Like so many of my posts, this one starts with a personal anecdote.
A few weeks ago, my boyfriend was invited to a community event through Meetup.com. The purpose of the meetup was to watch the movie The Elegant Universe and follow up with a discussion. As it turns out, this particular meetup was run by a man who I’ll call ‘Charlie’, the leader of some local Ottawa group designed to help new immigrants to Canada find a social support net. Which, in my mind, is an excellent goal.
Charlie turned out to be a pretty neat guy, too: charismatic, funny, friendly, encouraging everyone to share his or her opinion. Criticizing or shutting out other people’s views was explicitly forbidden. It was a diverse group, as he obviously wanted it to be, and by the end everyone seemed to feel pretty comfortable.
My boyfriend, an extremely social being whose main goal in life is networking, was raving by the end about what a neat idea it was to start this kind of group, and how Charlie was a really cool guy. I was the one who should have had fun, since I’m about 100 times more interested in physics than he is, but I was fuming silently.
Why? Because, at various points in the evening, Charlie talked about his own interest in the paranormal and the spiritual, and the books he’d written about it. When we were discussing string theory and its extra dimensions, he made a comment, the gist of which was ‘if people’s souls go to other dimensions when they die, Grandma could be communicating with you right now from another dimension by tapping spoons.’
Final straw. I bit my tongue and didn’t say anything and tried not to show how irritated I was. Which is strange, because I’ve always been fairly tolerant, fairly agreeable, and very eager to please others. Which is why, when my brain responded ‘because he’s WRONG and I can’t call him out on it because of the no criticism rule!’ to the query of ‘why are you pissed off?’, I was a bit suspicious of that answer.
I do think that Charlie is wrong. I would have thought he was wrong a long time ago. But it wouldn’t have bothered me; I know that because I managed to attend various churches for years, even though I thought a lot of their beliefs were wrong, because it didn’t matter. They had certain goals in common with me, like wanting to make the world a better place, and there were certain things I could get out of being a community member, like incredibly peaceful experiences of bliss that would reset my always-high stress levels to zero and allow me to survive the rest of the week. Some of the sub-goals they had planned to make the world a better place, like converting people in Third World countries to Christianity, were ones that I thought were sub-optimal or even damaging. But overall, there were more goals we had in common than goals we didn’t have in common, and I could, I judged, accomplish those goals we had in common more effectively with them than on my own. And anyway, the church would still be there whether or not I went; if I did go, at least I could talk about stuff like physics with awe and joy (no faking required, thinking about physics does make me feel awe and joy), and increase some of the congregation’s scientific literacy a little bit.
Then I stopped going to church, and I started spending more time on Less Wrong, and if I were to try to go back, I’m worried it would be exactly the same as the community meetup. I would sit there fuming because they were wrong and it was socially unacceptable for me to tell them that.
I’m worried because I don’t think those feelings are the result of a clearheaded, logical value calculation. Yeah, churches and people who believe in the paranormal waste a lot of money and energy, which could be spent on really useful things otherwise. Yes, that could be a valid reason to reject them, to refuse to be their allies even if some of your goals are the same. But it’s not my true rejection. My true rejection is that them being wrong is too annoying for me to want to cooperate. Why? I haven’t changed my mind, really, about how much damage versus good I think churches do for the world.
I’m worried that the same process which normalized religion for me is now operating in the opposite direction. I’m worried that a lot of Less Wrong memes, ideas that show membership to the ‘rationalist’ or ‘skeptic’ cultures, such as atheism itself, or the idea that religion is bad for humanity...I’m worried that they’re sneaking into my head and becoming virulent, that I'm becoming an undiscriminating skeptic. Not because I’ve been presented with way more evidence for them, and updated on my beliefs (although I have updated on some beliefs based on things I read here), but because that agreeable, eager-to-please subset of my brains sees the Less Wrong community and wants to fit in. There’s a part of me that evaluates what I read, or hear people say, or find myself thinking, and imagines Eliezer’s response to it. And if that response is negative...ooh, mine had better be negative too.
And that’s not strategic, optimal, or rational. In fact, it’s preventing me from doing something that might otherwise be a goal for me: joining and volunteering and becoming active in a group that does good things for the Ottawa community. And this transformation has managed to happen without me even noticing, which is a bit scary. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who was aware of my own thoughts, but apparently not.
Anyone else have the same experience?
I've seen something like this myself, but I agree with Tordmor about what it is.
