The problem with too many rational memes

by Swimmer9634 min read19th Jan 2012342 comments

115

EmotionsDisagreementPitfalls of Rationality
Frontpage

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? 

115

342 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:31 PM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings
[-][anonymous]10y 80

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)

[-][anonymous]10y 29

So I think that when you notice that feeling, you should stand up for the sanctity of your mind.

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.

1lessdazed10yI wonder. An analogy: a relatively uncompartmentalized mind encountering such (potentially instrumentally useful) wrong beliefs suffers from epistemic contagion like water encountering Ice-nine [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice-nine]. A honeycombed, extremely inconsistent mind encountering universal laws suffers like a ship with extensive compartment breaches.
1Armok_GoB10yDownvoted for confusing "postmodernists" and "relativists" and spreading a common missconception.

Could you explain the two of them to me?

4[anonymous]10yFixed, thanks.

So I think that when you notice that feeling, you should stand up for the sanctity of your mind. Even listening to that stuff puts gunk in your gears. You should have called the guy out (politely) for depriving people of the ability to help each other reach a better understanding of things.

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.

6TheOtherDave10yAlso, if I care more about, say, building a social network that I can leverage at some later time to accomplish some goal than I do about maximizing the percentage of true beliefs expressed in my presence, I might in fact stand to lose more by encouraging criticism.
3buybuydandavis10yThis is a point too often lost, but I'd go even further. You might care more about building your social network than maximizing the number of your own true beliefs. Instrumental rationality involves a trade off with epistemic rationality and other goods.
2Strange79yI don't think any appeal to the actual relativist prof would have been effective. You're talking about persuading someone who not only is much higher-status, and in front of a crowd of witnesses who are liable to jump to your defense if sufficiently provoked, but whose livelihood depends on publicly maintaining the belief system in question. The long-term solution, if it's even possible, would involve appealing to whoever decided to include such classes in the requirements for an engineering degree.
2NickiH10yAnd if people think that their opposing contributions will be taken as criticism, they'll be less likely to share them, as demonstrated by the OP.

It felt like being forced to use your nicely sharpened tools on a task that would destroy them.

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?

8TheOtherDave10yIn environments like that, I generally go with "Y". If Y implies not-X, so much the better.
2[anonymous]10yGah! That's so annoying. I'd probably just blurt out: "Homoeopathy is Western medicine, its just not very good you nincompoop." I also know exactly how you feel I took some "liberal studies" courses too in my second year. I had the exact same feeling.
2ChrisHallquist10yI agree. "Criticizing or shutting out other people’s views is forbidden" may make sense at Thanksgiving dinner, but it's a very odd rule for a discussion group. Swimmer963, do you think there was any benefit to this rule? Because my reaction to this situation would be either to criticize the rule or privately roll my eyes and resolve to not come back.
1velisar10yUnfortunately there are cultures where interpersonal relationships are more personalized than in others: where people (generally) understand any criticism as targeting the self (that mysterious whole) and not the idea/point. Work meetings are one way rhetoric in such parts, famously boring and result in as much creativity as the authority has. Usually less civilized places posses a weaker level of abstraction. (When everything is urgent, nothing is hypothetical.) So it isn't only a question of sub-optimal methods chosen by various individuals - be they politicians - to make a friendlier world, but of big groups, entire mentality groups, for which the very term "dialogue" has other boundaries. So the play-safe, good-for-all economical solution is to forbid criticism or to use extreme relativism for everything. The "holistic" conversation. We all do it sometimes, out of interest or ignorance.
3[anonymous]10yHere's an interesting take on that [http://paulgraham.com/identity.html]
[-][anonymous]10y 60

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)

[-][anonymous]10y 21

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.

my hands are shaking

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.

8TheOtherDave10yA 10-20% recruitment rate is pretty good as these things go, actually.
4jhuffman10yYes but these effects can be very short-lived.

So, do we get to hear the secrets? They seem to be better protected than those of the Church of Scientology.

I utterly failed my art.

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.

8ZankerH10yWell? Don't leave us hanging here, did this actually happen / where is it published?
[-][anonymous]10y 21

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.

5Pablo10yThey seem to have borrowed the idea from Coleridge [http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/176840]:
5Matt_Simpson10yA Catholic friend of mine has been on these Kairos retreats and touts them as an exceptional experience of social bonding, etc. He hasn't told me any of the details either.
6[anonymous]10yI don't deny the social advantages it's had for myself and others, but participating in its culture of secrecy only bolsters the institution as a whole which in turn drives more of my peers toward nonsense. The social gains for me, at least in my value set, are far less important than my mental integrity.
3Oligopsony10yFor what it's worth, I'm going to guess that Kairoi differ significantly across the country; the Kairos I went on as a junior in high school was an incredibly positive experience. Nobody tried to convince me of any bad metaphysics, even if the language of bad metaphysics was used (and it was easily translatable to good metaphysics), and I actually learned to view my classmates as real people, not a collection of incomprehensible enemies.
[-][anonymous]10y 48

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)

Not that I think he intends to do anything by implanting those ideas...he just believes them himself, AFAICT

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.

9selylindi10yTo be fair, I think you're judging this rule based on what effect it would have on rationalists. However, rationalists are few and far between, and moreover since most groups of people who meet each other do so for other reasons than having a "rationality Meetup", it would be reasonable to expect essentially no rationalists in the typical meetup. Population density and self-selection bias are usually both working against us here. So, what effect does the "no criticism" rule have among non-rationalists? At least in my experience, it prevents identity politics from destroying the group. It isn't hard to use one overarching goal to bring together people with polar opposite views in politics, religion, aesthetics, childrearing, dietary choices, business, etc. As a practical matter, you can't forbid people from saying what they believe - the beliefs propogate into all manner of unexpected places - and you wouldn't want to anyway. To prevent pointless internecine conflict, though, a "no criticism" rule is often highly effective. What about among discussion groups where pointless internecine conflict is, in fact, the point? On many occasions I've joined philosophy Meetups lacking a "no criticism" rule. It turns out that this simply compounds loony ideas with loony criticism.

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)

3Swimmer96310yI agree. The fact that your model paints an unflattering picture of a person I don't particular want to be like is a bigger indicater that it's probably true.
2Matt_Simpson10yWhy is that an indicator that it's probably true? (Actual honest question, not disagreeing... or agreeing for that matter)
5Swimmer96310yIt's a good psychological indicator. If something is unflattering, and kind of painful to think about, usually it's because I see elements of it in myself and don't want to admit they're there. If something is unflattering but it's not painful to think about, that's because it's not threatening...because I have no worry at all that it's true about me. (Although I might be wrong not to worry...my introspection isn't always perfect.)
3APMason10yOut of curiosity, can you remember what the argument was (being sympathetic to the AnCap view myself, and it's always a good idea to expose yourself to the things that changed the minds of those who used to agree with you)? EDIT: I should say I have no interest in debating the point here, I'm just curious about what it was.
2Matt_Simpson10yI don't recall the argument, and whatever it was I don't think it has anything to do with my current position (which in any case is not AnCap). I can, however, give my nutshell argument against AnCap, since you're seeking alternative views. Againt rights-based AnCap, a la Murray Rothbard: how are the first property right actually established? The Lockean metaphor is flowery and beautiful, but still just a metaphor. Ultimately, the theory has no normative teeth and has to take its most important premise as an axiom. Also, consequences matter. Against pragmatic AnCap, a la David Friedman: My prior is fairly heavily against AnCap being the most efficient (or even more efficient, or even possible) and while Friedman does provide evidence to move the posterior in favor of his hypothesis, it doesn't do enough to change my mind. Not that I don't think experiments such as seasteading shouldn't be tried, mind you - the information is certainly valuable. There's just very little direct evidence to update the prior at this point.
0Pumpizmus9yI have been lead to believe that this identity-related phenomena you describe are traits of agressive narcissism (very hard to use that term without sounding pejorative). It also correlates well with the OP's writing style. I just wanted to say that I like very much the way you described the techniques to fight it. If you haven't already, check this blog [http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/] out.
2AmagicalFishy9ySo I gave the blog a look and... I'm... not sure what's supposed to come of it. I thought it was one expanding on the mentioned techniques--but it's definitely not that. I assume you linked it as an example of aggressive narcissism. The author seems pretty... aggressive and narcissistic. Was that your intention?

‘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.’

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!

[-][anonymous]10y 32

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.

6[anonymous]10yTruly the Voldemort of the Dark Arts.
1marchdown10yWhat was the subject of their argument?
[-][anonymous]10y 12

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)

8CaveJohnson10yCrazy idea. Maybe Mike was likley to agree with any line of reasoning, true or false, simply because he found himself in a situation where his opinion was utterly out of sync with that of his peer group. I don't know why but I can imagine the exact same situation 200 years earlier where Mikey was the only one in the group who voted for that snake Lincoln and after some rational thought realized his reasons where wrong and we had a happy evening discussing whether the union will hold rather than calling him a traitor.
1NancyLebovitz10y"Meet people where they are" is a principle I've heard mentioned a few times. I wonder if this specific case is "Find something true that the other person believes, and build from there".
0[anonymous]10yI think the difference between a McCain term and an Obama term have as much impact on my life as which team wins the super-bowl. For the exact same reason.
-1NancyLebovitz10y"Meet people where they are" is a principle I've heard mentioned a few times. I wonder if this specific case is "Find something true that the other person believes, and build from there".

Wow. I've been testing this technique out today, and it's been working like magic. Instant level up.

4[anonymous]10ydetails? I can't even see how you got enough from that post to test.

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.

7TheOtherDave10yI don't endorse telling people they are right when I don't believe they are right. But there are lots of possibilities in between "You're wrong" and "You're right." For example, wedrifid recently disagreed with something I said [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9gy/the_singularity_institutes_arrogance_problem/5ppi?context=1#5ppi] . He neither told me I was wrong nor told me I was right; he told me that he couldn't think of any examples of something I'd described as common. This puts the ball back in my court: if I want to dig up examples, I can (and perhaps discover that I'm wrong); if not, we can leave it there.
2katydee10yYou're certainly correct there, but I would consider saying "You're right, but" (rather than just "you're right") to be one of those possibilities.
6wedrifid10yUnfortunately the word 'but' can prompt almost as much defensiveness as 'you're wrong'. Replacing "but" with "and" even when it makes no sense to do so is decent social (and persusive) advice all on its own.
3TheOtherDave10yAbsolutely true, on both counts. I suspect that the practice of using "X, but Y" when the underlying thought is (not X and Y) has contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs by training people to understand "but" as negating whatever preceded it. I expect "X, and Y" to suffer the same fate if it becomes popular... if people use it when they mean (not X and Y), then their audiences will eventually respond as though it means (not X and Y). Of course, at that point they can switch to using "that said" or "and also" or "further" or "plus" or other phrases they haven't yet altered the meaning of.

