A Marriage Ceremony for Aspiring Rationalists

by lukeprog6 min read23rd Jul 201277 comments

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Recently, LWers Will Ryan and Divia Melwani (now Will and Divia Eden) were married, with Eliezer Yudkowsky officiating.

I've been to 40+ weddings in my lifetime, and this was my favorite ceremony yet. Here is the video, and below is the transcript of Eliezer's... what's it called? "Blessing"?

 

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here upon this day, to bear witness to William Ryan and Divia Melwani, as they bind themselves together in marriage, becoming William and Divia Eden, from this day endeavoring to live their lives as one. If any person can show just cause why these two should not be joined, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace.

The institution of marriage is as old as Homo sapiens. Donald Brown lists it among the human universals, the parts of culture which are found in almost every tribe that has been studied by anthropologists, alongside such other universals as dancing, storytelling, jealousy, or language. Though we give it a single name, marriage takes many forms.

In some tribes a man may wed more than one woman. In 0.5% of hunter-gatherer tribes studied, a woman may wed more than one man. In civilized parts of the modern world, men may marry men, or women marry women. A hundred years ago, in what was then considered civilization, marriage was a cruel necessity if you wanted to have a public relationship with anyone. There was only one approved option for anyone who didn't want to live alone - marry a single person of the opposite sex and stay together for 70 years or until one of you died.

But in this day, and within this community, marriage necessarily takes on a different meaning. 'Until death do you part' is a different concept if you suspect that indefinite lifespan extension may be invented sometime in the next few decades. Once, getting married at age 20 meant you were probably a quarter of the way through your life. In this day, and in this community, you know that you might actually be getting married at zero point zero zero zero and some more zeroes one percent of the way through your life. Our community contains many people in long-term relationships who are not married and are not waiting around to get married.

Even among those who marry, not every marriage has the same meaning. Some may not be planning to stay together until the stars go out - just enjoy the marriage for however long it lasts. And though marriage is no longer mandatory, the government of this country, in its finite wisdom, has decreed legal benefits for marriage which some of us may not wish to deny ourselves, even if we haven't yet found a perfect romance out of storybooks, even if we might not want a perfect romance out of storybooks.

Marriage is no longer something that everyone has to do, and there isn’t just one kind of marriage, or one meaning of marriage. But at least so far as I can tell from the outside, Will and Divia seem to have a perfect romance, pretty much. And while romances like that exist, the ancient institution of marriage will continue into the future, I think.

There are stars in the sky above us, even now. Even on a cloudless day you can't see them with your naked eyes, but the right camera would capture them. There is light shining upon this ceremony which is far older than eight and a half minutes. Standing as we do in the light of eternity, it may seem impossible to swear any true promise upon the future, when there are no perfect blessings called down upon a marriage to ensure its success, but only the mortal wills of human beings to guard it.

And yet there are still some people who are just so adorable together that you look at them and say, "Yeah, they should go for it." I can think of at least three couples like that, though, aside from Will and Divia, I'm not going to name any names. Elizabeth Moon once wrote that courage is inherent in all living things; it is the quality that keeps them alive; it is courage that splits the acorn and sends the rootlet down into soil to search for sustenance. This is not literally true. Acorns don't have brains so they can't experience courage. But I would still praise the idea of courage as a quality that powers all of human life - the daring to do things that you don't know for certain will work, acting under conditions of uncertainty. Even in an unstable world, not knowing how society might change, how you yourself might change, whether life as we know it will still exist at all in 30 years - even though nobody can foresee a thousand years into the future, even if everything goes right - even so, two or more people can still have sufficient confidence, and hope and courage, to try and build something greater out of the union of their lives. Because why not? If someone is already fortunate enough to have a relationship that once would have been called a marriage blessed by Heaven, why should they receive any less joy, or receive it any later, than they would have had in bygone times? How sad would it be to delay a hundred years and then find out that it would have worked after all?

And one element of marriage which has not changed is the endeavor to raise children. Not every marriage may desire children, but among those who do desire children, a marriage promises those children a stable home, a lasting family, and at least two people who jointly accept full responsibility for every child. For myself - seeing the meaning of this wedding through my own eyes - I would affirm and support above all else the wholehearted decision of Will and Divia to forge a more lasting bond because they both wished to bring a new child into the world. That responsibility is owed to any endeavor of creating a new sentient life. That meaning of marriage has not changed.