In my engineering degree, we had to take some "liberal studies" courses to complement the technical stuff. In one of these we had an irrationalist as a teacher. She would state crazy beliefs like that homeopathy was just as legitimate as "western" medicine, different cultures have different truths, and that science doesn't work in some cultures. Naturally, I challenged some of these ideas, but the response was to just shut down criticism and dodge questions "who's science?", "yes that may be your view, but we are talking about this guy", and so on. I didn't want to just irritate everyone and disrupt the class indefinitely, so the teacher could just ignore criticism until it went away.
At this point we were all strong technical thinkers, so it was very frustrating for everyone, tho everyone else was much more shy about calling out teachers than I. We eventually decided on a model of what was going on: we were being presented with incoherent "facts" that we were forced to memorize and were not allowed to criticize. It was practically a recipe for brainwashi... (read more)
This is only useful to the extent that you already trust your mind to generate accurate beliefs. It's possible or even likely that relativists get the same "ick" reaction when scientists start talking about universal laws.
It's potentially useful even if I don't, if I trust my mind to recognize a good-faith effort at explanation.
Could you explain the two of them to me?
I expect that he would have responded that if people are afraid their contributions will be criticized, they'll be less likely to share them, depriving the group of their potentially valuable contributions and risking creating a hostile environment. And he'd have a point, since fear of criticism is normal, and anything which makes people less comfortable with putting themselves forward is likely to filter people out.
If you're not discriminating with respects to beliefs or viewpoints, then you'll see yourself as standing to lose much more by discouraging sharing than discouraging criticism. If you're too undiscriminating, you risk believing stupid things, while if you're too discriminating, you risk filtering out potentially valuable input (which is why we rarely tell newcomers here straight out to "read the sequences" these days; asking that much is too strong a filter.)
In order to convince him that he ought to be allowing criticism of ideas in the discussion, you'd probably have to convince him that he's not intellectually discriminating enough. It's not a simple, one sided proposition, it carries a lot of inferential distance.
I like this metaphor! For example, if you are not allowed to criticize, you sometimes cannot say your true rejection, because it would include a criticism of something someone already said.
Perhaps it depends on definition of "criticism". Whoever says their opinion first, has an advantage. If someone has aleady said "X", what exactly is allowed or disallowed to say? Can I just say, calmly, "non-X"? Sometimes this is resolved by politely saying "I believe non-X" (pretending that all beliefs are equal, and no evidence exists). Then, is it allowed to say things like "I believe non-X, because evidence points towards non-X"? Are we allowed to use evidence, when the evidence is detrimental to other people's stated opinions?
I recently had a frightening first-hand brush with socially induced irrationality. My parents are devout Catholics who are not too pleased with my "aversion" to their religion. They send me to a Jesuit School and naturally it works to my advantage with them to appear as if I'm engaged in deep "reflection" on the question of if a loving, Christian, god of the Bible exists (obviously I am not.) One of the implicit social expectations at my school is to attend a retreat called "Kairos" as a senior. It's a 4 day deal with plenty of prayer and new-age garbage; typically something that'd be no match for my powers of rationality. I signed up to ease my situation at home, expecting no harm to come from the retreat.
At first I thought Kairos would entail your typical retreaty nonsense. It turned the "search for god" into a social activity, not-so-subtly building links from normal friendship to Jesus Christ Lord And Savior Of His Anointed Flock. This wouldn't be a problem for me under normal circumstances; but Kairos was not your typical retreat.
We were deprived of sleep, didn't have a single (waking) moment alone, weren't allowed to know what time it w... (read more)
I just got back from the same Kairos myself. I went out of curiosity about the aformentioned secrets, plus the chance to get to know new people. I am generally annoyed by wrong ideas, but I didn't mind Kairos as much as Ciphermind. Also I think he's exaggerating a little.
We did get some sleep, probably less than seven hours a night but more than four. I'm guessing that based on my mental state, because we really didn't have any clocks. We did have occasional breaks during which we could be alone and sleep if we chose (I think around 4 hours of this on the 4-day retreat, of which I used 1.5 for sleeping). The secrecy is for real, though. Nearly everything in his reply to ZankerH is true, but we didn't have to hold a cross (we could just hold the candle), and I didn't pray and got away with it. Just for clarification, we were all fully clothed during the "naked bonfire." Alumni call it that to non-alums and insist it involves actual nudity, but everyone is pretty sure they're making it up.