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.

2faul_sname10yI use pretty much this technique, though I was not really conscious of it until you mentioned it.
1katydee10yCool stuff. Got any tips for improving it? I sort of lucked into this schema and have only been using it for two days or so, so I'm sure there are ways I could refine my techniques. :)
0faul_sname10yWhat you have is excellent. I was going to post a brief reply with a few pointers, but I am very bad at limiting myself to something that simple. What ended up happening was that I wrote a ~1000 word guide [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/9iw/the_dark_arts_a_beginners_guide/] to the Dark Arts, which is a bit long for a comment.
0David_Gerard10y"As you know,"/"You already know this, of course, but" <thing they've shown little sign of knowing but seem to have the prerequisites for>
0TheOtherDave10y(nods) Sure, separating the hook from the payload is another way of preventing people from noticing the connection.
0TheOtherDave10yIt's not one I endorse using when what someone has said isn't right. To the extent that "X, but Y" is understood to mean (not-X and Y) it's a broken form of communication; to the extent that "X, but Y" is understood to mean (X and Y) it's false when X is false; to the extent that "X, but Y" is understood to mean (Y and (X or not X)) it is strictly worse than "Y". Then again, I once got the feedback at a meeting that I was the only person the speaker knew who could say "Everything you just said is absolutely correct" in a way that left completely unambiguous the implicit "...and you're a moron," so there may well be a huge gap here between what I endorse and my practice. In my defense, though, everything the speaker had just said was absolutely correct. (It was also entirely irrelevant to the thing I'd been talking about.)
1Swimmer96310yOther strategies that work well: "That's a good point, I think that [x, y] are true...but I think that [w, z] might also be true..." Basically, focus on the part of their argument that was valid, praise them for it, and then make a point of your own, without necessarily saying directly that your argument invalidates part of their argument.
3APMason10yThis may be unpopular, but this sets of my "Dark Arts" detector something fierce. It's always seemed to me that the respect I owe to my opponent in a debate obligates me to at least say, when I think it's the case, "You're wrong. You're an idiot. Think again."
6wedrifid10yIt is pure Dark Arts... but that doesn't necessary mean it is a bad thing. Just that is normal social behavior. For my part I do tend to notice this move and cooperation mode gets shut down far more completely than if they simply disagree. But that doesn't mean I'll come out and tell them that I've stopped cooperation or even act less cooperative. The mode being shut down is 'cooperation with an intellectual peer'. They have taken the role of persuader with some sort of social agenda. There are all sorts of ways to handle that sort of situation and relatively few involve giving them free access to any more honest expressions of your own beliefs. Pretending to go along with them and so giving them no target to 'persuade' against is probably a better default. I like the way you have framed that. You describe direct blunt disagreement as something you are giving the opponent out of (a certain kind of) respect. This allows for far more freedom when dealing with people who (at that particular instant) do not warrant that kind of respect.
4summerstay10yThis kind of attitude is common among my friends who are more technical, but it can really damage communications with most people. "You're an idiot" doesn't just communicate "you're wrong" it says that you lack the ability to think at all, so all of your conclusions, whether related to this subject at all, are worthless. A good friend might take that in the way you intend, but there's no reason anyone else should. What is being called a Dark Art is something that Hermione would use; something that shows that you care about the other person's feelings, that you want to avoid causing pain where you can. It's a kindness. Sure, most of us can handle rough sports like intellectual boxing when we know what we're getting into, but most people aren't expecting to be sparring in a conversation.
-2wedrifid10yYou seem to have misread what I said. In fact you have it approximately backwards. The opening of"but that doesn't necessary mean it is a bad thing. Just that is normal social behavior." makes it rather clear that the disagreement you present here is not with me.
4buybuydandavis10yWell. yeah. It is strange. A great many people think you show respect by patting someone else on the head and saying "great idea, but..." I think that's the height of condescension and disrespect.
0APMason10yI think you may be right. I'm used to arguments as just-short-of-bar-fights, so my perception here might be a bit warped. I've said most of what I want to say in my reply to katydee, and it may just be the case that I value telling morons what I think of them (and I rely on morons to tell me what they think of me) more than you do.
0wedrifid10yI am sure there are morons out there who would disagree!
0APMason10yUpvoted for, y'know, yes.
5katydee10yI agree with you, and I would certainly never use this technique with someone who is operating under Crocker's Rules [http://www.sl4.org/crocker.html]. By the same token, though, I expect people using those rules to have the discipline required to not shift into motivated cognition mode if I tell them they're wrong, operating under a bad paradigm, etc. I basically consider this technique to be "advanced politeness--" while it obscures my true meaning at first, it seems to ultimately help that meaning take hold in conversations with people who are inclined to become combative or argumentative at perceived insults (which is really most people). That being said, I haven't exactly tested this for a long period of time, so it's possible that I've just lucked out thus far or that there are hidden downsides to this that aren't immediately apparent. I'll keep y'all posted and maybe turn this into a top-level post in a bit.
3APMason10yI absolutely agree with this - being one of those people who "are inclined to become combative or argumentative at perceived insults" myself (by chance, I suppose, I have spent most of my time when debating, debating in the bar-fighter way, rather than as part of a true dialectic). Part of what governs my conduct is having nurtured my image as "that guy who will damn-well tell you what he thinks of you, whether or not it makes you cry" IRL, for several years. I think it probably really is the case that, by being polite and kind, you're more likely to change other peoples' minds. However, I'm wary that a certain kind of honesty may be undervalued here - if I thought that someone thought I'm an idiot, and they weren't telling me, but instead being nice in order to change my mind, I would be livid. I would hunt you down, and I would make you weep, and then I would make your parents weep for what became of their child. I would not be happy at all. Advancing that same respect to the idiots I disagree with is really important to me - whether or not it is the most effective method of changing their minds.
7beriukay10yI see what you just did there!
2Anubhav10yYou're right, but occasionally you'll find yourself debating with someone who sees all opposing arguments as soldiers to be killed [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller]. If making her see the truth is more important for you than abiding by the laws and customs of war, dressing as the enemy [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DressingAsTheEnemy] is definitely a useful trick.
3APMason10yI think you're basically right - I'm just not sure that I do consider that more important for certain values of "the laws and customs of war". I've certainly been in arguments like this, and not least because I'm perhaps a prime example of someone "who sees all opposing arguments as soldiers to be killed" - something I'm trying to fix [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/9hm/how_to_unkill_your_mind_maybe/].
0[anonymous]10yThat's a neat little bit of psyops. I'll have to think about it and maybe test it. I'm not quite sure how you would go about executing it for something like "n-dimensional grandma is influencing my life from beyond the grave".
7katydee10yImmediate approximation of how I'd do it (warning: Dark Arts ahead): "You may be right-- I myself have certainly felt like I've been being watched over by dead relatives before. But one thing that I realized is that this effect might not actually be supernatural. The human mind and memory are powerful things. It could simply be that I was so close to my dead grandmother (may she rest in peace) that, in times of peril, my brain subconsciously looks to her memory for advice, since I remember so many times that she had good advice for me in the past. In this way, I think it's possible that in some way our dead relatives really do live on with us, even though it's not really them speaking with us, but merely our memories of them." I haven't tested this yet but I'm moderately confident that it would work, though part of that is of course in the presentation. There may also be a better way-- I haven't thought about this for five minutes yet-- but if I had to have that conversation right now that's the line I would take.
3jhuffman10yComes off as transparent and condescending to me. I'm sure I can tell the difference between my dead grandmother signalling me with spoons and my own memories, thank you very much.
3katydee10yI (sadly) have enough experience with New Agers and the like that I'm pretty sure I can successfully make this work. What would you do differently?
0fburnaby10yTrying it in the world definitely deserves some karma. I'll take this as a reminder to stay alert for situations when it's useful and practice it [http://lesswrong.com/lw/9hb/position_design_and_write_rationality_curriculum/] diligently.
1John_Maxwell10yI've gotten into the habit of saying "I agree, [insert restatement or consequence of person's position that makes it clear how absurd it is]." Tends to make people laugh, as I'm clearly being sarcastic but in a pretty friendly way. Could be a way to get the benefits of this technique without being so dark artsy.
1wedrifid10yThat's not the technique. Sarcasm is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than this technique.
0John_Maxwell10yIt works for me with the right voice and body language. I don't say it like I'm an opponent who disagrees, I say it like an analyst who is fairly uncertain, thinks the issue is complex and is still weighing possibilities. It probably wouldn't work especially well with someone who is a real ideologue.
0Bill_McGrath10yDamnit, I could have tried that out earlier today. Noted for future reference.

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.

3Swimmer96310yYeah, that's unsurprising. People (or most people, including me a lot of the time) are quite sensitive about how their arguments and opinions are perceived by others. "Let's go about testing this" doesn't sound, to most people, like "wow, I'm being validated."
8shminux10yI also have trouble imagining EY saying it with a straight face and in a non-threatening way.
3SurahAhriman10yHaving never met the man, my mental image is basically HJPEV. I imagine him swapping Hufflepuff into the driver's seat, and directing most of his actual concentration to telling Ravenclaw to cram it.
4Anubhav10yHere, have a better mental image. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwriJqBZyoM&list=UU1zny_jKmgnEbQitfPgAlxg&index=9&feature=plcp] But for Sanity's sake don't look at the comments. (Apparently Eliezer joined the 'illluminaty' when we weren't looking.)
9Swimmer96310yI watched the video up until the toy problem with blue circles and red diamonds, then paused it, got out a piece of paper, and worked through the problem using Bayes' theorem. So proud of myself right now...

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.

4shminux10yWhile a good idea in general, I find it even harder to frame in a non-criticizing way. "You compared my dear granny to what???"

"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.

1lessdazed10yHow do you feel when people make just as bad arguments for positions you agree with? Some possibilities: Not as bad - you feel associated with the groups under discussion in these arguments, and much of your feeling comes from that. Worse - you feel tribally aligned with them, and feel stupid by association. Same - Just right, and your negative reaction is due to the bad forms of the arguments. Alternatively, the two above identities of feeling aligned to the speaker and a member of the group criticized are balanced. Test this by altering your level of kinship with the speaker, such as by pretending you also follow the same sports team.

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.

