MrHen

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Evolutionary Psychology

I don't understand the point of this post. I mean, I understand its points, but why is this post here? Is it trying to point out that: (a) intent and reality are not always -- and usually aren't -- entangled? (b) Reality happened and our little XML-style purpose tags are added post fact?

It seems odd to spend so much time saying, "Humans reproduced successfully. Anger exists in humans." If the anger part is correlated to the reproduction part it seems fair to ask, "Why did anger help reproduction?" This is a different question than, "What is the purpose of anger?" Is this difference what the article was pointing out?

To reason correctly about evolutionary psychology you must simultaneously consider many complicated abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mixup or conflation.

How is this different from any other topic?

To reason correctly about computer science you must simultaneously consider many complicated abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mixup or conflation.

To reason correctly about Starcraft II you must simultaneously consider many complicated abstract facts that are strongly related yet importantly distinct, without a single mixup or conflation.

The idea of special-casing evolutionary psychology is where I feel I am losing the plot.

Fake Morality

You wrote that disbelieving in God is not going to turn someone into a murderer because there are still plenty of good reasons to not be a murderer.

This was intended to be a counter example -- not a description of how all people work. I can imagine that someone out there would very much become a murderer if they lost religion.

...but I don't see why theu would be afraid of losing one system other than because they are afraid they will lose their morality (and become murderers). What is the other reason for being afraid?

Introspection is scary. Dismantling any large area of your belief system is also scary. I would expect that knocking over one's central morality system would (and should!) have drastic effects that would filter down throughout particular behaviors.

My only point was that pointing at the fear of becoming a murderer (or any other particular thing) does not imply an external moral system which is what I read out of the original post.


I guess each religion is the result of the developed moral intuitions of some group of thinkers, if not just one person, and if their versions of the God-source morality ring true to more people that religion will grow. In tiny towns one pastor can influence a bunch of people to buy into their version through charisma, but that religion will outlast them only if their version teaches itself to some extent thereafter without too much alteration.

The adaptability of a meme is related to truth but people often follow what they think sounds nice. Is there anything that makes religious beliefs immune to the dilemma of advertising or political rhetoric?

A central God-source morality would imply a deeper, er, source. But is it theoretically possible that some other system of morality is at work that is just as (or appears as) common as what a God-source morality provides?

(These are honest questions, but somewhat rhetorical.)

Fake Morality

Would you be willing to summarize your view in a couple sentences, even if doing so would result in a caricature of your position? The main idea I drew from your comment is that when we think about how murder is immoral, this feels like something different than just that murder is not in our best interest (even after folding in that we have self-interests in being altruistic).

Someone making a choice to do X is not necessarily making this choice for moral reasons. If (a) they are doing X for moral reasons and (b) you suddenly take away those moral reasons but (c) they continue doing X it does NOT imply that (d) there are more moral reasons lurking behind those mentioned in a.

Furthermore, if you replace b with "they fear suddenly taking away those moral reasons", d becomes less likely.


sometimes people are motivated to murder. Presumably I could be motivated to murder, and in that case, why shouldn't I? If there was a higher moral authority, I might find that the moral authority compelling enough to tip things in favor of not murdering. However, without that moral authority I'm free after all.

I don't understand this comment. Some people do murder. Do these people consider themselves immoral? To be clear, I was only talking about murder because the article did.

I think the effects of the absence of a moral authority is more obvious in more mundane aspects of life, especially in cases where you are making a choice and one choice is not obviously more moral.

Sure. My point was that the quasi-pragmatic behavior causer-thingy kicks in here, too. So does a complicated morality system. I don't have a problem with either of these things coming into play at a mundane level. What gets interesting is when the two systems collide.

For instance, if a cashier accidentally gives me five dollars extra in change, is it more or less moral to return the change? Is it more or less pragmatic? This seems to touch the same topic as EY's last bit about the two philosophers. But I don't consider this terribly relevant to my original point (even though it is interesting.)

This is slightly different that what you referred to as two moral compasses. While that is also interesting, I am currently fascinated by what happens when a moral compass disagrees with a non-moral decision making system. How does the contention get resolved? But this is mostly unrelated to my point. My point revolves around the idea that the moral and non-moral decision systems can -- and often do -- work in tandem. Removing the moral system and noting no behavior change implies more about non-moral system (or the alternative compasses) than it does about the removed system.

This is similar to EY's point but I think the distinction between a moral reason to not-murder and a non-moral reason to not-murder is key.

There is [a compass] which feels quite distinctly different, which may actually point to an action that is not immediately intuitively moral but which nevertheless feels most like the right choice. Religious training causes us to recognize this different compass, call it "God", and trust in it.

I referred to this as God-source style morality. This obviously differs drastically from person to person in terms of details (and values; and scope) but my actual point was that you cannot use the idea that someone would not become a murderer after throwing away the God-source morality as evidence against the God-source morality. There are too many other things affecting the behavior of not-murder.