I wouldn't call it a "ritualistic breaking of my peers' psyches for the sake of a retreat whose singular goal is to convert them to Catholicism." We were encouraged to spill all... (read more)
My objection isn't with what effect the retreat had on me; but rather that I allowed the social benefits and the positive feelings it gave me cloud the fact that it is an institution of indoctrination. I didn't mind it at the time, but the techniques employed were very obviously ways to put people in emotionally vulnerable, and secondarily irrational, positions.
Know that the primary goal of this "book" you refuse to spoil was always, from its inception, to make peoples' relationships with Jesus stronger. To me, keeping Kairos' secrets is tacitly condoning its practices. Of course it will make the retreat less impactful; that's what we need. A golden, and easy, opportunity to lessen the hold that irrationality has on our peer-group exists here; all that needs to happen is a simple leak.
I have noticed symptoms like that in myself when I (looking back on it) was trying to understate the emotional impact something had on me.
So, do we get to hear the secrets? They seem to be better protected than those of the Church of Scientology.
You did not fail. It took you only one week, and a simple question from your friend, to break out of a mindset that some people never break out of. What's more, you learnt a lesson from it. I would count that as a win.
The secrets include a night where they publicly read letters from every person's family (4 hour ceremony late at night) and you receive dozens from peers who've attended, a "naked bonfire" where you sit in a circle and hold a candle and cross and pray orally for a timed 10 minutes, and this one thing where they give you a poem at night about taking a rose from heaven and waking up with it and the next morning theres a rose outside your door, among other things.
I remember a cartoon where a lot of different animals were gathered, amongst them a giraffe, a monkey and a goldfish in a bowl. A human opposit of them said "To make it fair everybody gets the same task: climb that tree." Of course, all animals except the monkey were quite unhappy.
That is the situation of the "no critizism" rule. While it might sound fair and reasonable, the truth is, that this rule favours the cultists. And that is what Charlie seems to be, a cultist who wishes to recrute the weakly minded. So your emotions might have been quite a rational response.
I guess, the important question is, what do you do about your emotions? Will you continue to be angry whenever you think about him, or do you only feel that anger when someone close to you is threatened to fall for him like your boyfriend seemed to? If it is the former, then you're might be right, your emotions seem to be social signaling, but if it's the latter then it's probably a good rational immune reaction and it might be better to cultivate it.
Wow...your comment definitely made me look at the situation in a different light! I'm going to try and respond, but bear in mind that if I'm ignorant of someone's motivations, I tend to ascribe them the best possible reasons for their actions.
First off, I had not thought of Charlie as a cult leader. You're right, the 'non-criticism' rule would favour cultists more than skeptics, but the immediate feeling I got was that Charlie wanted to encourage more viewpoints to be talked about, not less. I ended up talking rather a lot about physics, that being the topic of the meetup, and no one criticized the fact that my points implied I was an atheist. (I didn't directly state I was an atheist because I felt like it would be a conversation-stopper and pointless, and maybe the real reason was that I didn't want to be excluded, but I don't think I would have been.)
I'm 100% not worried about my boyfriend being drawn into any kind of cult. He has far greater independence of thought than I do, in that he really doesn't try to impress people or fit in by believing the same thing as them, and would be offended if anyone tried to ask it of him. He's not per se a skeptic, but his temperament is so ... (read more)
Inducing others to hold my beliefs is doing something.
And in particular, when they are beliefs that don't derive from those people's observations of the world, but rather from their belief in my reports about the world, one of the things it is doing is increasing my status within the group.
Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with using newcomers to a group to bolster my own group status, but it's not nothing.
My model of this situation is less sanguine than others here, though Yvain and Tetronian hinted at it: it's identity politics. Humans very naturally associate themselves with many different groups, some of them arbitrarily defined, and often without any conscious thought. Religion, favorite sports teams, the street/neighborhood/city/state/country you live in, and many other things can be the focal point of these groups. The more you associate with one of these groups, the more its part of your identity - i.e. how you see yourself. If you associate with one of these groups particularly strongly, any action which appears to make a rival group look better will personally offend you and elicit a response.
I'm from the St. Louis area in Missouri (US), and our baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, has a longstanding rivalry with the Chicago Cubs, a nearby team. In the past (when the Cubs were fairly good and actually a threat), I've seen Cardinals and Cubs fans get into fights for no other reason than one of them insulted the other's favorite team. I've heard similar stories about fans of St. Louis and Chicago's hockey teams (another rivalry). I had a philosophy professor in undergrad... (read more)
I would reply along the lines of "Wow, what a tantalizing possibility, I wonder how a scientist would go about testing it", and try to move the conversation toward the scientific method. I doubt that would have counted as a criticism.
