalist. You came to me to seek reassurance. If you had been truly curious, not knowing one way or the other, you would have thought of ways to resolve your doubts. Because you needed to resolve your cognitive dissonance, you were willing to put on a silly hat. If I had been an evil man, I could have made you pay a hundred silver coins. When you concentrate on a real-world question, the worth or worthlessness of your understanding will soon become apparent. You are like a swordsman who keeps glancing away to see if anyone might be laughing at him—”
“All right,” said the novice.
“You asked for the long version,” said Ougi.
This novice later succeeded Ougi and became known as Ni no Tachi. Ever after, he would not allow his students to cite his words in their debates, saying, “Use the techniques and do not mention them.”
A novice rationalist approached the master Ougi and said, “Master, I worry that our rationality dojo is . . . well . . . a little cultish.”
“That is a grave concern,” said Ougi.
The novice waited a time, but Ougi said nothing more.
So the novice spoke up again: “I mean, I’m sorry, but having to wear these robes, and the hood—it just seems like we’re the bloody Freemasons or something.”
“Ah,” said Ougi, “the robes and trappings.”
“Well, yes the robes and trappings,” said the novice. “It just seems terribly irrational.”
“I will address all your concerns,” said the master, “but first you must put on this silly hat.” And Ougi drew out a wizard’s hat, embroidered with crescents and stars.
The novice took the hat, looked at it, and then burst out in frustration: “How can this possibly help?”
“Since you are so concerned about the interactions of clothing with probability theory,” Ougi said, “it should not surprise you that you must wear a special hat to understand.”
When the novice attained the rank of grad student, he took the name Bouzo and would only discuss rationality while wearing a clown suit.
That was cute. I'm not sure I understand it, though.
You certainly do take care to respond to the comments.
I'll try to decipher the message.
If I am concerned that the group I belong to is becoming cultish, the thing to do is to ask what is a cult and what is not a cult, and see if the definition applies to your group. The second koan reminds us not to use extraneous details like uniforms. More non-cultists than cultists use uniforms. In general P(Category|Feature) != P(Feature|Category).
I THINK that's what you're saying...
The line isn't nearly as crisp as you make it sound.
For example, is a nurse's uniform as "rationally justifiable" as a hazmat suit? No. But it does serve a useful purpose for nurses, in that it frequently makes patients more likely to treat them as authority figures.
Now, you might ask why patients do that, but in some sense that doesn't matter. Even if patients are irrational to do that, it is still pragmatically useful for nurses to wear the uniform if it reliably obtains that benefit.
But in fact it isn't a senseless thing for patients to do, either, in that wearing a nurse's uniform is a more costly signal if I'm not a nurse than simply saying "I'm a nurse" (since other nurses might see me wearing the uniform and punish me), and therefore more reliable than simply saying that.
More generally: uniforms are one way humans signal a certain kind of social status, and status signaling is a valuable function.
I swear, the grammatical screwup in the above post was completely intentional.
Tiiba, do you mean to imply that if your group is cultish, the group I belong to is safe by the tu quoque principle?
Tiiba, do you mean to imply that if your group is cultish, the group I belong to is safe by the tu quoque principle? ;)
In all seriousness, I think the second point is a little more complicated than you described. Specifically, I think Mr. Yudkowsky is trying to point out that Bouzo had plenty of evidence more closely entangled with cult/non-cult status than whether or not they had uniforms. He had experienced Ougi's teachings directly. In the absence of that evidence, of course, the uniforms would be more important evidence.
But Mr. Yudkowski, why should... (read more)
...okay, maybe this is a cult.
"I THINK that's what you're saying..."
I think it is saying that if you want to know if an idea is true or not, compare it to reality. Clothes are an irrelevancy. "If it can drive nails, who can doubt it's worth?"
Well, I must confess I was initially arguing in gamelike fashion -- just to see what your next move might be -- but I fell into my own trap door, and I'm really unsure that 1) this isn't a cult, and that 2) that would be a bad thing.
That is, who cares if we have mutually reinforcing behaviors etc.? What matters is whether these are good mutually reinforcing behaviors, and that we evaluate their goodness from a non-tautological (i.e. external) perspective. (That is, I'd distinguish between circles and vicious circles.)