3Swimmer96310yYeah, but at least they can stick up to it, as a community, in a way I don't find obnoxious. I really don't like the atheism campaigns of people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens...they just rub me the wrong way. I don't know why.
9Desrtopa10yI find that pretty odd. Nearly everyone I can think of who objects to them either is devoutly religious, or condemns them by comparing them to religious evangelicals.
6Swimmer96310yI find Richard Dawkins comes across as arrogant in his books on religion. And just...obnoxious, and unnecessarily critical. And it's not as if his books stand a chance of converting people who are already religious...the dismissive attitude that comes through in his writing is exactly what WON'T make people really change their minds. I find his attitude comes across as "hey, we're all atheists here, let's feel superior." Which kind of makes me ashamed to be an atheist. When I tell people I'm an atheist, in fact, I often qualify it with "but I don't like Richard Dawkins' books about atheism." (I adore his books about biology and evolution."

And it's not as if his books stand a chance of converting people who are already religious...the dismissive attitude that comes through in his writing is exactly what WON'T make people really change their minds.

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.

3MileyCyrus10ySam Harris did considerable damage with The Moral Landscape. His new book about free will probably be just as bad. Dawkins...meh. There's nothing original in The God Delusion, and his meta-ethics is sloppy. But he's basically right, which is more than Sam Harris can say.
5[anonymous]10yCan you elaborate? I find the main argument from neuroscience in The Moral Landscape to be pretty effective and in line with what I know about connectomics and cognition. It seems like a very reasonable idea and something important for us to explore about morality. But I could be missing many critical facts that "do damage" as you put it.
5MileyCyrus10yOther reviewers have criticized Harris more keenly then I can, but here are the basic problems. *He ignored centuries of philosophical literature on the is-ought problem, and instead wrote 200 pages of pet intuitions. Because he thought philosophy was boring. *His "theory" that morality is equivalent to whatever increases global well-being is just repackaged utilitarianism. He doesn't answer the standard objections to utilitarianism. For example, if sociologists showed you strong evidence that societies which practice female genital mutilation had a greater well-being than societies that didn't, should you support FGM? Utilitarians say "yes" but that answer is hardly self-evident. *His discussion of free-will is off-topic and devoid of philosophical research. Yes, we know that libertarianism is false, but what about compatabilism?
3buybuydandavis10yI was very disappointed in Sam's book. I thought it was an embarrassment. The arguments just didn't hold up at all. I've wondered if he didn't really believe it, and it was just a memetic ploy meant to entice the religious away by telling them they can still have their Objective Morality if they accept otherwise rationalistic epistemology. With the passing of HItchens, and Sam busy writing bad philosophy, the Four Horsemen have unfortunately run out of gas. Tragic for the movement that Hitchens passed away.
0Swimmer96310yI think so, too. I don't disagree with any of the facts Dawkins presents, not enough for it to annoy me anyway. I disagree with the execution, because I think he could have presented the same facts (and even the same opinions) more effectively without all the venom against religious people and sense of superiority.
9shelterit10yI don't actually understand this bit. I've heard the argument being made many times, yet no one seems to be able to pinpoint what they mean by it. Here's a recent example I can think of. Richard Dawkins said a little while ago that early bible writers were ignorant of certain facts we now take for granted. People reacted to the "ignorant" bit, to which Dawkins asked "Do you know what the word ignorant means?" This is a fair question; do you know what the word mean, or are you reacting because your knowledge is lacking? I often find that people are fuming more over clear writing than over fuzzy language, even if there is no real venom or sarcasm or superiority within. (I could go into a tirade about people getting offended at mere words, and whether people generally fully, truly understand what it means to be offended, again with pointers to the identity comments at the top of this post!) I can discuss with people - say the change of musical styles from the renaissance to the baroque in early Italian music (and the early influence on German music through Schuts) - and rightfully and without any venom say that most people are ignorant of the issue. It's not an insult, it's a word describing a lack of knowledge on something (knowledge I'm not proud of, btw, as my geekery is a negative liability in society ... more on this one later). I am myself terribly ignorant on a number of issues and subjects, and have no problem admitting so; I use the word for what it means. Yet people think it means a negative when it really is neutral. (Same problem with liability, btw. Something can be a liability to you, but there's positive and negative liability, and we often just say "liability" and draw a negative over anything we say by being less precise) I think Dawkins attempt to be precise is often misinterpreted as having some negative connotation they read into it. (Hitchens is another chapter all-together, of course) I think, in general, that people should strive to be less wr
2BarbaraB8yI am not a native speaker, so I looked up, what google says about ignorant: adjective: ignorant 1. lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated. 2. (informal) discourteous or rude. The connotation is negative. The neutral word would probably be "uninformed".
2Creutzer8yThis is about the one-place predicate "ignorant", not about the two-place predicate "ignorant of". My impression as a non-native speaker is that a negative connotation attaches to the first, but not the second. There might also be a two-place version of "ignorant" with a negative connotation: "ignorant about".
2nshepperd10y"Ignorant" is often used as a perjorative, the connotation being "wilfully ignorant, and a bad person because of it". I'm hardly surprised that people get upset for being called that. Also, words in general don't really mean anything, though you and Dawkins might discuss things in a context where "ignorant" has no connotation, while it has such connotation among the general public. In that case it would be accurate to say that you are literally speaking a different language.
0Swimmer96310yI don't have any particular negative reaction to the word 'ignorant', AFAICT, so I doubt that was the source of me finding 'The God Delusion' a turn-off. (I read it a long time ago, so I'm not sure I can pinpoint exactly why I disliked it, especially since my opinions and attitudes have changed appreciably in the meantime.) It might even not have been vocabulary so much as just the general attitude that came across...basically, that you'd be stupid to believe in God, and furthermore, you'd be stupid to want to believe in God. I don't know if he used the word 'stupid' but that's what I remember as coming across, and there's a big difference between calling someone ignorant and implying that they're stupid.
5ahartell10yHave you read any of his atheism books more recently? Is it possible that you disliked them (at least in part) for attacking a group you associated yourself with?
5shelterit10yI doubt very much he used the word 'stupid' to label religious people. He has said, though; "It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is either ignorant, stupid, or insane.” And of course, people will take from that what they want. "I'm religious, I'm not insane nor am I ignorant, so he must be calling me stupid!" Another one is his opening to the God Delusion where he lists a long list of characteristics of the christian god. People have of course taken issues with that list, however you can find bible references for every single one of those characteristics, words you'll even hear in church, so again it's mostly being taken negatively by people who want it to be negative. But if you have something concrete, do tell. It's a puzzle I've long wanted to solve.
6wedrifid10yI don't know about safe to say... it is certainly true. EDIT: This neglects the "Could be a liar" loophole.
5pedanterrific10yIt could be a knowledgeable, intelligent and sane liar.
0wedrifid10yOh, true. I didn't even notice the lack of the liar category!
4CuSithBell10yWell, hypothetically, they could just be electable.
2taelor10yDidn't Eliezer write something about how assuming that your ideological rivals must be defective or aberrant [http://lesswrong.com/lw/i0/are_your_enemies_innately_evil/] is a bad assumption to make? He phrased it in terms of "evil", but I think the same principle applies to "stupid/insane". As for ignorant, well, isn't almost tautologically true that we all believe people who hold beliefs that are incompatible with our own to be ignorant or mistaken?
5JoshuaZ10yYes, but sometimes that isn't an assumption but a conclusion. I can think of a large number of ideological and non-ideological issues where I wouldn't make that conclusion. Evolution is one where the conclusion seems easier (with the caveat that in the relevant quote "insane" is considered broad enough to mean "highly irrational and subject to cognitive biases in way almost all humans are about at least a few things"). There are degrees of how ignorant or mistaken someone can be. For example, Sniffnoy [http://lesswrong.com/user/sniffnoy] and I are coauthoring a pair of papers on integer complexity. There are certain conjectures we can't prove that we have different opinions about whether they are true or false. I'm pretty sure that he and I are probably at this point in a set of 5 or 6 people on the planet who understand the relevant problems the most. So our disagreement doesn't seem to be due to ignorance.
2lessdazed10yProbabilistic opinions? Can you take a set of "unrelated" (the inapplicability of this term to math might make my suggestion worth very little) theorems known to be true or false and give your opinions about the chances they are true? Also relevant are the costs of type I and type II errors in your paper...and your lives, as these may may have significantly conditioned your reactions to uncertainty.
0TheOtherDave10yI don't know about "certainly." For example, I consider you none of those things, but I suspect I could induce you to claim not to believe in evolution for a sufficient sum. (This is not an offer.)
1Swimmer96310yIt's an interesting characteristic of human language that the word 'ignorant', which I find pretty innocuous if used on its own, comes across as a lot harsher when put in the company of 'stupid' and 'insane.' Some kind of context-building I guess, the brain automatically assuming that the author's point is simple and uni-faceted. Obviously, that doesn't mean that's the right way to read that sentence, or that it's constructive to get offended by it. I'm not offended by it now. It's perfectly possible for one of my friends to be one of those three things and still be a kind, generous, awesome person to hang out with. Maybe I made that distinction less when I was in high school, which is when I read "The God Delusion." Come to think of it, I read 'The God Delusion' before I'd even heard of Less Wrong, or cognitive biases, or ways in which words could be misinterpreted... I might find it illuminating to read it again.
0Prismattic10yI think what happens when I read the word in this context is that my brain automatically inserts the word "willfully" before "ignorant." I mean, it's trivial to say that, for instance, members of uncontacted tribes are ignorant of evolution, but that's usually not what people are talking about when they use the word like this.
0shelterit10yYes, interesting point of view. I do remember in my earlier days of reading stuff that at the time was emotional in some way, but now, having re-read it many years later and with (hopefully) more science-based knowledge on-board, seems benign. What was all that fuzz about, really? And really, I think the fuzz was the sound of preconceived and poorly thought-out ideas in my head shredded. I think the outrage and negativity attached to criticism can be measure in how much you treasure those beliefs. Now that I don't hold many beliefs at all (I think I can boil them down to some scientific workflow platform), there's less for me to get upset about. We humans put a strange personal identity on mere ideas, and a critique of ideas are far too often thought of as a critique of the person who holds those beliefs, probably linked to our sense of self. I think Dawkins and Hitchins (and people like them) have a short way of dealing with stuff that has had a tradition of being dealt with in longer terms. This abrupt and concise way of dealing with issues can have a shocking effect. Sometimes the shock is awakening, other times it can be painful, hurtful and offensive. It comes down to how well we deal with shocks of revelation about our own mind, and many, many people don't like to face the ugly truth about themselves (which is also why we love herd thinking and the removal of the personal responsibility of our thinking and actions, even when we claim not to do 'like everybody else.'. Oh yes, you do. :) )
0Luke_A_Somers10yI wonder how much scoping the 'ignorant' to 'ignorant of evolution' would help.
-12buybuydandavis10y
6David_Gerard10yThat's really quite an accusation. Citations, please.
4Swimmer96310yI have only my subjective feeling, when I finished reading 'The God Delusion' of "that could have been a really interesting book, but his attitude ruined it." Whether that response was based more on the book itself or on my own attitude, I can't say. (But I loved Dawkins' other books, i.e. 'The Selfish Gene' and others related to biology...they are still among my favourites.)
8David_Gerard10yYou may wish to try rereading it and seeing if it's actually the book you remember.
-1Swimmer96310yWhat were you before you became an atheist? If you were someone with a 'tenuous hold to religion', i.e. family background, how likely is it that you would eventually (maybe sooner, maybe later) have become an atheist without having read Dawkins? Or maybe just with having read his biology-based books? (I made the transition from not-really-caring to atheism after I realized that there were lots of neat domains where we have a lot of established knowledge, and believing in God actually made the world look messier.) If you were someone with strong personal reasons for your religion, I don't think Dawkins' writings would have had the same effect.
[-][anonymous]10y 12

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.