I have a friend who frequently cuts into a conversation with the phrase: "you're right, but..." and then tells you why you're oh so very wrong. His body language admits no sarcasm (how he does this, I don't know) while he says it. In fact, I think I'm the only one of our mutual friends who has noticed his frequent use of this trick.
But it works a lot!
I've seen that subtle rhetorical technique used in person, as well; once I caught what the guy was doing - which is harder than it sounds, since it was done eerily well - I could only stand grinning & nodding in stunned amazement. The gentlemen he HAD been arguing with - who WAS wrong, let me be totally clear - was also grinning and nodding, so at least I wasn't out of place.
Then I watched the two of them pick apart the original assertion for about ten straight minutes, like they were the best of friends.
It was the verbal equivalent of something beyond mere psychological judo - it was logical wire-fu. It was like watching Jet Li fight eight guys at once, starting with flinging the first guy THROUGH two other dudes.
No, more than that: it was watching Jet Li take an opponent's weapon, kick it in half and hand it back to him, and then observing the guy join Jet Li's fan-club.
Goodness - I'm sorry, I completely missed this reply to my post! My sincerest apologies for not responding more quickly; I am a goober.
As to the specific incident: it was during a very interesting discussion, which was moving rapidly toward becoming a very uninteresting argument, and then possibly into a REALLY interesting fist-fight. You know the drill - young men, all in the process of earning their various Master's Degrees in unrelated fields, encamped around alcohol, talking politics, getting heated, voices rising.
It had to do with racism. And the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, and how laws are changed. So this may not be the very best possible place for me to post all of this; please ignore or skip this note if it please you.
To set the stage: the question was put forth as to who, present at the time, had voted for Obama in 2008 - which was, in the majority opinion, a useless tangent away from the much more stimulating, ongoing discussion as to what Obama had and had not accomplished during his first term, what he might have accomplished given different political circumstances, whether those specific political circumstances (read as: rise of the Tea Party) ... (read more)
Wow. I've been testing this technique out today, and it's been working like magic. Instant level up.
Well, instead of saying "You're wrong" or "I disagree," I've been saying "You're right, but," introduce my objection as an edge case, and then try to generalize it. It really is as simple as that.
This seems to work way better in terms of convincing people of things because the other person remains in "cooperation mode" throughout, and instead of thinking of objections to my points they start thinking of ways to build on what I just said.
My intuitions indicate that as soon as someone hears another person say "you're wrong" or "I disagree" to them, the verbal combat heuristics load up and they enter full-on motivated cognition mode. This trick dodges that response.
A lot of this is conveyed via tone and nonverbals. There's a difference between the conventional rushed/confrontational "You're right, but" and what I've been doing, which is more like (Dark Arts ahead!):
"Good point, I think you're likely right." (thoughtful tone)
(look up and to the left, furrow brow)
"Hmm." (vaguely surprised/"that's curious" tone, tilt head to the side, signal surprise via facial microexpression cues)
"I think that might also apply in some cases here. I can see situations where would occur-- for instance, imagine if happened. In that case I think that model might explain what's happening here." (speaking slowly at first, with indecisive body language, then nodding and speaking quicker and more clearly)
"Yeah, that's right. Now that I think about it that definitely seems like that's what's going on here." (confident/assertive)
When this works correctly, the person essentially tricks themselves into thinking that they came up with/helped develop the idea that I was trying to convince them of, which also has the useful secondary effect of making them a stauncher defender of this belief once they convert.
Note that this is dependent on situational factors and also (obviously) a Dark Arts type technique. Use sparingly.
I've done this once or twice. It is always taken as criticism by the original speaker, but with good enough presentation you could probably manage to sound to the larger audience like you weren't being sarcastic.
When given a Pascal's Wager, you frequently get more information when you answer with a Pascal's Wager in the opposite direction.
"Wow, that's amazing. But how could you know the difference between Grandma sending you hugs and kisses, and Azathoth attempting to turn you into a blood-monger to force you to go on a killing spree? I mean, his soul is a googleplex to the googleplex more powerful, so shouldn't it be more likely he'd get to you first across the dimensions?"