A final question is what marriage now means to the community that bears witness. William and Divia have chosen to bind their lives together. As it is not our place to deny that, neither is it within our power to permit it. There is no higher authority whose blessings must be sought, and we can't wish them good luck because there's no such thing in the universe as luck. We could say, "We wish you happy lives as the result of your own decisions!", but wishing doesn't make anything happen. And yet for as long as marriage has existed among the human species, it has been a ceremony performed within sight of the tribe. For tens of thousands of years before humans imagined that the heavens had authority, the tribe has borne witness to marriages. Of you all, then, I will ask that you promise to respect this marriage, and not come between Will and Divia in any way, should you find that possibility within your power; and those of you present who bear them other friendships may vow such other support as lies within your hearts. And let it be known to all the world that what is begun here today, is done brightly, and without shame.

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It would be nice to have a transcript of the vows as well, some of them were really good.

This was my favourite:

Do you vow to reveal all your concerns about your relationship—as they appear to you—despite all embarrassment and fear; so that if the other stays silent you may trust that there is nothing to be said.

Here's the best I could do from the video. Feel free to correct anything.

  • William and Divia, do you enter this agreement, and do you vow to undertake this endeavor freely, with your whole hearts, and without reservation.

  • Do you vow that you will together create and maintain your shared picture of the world, sharing your discoveries and insights, hiding nothing that the other would wish to know.

  • Do you vow to reveal all your concerns about your relationship—as they appear to you—despite all embarrassment and fear; so that if the other stays silent you may trust that there is nothing to be said.

  • Do you vow to share your dreams, your goals, your needs, your desires, and your aspirations, and work toward them together.

  • Do you vow to recognize and honor all the complexity and parts of the other, to support their growth and be supported, that you may wield your love to become your best potential selves.

  • Do you vow both singly and together that you will accept, love, and appreciate yourselves as you pursue joy and fulfillment.

  • Do you vow both singly and together to accept full responsibility for the children you will bring into the world.

  • I pledge to you my heart, my devotion, an

... (read more)

Do you vow that you will together create and maintain your shared picture of the world, sharing your discoveries and insights, hiding nothing that the other would with to know.

Wow, that's a rather significant vow if taken literally.

4MixedNuts9yWillingly promising to turn down any offer of the form "I'll tell you a secret if you don't repeat it"? Yeah, hardcore. For one thing this bars them from any job with non-disclosure agreements.

If they're good decision theorists, they will just not wish to know anything that their wishing to know would cause problems like that.

5DaFranker9yIf they're good rationalists overall, they could also establish as common knowledge that they both timelessly decide not to predict/estimate their spouse would wish to know something which is known by themselves to be likely to bring about lower total utility to them both than if the spouse had never wished to know it, whether the spouse knows of this or not.
2wedrifid9yIf they're good decision theorists they will just not make commitments that can only have downsides (relative to more careful commitments). It is of benefit to neither to arrange a system that requires mindreading how well the other person has mindread you and chosen to self modify to not want the thing that you would want them to not want to know. All that can do is allow extra opportunities for any deviation from good decision theory at any time to cause problems.
2Nisan9yIn theory, yes, but probably not in practice.
-1thomblake9yYou could just assume all NDAs apply equally well to the spouse. They should just be considered legally one person.

You could also assume that all guns are toy replicas. Assuming things like this is not well known for actually changing how the world works, however, so it's usually best to deal with reality as it actually is instead.

0wedrifid9yThat's the decision of the person providing the Non Disclosure Agreement, not the decision of the people engaging in bonding rituals.
1thomblake9yI'm pretty sure it's some combination of the decisions of both parties making the agreement, and the relevant laws.
1handoflixue9yI've definitely seen NDAs negotiated to cover a spouse, but this needs to be negotiated in advance, and will require the spouse to sign as well. More importantly, my experience is that it is absolutely NOT reasonable to expect this when signing an NDA. Quite a few organizations will shoot it down, either because they view the request as unreasonable, or simply because of the sheer bureaucratic wrangling it would take to make an exception.
0thomblake9yTo clarify, my comment was not about what is a reasonable assumption given the current legal state of affairs. It was a suggestion for how married couples could legally be viewed. In practice, I would guess that most people who sign NDAs and are married just disregard them when it comes to one's spouse, so people providing NDAs really should be aware of that if they're concerned.
0handoflixue9yUpvoted because I can't see any reason THIS comment should be negative, even if I STRONGLY disagree with the "just assume they apply" comment beforehand.
[-][anonymous]9y 16

This is really nice, congratulations to the newlyweds!