1Swimmer96310yI'm not 100% sure what you mean. It seems likely that you mean that Richard Dawkins was the first model you observed of an atheist who was confident in and content with their lack of belief in God, whereas you hadn't known any examples of that before and had assumed no one could really be that different from you inside, to the point of not having a relationship with Christ and being okay with it. My first assumption on reading, which seems less likely on second thought, is that Dawkins exposed you to reasons why what might seem like a "relationship with Christ", a subjective experience that couldn't be disproved, could actually be due to factors other than Christ actually existing. This is what LW changed the most about my thinking...I was somewhat swayed before by my friends' earnest insistence that "yes, they talk to God! Yes, their prayers have been answered! Yes, they feel God's presence and it gives them strength!" My naive self tended to think "well, if they say they experienced something, and they have no good reason to lie, how can I just ignore that as evidence?" My current self says "well, it's perfectly possible that my friends really and truly do think that such-and-such subjective experience came from God. That doesn't mean God existing is the simplest explanation. Cognitive biases and poor introspection and "mystical" experiences, due to certain circuits being triggered in the human brain by singing/meditation/prayer, are actually a simpler explanation."
[-][anonymous]10y 15

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.

-1Swimmer96310yThat's probably one of those things that I always forget, not having been raised in a fundamentalist evangelical community. But you're right, attitude (and what is counted as "evidence") is very important, and maybe more important than whether mere facts are for/against a given hypothesis.
-4thomblake10y(emphasis added) I don't think that's right. If your anecdote is more common than Swimmer963, then perhaps. If Swimmer963's anecdote is more common, and those people would otherwise have found atheism attractive, then they're doing the opposite.
5Will_Newsome10y(Saying obvious things: Protestantism turned me off Christianity for a long time, and Kurzweil turns many people off singularity-related memes. Many are skeptical of ufology because the most common explanation of ufo phenomena is biological extraterrestrials. I heard somewhere that something similar happened with cryonics and nanotechnology. An innocent person is a lot more receptive than someone who has heard the retarded version of an idea. To paraphrase Schopenhauer, it is not weakness of the cognitive faculties that leads people astray, it is preconception, prejudice.)
0marchdown10yHow do we know that the situation with various crackpot ideas is any different? We don't actually go and spend weeks seeking out and dissecting the most sane version of every conspiracy we've caught wind of. How can we be so certain that if we did that we wouldn't find some non-obvious truths?
7khafra10yI'd modus tollens your modus ponens. Except for ideas with only one version, like Timecube, there are none-obvious truths which can be extracted. For instance, Mormons have contributed positively to the LW memepool. But the marginal cost of delving deep into real crackpottery probably isn't worth the marginal benefit in truth.
3marchdown10yThis is all well and good, but imagine that, instead of living in a word where people generally don't communicate optimally and tend to irrationally cling to their memes, we live in the world of rational discourse, where truths are allowed to naturally bubble up to the surface and manifest as similar conclusions from disparate experiences. In this hypothetical world you would benefit from arguing with a crackpot — you would supply xem with the evidence xe overlooked (because from within xyr model it felt irrelevant, so xe didn't pursue it — that's how I imagine one could end up with crackpot beliefs in a rational world), and xyr non-obvious truth would come up as a reason for xyr weird world-view. In that situation marginal benefit of engagement is high, because behind most crackpot theories there would be an extremely rare, and thus valuable experience (= piece of evidence about a nature of your common world), and the marginal cost of engagement is diminished because your effort is expended on adjusting both your and xyr map, and not on defeating their cognitive defenses. With me so far? It gets better. There's no hard and fast boundary between our world and the one painted above. And there are different kinds of crackpots. I'm pretty sure that there are many people with beliefs that you have good enough reasons to dismiss, yet which make total sense to somebody with their experiences. And many of them can be argued with. They may be genuinely in interested in finding the truth, or winning at life, or hearing out contrarian opinions. They may be not shunned by society enough to develop thick defenses. They may be smart and rational (as far as humans go, which is not very far.) So finding the right kind of crackpots becomes a lucrative problem — source of valuable insights and debating practice. Weakly related: http://lesswrong.com/lw/1kh/the_correct_contrarian_cluster/ [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1kh/the_correct_contrarian_cluster/] and http://en.wikipedia.org/

And it's not as if his books stand a chance of converting people who are already religious...the dismissive attitude that comes through in his writing is exactly what WON'T make people really change their minds.

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:

Dr Baggini, among others, has claimed that the “new atheists” are too strident, and that they only antagonise moderate atheists (see The New Atheist Movement is destructive, though there is something of a recantation two years later in Religion’s truce with science can’t hold). I disagree, for two reasons.

Firstly, people like Richard Dawkins are really not very strident. Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion, is quiet and scholarly. It takes each of the arguments put forward by religious people, and dissects them one by one. It’s true that, having done this, he sets forth his conclusions quite bluntly. That seems to me to be a good thing. If your conclusions are stifled by tortuous euphemisms, nobody takes much notice. Just as in s

... (read more)
5Swimmer96310y.One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent. Probably true. Very depressing. I don't want to believe that I live in a society where people have to be embarrassed into changing their minds. Also, I'm changing my opinion on whether or not Dawkins does convert people...a number of comments have been made in this thread about people having friends whose final conversion to atheist was made after reading 'The God Delusion' and similar books. Why not, I guess.
8buybuydandavis10yThis has been a wonderful thread. It has demonstrated in many ways that many if not most people are not primarily moved by reason or evidence, and are instead moved by the social considerations of their beliefs. Why don't you want to believe what is manifestly true? On the rudeness of Dawkins. By the standards of the taboo on criticism of religion, he is rude. That taboo is what keeps the nonsense alive. By the ordinary standards that other ideas have to live by, he is a perfect gentleman.
3Swimmer96310yI'm sorry if I was unclear in what I mean by 'don't want to believe it.' I do want to believe things that are true...therefore, if it's true that humans are more moved by social consideration than reason, then I want to believe that. I don't like it, but pretending it's not true won't change that. But if I had a choice between living in that world, or moving to a world where humans were more swayed by reason than social consideration, I would pick the latter. Just like I'd pick a world without human trafficking and sex slaves in it over a world with them.

And it's not as if his books stand a chance of converting people who are already religious...the dismissive attitude that comes through in his writing is exactly what WON'T make people really change their minds.

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.

-5Swimmer96310y
7loup-vaillant10yIf I recall correctly, one goal of this book is to tell people it's okay to be an atheist. A common argument for believing in God is that those who don't, lack "purpose" (or something like that). Some actually feel inferior for that. Add belief in belief on top of that, and soon they will (sincerely) claim they believe in God, if asked. Just like Death Eaters [http://hpmor.com/chapter/34], religious people have tremendous power if they are the only united community. You need a united community of atheists to counter that. Or at least atheists that are aware of other atheists. That takes communication. A sense of superiority helps. Now there is a danger to this approach: it spends identity points [http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html]. Maybe that's why so much people here dislike it.
1AlanCrowe10yWhen I consider the the question of Dawkins' tone (is he strident?) the context in which I locate my inquiry is provided by international news stories [http://thenextweb.com/asia/2012/01/20/an-indonesian-man-could-face-5-years-in-jail-for-%E2%80%9Cgod-does-not-exist%E2%80%9D-facebook-comment/] which I stumble across [http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3489451]. Against that background he seems mild; any milder and I would fault him for weakness and irresolution. What is the background against which he stands out as obnoxious and unnecessarily critical?
5Swimmer96310yI read the news stories. Wow. That is...sad. As in 'society is more messed up than I thought.' Around the same time as I was reading Dawkins, I was also reading "Mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. I can't say any of the arguments for God's existence convinced me, or held much weight at all really, but the tone of the book, and pretty much all of C.S. Lewis' books, was quite polite and respectful. Even of atheists.
8CronoDAS10yChristopher Hitchens was basically the pre-Internet equivalent of a troll. He worked very hard at rubbing people the wrong way. (Someone like that can often be very entertaining to watch, as on the TV show House, but it's not fun to be the target of that kind of thing.)
5David_Gerard10yLiterate ones are called contrarians [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letters_to_a_Young_Contrarian].
4CronoDAS10yActually, I think the term might be gadfly [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_gadfly]...
3TheOtherDave10ySure, that makes sense. There are lots of different techniques communities can use for making it clear what sorts of contributions are unwelcome and preventing those sorts of contributions from getting much attention, and techniques that appeal to one person often rub other people the wrong way. From what you've said elsewhere about your preference for fitting in to a social milieu and earning approval and admiration there, I would expect that the Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris style of in-your-face disagreement would rub you the wrong way. For my own part, I'm OK with in-your-face disagreement, but there's a variety of more indirect methods of control and conversational reframing that make my teeth ache.
2Swimmer96310ySOOO true about me. To the point that I sometimes end up angry and conflicted because I'm in a situation where doing one thing with upset one person, and doing another thing will upset a different person, and I literally have no option that will allow me to please everyone. Obviously situations like this are unavoidable, but a part of my brain always screams that they are not fair and then gets subconsciously annoyed at the people involved and their stupid incompatible preferences because they are preventing me from fulfilling the part of my utility function that involves "keeping everyone on your good side all the time." Even though this is obviously impossible...
5juliawise10yI came face-to-face this year when dealing with my landlady, who believes I am practicing witchcraft against her, poisoning her with sulfur gas, etc. It became clear that my usual strategy of apologize-and-try-to-please would not work here, and that this was definitely about her and not about me. Learning to not care about her opinion of me was a new (and very useful) skill for me. Not that I deliberately provoke her, but when she's upset by things that are obviously not my fault I don't let it upset me.