You at least get them to admit their priors as to why a particular wager was raised to their attention. Then they give you reasons that they find acceptable to dismiss a Pascal's Wager. Those same reasons tend to work on their wager as well, since you built your wager to be logically symmetric to theirs.
"Wow, I'm not sure I could tell from listening to tapping spoons whether they were the ghost of my grandmother or just some random haunting, maybe an ancient murder victim's ghost. How could I tell the difference?"
I have the same experience, although it started long before I started reading Less Wrong. And it's not limited to skepticism; it also strikes when people are expressing what I consider very wrong political or sometimes even artistic views
It has never stricken me as disliking people before; there are people with views I find ridiculous whose company I can enjoy so long as they are not expressing those views at the moment. And it would not bother me if they were just to assert "I'm a fundamentalist / a fascist / whatever". They would have to be making arguments for their position.
I do not have a good explanation either, but perhaps I view it as a sort of attack. If fundamentalism is true, then atheism is not true, and I am stupid or at least a very bad truth-seeker for being an atheist. Letting yourself be attacked, even indirectly, without defending yourself is hard.
Well, I've definitely noticed that I have less patience for correcting basic flaws of reasoning that are covered in the Sequences than I was before I started participating here, but I wouldn't say I've become less tolerant. I did become less tolerant of my own accord when I was a teenager and started questioning the beliefs I'd been brought up with about freedom of religion, tolerance, etc. and concluded that on factual matters, being right or wrong makes a difference, and it's better to make an effort not to be wrong.
Humans tend to internalize norms. We're not built to fluently switch between the norms of one culture and another as convenient. The trouble isn't with the rational memes, the trouble is that adopting any social norms which are at odds with the ones prevailing in your culture will create friction. If you'd become a Born Again Christian, for instance, you'd probably be facing similar problems.
Because culture is not completely stable, adopting new norms can sometimes be advantageous. If everyone knew nobody else would become a feminist, it would never have been in anyone's interests to be a feminist. Or an abolitionist, etc. But when the new norms are attractive enough, communities can develop around them. If rationalist memes in particular have a problem, it's not that they cause friction in communities with different norms, it's that they aren't sufficiently attractive.
Just as a data point, I'm somebody who became an atheist through reading Dawkins and I have a few friends who went through the same process. The attitude that you mention actually helped in forcing me to examine my beliefs. It could be true that people who have a religious faith deeply entrenched in their worldview might not change their minds, but young people, people who have a tenuous hold to religion, etc., certainly do stand a chance of de-converting because of a book like The God Delusion.
In any case, 'New Atheists' like Dawkins and Harris are raising the sanity waterline, albeit in a relatively confrontational manner.
I don't claim to speak for anyone else, but I grew up in the "evangelical Christian" community and was a fairly strong believer (constantly worrying about sin, street preaching, missions work, and a host of other things). Dawkins alone wouldn't have been able to convince me of the incorrectness of my beliefs, but his attitude certainly helped.
His writing introduced me to the idea that it was possible not to take one's "personal relationship with Christ" seriously! Before that I was quite thoroughly convinced that everyone who wasn't a Christian was constantly experiencing a terrible internal conflict over religion.
In the evangelical community, especially the more fundamentalist regions of it, one is taught from a very young age that the "spiritual world" is more real than the real world and that everyone knows this fact, at least subconsciously. People who treat Christianity as a reasonable thing that they just happen not to believe in are, of course, merely in denial.
Dawkins was the first writer I came across who expected other people to actually be reasonable if they wanted to be taken seriously, rather than spiraling off into a cloud of nonsense about only God being certain and being tested by Satan. He presented plenty of evidence for his position too, but attitude and evidence are separate things and both are important when you're dealing with someone who's convinced that faith is more meaningful than evidence.
You (and a lot of people) say that, but I haven't seen evidence presented that they don't work - just people's models of other people.
However, I note David Colquhon's discussion of how he killed the study of homeopathy at several UK universities:... (read more)
I don't know what sort of rate of conversions he's got, but I've met people who became atheists as a result of reading The God Delusion, so they definitely exist.
On the one hand, not treating people's viewpoints with respect can make them dig their heels in, but I think he has a valid argument that beliefs earn respect through credibility, and I know people who've had their viewpoint swayed in that direction by him.
Beware; history tells us that those accused of witchcraft do not fare well. Consider other accommodations.
Excellent post! Glad to see someone talking about this.
