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Church vs. Taskforce

37 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2009 09:23AM

Previously in seriesCan Humanism Match Religion's Output?
Followup toIs Humanism a Religion-Substitute?

I am generally suspicious of envying crazy groups or trying to blindly copycat the rhythm of religion—what I called "hymns to the nonexistence of God", replying, "A good 'atheistic hymn' is simply a song about anything worth singing about that doesn't happen to be religious."

But religion does fill certain holes in people's minds, some of which are even worth filling.  If you eliminate religion, you have to be aware of what gaps are left behind.

If you suddenly deleted religion from the world, the largest gap left would not be anything of ideals or morals; it would be the church, the community.  Among those who now stay religious without quite really believing in God—how many are just sticking to it from wanting to stay with their neighbors at the church, and their family and friends?  How many would convert to atheism, if all those others deconverted, and that were the price of staying in the community and keeping its respect?  I would guess... probably quite a lot.

In truth... this is probably something I don't understand all that well, myself.  "Brownies and babysitting" were the first two things that came to mind.  Do churches lend helping hands in emergencies?  Or just a shoulder to cry on?  How strong is a church community?  It probably depends on the church, and in any case, that's not the correct question.  One should start by considering what a hunter-gatherer band gives its people, and ask what's missing in modern life—if a modern First World church fills only some of that, then by all means let us try to do better.

So without copycatting religion—without assuming that we must gather every Sunday morning in a building with stained-glass windows while the children dress up in formal clothes and listen to someone sing—let's consider how to fill the emotional gap, after religion stops being an option.

To help break the mold to start with—the straitjacket of cached thoughts on how to do this sort of thing—consider that some modern offices may also fill the same role as a church.  By which I mean that some people are fortunate to receive community from their workplaces: friendly coworkers who bake brownies for the office, whose teenagers can be safely hired for babysitting, and maybe even help in times of catastrophe...?  But certainly not everyone is lucky enough to find a community at the office.

Consider further—a church is ostensibly about worship, and a workplace is ostensibly about the commercial purpose of the organization.  Neither has been carefully optimized to serve as a community.

Looking at a typical religious church, for example, you could suspect—although all of these things would be better tested experimentally, than just suspected—

  • That getting up early on a Sunday morning is not optimal;
  • That wearing formal clothes is not optimal, especially for children;
  • That listening to the same person give sermons on the same theme every week ("religion") is not optimal;
  • That the cost of supporting a church and a pastor is expensive, compared to the number of different communities who could time-share the same building for their gatherings;
  • That they probably don't serve nearly enough of a matchmaking purpose, because churches think they're supposed to enforce their medieval moralities;
  • That the whole thing ought to be subject to experimental data-gathering to find out what works and what doesn't.

By using the word "optimal" above, I mean "optimal under the criteria you would use if you were explicitly building a community qua community".  Spending lots of money on a fancy church with stained-glass windows and a full-time pastor makes sense if you actually want to spend money on religion qua religion.

I do confess that when walking past the churches of my city, my main thought is "These buildings look really, really expensive, and there are too many of them."  If you were doing it over from scratch... then you might have a big building that could be used for the occasional wedding, but it would be time-shared for different communities meeting at different times on the weekend, and it would also have a nice large video display that could be used for speakers giving presentations, lecturers teaching something, or maybe even showing movies.  Stained glass?  Not so high a priority.

Or to the extent that the church membership lends a helping hand in times of trouble—could that be improved by an explicit rainy-day fund or contracting with an insurer, once you realized that this was an important function?  Possibly not; dragging explicit finance into things changes their character oddly.  Conversely, maybe keeping current on some insurance policies should be a requirement for membership, lest you rely too much on the community...  But again, to the extent that churches provide community, they're trying to do it without actually admitting that this nearly all of what people get out of it.  Same thing with the corporations whose workplaces are friendly enough to serve as communities; it's still something of an accidental function.

Once you start thinking explicitly about how to give people a hunter-gatherer band to belong to, you can see all sorts of things that sound like good ideas.  Should you welcome the newcomer in your midst?  The pastor may give a sermon on that sometime, if you think church is about religion.  But if you're explicitly setting out to build community—then right after a move is when someone most lacks community, when they most need your help.  It's also an opportunity for the band to grow.  If anything, tribes ought to be competing at quarterly exhibitions to capture newcomers.