Beware; history tells us that those accused of witchcraft do not fare well. Consider other accommodations.

1juliawise10yWe're moving next month. But she, like most paranoid people, is probably more of a danger to herself than us.
0TheOtherDave10yYup. I am by my nature inclined to this sort of people-pleasing as well, and it's been a lot of work over the last couple of decades to learn to resist the impulse. Part of that process involved explicitly telling myself, over and over, that (a) people who are displeased when I fail to agree with them don't deserve to be pleased, and (b) they don't actually have the ability to make me suffer if I displease them nearly as much as I make myself suffer trying not to.
0David_Gerard10yThis is how LessWrong turns one into a fairly handy philosophical street fighter.
[-][anonymous]10y 21

Excellent post! Glad to see someone talking about this.

Anyone else have the same experience?

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.

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

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.

5Cthulhoo10yEven though excessive amounts of irritation are definitely unpleasant and counterproductive, irritation in itself can be a useful alarm bell. I've noticed that, through some kind of fast heuristic, my brains turns irritation on very fast when I'm hearing or reading something that contradicts my beliefs. This often happens before I've consciously fully evaluated the statement, and triggers further analysis. It's actually a very precious instrument, and I'm more worried when it doesn't trigger at all.
6Swimmer96310yThat's the key phrase. It works that way for you...but I suspect that for a lot of people, and maybe for me, it would act to turn off further analysis, because the idea is so irritating to even think about.
3Swimmer96310yExactly! Kind of a scary thought, that.
1lessdazed10yYou seem to be better at tolerance of religious believers than I am. Religious conclusions happen to not bother me much. A brief tangent: the "level up" model found in video games is, to a significant extent, a product of people's intuitive falling for the halo effect fallacy. Cartoons, movies, and video games frequently feature leaders who are superior in most every way to their henchmen. In many RPGs, to achieve a high level of mastery at a skill such as crafting, one needs to be at a high character level. Yet remarkably, if one goes to a jewelry store and attempts to verify the skill of the jewelers there by asking them how many orcs they've slain, one gets thrown out by security! In real life, skills aren't actually as related to each other as we intuit. The skill tree model found in some games better represents reality. There is one sub-skill I think I am probably better at than you at (this doesn't have too many implications for other skills; I hope the above paragraph is a good enough disclaimer to enable me to speak plainly and be heard without triggering a status-based conversation). My identity is apparently largely planted at a higher level of abstraction as one who values certain modes of though, such that r/atheism triggers cringes and my internal alarm of discomfort. The conclusions aren't as important as how they are arrived at. Possibly you should try to recallibrate your alarms such that the poor thinking on r/atheism triggers them more than wrong religious conclusions do. I see that your comment is largely about yourself from months ago. Perhaps when you read r/atheism now, you feel the same sort of turmoil?

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)

2TheOtherDave10yI'm curious: do you feel this strongly about similarly irrational settings that aren't related to your own personal history?
6Spurlock10yI'm not sure what you mean here... the church example doesn't seem to be 'related to my personal history' except for the fact that I'm there when it's happening. I never been religious or attended church regularly (though there were a couple of hilariously baffling Sunday school sessions a babysitter once took me too...), so I don't mean to imply that I feel this way because I used to actually be in their shoes, the way e.g. Luke [http://lesswrong.com/user/lukeprog] did. I've had similar feelings in some liberal arts classes: someone would speak, I would perceive their opinion to be either egregiously wrong or vacuous dribble, but I couldn't do anything but groan because of the sort of warm-fuzzy-sharing-non-judgemental atmosphere. At this point I feel like I'm coming off as an angry, pretentious grouch, so I'd like to add that I never feel this way outside of these very unusual situations, and in general consider myself to be a friendly person who is plenty capable of polite discussion :-) If your question was just whether I feel this way about settings I haven't personally experienced, I guess the answer is only distantly. I've never, for example, been in a cult, and the strength of my frustration at the idea is limited by my inability and disinclination to imagine it concretely. If neither of those answers your question, my apologies. I'll be happy to retry if you can clarify.
1TheOtherDave10yNope, that answered my question. Thanks!

encouraging everyone to share his or her opinion. Criticizing or shutting out other people’s views was explicitly forbidden.

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.

0Antisuji10yThis is a good point, but there is a difference between criticism and shutting out. It is likely the latter that Charlie was most concerned about — perhaps a prior bad experience led him to institute the rule — and furthermore it's unclear to me that simply expressing disagreement politely is enough to be considered criticism. Additionally, simply as a matter of effectiveness, you are not likely to change any minds by dismissing ideas out of hand or even presenting an eloquent and sound rebuttal. A person who seriously entertains idea of the paranormal has so many holes in their faculties for determining truth that you really have to start from the very basics. And even then it is not worth the time or effort unless you are very close to this person.
-1Swimmer96310yI don't think it would have been. Criticism is a direct attack: "X is wrong because of arguments w, y, z... (wow, wasn't he dumb to fall for that belief)?" Expressing disagreement is more like saying "I think that y, for reasons w and z." Which leaves a lot less open for criticism.

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:

  • Satire. Create your own complete bullshit that exploits the same 'no criticism' rule and start rambling about it.
  • Dominate the conversation within the rules. Never reply to his supernatural nonsense but instead constantly be changing the subject to something that interests you, something that you know interests the other people in the room or a meme which would undermine the bullshiter's credibility.

"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..

0Swimmer96310yThis is what will end up happening. I'm almost certainly not going back to that group, even if the theme is on something I find as interesting as physics. Not worth the frustration... It makes me sad, though, because that group is one of many that could be a good match for me, and give me somewhere to apply my hard work and efforts, but someone had to go ruin it by believing in the supernatural.
2buybuydandavis10yIf you don't plan on a continued relationship with the group, but feel that there are some like minded people there, there is every reason for you to state your own mind plainly to them. Those who agree may invite you to some other venue more appropriate to both of you, and those who don't agree will cease to exist in your world very shortly anyway. It pays to advertise who and what you are, so that those who appreciate you can find you better. Also, being willing to show that you disagree with the group often wins some points with all involved for your self confidence, but particularly with those who wish they had had the courage to have done the same.
0Swimmer96310ySomeday I will acquire the self-confidence to disagree with the group publicly... Someday.
5buybuydandavis10yWhy not let Someday be Today? This group is an opportunity to be exactly who you want to be without repercussion because you don't plan on continuing the relationship anyway. What's the worst that can happen? And what's the best that can happen?
3lessdazed10yYou could practice. Announce that you want to say something even though you fear it is unpopular or will be poorly received. Then express an opinion you know everyone already shares even though no one has said that explicitly. Warning: this will lower your status.
1wedrifid10yIt may lower your status depending on your initial status and in what manner you speak. It can also be a step up from being someone whose mannerisms convey that they would be too intimidated to do so. Another potential outcome is that of being respected more but liked less.
6Emile10yAnd I'd add: * Talk about how interested you are in the scientific method, and hey, maybe we could even put some of those supernatural claims to the test!

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.

2shminux10ySo, you basically treat them like one would their mentally infirm relative at a family gathering: avoid arguing and feel sympathetic, but distant?
3badger10yNo, previously I would write them off and disengage. How could I learn something from this person with an obviously crazy belief? It's also not worth arguing with them, because they wouldn't get it anyways. Now, I'm more likely to figure out the causes of their beliefs and where they are coming from if it comes up (keeping it non-adversarial). While I can identify those particular beliefs as crazy, they probably have about the same number of crazy beliefs as others, and so I shouldn't avoid interacting with them.

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

3ahartell10yI don't really see this as a good analogy unless the children express a will and ability to eat cake for each meal of the day from then on, in which case, yeah, I'd be that guy.
0RomeoStevens10yI would say it to a child I felt was actually receptive the next day.
1Strange710yYeah. Wait until they're already feeling some of the negative effects.
0lessdazed10yBoth already feeling negative effects, and also don't still have access to cake. In my experience it doesn't work if there is still cake available.
[-][anonymous]10y 10

to plant a non-threatening seed of skepticism into the minds of all present.

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.)

2fburnaby10yIn your LW articles, you come off as both charismatic and intelligent. You have interesting insights, you're willing and able to post your thoughts (and they're frequently even not-in-sync with the general LW zeigeist), you use lots of engaging personal examples... Are you sure you're not being humble or maintaining a wrong self-image for some other reason?
2Swimmer96310yI think my intelligence is above average (general population average, not LW average), but that's not at all the same thing as being intelligent enough to be a good physicist...although I think that may not be my true rejection, and I'm going to try and spend some more time finding out what my true rejection is. Also, LW is an entirely written forum and I'm very confident in writing, and have a lot of experience. I'm not as good a public speaker: I don't have as much practice, and there's the added challenge of not having time to sit staring at a screen for five minutes trying to decide if my argument is phrased unclearly and I need to fix it. So stuff comes out a lot less elegantly when I'm saying it to people, and I tend to say "um" and "uh" a lot, or sound a bit incoherent because my brain isn't running at the same rate as my mouth.
2beriukay10yI'm not sure if you'd want to pay money for negative reinforcement, but I've been thinking about trying out something like the Buzzword [http://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/41/buzzword.shtml?srp=5] to help with my verbal tics.
2Luke_A_Somers10yYou can be a very good experimental physicist if you're creative enough to devise good experiments, careful enough to implement them well, and persistent enough to then carry them out. Intelligence helps in the first two stages, but being an ace at math is not required.
2[anonymous]10y.
3beoShaffer10yUnsuprisingly, there is a short story about that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Country_of_the_Blind [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Country_of_the_Blind].
1CronoDAS10yFixed link. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Country_of_the_Blind]
[-][anonymous]10y 10

The problem with too many rational memes

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.