I must say though, unfortunately, taking the outside view, seeing Yudkowsky officiate a marriage sets off my PHYG-detector like crazy.

8private_messaging9yCults may be inclined to go out of their way to make themselves look like cults to keep rational people from joining in, similar to reasoning outlined in this paper [http://research.microsoft.com/pubs/167719/WhyFromNigeria.pdf] .From inside POV most cults look like noncults, by the way. Cults are diverse; almost any cult has some qualities that distinguish it from all other cults, and those qualities are then seen as what makes it not a cult at all.
4Eneasz9yHave you not attended many non-traditional marriages? I've been to a wiccan wedding that was officiated by the groom's brother, and a goth wedding (dress up, on Oct 31st!) officiated by a friend of the bride & groom. Generally when you step outside of the traditional church-and-clergy model the couple chooses someone they feel close to and respect. I don't see why that should set off any alarms.
2Costanza9yGenerally, he wouldn't have the power to officiate a marriage in California. See California Family Code section 400 and so on. Basically, only religious clergy and state officials can do that. That's the culture and law that applies in Berkeley, California. There seems to be an exception under which someone can become a temporary "deputy commissioner of marriages" for the purpose of one ceremony. If you don't believe in religion, and (like me) you fear that the government has its own PHYGish tendencies, this doesn't seem like a bad alternative.
2arundelo9yI can't find where he said this, but if I remember correctly, Eliezer is an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Life_Church#Authority_to_solemnize_marriage_and_other_rites_of_the_church] (or some similar organization).
1Nisan9yWell, yeah. Weddings are rituals. And families are cults.

There is light shining upon this ceremony which is far older than eight and a half minutes.

Not if you take time dilation into account. If you do, the light is exactly zero minutes old.

Totally thought of that, totally decided not to include an "in our space of simultaneity" in the ceremony.

For myself - seeing the meaning of this wedding through my own eyes - I would affirm and support above all else the wholehearted decision of Will and Divia to forge a more lasting bond because they both wished to bring a new child into the world. That responsibility is owed to any endeavor of creating a new sentient life.

Pleasantly surprised to see Eliezer hasn't jumped on single-parenting-is-just-as-good-as-double-parenting bandwagon. Also surprised to see that he's okay with rationalists reproducing. Isn't that a distraction from fighting existential risk?

Why stop at double?

1MileyCyrus9yIf three or four people want to raise a family together,* the kids would be probably be even better off than a double parenting. There's probably a point of diminishing returns--I wouldn't want to be raised by a hundred parents. But I doubt two is the optimal number. From the parents perspective, most people aren't interested in a poly relationship. And most poly relationships aren't stable for the 20 years it takes to create an adult. So while a poly relationship might be better for the kids, it isn't always feasible. Now I wouldn't begrudge anyone, even a single person, who wanted to reproduce and had the money and time to do so. Even if a child is raised in a sub-optimal family structure, she's still better off than if her parent(s) had decided not to reproduce at all. But we can value the contributions of sub-optimal family structures without pretending that they are optimal. *"Together" is the operative word here. Two couples living in separate houses trading kids every other weekend isn't going to cut it.
4handoflixue9ylooks at divorce rate I'd say there's not really a lot of evidence that most monogamous relationships are stable either. Do you have any particular reason to be claiming that poly relationships would produce a less stable environment for the kid?

Poly groups tend to be well-educated well-paid white people; the proper comparison of poly instability rates to monogamous divorce rates is not to 'the general population' but to the comparable demographic group. My understanding was that divorce rates in that comparable group are relatively low...

