Hello, My name is Dave Coleman. I was raised Atheist Jewish, and have identified as a rationalist my whole life. Browsing through the sequences, I realized I had failed to recognize some deeply ingrained biases.

I value making myself and others happy. Which others, and how happy, is something I've always struggled with. I used to have a framework with Jewish ethics, but I'm realizing that those are only clear in comparison to Christian ethics. Much of what I learned and considered was about how to make the Torah and Talmud relevant to modern, atheistic life.

I'm realizing the strong bias we had against saying "maybe it's not relevant, since it was written by immature goatherders 3500 years ago who had no knowledge of science or empathy for those outside their tribe." Admitting that wouldn't sound wise, so we twist and turn with answers, cluttering what could be a solid system of ethics.

For a while I've considered myself a reconstructionist Jew, with the underlying ethos of "do all Jewish traditions by default, but don't do anything that has a good reason not to be done." I've realized that not polluting my mind with incorrect and biased thought patterns is a good reason to avoid many things.

Another recent change has been an understanding of Judaism in terms of evolutionary fallacies. There is a strong sense in Judaism of being a Chosen People, and of a universal intention that Jews survive as Jews. Assimilation may be the biggest struggle for Jews, bigger even than persecution.

I realized that this is the same fallacy that sees intent in a species's characteristics. I had been labeling aspects of Judaism that lead to survival as being virtuous themselves - all of the dietary rituals to keep separate from goyim, the fear and guilt of assimilation. Even the love of learning and the drive to succeed has undertones of "thrive, for that is how you will survive the next pogrom." Preservation of the culture is virtuous, therefore anything that keeps the culture alive is virtuous.

I remember my first Differential Equations class, when we learned that the function that is its own derivative is f(x)=e^x, and the function that is its own second derivative is f(x)=sin(x). There was this eerie confusion as I first thought that those functions were just a possible solution, and then realized that they described the only solutions. I found it very disturbing that I couldn't describe whether the sine looked as it does by virtue of being its own second derivative, or whether it was its own second derivative by virtue of looking as it does. I still feel slightly uneasy that I can't assign a causal relationship in one direction or the other.

That's how I view Judaism now. The characteristics of all species and memes are a solution to the equation of survival. There is no intent or deeper meaning than that, and I think I've finally let that go.

Oh, and I got here from Reddit, where someone posted a link to the Paperclip Maximizer.

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Following up to EY's comment:

e^x is its own second derivative too. There are two functions that are their own second derivative, and four which are their own fourth derivative.

Cool! So what are the other two (out of three) functions that are their own third derivative? What does their graph look like? And does all this have anything to do with Laplace transforms? Does a sufficiently smooth function have a 1.5th derivative?

Yes, welcome to LW.

2Eugine_Nier9yCausality doesn't have much meaning when applied to mathematics.
3Eliezer Yudkowsky9ye^-x is its own second derivative. sin(x) is its own fourth derivative (note relation to e^ix). And welcome to LW! (he said)

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments


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