3Swimmer96310yIf I add 'social signalling effects' as a subtitle, does that make it more clear? I don't think 'Irritation at Irrational Beliefs' explains it as well because I have always spent time around people with 'irrational' beliefs, and never been bothered by it until I also spent a lot of time on LW.
3[anonymous]10yI agree that my proposed title is lame and unhelpful, but I don't think "too many rational memes" is the root cause of this phenomenon. It seems unlikely that there is some threshold number of rationality-themed memes such that people start instinctively hating religion once they have been exposed to enough of them.
6TheOtherDave10yPersonally, I would call what I think Swimmer963 is talking about the problem of outgroup contempt. But I also don't much care what the title of the post is.
[-][anonymous]10y 9

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)

0thomblake10yIf you don't think the possibility is true, it is probably not worth raising to attention. Beware privileging the hypothesis [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Privileging_the_hypothesis].
3[anonymous]10yI don't think I'm committing this fallacy, because I think there is significant evidence supporting this hypothesis (including the article about which we are commenting). Is this controversial? Acknowledging evidence does not imply consent with the hypothesis. As I said I don't think the hypothesis is true, but it would be a much greater fallacy to make that our standard for forwarding a hypothesis.
-2thomblake10yNormally, a true hypothesis which is supported by evidence will generate someone who thinks it is true. Such a person can and should advance the hypothesis. No such person existing is massive evidence against the truth of the proposition. Advancing a hypothesis you think is false for the sake of the discussion is equivalent to one of the popular definitions of trolling.
1[anonymous]10yOnly if the hypothesis has been well promulgated and understood, along with its supporting evidence. I expect many hypotheses (including many we consider to be true) are raised in the spirit in which this one was raised: a plausible suggestion supported by evidence that is nevertheless not immediately convincing. Would it's meeting that definition speak for or against the hypothesis? And I didn't say I thought the hypothesis was false. I just don't think it's true. That's an extremely important distinction, I think.
4CronoDAS10yI invoke the Law of the Excluded Middle! [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_excluded_middle] ;)
0[anonymous]10yDon't do that. 'I believe that P is true' and 'I believe that P is false' aren't contradictories.
-3thomblake10yI expect that true hypotheses are generally raised first by those who believe them, and that the extent to which there are exceptions does not make a significant impact in my claim: ... No, its meeting that definition would speak against you committing the act of raising the hypothesis. Don't troll. I don't think it's much of a distinction at all, and much less an important one. If you do think it's important, I'll happily submit to having my "you think is false" above translated into "you don't think is true", with the same intended meaning and truth value from my end.
1[anonymous]10yWell, to clarify, I agree with everything but the 'massive' here. It is evidence against the truth of a proposition, but not great evidence. It seems obvious to me that it should never be taken as conclusive: I am certain you would agree that we shouldn't refuse to entertain any hypothesis that isn't thought true by other people. If not, then I take your point: it is evidence against the hypothesis. It belongs on the list alongside other evidence against it, and whatever evidence is for it. Well, then your statement is "forwarding theses about which one is agnostic for the sake of discussion is trolling". This is obviously false, since many if not nearly all discussions on this site would be cases of trolling. I admit, I'm not sure I understand how your comments address my original hypothesis. If you don't think it's worth entertaining, then don't entertain it. I just wanted it to be on the list. If you think the hypothesis is false, then argue against it. Don't argue against my raising it. That's not worth your time.
-1thomblake10yYes, that is how evidence works. I was assuming that much. It certainly isn't evidence for the proposition, and I'd have expected you to advance an argument in that direction if you thought that was the case. And it also is obviously evidence about the proposition, so it should shift the probability mass in one direction or the other. I think it is harmful for it to be entertained, if it does not deserve to rise to the level of attention. In much the same way, I would prefer no one randomly picked John Q Snodgrass for consideration in a murder investigation; it would not be sufficient for me to personally not consider it. I don't believe it is true that nearly all discussions on this site involve forwarding theses about which one is agnostic. For one thing, I'm pretty sure most Lwers are generally against agnosticism. Also, I do agree that initiating such discussions is trolling. Much of my time on this site is dedicated to improving the quality of the content on this site. I believe that providing a good argument against your raising that hypothesis will reduce the incidence of relevantly similar hypotheses in the future, which will improve the quality of content on this site. I think that is worth my time because a higher-quality Less Wrong will more likely raise the sanity waterline, which will more likely result in a positive future.
1[anonymous]10yWell, now you've worried me. Could you explain why? I'll certainly retract my comment if this is true. I...really? That's shocking. Are you really telling me that people on LW believe it's wrong to suspend judgement on a proposition? I really don't think that can be true.
0thomblake10yIt is dangerous in the same way as bringing John Q. Snodgrass to trial for murder. We might overweight evidence in favor of the hypothesis. Once something has been raised to the level of attention, it is hard for humans to demote it again. Any proposition worth talking about, is worth judging. If the evidence and your priors yield a 60% probability that the sky is blue and a 39% probability that the sky is green, then that is exactly to what extent you should think those propositions are true. Note you do not find many religious agnostics here, as compared to atheists, often for the same reason.
2Jordan10yHuman intuition is a valuable heuristic. As a mathematician I constantly entertain hypotheses I don't believe to be true, for the simple reason that my intuition presented them to be considered. I don't believe I would be at all effective otherwise (although I did just now entertain the hypothesis, despite my lack of belief!)
2[anonymous]10yWell, this is harmful in the case of John because we might imprison an innocent man, or perhaps just convict a guilty man in an unjust way and on insufficient grounds. Presumably there's some corresponding harm here? What would that harm be? I'm happy to admit this as a description of my attitude toward the hypothesis. I think it X% true, and of course 100-X% false. But if raising propositions which one considers to be greater than 0% true and less then 100% true is trolling, then I repeat, most if not nearly all discussions on this site are trolling.
0thomblake10yAlso trivially true, as 0 and 1 are not probabilities [http://lesswrong.com/lw/mp/0_and_1_are_not_probabilities/]. Trolling diverts resources and reduces the quality of discussion. Privileging the hypothesis can result in the usual features of coming to believe something which is false. It can poison one's entire epistemic state.
2[anonymous]10yI've raised some objections to the (quite justifiable I suppose) impression that I might be trolling or committing the fallacy you name. You haven't responded to these, so I'll tap out for now.
1Peacewise10yIn my judgement ABrooks was not trolling, and instead raised a point of view that experience on LW encouraged me to consider. I think it is true that some members of LW, on some occasions do believe they are justified in expressing contempt for the beliefs of outsiders, sometimes this is done without expressing the justification, on other occasions the justification has been expressed and refuted yet the contempt remains and on yet other occasions the justification is reasonable. I leave the other branches of the scenario for the community to express at their convenience. I don't however consider the LW community on the whole to be toxic to rationality as one cannot and shouldn't judge an entire community based upon isolated actions of a potential unrepresentative sample. I think the statement Is false, yet as one can see in my 2nd paragraph in this post, a change of the numbers from "on the whole" to "some members, some of the time" supports that the gist of the hypothesis deserves consideration, despite that I believe the original hypothesis is false. Possibly a more succinct description of the issue under discussion is when an individuals self serving bias meets a groups group serving bias. The individual being an outsider. When one considers that an aim of LW is the removal of biases, labelling a presentation of a possible group serving bias as a "troll" is not in the spirit - or vibe if you prefer - of LW. I do understand why one would want to not waste time on something as obviously false as the original hypothesis, yet I think that the updated hypothesis deserves consideration from members of the community.
0Peacewise10yWhat is quite interesting when reconsidering the original hypothesis of ABrook, is the taking into consideration of outsiders. If outsiders strongly associate rationality with LW and LW is negatively perceived, then the original hypothesis has some weight. Fortunately we have an outsider... that's me, and, I do have some negative perceptions of LW, yet more fortunately for rationality a negative perception of LW is that I do not strongly associate LW with rationality. I presume some will appreciate the beautiful irony of this construct and further appreciate and then avoid the infinite spirals it produces.
-12bogus10y

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)

1Swimmer96310yI don't actually know that many people who would act on a lot of their crazier beliefs. I'm sure that they exist, but most people I've met through church are pretty solidly compartmentalized. It's a bit less so for the people who converted as adults into the rather more evangelical/fundamentalist Pentecostal church. But even then, the 'crazy things' that they do are not especially weird. Giving large amounts to charity...throwing aside their plans of the moment to go on volunteer aid trips...those are things I wish I could do more!
2TheOtherDave10yI'm curious: why don't you?
1Swimmer96310yMainly because I'm a really, really non-spontaneous person. I do give fairly large amounts to charity, close to 10% of my monthly income right now, but to be honest, I like my routine and I have a hard time departing for it, and taking a semester off to go build schools in Africa or something would be very much outside of my routine, would set me back by a year in my program, etc, etc. My best hope is to plan, non-spontaneously, to do things like that. For example, once I'm graduated as a nurse, I'll feel much more secure moving somewhere for, say, a year to do volunteer work... I'll be able to settle in, get to know people, establish a routine, and in general set up the conditions that work for me to enjoy myself.
4Luke_A_Somers10yWell, don't feel bad about not going to Africa to build houses! Paying Africans to build houses in Africa is better in almost every way.
0Swimmer96310yAre there any organizations that do that? i.e. you can donate money and it will be used to pay the employees of a company in Africa who build houses for their communities? Because if that doesn't exist, someone should make it exist...

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.