I don't know whether or not that's pa... (read more)
"If I had a hammer that seemed to me to work really well, but no one was willing to pay me the going rate for hammers of that quality, would it really be ridiculous for me to seriously question the accuracy of my perception of the hammer?"
Yes, in the case of a hammer I think it would be [ridiculous to doubt yourself]. In the case of something more complicated, like Wine, you might start to question whether there is some subtle difference between your wine and theirs that you're not detecting, but there is no such thing as a hammer connoisseur.
ahem... you should meet some armourers I know... ;)
I personally know somebody that has a wall on which he hangs his 220 hammers... all of which he assures me are slightly different.
"If I had a hammer that seemed to me to work really well, but no one was willing to pay me the going rate for hammers of that quality"
.. then by definition you have mis-estimated the going rate.
I think I'll side with the novices against Ougi here. The novices deserve a clearer answer than "think of ways to resolve your doubts" and "all will be clear when you try to use this stuff." Cults usually tell people many things that are actually useful, and confronting leaders seems a reasonable way to resolve doubts. As I said before, the word "cult" is a bit too easy a word to throw around - I'd prefer a clearer description of what it means exactly and how to recognize one.
Note: “it’s justified by being true” doesn’t help distinguish cults. You seem to be aware of this, though, because you still count that component of cultishness as true.
Robin, transmission of expertise in non-rational domains has to rely on authority rather than argument, so is more susceptible to slide into abuse of authority than transmission in rational domains. The original post here is strange in that it supposes such a type of transmission in the field of rational teaching. The definition of cult in the field of master / disciple relationships has to start with an examination of whether authority is being abused by, for example, being exercised in areas unrelated to the teaching. Don't take sweets from philosophers.
I only got into the rationalist game because I'm fond of hats. Oh, and Robin's advice on gift-giving.
Well, this is a bit better than normal.
If you can immediately recognize the candlelight as fire, the meal was cooked a long time ago.
Ian C., do you know for sure, before evaluating this kind of evidence, whether the problem is simple like you seem to think a hammer is, or complicated like you seem to think wine is? I had thought that wine is simpler as its functionality is a matter of taste, while hammers' functionality is something that exists in some sense outside my first impression of it. (It may be hammering in the nails all crooked-like or something, and perhaps I don't notice bur everyone else does.) What mistake am I making?
Botogol, why not say that I have misestimated either... (read more)
I had a friend in college who was a philosophy major; he'd been raised a fundamentalist Christian, and turned from that into some sort of chaotic evil deist. I used to enjoy arguing philosophy and ethics with him. But the further he got into his study, the more his arguments turned into half-understood quotations of Wittgenstein and Kant, and his debating technique turned into sophistries and trying to name and call out others' logical fallacies, sometimes correctly and sometimes not -- the same techniques he grew up with, only without having to wake up early on Sunday. I don't argue with him anymore...
You cannot understand the moon by deconstructing the finger.
The student asked, "Where is the true master of the Way?" The master replied, "Where is a true student of the Way?"
Benquo: "What mistake am I making?"
I think you are artificially restricting your knowledge to direct perception of the objects. Don't you also know that there are entire shops that sell only wine, that they have many varieties, at many prices, and they have competitions, experts etc?
It is this knowledge that leads you to conclude that wine is probably a complicated business and you may very well have made a mistake.
"Since you are so concerned about the interactions of clothing with probability theory," Ougi said, "it should not surprise you that you must wear a special hat to understand."
But isn't this almost the exact opposite of what the student was saying? Questioning the robes indicates to me that the student felt there was not any interaction between learning probability theory and clothing, and that therefore it served some other purpose, presumably differentiating between an in group and an out group.
Or am I just nuts for trying to argue with you about the internal thoughts of your own fictional characters?
Do not attempt to deduce the thought processes of fictional characters; that is impossible. Seek only to recognize the truth: that what the author says is objective, has implications on its own, and does not necessarily have anything to do with what he meant.
A koan: If you have ice cream, I will give it to you. If you have no ice cream, I will take it away from you. It is an ice cream koan.