2Blueberry9yI'm baffled by this. Are you saying most studies tend to be done on this group? Do you mean in the US? Are you referring to groups who call themselves poly, or the general practice of honest nonmonogamy?
0gwern9yYes, yes, and former.
0Blueberry9yAs you discuss in the dropbox link, this is a pretty massive selection bias. I'd suggest that this invalidates any statement made on the basis of these studies about "poly people," since most poly people seem not to be included. People all over the world are poly, in every country, of every race and class. It's as if we did a study of "rationalists" and only included people on LW, ignoring any scientists, policy makers, or evidence-based medical researchers, simply because they didn't use the term "rationalist." You state: Clearly polyamory is not unknown in Europe, though the word "polyamory" might be. Let's not confuse polyamory, which exists anytime someone openly dates two people, with socially organized communities using the term "polyamory."
0gwern9yI think that remains to be seen, unless one is quietly defining away polyamory as a dull negation of monogamy. I didn't state that; Klesse did. Between you and Klesse, I know who I will put more weight on.
0Blueberry9ySorry, I couldn't tell what was a quote and what wasn't. Polyamory is usually defined as honest nonmonogamy. In other words, any time someone is dating two people openly, that's poly. It's how many humans naturally behave. It doesn't require exposure to US poly communities, or any community in general for that matter.
0gwern9yMany humans behave in a serial monogamy manner - which is not poly. Many humans behave in a covert polygamy manner - which is not poly. Whether there is very much left after that which matches US polyamory, I wouldn't know...
2handoflixue9yI was wondering, more, has there been any actual research done on this question, or is this just speculation based on personal anecdote? Are we comparing actual "married" poly groups, or are we comparing monogamous marriage to polyamorous dating? I've never seen anything beyond personal opinion and armchair philosophy that suggests that mature polyamorous relationships are less stable than mature monogamous ones. The bias mostly seems to be from observing people who are new to polyamory (where the proper comparison would be with people new to monogamy - a group that mostly consists of teenagers and an incredible amount of drama :))
6gwern9yActual research? I'm not sure. There's not a whole lot that I found: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5317066/2012-gwern-polyamory.txt [http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5317066/2012-gwern-polyamory.txt]
1Vaniver9yThe third parent's title is typically something like "nanny" or "governess" or "tutor," and they specialize in a particular age bracket.
9[anonymous]9yIf rationalists fail to reproduce, they quickly lose the democratic-political-metagame.

It's quicker to recruit existing people and turn them into rationalists than to create new people from scratch. This approach will eventually exhaust the gene pool, but not for hundreds of generations.

It's quicker to recruit existing people and turn them into rationalists than to create new people from scratch.

But far less fun!

5DaFranker9yBut training new rationalists "from scratch" seems far more practical for purely experimental purposes. Don't they make the perfect cute little control groups, after all?
-1nykos9yGood luck explaining Bayes' law to people with IQs below 90.
2shminux9yOnly assuming that rationalism is inheritable, which is not at all obvious.
8Larks9yIt may not be genetic but it's clearly hereditary.
0shminux9y"Clearly"? I wonder if there are any studies to this effect.
0timtyler9yIt isn't a case of studies - it's a social contagion - and is thus pretty obviously inherited by non-DNA-based mechanisms.
0shminux9yIn the same sense as religion is inherited?
0timtyler9yYes - e.g. see the dictionary [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/inheritance] - where it talks about the inheritance of property and the right to rule. Regarding the term "heredity", don't pay attention to this dictionary page [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/heredity], though. Look at this page [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heredity] instead.
2nykos9yRationalism may not be heritable, but intelligence surely is. Let's face it, LessWrong and rationalism in general appeal mostly to people with at least 1 SD above average IQ.
1DaFranker9yIt may or may not be inheritable, but I'm tempted to believe that it is "easily" teachable, especially to an unburdened mind not yet filled with the fallacies that school and sociological phenomena are so prone to encourage and reward. At the very least, it seems like the offspring of a rationalist parenthood is much more likely to become a rationalist themselves than the offspring of a single self-convincing pundit.
-1shminux9yIt's hard to disagree that it is teachable, not sure about the "easy" part. I wonder how one would measure it vs how easy it is to teach some other life skills.
0DaFranker9yPresumably, by comparing how much time a teacher takes to bring them to a similar level of recognized mastery-usefulness in both rationalism and some other skill / field of knowledge where the teacher is reliably competent and equally knowledgeable in both fields. I'm just throwing up a conjecture here with the goal of spurring on further thought, though, as the question intrigues me.
4Desrtopa9yIsn't, well, nearly everything? He doesn't expect humans to become risk-reductionbots.