1Swimmer96310yThis has happened to me before, so in hindsight I shouldn't be surprised. But it's always been in the other direction: i.e. increased zone of tolerance, increased empathy. I never felt like I had to reject science if I wanted to hang out with religious people. Maybe that's not surprising either, because most religious people I know don't actually reject science in the same way the atheists reject religion. They tend to think it's all true and beautiful and awe-worthy, etc.
0TheOtherDave10yI don't quite follow how you get from the observation that you are adopting certain habits you reject, to the idea that you need to reject science in order to get the social benefits you want. Can you unpack that a little?
4Swimmer96310yIt's the reverse of what's happening now...which is a part of me feeling like I have to reject religion and the supernatural if I want to be respected and liked on Less Wrong. I never felt like my religious friends respected me less because I loved to read about physics and evolution and talk about how cool they were. They thought it was cool, too. I didn't have to reject anything to get social benefits...I just had to refrain from criticizing their beliefs, which I was fine about. I think religion is really cool too, as a concept and as an institution in human society. I can (or used to be able to) get inside the reasons why people believe, really truly believe. I had empathy for them. Now a part of me (again, this isn't necessarily representative of all LW opinions) feels like the dominant meme here is 'religion is a bad thing for society, you shouldn't respect it or like it!' I know this isn't representative of what everyone on LW thinks, so I don't know how it's managed to seep so far into my brain.
4Bugmaster10yI personally used to think pretty much like that before I encountered Less Wrong... and now, I still do. I believe I have good reasons for thinking this way. But if I'm wrong about this, I'd very much like to find out, so I'm open to persuasion. That said, while I believe that religion does not deserve the privileged position that it enjoys, and that it's harmful in the long run, this doesn't mean that I automatically disrespect individual religious people. One great thing about communities like Less Wrong, IMO, is that they make it possible for two people to legitimately disagree with each other, without the whole situation descending into name-calling and other personal attacks. At least, I hope that this is the case...
8Swimmer96310yOK. These are the reasons why I don't think religion is a horrible thing. (I don't necessarily think we should always have religion, just that for the moment I don't find it to be enormously bad.) 1. Yeah, some people have done bad things in the name of religion (i.e. Crusades). People have done bad things in the name of pretty much everything. Some people don't need a reason to do bad things. Yeah, there are other people who might not have done bad things otherwise, who just followed along because they were a member of the community. That's not common to religion, either. People in the Stanford Prison experiment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment] and the Milgram experiment [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment] went along with doing bad things because they thought they were expected to, no religion needed. If we took religion out of the world, it wouldn't do much to solve those flaws in human nature. 2. Religion often advocates a weird morality, i.e. by spending more time talking about abortion than starving kids...but at least it advocates morality at all. This is mostly based on people I actually know, but most of my religious friends have thought quite deeply about what they think of as right versus wrong, and most of my non-religious friends haven't thought it about it at all. Involvement in many religious groups encourages people to become more empathetic, more generous, and more open and welcoming to community members in need. I was a better person, in those ways, when I hung out with Christians. 3. Religion genuinely makes a lot of people happier, including people I've known who had very screwed-up lives previously. Yeah, maybe they could have become happier by studying happiness like Lukeprog [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4su/how_to_be_happy/], but it happens no one was around to guide them through that process, and
1Bugmaster10yThat's true, but IMO religion makes it a lot easier for people to do bad things, and a lot harder for other people to stop them. It does this by emphasizing faith over critical thinking, and by inventing all kinds of new reasons for doing bad things. Thus, for example, the statement "we should go and wipe out our neighbours because they believe in different gods than we do, and we know that our gods are the only true gods because we have faith in them, amen" is a uniquely religious statement. It combines an in-group/out-group mentality, an unfalsifiable worldview, and a harmful moral imperative, all in one tidy package. Yes, there are harmful secular statements that follow the same pattern (and plenty of them), but IMO the faith-based nature of religion makes harmful religious memes a lot more virulent. Speaking of which: Firstly, I'd rather have no morality at all than a harmful one.Secondly, one big problem with religious morality is that it's unfalsifiable. For example, why is homosexuality immoral ? Because God (or gods) said so. That's it. You could spend all the time in the world pointing out that homosexuality hurts no one and that prohibiting it harms everyone in the long run, but none of that matters, because evidence can never trump faith. By contrast, secular moral systems, such as Consequentialism, for all their flaws, do have error-correction methods built in. I think this depends on the group. Some groups, such as Scientology or many radical Christian sects, have the opposite effect. Of all the arguments you offer, this is probably the strongest. Is the tradeoff of becoming happier worth the sacrifice of believing things that are actually true ? For some people, and perhaps even many people, this could very well be the case... but, if everyone thought like that, we'd never have invented fire, spaceflight, or representative democracy. I am definitely biased on this topic, though, since believing true (plus or minus epsilon) things makes me person
0Swimmer96310yThis is a completely valid point. There is a right answer to whether it, and all the other bad things that get accomplished as a direct effect of religion existing, outweigh all the good things that get accomplished also as a direct effect of religion existing. I don't know. Right now my estimate leans more towards religion having a net positive effect, for now, at our society's current level of rationality and general sanity. I don't think getting rid of churches would get rid of superstition, something would spring up in its place...but slowly getting rid of superstition might naturally lead to churches becoming more and more similar to secular organizations in their scope and goals. (This seems to be what's happening to the Anglican Church of Canada...socially, they are just as liberal as the Canadian government.) There are almost certainly things I don't know about how churches affect the world, and if I did know them, maybe it would sway my opinion more towards the cons and away from the pros. If someone could do an in-depth study, comparing a world identical to ours only without religion and showing that it would be better, I would willingly change my mind. However, I'm not sure it would change my behavior, at least not right now. I don't have the power to single-handedly eradicate organized religion. Unlike Richard Dawkins, I'm not famous or well-known or respected, so my mere disapproval of religion would do nothing at all, aside from possibly alienating me from some of my friends. (They already know I'm an atheist, and that I'm ok with their being religious, but if I wasn't ok with it, I'm not sure how our friendships would fare. And I value those friendships.) Also, if I see a church organization working towards a goal I also want accomplished, and they're more convenient or more fun to work with than any secular organizations with the same goals, I want to be able to ally with them. I don't want to be turned off any kind of cooperation because it a
4Bugmaster10yMy own estimate leans the opposite way, primarily because I see the overall chilling effect that religion has on critical thought (as we discussed elsewhere on this thread) as having a massively negative utility. Yes, the effect is relatively mild compared to some of the other things religion does, but it's everywhere. Agreed; plus, I should probably mention that no one in their right mind would advocate "getting rid of churches" by force (even by force of law). Coercive tactics like that have a very poor track record, and besides, they're pretty evil. That said, one thing I'd like to see is a diminished respect for religion in general. In our current world, if you said something like, "Bugmaster advocates banning consumption of meat", most people would probably just shrug. But if you said "Reverend Bugmaster advocates banning consumption of meat", people would sit up and take notice. But why ? There's nothing about being a "Reverend" that makes me somehow more competent at making decisions -- no more than being a 10-th level Conjuration-specced Wizard, or president of my local Twilight fanclub, or whatever. If you had that kind of power, you'd be a god, and then you'd have to eradicate yourself :-) That's fair enough; no one is expecting you to become some sort of a righteous anti-paladin of atheism (well, I can't speak for Richard Dawkins, but I know I'm not). Still, I think it's possible to disagree with a person, even on a fundamental level, while still respecting that person. That all depends on the person in question, of course.
5Nornagest10yNow I know what my next D&D character is going to be. Well, right after I get done playing that transhumanist warlock I've been thinking of...
0Swimmer96310yI'm pretty sure these two statements would have exactly the same effect on me...i.e. proportional to how much other information I know about you and how many reasons I already have to respect your expert opinion. I do have a lot of reasons to respect Dawkins' statements on a lot of things. He knows more about biology than I do, and so if he says something about biology or evolution, I'm prepared to take it at face value. I don't think he's studied religion in depth, though, or really undergone a non-biased process of weighing its pros and cons. I have no reason to conclude that his religion arguments are more valid just because he's a good biologist.
0Bugmaster10yRight, but as far as I can tell, this isn't true of the population in general, where religious figures command a certain level of trust and respect simply due to being religious. You and I are probably outliers.
1Nisan10yHey, here's an idea: Maybe balance time spent reading Less Wrong with talking to and hanging out with Less Wrongers who are church-friendly?
0TheOtherDave10yWell, regardless of how those beliefs "seeped" into your brain initially, now you have the option of paying attention to them and making some informed decisions about what beliefs you endorse, what beliefs you reject, what beliefs you intend to research further, etc. It might be helpful to start by simply articulating the various beliefs that are relevant here, and your reasons for believing and not believing them (by which I mean both the evidence in favor of or against them, and your motives for endorsing or rejecting them independent of evidence).
3Swimmer96310yJust noticing that my beliefs and their associated emotions had changed was enough for me to start listing them to myself...which has done a lot to cut off the emotions associated, too. Here are some beliefs which I think are relevant here: 1. I believe that it is a good thing to try and hold only beliefs that are true relative to the outside world, and to update on evidence from that world. I believe this, well, because it's useful, and maybe partly because it's a high-status LW idea. To a degree, I did not always believe this...I went through a 'the truth is relative' phase. 2. I believe that the current evidence says that reductionism is true, that the universe is made up of interactions between smaller parts which are not in themselves intelligent, that cause-and-effect holds. I believe this because it's what I've read in textbooks and books I read for fun, and because it feels elegant and satisfying to believe it. I already believed this before LW and I don't think LW has influenced it much. Nor has going to church. 3. I believe that there are people who believe in spirits. I expect that they believe in them because someone told them about it, or they read about it, and thought it was neat. 4. I believe that many people do not think about whether their beliefs are true relative to the outside world, or what evidence of their truth/falsehood would look like, or why evidence matters. I believe this because it seems obvious to me that the laws of science as we know them do not imply supernatural beings, that the only 'evidence' for their existence is the fact that people talk and write about them, and that their are other, simpler explanations for people talking and writing about supernatural beings than their actual existence (i.e. people misconstruing actual experiences, or wishful thinking.) 5. I do not actually believe that the existen
3TheOtherDave10yOK. And if I'm understanding you correctly, you believe that the existence on LW of the belief you describe in #5/#6, that religion and supernatural beliefs are harmful, is causing you to be less able to coordinate usefully with people who hold religious and supernatural beliefs, despite the fact that you endorse such coordination, entirely because you want to fit in here and the way to fit in is to treat such people in ways that are mutually exclusive with such coordination. Is that correct?
0Swimmer96310yI think that's the underlying motivation, yeah. Putting it explicitly makes it a lot easier to say to myself "well, that's stupid... It's my brain and I can do with it what I want."
0TheOtherDave10yYeah, that's been my experience as well.
3Bugmaster10yThat's one of the reasons, but not the only one. IMO religion is also harmful because it closes off legitimate avenues of inquiry: once you've decided that the answer to some question is "god did it', or "it's a mystery of mysteries", you tend to not spend much time looking for the answer. Historically, though, the answer usually turned out to be something like "this question makes no sense because it rests on incorrect assumptions", or something like "GMm / r^2" (which is an informative and useful answer). Religion is also harmful (and again, this is just my own opinion) because it discourages critical thought, replacing it with faith. This not only reduces the overall effectiveness of our decision-making processes, but also contributes to legitimizing religious practices that directly harm people, such as faith healing.
8Nornagest10yI'm actually not sure to what degree this is true for religion in general. The emphasis on faith-in-itself seems to be mainly a Christian thing to me, although it's contaminated a lot of later (i.e. New Age) thought in the Christian cultural sphere; what I've read of Islam, for example, puts a pretty heavy emphasis on scholarship, and doesn't seem to isolate religious observations from empirical confirmation nearly to the same degree that Christianity does. The same goes for Buddhism, for several branches of occultism, and even for some minor Christian traditions, especially prior to the Enlightenment. I think a fully general objection to religious thought would have to be a bit more subtle: even when a religion contains a tradition of inquiry, even when clerical roles look a lot like research positions, usually only confirming evidence is accepted. This doesn't have quite the same structure as faith in the modern Christian sense: tautological belief isn't thought of as virtuous. But the bottom line is already written, and arguments are only respected insofar as they provide support for it. Critical thought isn't discouraged, but it's only thought of as beneficial insofar as it serves preexisting goals. (Eliezer gets into this a bit in "Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jy/avoiding_your_beliefs_real_weak_points/], although I don't think it's limited to orthodox Judaism by any means.) Actually, I don't even think this is specific to religion: lots of identity groups behave in similar ways.
4Bugmaster10yThat's a very good point; I have nothing to add but my agreement.
0Swimmer96310yThis seems to describe a lot of what I've heard about Jewish 'scholarship', mostly according to Eliezer. Also, their definition of what constitutes strong versus weak evidence, and what it's evidence of, is very different from scientific evidence. I don't deny that the Old Testament exists, or even that its content is evidence of something (it shows what the culture and thought was like back in the ancient Middle East), but I wouldn't think of proving a scientific hypothesis by pulling out a Torah quote that supported it.
4Swimmer96310yI agree with you 100% on this. If we're ever going to move towards a world where significantly more people have good critical thinking skills, religion will have to either be abolished or slowly fade. However, I don't think removing all churches and religions right now would change much in terms of critical thinking. My opinion is that most people are religious because they are poor critical thinkers...not poor critical thinkers because of their religion., although to a degree the two might interact in a kind of loop or vicious cycle.
9TheOtherDave10yAgreed that most of the poor critical thinking in the world has causes other than religion. But I also agree with Bugmaster that a lot of religious institutions discourage critical thinking. The situation seems to me analogous to thieves in a poor neighborhood. No, eliminating the thieves will not suddenly make the neighborhood wealthier. On the other hand, if the thieves are allowed to operate unimpeded, nothing else will make the neighborhood wealthier either. On the other other hand, perhaps other techniques for making the neighborhood wealthier will cause the thieves to leave the neighborhood on their own. Personally, I suspect that if all religious institutions suddenly vanished tomorrow, it would be easier to propagate certain forms of critical thinking, but that nobody would actually take significant advantage of the opportunity thus created.
0Swimmer96310yGood analogy. Maybe I'll find an opportunity to bring it up next time I'm discussing this with friends... I'll make sure to cite it as coming from you.