Caledonian, did you get your's from Stargate?
A few of you touched on the point I got out of this, but no one explained it very well. In the first koan, Ougi says two things. The clearer one is tangential to rationality, but important for self-doubting cultists. "You are like a swordsman who keeps glancing away to see if anyone might be laughing at him".
The more important point was that the teachings are valuable if they are useful. (This is applicable to the sword fighter because allowing yourself to be distracted is an immediate danger.)
The importance of the parable about hammers doesn... (read more)
Chris, for a while I was a member of what most people would consider a "cult", and from my experience "cults" usually teach people useful things. So it is a mistake to assure yourself you are not in a cult because you see that you are learning useful things.
Lightning flashes. Sparks shower. In one blink of your eyes you have missed seeing.
If clothes are unrelated to probability theory, why do the students have to wear robes?
Why not just regular everyday clothes?
Robin, you're right, most people do think economics is a cult, even though there may be a small proportion of usefulness in the teachings... characteristics are, cult members cut off from contact with non-cult members (in this case by the ignorance of the non-cult members, of course), devotion to the cult leader (Keynes ! Friedman ! the Gourd! the Sandal!), proclamations of infallibility (the market is infallible), progressive alienation (this is a science, I can believe six impossible things before breakfast), and ending in total learned helplessness (fo... (read more)
Because it confuses them into thinking that maybe the clothes have something to do with the meat of the instruction, and it takes longer for them to learn what they're being taught. It obscures the the real teaching, hides it among irrelevant rituals.
Ni no Tachi figured out how to use the hammer, but Bouzo only sold them without understanding their value.
"A bird in the hand is worth what you can get for it." --Ambrose Bierce
Fiction is fiction, but it seems to me that that if student objects to wearing silly clothes and his master responds by ordering him to wear yet sillier clothes, it's a lot more plausible that the student will conclude his master is a quack and drop out than that he'll decide to extend his master's teaching by taking silly clothes to a whole new level.
Maybe the whole point... (read more)
Well, it's clear that a lot of people found the koans confusing. Silly me, I realized I forgot to include Mumon's commentaries!
Mumon's commentary on the first koan:
Because Ni no Tachi hated rich men, Ougi gave up his wealth of silence. When Ni no Tachi became a rich man, He loaned money to his students.
Mumon's commentary on the second koan:
A flower is neither bread nor water, Why not replace it with a weed? Bouzo changed the shape of Ougi's garden, But did he really understand?
I still like Tom's the best.
Davis, thanks, that is good.
I don't think Hanson is saying economics is a cult, he is referring to either this or this.
I think Eliezer outed himself as an anime fan in this post. It's ok, I'm a pretty big one myself.
Thanks TGGP. That's a better suggestion than I came up with. Since Robin seemed to be responding to me (rather than to "Chris"), I guessed he was referring to the "cultish" experience he shared with me. But your suggestions are more likely.
Robin: "It is a mistake to assure yourself you are not in a cult because you see that you are learning useful things." But isn't the opposite conclusion safe? If you can't figure out how to use the hammer, but you nonetheless convince younger students of its importance, aren't you likel... (read more)
If you can't figure out how to use the hammer, but you nonetheless convince younger students of its importance, aren't you likely to be in a cult? Or more likely, if you can see that many of the other teachers are teaching material they don't understand?
Sounds like either a cult or a college.
What's wrong with being in a cult, as long as you're reasonably self-aware about it? Cults are fun! ;)
Incidentally, Wikipedia lists itself in its list of alleged cults.
Did I mention I hate Zen-style teaching?
Hate hate hate.
Unless you're going to tell me Godel, Escher, Bach consisted of Zen-style teaching, in which case I'll bring it down to two hates. (But it sure is pretty.)
Also, college: hate hate hate.
My least favorite portions of GEB: An EGB were the Zen ones.
I presume you feel the same way about the Socratic method?
Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote of ideas one can't see the value of, and teachers who don't seem to understand their teachings, "Sounds like either a cult or a college."