About 6 months ago I started reading r/atheism, and a few weeks later I noticed a kind of subverbal irritation whenever I saw someone wearing religious imagery or talking about their religious beliefs. At the time, I attributed this to r/atheism conditioning me to feel anger when prompted with anything that reminded me of religion. I was very scared that my mind was doing this, so I stopped reading r/atheism and reddit altogether. Since then, the effect has greatly decreased in frequency and intensity. I still notice the irritation every once and a while, possibly because I still read LessWrong, but (if my memories are accurate) it used to be much worse. Looking back, the emotions I felt seem almost identical to the ones you described.
In addition to this, I'm worried that this kind of instinctive irritation could inhibit updating. If you react negatively to a particular belief, you will probably be less inclined to update in its favor regardless of what the evidence shows.
I have a similar experience whenever I find myself in a church nowadays (happens sometimes for social reasons), and I can say confidently that it's steadily intensified as I've delved into rationality. As best as I can tell, what really makes me furious isn't the speaking end, but the receiving.
It's some combination of the social setting, the groupthink, and (what I imagine to be) the mentality of the individuals nodding along. When I sort of "put myself in their shoes", it's as though I can feel the biases and motivated cognition and self-deceptive signaling behavior and strawmen arguments and rehearsed evidence by which these people convince themselves of their beliefs (in both the "belief" and "belief in belief" sense), and that is what makes me furious. If I could, even in principle, stand up and cry out in frustration at what nonsense the minister is preaching, and reasonably expect people to notice it was nonsense once it was pointed out, I'd be fine. What I find intolerable is the self-crippling psychological defenses in the audience: you can't help them, because they don't want to be helped, and have gone far, far out of their way to remain bey... (read more)
These two things are, if not in direct contradiction, certainly working at cross-purposes. Any opinions I'd be likely to attend in that setting would largely be criticisms of the views being shared.
Okay, brainstorming how you might handle that sort of situation! (comments, made after brainstorming, in parentheses)
Leave the room. (no fun at all, but a good last resort, especially if you can bring boyfriend with)
Start a conversation with a different group of people.
Directly and politely state that you think he should stick to claims we don't have overwhelming evidence against, and if told that criticism is not allowed, say "okay, sorry," and leave it at that. (this is probably what I'd do first)
Start a conversation about tests of the supernatural and the boundaries of knowledge, framed positively. (if there was enough interest)
Go "GRaAAh" every time the supernatural is brought up. Perhaps use a spray bottle for negative reinforcement. (if only)
Be super sarcastic. (yeah, that'll work)
Be very honest. (a reasonable option - could just say that you feel frustrated when supernaturalism is brought up, because you don't want to seem critical but he just won't stop talking about it)
To that list I'll add:
"Leave the room" sounds like the best option here. This Charlie guy had gone out of his way to create a group where he can speak bullshit. You don't like bullshit. There are no obvious important networking opportunities here. Doesn't sound like there is anything in it for you. Just leave. Making it obvious that you are registering contempt for the discussion is optional..
Throwing my experiences into the pool of anecdotes: I've become more tolerant of people with crazy beliefs since being involved with LW. Recognizing how off-base nearly all of our beliefs are made me more sympathetic. Just because many of my crazy beliefs fell in the genre of 'science' rather than 'spirituality' or 'the paranormal' doesn't mean the thought processes weren't similar.
As usual, my viewpoint on this changed multiple times as I read through the posting, and then the comments. That, for me, makes for a good posting - lots to think about.
My guess is that this Charlie character and others like him are not using a "no criticism" rule to maliciously promulgate their crazy memes, knowing that they are false and wouldn't stand up to criticism. The social motivation of keeping a discussion between newly-met strangers non-threatening is more plausible. Partly because these people probably don't give much thought to whether their beliefs are true or not - i.e. they are bullshitters rather than liars.
There are a bunch of reasons why you might want to temporarily suspend criticism. For example, brainstorming ideas to solve a scientific or engineering problem. But when it comes time to make a decision about what to do, then critical thought has to come into play. Often when confronted with all kinds of irrationality (religious, political, pseudo-scientific, inter-personal), I have to ask "am I expected to do anything about this?". If the answer is no, I can shrug and get back to my reading.
The fact that society gives religion a special exemption from having to be supported by evidence is probably one of the best reasons to keep religion out of politics. We have a word for governments that wield the "no criticism" rule!