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.

6Bugmaster10yThe "vicious cycle" hypothesis sounds right to me. Most people tend to simply follow the religion of their parents, simply accepting it as a given, because that's what they were raised with from childhood. And, since most religions encourage faith and discourage doubt, this has an overall chilling effect on the prevalence of critical thinking skills across the entire population... which, in turn, makes it easier to raise one's children in the religion, as well, thus completing the cycle.
3Swimmer96310yI think all of that is true. I also know an awful lot of totally non-religious people who don't seem to have the best critical thinking skills either. Maybe it's a thing of youth...maybe most middle 20-year-olds are sheltered and complacent and it's a bias of juvenile brains in particular to care more about status and having fun than about being right or being curious about the world. I certainly hope it gets better as I get older. In general, though, I don't see a big difference between the actual day-to-day, real-life behavior of religious 20-year-olds and non-religious 20-year-olds...except that many of the religious young people tend to spend more time volunteering or otherwise trying to change things for the better, and spend more time thinking about how they can be better people. (Or at least talk more about these things.)
0Bugmaster10yI think this depends on the population. I have some Catholic acquaintances, for example, who are committed to a child-bearing schedule set by their pastors; this behavior is certainly different from that of non-Catholics. But that's just a single data point, not a statistically significant trend. Is there some data to back this up, adjusted for various meanings of "better" ?
1Swimmer96310yNo rigorously collected data, unfortunately (although someone may have studied it.) It's more a weighted average in my head of people I know personally.
6BarbaraB8yI have a somewhat similar experience. As a teen, I prefered to spend holidays with christian groups, although the religion never made sense to me. The reasons ? No or moderate alcohol drinking, extremely rare smoking with no peer pressure to try it, possibility to sing and not embarass myself, possibility to discuss what is right and wrong and not embarass myself. Mild and more merciful manifestations of the pecking order compared to the world outside of the community. (Christian groups do have their alpha individuals, no mistake in that, but they are nicer about it). More volunteering inside this group than outside. This is obviously a comparison based on people I knew personaly, no statistical survey with standard deviatons etc. I certainly could find atheists and agnostics which would have such qualities, but that was sort of hand-picking of isolated individuals. The Christians were a ready-to-go group I could just join, if I wanted to have some fun with more people around me.

Robin has a new post on some evidence that such "no-criticism" rules inhibit rather than enhance creativity.

7lessdazed10yDid they notice that they were possibly changing the amount of offense taken and feelings hurt by criticism, when they told people what was optimal? They told people that criticism was a duty, such that they probably wouldn't take it as personally, and they found that the group was more creative. But did they measure the amount or nature of criticism given in the groups? There are many reasons why such a rule could inhibit creativity. I wonder how important each factor is.
[-][anonymous]10y 6

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.)

4Swimmer96310yI used to be good at this! (Or at least I used to consider myself good at this...and I still can be quite good at it in circumstances when I have to, or when the person concerned is already someone I'm close friends with or respect.) Maybe the problem is that I'm such an emotional sponge that unless I make sure I hang out with people who have a variety of opinions, one side is going to start winning out and the emotional weights I attach to my beliefs will get messed up.

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.

4Swimmer96310yUpvoted because this is exactly what I'm getting at. Many people are currently trying to convince me of why church doesn't advance my goals...some of their arguments are valid, some I've already been over and weighed pros with cons, etc. But the reason I wrote this article was because my newfound intolerance to religion was bothering me.
0fburnaby10yI can't imagine what the arguments are in support of "church doesn't advance your goals". What are they? I know all sorts of arguments that "churches lead to all sorts of horrible political-social effects" and ones about "churches ruin some particular lives (imagine some closeted, self-hating homosexual who would have been happy in a secular background)", but if you get something from going to church, and it's your goal to do so... that seems very straight-forward.
0Swimmer96310yIt's more like "you think going to church advances your goals, but you're wrong because you haven't taken into account the fact that going to church with irrational people makes you more irrational/insane." I guess it's a reasonable assumption that one of my goals is to become more rational, given that I'm on LW, but apparently people don't give me the benefit of the doubt for having thought about that already on my own, and made a decision one way or another.
3Vaniver10yMy experience has always been that exposure to irritants makes the situation worse, not better. Controlled exposure- like in aversion therapy- might be useful, but I think a perspective change needs to be the first step.

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)

4TheOtherDave10yI pretty much agree with your premise, but end up at a different conclusion. Yes, being willing to argue a point of disagreement is an expression of respect and value, as you say. If I'm unwilling to do so when Sam expected that I'd be willing, that's evidence that I respect and value Sam less than Sam thought. (Not compelling evidence, but evidence.) That said: I'm under no obligation (moral, rational, or otherwise) to respect or value Sam in this way. "If arguing this topic with Sam is not worth my time, then I desire to know that arguing this topic with Sam is not worth my time, yadda yadda." Sure, I agree with you that erring on the side of having the argument in uncertain boundary cases is probably a good idea, for the reasons you describe. But if the expected value of having the argument is negative with reasonable confidence, I endorse not having the argument. Now, whether I use the phrase "agreeing to disagree" or "let's talk about this later" or "oh, hey, look at the time!" etc. is a whole different question. Different phrases work for different people. Personally, my preferred way of ending face-to-face arguments I don't want to engage in further is either to start saying "OK" a lot, or to maneuver the argument to a place where I can say "Sure, I agree that if X is true, then I'm wrong and you're right. I don't think X is true, but that's an empirical question; it's probably more efficient for us to go off and actually do the research rather than keep talking about it hypothetically."
0asparisi10yI actually agree with you on this. There are times when I assign a high probability on an argument being fruitless and so don't engage in the argument. My point was not that one must always argue, only that when one chooses not to argue, it is, as you say, evidence that they respect and value the person less. Even then, I would say that the decision not to argue should have some small amount of pain to it: if nothing else, sadness at the realization that the other person isn't worth your time. (I believe this will help with boundary cases where we are in agreement.) To that end, it is notable that Swimmer is not the one who chose to not argue. Charlie chose that. Which is evidence that Charlie does not value criticism and is evidence for his lack of respect for the position that he is wrong. And that realization should cause one to gnash one's teeth a little if one is put into a position where Charlie is allowed to say his piece and Swimmer is not.
5TheOtherDave10yOh, Charlie's a twit. No argument. If I find myself in a "no criticism" zone with a Charlie, I generally endorse covert criticism if I can pull it off, ignoring the no-criticism rule if the consequences are minor enough, or leaving the room altogether. All of this sadness and pain and teeth-gnashing is to my mind irrelevant, though. If I think the conversation is pointless, I disengage from the conversation. I often do feel bad about it, but I don't endorse feeling bad about it.
0dlthomas10yIt may also be possible to draw a line around what is or isn't appropriate within the no-criticism zone. If it's meant to be a safe space for sharing feelings and experiences or whatnot, drawing in metaphysics (silly or not) is strange. You could possibly discuss it with him in private.
2MixedNuts10yIAWYC. Agreeing to permanently shutting up about a topic is basically admitting one of you can't talk about it without their brain going funny, which isn't flattering. Conditionals like "not now" and "only arguments I haven't heard before" are easier to swallow.

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 :)

0Strange79ySimilar story here. I've been taking immediate concerns more seriously, and abstract things less so.

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.

0BarbaraB8yExactly. The no-criticism zone could serve the purpose of people getting to know each other. The event was for newcomers to the town, right ? "I am Suzie and I believe in homeopathy." "I am Anna and I am scientific sceptic rationalist and atheist." It is a pretty fast way to find a soulmate at a social gathering.

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?

1Swimmer96310yI'm not entirely sure that it's beliefs I've updated on. Yeah, my attitude has changed since I started spending a lot of time on LW, but I was already an atheist before, too.
0MaoShan10yI don't mean beliefs in a strictly religious sense (I didn't think that's how it's usually used here, either), but your attitude might have changed due to your deeper understanding of human psychology/biology. Then again, I'm not following you around with a notepad. So you think that you haven't learned anything useful from LessWrong?
2Swimmer96310yI have learned things, and I guess they make it easier in some ways to understand how and why people can be wrong. I have definitely learned a lot of useful things, but I don't find that 'being annoyed by religious people' is a useful thing to have learned.
0MaoShan10yWhich is why I was pointing out that "being annoyed by religious people" is a side-effect of the learning, not a behavior that you purposely adopted. I've had similar struggles myself. There are probably other social groups that dovetail your goals as well or better than the church, but sad to say, that group meetup you attended is not one of them.
1TheOtherDave10yJust because I value something after modification, and would not choose to undo the modification if I could, does not mean the modifying agent is not blameworthy for the modification.

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)

[-][anonymous]10y 0

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)

My true rejection is that them being wrong is too annoying for me to want to cooperate.

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.

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.

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)