That being said, the opposite is also true. You cannot (necessarily) use the idea that God-source morality systems result in not-murder as evidence for the God-source morality. In other words, the causes behind a particular behavior are complicated. Sifting through them isn't as simple as saying, "We fear becoming murderers if God stops existing; therefore there is an external morality system" which is how I interpreted the article.

That isn't to say there aren't issues or problems with God-source morality. I think the idea that all morality "comes" from God is either misleading or inaccurate. But this delves into the greater discussions around ethics which wasn't what I was intending. My point was to show why I do not consider this statement necessarily true:

The very fact that a religious person would be afraid of God withdrawing Its threat to punish them for committing murder, shows that they have a revulsion of murder which is independent of whether God punishes murder or not. If they had no sense that murder was wrong independently of divine retribution, the prospect of God not punishing murder would be no more existentially horrifying than the prospect of God not punishing sneezing.


A religious upbringing could be largely about developing a feel for this nuanced, more reliable compass within ourselves. Without a reason to elevate it, I'm afraid we might never develop a reason to 'trust' it -- especially in cases where it seems contradictory -- and instead we would follow more immediate and pragmatic compasses that aren't really reflecting the full morality we're capable of, and on top of that not have the security of following a compass that has God's approval behind it.

Except most religious upbringings are filled with drastic moral differences. Visiting a friend's house or a different church will shift all of the moral teachings. In my opinion, God-source morality is ridiculously difficult to measure. How do we externally determine who has a developed feel for the nuances and who is off their nut? The best I can tell, the answer is to compare their actions with those in the Bible. (This is assuming Christianity, since we've been talking about God this whole time.) Namely, look at the results of the Fruit of the Spirit.

But at the end of the day, you can fake that. Fakers are the wolves in sheep's clothing but... how do you know? How do you study it and poke it and walk away with an answer? Is it possible to walk up to someone and challenge their actions from moral grounds using rationality?


By the way, hello! I remember you from the last time I posted things here.

Fake Morality

Which is to say: The very fact that a religious person would be afraid of God withdrawing Its threat to punish them for committing murder, shows that they have a revulsion of murder which is independent of whether God punishes murder or not. If they had no sense that murder was wrong independently of divine retribution, the prospect of God not punishing murder would be no more existentially horrifying than the prospect of God not punishing sneezing.

If someone built a complicated morality system around the morality of God and suddenly changed it, they should be afraid. This fear doesn't necessarily stem from an, "Oh crap, I will now murder!" vibe. The idea that everything one believed about morality was wrong (or, at the very least, right for the wrong reasons) should shock them to the core. If it doesn't... then I find this statement severely misleading:

God, say the religious fundamentalists, is the source of all morality; there can be no morality without a Judge who rewards and punishes. If we did not fear hell and yearn for heaven, then what would stop people from murdering each other left and right?

It takes time to put everything back into place. If a moral system was built with a non-God-source but the person thought it was a God-source, sure, then your post makes sense. But what if that isn't actually what is happening? What if the question of wanton murder is actually just a different phrasing of the question "If not God, what is the source of morality?"

The answer to this question begins nonsensically. The issue of a religious God-sourced morality isn't that there is a real morality system behind the curtain acting as if it were God-sourced. The issue is that this external non-God-source system isn't being identified as a morality system at all and, in the extreme cases you have labeled religious fundamentalists, this external system cohabits the same control structure. "Thou shalt not murder" is not equivalent to the statement "I do not want to murder." But both thou-shalt-not-murder and I-do-not-want-to-murder result in the behavioral pattern of not-murder.

A good example of the split between these systems is the simple answer, "Because it is illegal and I will be incarcerated." Made even simpler, it is the equivalence of a knee-jerk reaction to touching a hot stove. In practice, this has little to do with morality (unless you want it to.) The idea that a hot stove hurts is a fundamental cause but I don't personally consider it a relevant indicator of a moral compass. This will certainly bleed into a morality system at some point and it makes sense that murder is closer to that bleed than eating pork. But it is my opinion that there is a distinct difference between a religious claim of a God-source morality and their pragmatic reaction to reality.

This could be a great segue into a handful of interesting topics about the definitions of morality and behavioral patterns and where the lines cross and so on. Instead, I am choosing to focus on using the claims of "murder is wrong" and "I do not want to murder" to distinguish between a moral reason to not murder and a pragmatic reason to not murder.

Stripping out the morality system doesn't (necessarily) change the other system -- nor does it necessarily change one's behavior. The idea that a behavior survives the first system (the God-source-morality system) does not imply that the second system performs the exact same role. In other words, a second system re-enforcing behavior patterns in the first system does not imply that the first system isn't really there.