I found it helpful to think of it this way: "Do I want to be the person who lectures children on the unhealthiness of cake at a birthday party?".
also this: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/01/unspeakable-arrogance.html
I kind of tried to do that, by making sure all my comments in the discussion afterwards were about the actual physics content, and reductionism, and how scientific ideas are evaluated... But I'm not incredibly charismatic, or especially good at breaking physics down into easily-teachable segments on the spot, and I think most people's reaction was to assume I was really smart and then stop trying to understand anything. (At least six people asked me if I'd thought about switching my major to physics...I had to explain that I hadn't because I'm not actually really smart, at least not enough to be a good theoretical physicist, and if the choice is between being a mediocre-to-poor physicist or an awesome nurse, I'd pick being an awesome nurse any day.)
I don't think the title is correct. Based on your anecdote and those in the comments thus far, the kind of irritation you're talking about probably isn't a result of being exposed to too many rational memes, it's more likely a result of some kind of social signalling effect or repeated exposure to particular rational memes. I don't have a particularly good title in mind, but something like "Irritation at Irrational Beliefs" removes the inaccuracy.
A possibility that ought to be aired (though I don't in any way endorse it's truth):
Less Wrong is just a community that is on the whole, and despite it's best efforts and intentions, toxic to rationality. The reasons for this are perhaps the belief that members of this community possess a special kind of ethically-significant knowledge or skill, a special ethically-significant mission, and that members of this community routinely express contempt for the beliefs of outsiders.
Now, again, I don't think this is true, and if I did I would be unjustified in thi... (read more)
I mostly ask myself the following question whenever I meet somebody with crazy beliefs: Is he/she going to act on those beliefs with any kind of significant consequences?
If the answer is No, then I usually completely ignore the subject and try to keep it out of all future conversations.
If the answer is Yes, then it's more complicated. I then try to estimate the following:
a) How much I care? This includes estimates of what is the magnitude of the consequences of their action, how close the person is to me,etc.
b) How likely is it that anything I say would... (read more)
I've certainly had the experience at various times in my life of developing habits I reject because they are pervasive in a group I socialize with, sure.
If you previously considered yourself immune to this sort of thing, and now you realize that your habits and expectations can be modified by social setting without you being aware of it: yay! That's a useful piece of knowledge, and I'm happy for you.
Now you need to decide whether and how to change your behavior based on that knowledge.
Heh. I sense an Abbott and Costello routine coming on.
"TheOtherDave says --"
"Which other Dave?"
"The Less Wrong one."
"What makes him less wrong than the first Dave?"
"Which first Dave?"
I hereby declare that analogy public domain. Use it in good health.
Robin has a new post on some evidence that such "no-criticism" rules inhibit rather than enhance creativity.
Robin Hanson recently wrote about this on Overcoming Bias. I don't see what's wrong with it. The no-criticism rule can be a useful instrument in some scenarios, but I generally feel innate frustration with entire institutions that are predicated on the no-criticism rule. It speaks to the larger problem of being unwilling to critically examine evidence. In some cases, a church is basically predicated on the idea that (implicitly within a wide range of cultural norms, but this is never explicitly stated) any uncontroversial opinion is equally valid. In my w... (read more)
Perhaps this is one of the stages of mastery: a feeling for quality of your art.
You could consciously work on developing the skill of accepting others for who they are and not letting your built in, evolved morality let you get angry, frustrated, or judgmental. (That's not to say that you don't try to change people, just that when you do, you use effective techniques like reinforcing behaviors you want to encourage and disagreeing with people in a calm, friendly, collegial way that might actually get them to change their mind.)
Skeptics tend to react like that, so it's not very surprising that LW teaches it. What seems insufferable about it to me is that it's unfair. (I disagree with explanations like "it's an attack on your identity".) I'm fine with people who refuse to talk about a topic. I'm fine with people who say "I believe this, and I don't want to argue about it now", and don't start arguing when you state disagreement. But what these people are doing is making assertions, and sometimes arguments, then dodging. If you're not willing to discuss somethin... (read more)
If you're having this experience, it might be helpful to find ways to actively combat this tendency. Probably more exposure to those sorts of groups would help.
If church advances my goals, I want to believe that church advances my goals, and the Way opposes my anger.
I can't speak to your own mental processes, but I recently had a conversation with a professor about this. We both agreed that the phrase "agreeing to disagree" was the most condescending notion we had ever heard. That any person with a legitimate disagreement who actually respects and values the other person should want to hear their argument and be open to criticism.