I dunno, at least for many technical fields and for some other endeavors too (like learning to communicate effectively in writing) one can see that many of the teachers can do some handy hard-to-fake real-world stuff, and that the students emerging through the pipeline tend to be able to do it too. When I was an undergraduate, the EEs in my residence hall traditionally maintained a little... (read more)
From the Discworld novel Thief of Time:
Student: What is truth? And what is God?
Teacher: You don't really want an answer to that question.
Student: Yes, I do. Please.
Teacher (after thinking for a moment): If I take a lamp and shine it toward a wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often, we assume that the light on the wall is God. But the light is not the goal of the search. It is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it.
[All the students are looking on with blank faces]
Teacher: Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him...sees nothing. What we perceive as God is the byproduct of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished, not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe. God looks astonishingly like we do. Or we turn to look at our shadow and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose, which is to use the light of ... (read more)
Excellent quote, but you should really attribute it.
It's from Babylon 5, season 5, episode 14, "Meditations on the Abyss".
The Teacher is G'kar, the student is some random Narn.
Caledonian, not so much, no, though I've never really noticed being used so much. (If I did maybe it would annoy me too.) Why would you think so?
Because Socratic-style teaching IS Zen teaching, only with training wheels on.
Caledonian, do you mean the sort of stuff found in Plato's writings, or do you mean the question-and-answer style that passes for "Socratic" in law schools etc.?
I can see how the former might be called Zen with training wheels, but not the latter.
Oy. I just glanced through the last couple weeks of posts. Hence the lack of a loud sigh on this one before. So consider this the loud-sigh of the confirmedly anti-koan, the person who thinks that metaphor and other such non-expository modes of speech have aesthetic value only, and that if one cannot speak of an idea in clear language, well, one ought to keep silent about it. (I can see Wittgenstein glaring at me...)
Or: what's the point of rationalist koan* exactly?
It must be difficult traipsing around the Highlands in those big clown shoes.
It seems to me that some people take the notion "Never accept anything uncritically!" (or equivalently, "There are no certainties in science!") too far.
The core tenets of logic as set out by Mill, at least, must be accepted uncritically and never doubted, or the whole conversation in which they are doubted disintegrates into fallacy and nonsense, and thus becomes useless (except to a dishonest speaker who might use it to manipulate irrational people). There are other beliefs which are similarly necessary (for instance, mathematics) if the discussion extends to topics where they apply.
Snort. Got here while trying to figure out what, if any answer (the comic provides none) there is to "What kind of ice cream do you put on a Koan?" And here I find this... lol
Seriously, though, like most arguments presented by monk style philosophers, the answer given is flawed. Which is more valuable of the following?
1. A pure gold hammer with a mess of rhinestones in the handle. Estimated material cost - $200.
2. A real hammer, with a gold filigree handle and an idiotic mess of bangles hanging off of it, jewels strung onto them. Estimated materi... (read more)
... I didn't understand this post the first time around... I guess my Power Level has increased...
Okay, I have no idea whatsoever what this is supposed to be saying.
EDIT: Wait, hold on. Is it supposed to not make sense?
(Unlurking and creating an account for use from this point onwards; どうかお手柔らかにお願いします。)
Something I found curious in the reading of the comments for this article is the perception that Bouzo took away the conclusion that clothing was in fact important for probability.
Airing my initial impression for possible contrast (/as an indication of my uncertainty): When I read the last sentence, I imagined an unwritten 'And in that moment the novice was enlightened', mirroring the structure of certain koans I once glanced through.
My interpretation is/was that those words of Ougi's were what caused the novice to realise his error (in focusing on the clothing rather than the teachings when considering likelihood of cultishness), the absurdity of a hat worn affecting one's understanding revealing the absurdity the clothing worn by those in the dojo inherently for their rationality (though arguments could be made about indirect advantages and/or disadvantages in both directions?).
From that, the clown suit could be taken as a result of him being humbled by this lesson, it making such a deep impression on him that, taking it to heart, he established something to remind him (and others?) of it as par... (read more)
For anyone reading this at a future point there's more recent discussion from a sequence rerun here
When I read these I flip between understanding and confused like I'm staring at a Hollow-Mask Illusion.