Likewise, being scared of opening up, working on, and potentially dismantling or replacing the God-source-morality system is justifiable. A rebuilding of the morality system with a new source will (or should) have drastic behavioral effects. But these effects can be supplemented and carried by what I am calling the second system until the new morality system gets up and running. Disbelieving in God is not going to turn someone into a murderer because there are still plenty of good reasons to not be a murderer.

Eventually tying this back into a morality system isn't likely to be as difficult as it appears to the religious fundamentalist. In my opinion, I think it is likely that the replacement system is built independently of the God-source system and when the non-God-source morality system provides a plausible alternative, one can actually begin considering a switchover. In the meantime, there are a lot of uneasy sounding questions like, "But what about murder?" Fortunately, there are answers to those questions.

But the actual point of my comment is directed at this statement:

Even the notion that God threatens you with eternal hellfire, rather than cookies, piggybacks on a pre-existing negative value for hellfire.

Negative values are not necessarily morally negative values. "Hellfire" is likely to rack up negative points in nearly any value system -- that is sort of the point. Noting that the fear of hellfire exists outside of a God-source morality is not, in my opinion, a strong argument against God-source morality. It could simply mean that another value system is in play.

That being said, one could proffer the idea that all value is moral value and that all moral value is from the God-source. Then I would agree that such a system could not explain the intrinsic fear of hellfire. But such a system would also describe the pain from touching a hot stove as a God-source evil. In essence, "God" would just be the answer to everything which isn't really an interesting problem to solve as a rationalist. But addressing a weakness of that system as an argument against a more typical God-source morality system seems misplaced.

I could, of course, be completely missing the point... in which case, oops. :) All thoughts, corrections, what-have-you are welcome. If I am wrong, I want to know.

Those who can't admit they're wrong

Eh. I guess I don't see a problem with how the language works here. "Correction as question" probably takes longer but if people are getting confused by the process then I consider that a weakness of the particular implementation.

For example:

  • Each of the apples are green.
  • Should "each" be used with "are" or "is"? As in, "Each of the apples is green."

Your challenge is that this is now ambiguous with regards to whether or not I know the answer. Except, the point isn't what I know. The point is that there is a contention of each+are and the two separate goals of "teach correct grammar" and "learn correct grammar" can move forward in the conversation:

  • Each of the apples are green.
  • Should "each" be used with "are" or "is"? As in, "Each of the apples is green."
  • It should be used with are.

If you needed to know the answer, you got as much information as you could from this speaker. If you have questions you can continue down that path.

If, on the other had, you happen to know the answer, the conversation now forks into a direct confrontation:

  • Each of the apples are green.
  • Should "each" be used with "are" or "is"? As in, "Each of the apples is green."
  • It should be used with are.
  • I was told that each is always treated as singular and, therefore, it should be "each of the apples is green."

So, other than the inconvenience of having to insert a few sentences into the conversation, we haven't lost anything. There isn't any ambiguity and this transition was much smoother than simply saying:

  • Each of the apples are green.
  • "Each" be used with "is": "Each of the apples is green."

There are plenty of reasons why phrasing the correction as a question is helpful — your point (as I understand it) was that the ambiguity between "correction as question" and "query for information" makes the former not worth it. My counterpoint is that the ambiguity isn't a necessary component of "correction as question".


For what it is worth, I am mostly thinking of corrections that are not direct claims of fact. For instance:

  • Swedish is not the official language of Sweden.

I don't see any advantage to responding to this with a question and, personally, favor the more direct approach:

  • Swedish is not the official language of Sweden.
  • Yes it is.

If I felt obligated to take the less direct approach, I would do as such:

  • Swedish is not the official language of Sweden.
  • Oh? I thought it was.

This can stall out if the other person doesn't offer anything useful in response. (And, by the way, Swedish is the official language according to Wikipedia.)


Also of note, this all changes depending on who is making the mistake. If I happened to be talking with someone I knew favored a direct approach, I would just point out the error because they are more likely to consider that polite than beating around the bush.

Those who can't admit they're wrong

Oh, okay. I guess my form of "correction as question" is more like:

Is correct?

Those who can't admit they're wrong

Also tangential: Have you tried simply getting up to get another drink or go to the bathroom? Chances are high that (a) others will join you (b) the conversation will experience a natural segue and/or (c) the people who still care about the subject will stay behind to continue on their own.

Just a thought. I don't really know what environment you were referring to.

Those who can't admit they're wrong

That's annoying. What do you do if you're genuinely unsure if they're making a specific mistake and want to know?

How does phrasing a correction as a question limit your options? I don't understand how the specific mistake part ties into the correction as question part.

Meta: "Less Wrong" connotations?

I immediately took the title to imply both meanings and assumed it was deliberate. I did not think this was all that terribly boastful. So... I guess I agree halfway?

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