I think that LW may be the sort of environment where you are exposed to people who take this seriously. Where we value Bringing about the crisis of faith. The command to not critici... (read more)
I think that might be the source of the somebody's wrong on the internet thing.
I think this is at least partly why I dropped off LessWrong for a few months.
I've found my thinking started changing within a couple weeks of leaving, and I'm now looking at the content on LessWrong with what feels like a much clearer insight in to why I had objections to it previously. Given that I'm just now dipping my toes back in, I can't say whether I'll conclude that the memes are ones I dislike, or realize my true rejection is silly, but I am realizing that stepping away from a group, from a set of ideas, is very useful for getting a much clearer perspective on it. I wish I'd done that sooner :)
He sounds like an asshole to me. You're worrying too much.
I don't think it's worth worrying about. You're getting more than rationality techniques (and such) from LessWrong, you're also learning more about your own preferences, namely that you find that being around rational people more fun, and that, in contrast, the company of the kind of people who believe in homeopathy isn't fun at all. I've had something similar happen to myself - I grew up an atheist surrounded almost exclusively by Christians, many of them fundamentalists. I much preferred the company of non-fundamentalist Christians, some of whom became m... (read more)
A comment about form: Starting with a personal anecdote is a good idea. You don't need to defend it. It is actually recommended writing practice. See On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
Have you since taken the time to explain your own worldview, within said no-criticism zone? It would, after all, be just as protected.
You yourself just said that you've updated on your beliefs due to things you've heard here. Ergo, the person that went back to church wouldn't be the same person that was there before you quit. Now that you have additional information about HOW to not be so stupid, it will be harder to accept the fact that SO MANY people seem like they are intentionally clinging to obviously false beliefs.
They're still the same, you're the one who's different now. You should only "blame" LessWrong's memes if you would, given the chance, undo that learning. Do you really wish that you hadn't learned what you've learned here?
I don't think this kind of reaction is troubling. If you start to feel the same way about professional colleagues with supernatural beliefs then it's an issue but this seems to be just the normal human anger.dissapointment at not being able to find an appropriate social community.
Atheists, and rationalists more generally, find it very hard to feel at home in most churchs and even things like book clubs. This isn't prejudice, it's just the fact that psychologically you won't feel comfortable if you have to always hide your true feelings about the main foc... (read more)
I have this problem too. I had it before LessWrong, but reading the Sequences and acquiring more knowledge about reasoning mistakes made me see more mistakes, and theferefore to be annoyed more easily. My solution is fairly simple, though:
1) don't talk about politics or religion with someone, if you don't know whether they are able and willing to reason properly;
2) if, in a specific subject, someone is at Mount Stupid, don't talk about that subject, too.
3) If you are caught by surprise and can't avoid starting the conversation, you can always end it by ans... (read more)
Lately I've felt the urge to change my info on Facebook from blank to "Atheism. I've been an outspoken atheist for some time now, but haven't really identified with it before. But the possibility of scaring off people who might have a different emotional attachment to Atheism has made me reconsider.
I've definitely felt like that, and I don't think I've been aware of this community for less than a week. Yet, I feel a sense of belonging, and I argue more against people that don't share my views. At least when someone explicitly says something along the lines of "God bless you". I've been the same for a while, but it's gotten worse. I AM kind of a party-pooper when it comes to a lot of things. I guess I just want things to be better without considering if people want to be helped. Maybe I should stop and go with the flow more, and only point i... (read more)
Yeah, that's a big problem. Stupid ideas annoy me. Even when they don't matter. Even when I would be better served in the immediate situation by being unconcerned about the foolishness in the other person's head. The annoyance is not instrumentally rational. But there it is regardless. A bit of insanity of my own. I think I, and a lot of others here, really just have OCD of ideas. Surprisingly, it seems to be contagious, and you've caught it.
I find your whole post in... (read more)
Not critizing anybody and accepting what other people tell you is the core rule of improv comedy. Instead of disagreeing with someone who talks about talking to his grandmother you could start talking about demonic possession and see how far the person is willing to go.
Leaving your own beliefs at the door and using another mindset for an evening can be a lot of fun. It also a good exercise to argue positions in which are very far of from the ones in which you believe in in a coherent manner.
This is a wonderful post, and it is a personal problem I strongly sympathize with. Here are my thoughts; I hope they are of some use.
You see physics and rationalism as right, but at the same time you value community (which is also right seeing as humans are social creatures who demand healthy relationships). This is an ethical ... (read more)