But can you really have a community that's just a community—that isn't also an office or a religion?  A community with no purpose beyond itself?

Maybe you can.  After all, hunter-gatherer tribes have any purposes beyond themselves?—well, there was survival and feeding yourselves, that was a purpose.

But anything that people have in common, especially any goal they have in common, tends to want to define a community.  Why not take advantage of that?

Though in this age of the Internet, alas, too many binding factors have supporters too widely distributed to form a decent band—if you're the only member of the Church of the Subgenius in your city, it may not really help much.  It really is different without the physical presence; the Internet does not seem to be an acceptable substitute at the current stage of the technology.

So to skip right to the point—

Should the Earth last so long, I would like to see, as the form of rationalist communities, taskforces focused on all the work that needs doing to fix up this world.  Communities in any geographic area would form around the most specific cluster that could support a decent-sized band.  If your city doesn't have enough people in it for you to find 50 fellow Linux programmers, you might have to settle for 15 fellow open-source programmers... or in the days when all of this is only getting started, 15 fellow rationalists trying to spruce up the Earth in their assorted ways.

That's what I think would be a fitting direction for the energies of communities, and a common purpose that would bind them together.  Tasks like that need communities anyway, and this Earth has plenty of work that needs doing, so there's no point in waste.  We have so much that needs doing—let the energy that was once wasted into the void of religious institutions, find an outlet there.  And let purposes admirable without need for delusion, fill any void in the community structure left by deleting religion and its illusionary higher purposes.

Strong communities built around worthwhile purposes:  That would be the shape I would like to see for the post-religious age, or whatever fraction of humanity has then gotten so far in their lives.

Although... as long as you've got a building with a nice large high-resolution screen anyway, I wouldn't mind challenging the idea that all post-adulthood learning has to take place in distant expensive university campuses with teachers who would rather be doing something else.  And it's empirically the case that colleges seem to support communities quite well.  So in all fairness, there are other possibilities for things you could build a post-theistic community around.

Is all of this just a dream?  Maybe.  Probably.  It's not completely devoid of incremental implementability, if you've got enough rationalists in a sufficiently large city who have heard of the idea.  But on the off-chance that rationality should catch on so widely, or the Earth should last so long, and that my voice should be heard, then that is the direction I would like to see things moving in—as the churches fade, we don't need artificial churches, but we do need new idioms of community.

 

Part of the sequence The Craft and the Community

Next post: "Rationality: Common Interest of Many Causes"

Previous post: "Can Humanism Match Religion's Output?"

Comments (84)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 28 March 2009 12:31:44PM 14 points [-]

One possibility is that churches, by being hypothetically obligatory to all, produce communities with approximate gender balance. By emphasizing inclusiveness they create a place for those who display sub-typical signs of selective fitness, people who hunter-gatherer instincts promote rejecting to avoid social contamination. With conformity they encourage such people not to drag the group down overly much. All of these features seem unlikely to form in natural communities if they are pursued explicitly. By default people join communities that appealed to their gender, communities that signaled status through membership or both. Most non-religious communities with ideals of inclusiveness also emphasize tolerance and individuality, leading to the less severe physical equivalent of trolls.

The closest thing that I have found to a secular church really is probably a gym. Far better than church in most respects, but not up to the standard this post seems to aspire to.

Comment author: robzahra 28 March 2009 11:21:36PM *  8 points [-]

Michael: "The closest thing that I have found to a secular church really is probably a gym."

Perhaps in the short run we could just use the gym directly, or analogs. Aristotle's Peripatetic school and other notable thinkers who walked suggests that having people walking while talking, thinking, and socializing is worth some experimentation. This could be done by walking outside or on parallel exercise machines in a gym (would be informative which worked better to tease out what it is about walking that improves thinking, assuming the hypothesized causality is true). Michael, I realize you are effectively already doing this.