Not related to the ceremony (which reads beautifully, if overly poetically for my tastes), but would it not be a rational thing to give some upfront thought to how to detangle the two lives if and when they drift apart, despite their best effort? After all, the odds are barely 50/50 even for a natural lifespan, let alone this potential infinity. The courage to "to try and build something greater out of the union of their lives" is all fine and dandy, but having a backup plan seems only reasonable. Presumably something other than the standard legal prenup. I wonder if this particular couple gave some thought to this, and whether they would be willing to share it.

the odds are barely 50/50

Probably better if they're educated, white or Asian, not pregnant, and not super young. I don't know their demographics.

Before marrying, my husband and I discussed the circumstances in which we thought divorce was acceptable for us (abuse was one). As far as including that in the ceremony, I don't see a need.

3Desrtopa9yEven discounting the demographic issues juliawise brings up, the odds are better than that for a first marriage, because the divorce rate of approximately .5 includes successive marriages, and people who've been divorced before and remarry are significantly more likely to divorce again than people who're on their first marriage.

Great stuff! My wife and I married at the St. Louis Science Center in the middle of the day in a 30 second ceremony. We were in front of a wall painted with e = m * c^2 . Afterward we went to see a dinosaur exhibit.

[-][anonymous]9y 6

I would call it a benediction.

2MixedNuts9yIs there a difference between a benediction and a blessing? Not an etymological one, at least.
1[anonymous]9yI don't believe that's correct. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, benediction [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=benediction] is (clearly) Latin, whereas blessing [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=bless] is old English. The hypothetically pre-Christian, proto-Germanic *blodison is about marking with blood, whereas benedicere/eulogein have far more secular and far less messy readings. Unfortunately 'eulogy' has non-marriage-friendly connotations. Of course I didn't know all that when I suggested benediction. My original theory was that blessing has more religious connotations than benediction.
0MixedNuts9yNo, I meant they're the same concept from two different etymologies. A bracha is called "blessing" in English and "bénédiction" in French. Even the non-religious senses are still parallel in the two languages ("Mulan joined the army with her father's blessing"). So I assumed that when English absorbed the latter it would keep its meaning. Do you have an example where they'd clash? (Other than Eliezer's speech, obviously.) I didn't know the original sense of "blessing", thanks for that.
0[anonymous]9yThat's interesting, because "Mulan joined the army with her father's benediction" triggers -- so to speak -- my English parser's quirks mode, whereas "Mulan... blessing" sounds standard. Maybe dialect and/or language environment specific, I guess?
0MixedNuts9yOkay, so "blessing" is an exact translation of French "bénédiction" while "benediction" fills a different linguistic niche. Thanks.

First, best wishes to the newly-married couple!

From a purely aesthetic point of view, I liked the relatively respectful and traditional mood effected by the Wagner wedding march, the adherence to the customs of bridesmaids and groomsmen and the giving away of the bride. I also liked the subtle subversive effect achieved by the bare feet. I read it as acknowledging established tradition, taking advantage of its strong momentum, while firmly taking charge of it and adapting it as required. Nicely done.

[-][anonymous]9y 2

in its finite wisdom

I chuckled at this.

[-][anonymous]9y 1

together for 70 years or until one of you died

Was the "or" a slip of the tongue? I've never heard about traditional marriage "expiring", no matter how much it lasted, as long as both spouses stayed alive. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_the_longest_marriages#Longest_marriages_ever_.28.E2.89.A580_years.29

3gwern9yTime-limited marriages are a thing. An old Islamic thing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikah_mut%E2%80%98ah [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikah_mut%E2%80%98ah] and something you see pop up sometimes as a suggestion like http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/09/mexico-city-considers-temporary-marriage-licenses/ [http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/09/mexico-city-considers-temporary-marriage-licenses/]
2fortyeridania9yDeath could cut it shorter than 70 years, in which case "or" would make sense.

Here is some info about the Robert Lecnik - Peter McCluskey wedding, also officiated by Eliezer.

Wow! Amazing! Even Eliezer can write an incredibly, stupefyingly boring piece of text!

Seriously, haha, oh wow.

(VALIS bless them, btw.)

P.S. Did they at least wear rationalist shoes?

It reads a lot better when you hear it spoken (several sections look like they are meant to be read in this grim, somber tone when you read the transcript, but are actually more blatantly joking/conversational when read aloud.)

YMMV, of course. Also the quality of the video isn't that great.

6lukeprog9yYeah, it was pretty great when spoken live.
-10private_messaging9y