-Rob Zahra

Comment author: AlexU 31 March 2009 01:42:46PM 3 points [-]

One obvious implication of this is that we should be making our homes in warmer climates. Even if you, personally, have high resistance to foul weather, it's going to be tougher to get people to walk and converse with you year-round in Boston than it would be in Miami.

This conflicts with the observation that, at least in modern times, the colder parts of the world have tended to produce the better thinkers. I'm not sure it would be smart to move from Cambridge to South Beach in hopes of leading a more intellectually fruitful life...

Comment author: thomblake 02 April 2009 08:16:53PM 0 points [-]

Yes, it's been noted (I don't have the citation handy) that internet startups, for instance, work better in places with warmer climates, presumably for this reason (though Boston seems to be a notable counterexample).

in modern times, the colder parts of the world have tended to produce the better thinkers.

I would take the Bay Area to be a counterexample to this.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 19 December 2010 07:48:57AM 2 points [-]

The Caribbean, India, Brazil, Mali, Saudi Arabia. These places are hot, not the Bay Area.

In any case. From a somewhat global experience: Colder-> More productivity and Intelligence I suppose this happens because: Warm -> More places to go -> more gatherings -> More friends and mates -> More time spent on humour, social display, human contact, warmness, swimming etc... -> more groups -> Lower maximal threshold of intelligence for a conversation (Conversation with too much inferential distance regarding almost any topic or moral sense between Alpha and Omega, thus requiring "Friends series" level of superficial-ness to work) -> Less need to commit brains to intelligence of non-humour non-pragmatic-money-work kind

If you have great and funny friends by the swimming pool, and your status decreases every time your intelligence triggers, why exactly will you read Principia Mathematica?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 19 December 2010 08:05:12AM 0 points [-]

There's been some speculation that one reason warmer areas have been less productive is that they were more conducive to having parasites around which reduced the average intelligence of the population (which could have also longer-lasting impact on culture and values after the parasites have been eradticated). Hookworm and Guinea worm seem to be the most commonly mentioned examples of this. The good news is that if this is correct then the ongoing projects to eradicate parasites should help raise the general intelligence of the population.

One thing to keep in mind here is that what matters most for people being really smart is the size of the far end of the tail of the distribution (since that's where the smart people who accomplish things lie). So a small shift in the bell curve can result in a large shift in the relative fraction of the population that is far right enough in the distribution.

Comment author: ciphergoth 31 March 2009 01:52:37PM 0 points [-]

Well, what's the Internet for if not this? Wear a headset and chat to interesting people while using an exercise machine...

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 29 March 2009 07:14:47AM *  3 points [-]

Interesting. I also combine walking and thinking -- even in the office (thankfully, we have a 'thinking corridor'). My ideal daily dose is about 7 kilometers (4.34 miles), but unfortunately it's difficult to find a good thinking route in a city -- too much cars, too few forests.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 September 2010 05:27:29PM 2 points [-]

I regularly combine thinking and walking as well. I try to walk outside for at least a half hour daily, preferably along an unfamiliar path or in a new pattern. I find that this is a good time to integrate new information via insights. This could be because my mind is at ease, and the novel sequence of environmental stimuli may be conducive to avoiding cached thoughts.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 28 March 2009 12:37:56PM 4 points [-]

Hmm. Just realized that what casually appear to me to be the most popular gym chains, the YMCA and its Jewish imitator the JCC, and the most popular gym sport, yoga, all have nominally religious origins (though I'm not sure any meaning for "religious" that includes Christianity and Hinduism is a natural kind).

Comment author: danlucraft 06 February 2011 03:45:42PM *  1 point [-]

The closest thing to a secular church that I have ever encountered are Light Opera Societies. In the UK lots of towns above a certain (quite small) size have one.

They pursue harmless but uplifting goals. The goals are challenging, but achievable. Participants must follow the instructions of a group leader precisely. Participants must learn to trust other group members. Performing in front of others is a fairly intense social experience. Once you have signed up, attendance every week is almost mandatory for a significant period of time.

EDIT: for those not into this kind of thing, Light Opera means Gilbert and Sullivan, or Singing in the Rain.

Comment author: pre 28 March 2009 12:30:56PM *  10 points [-]

Yes! Community matters. The support and friendship my folks get from their church is so intense, so useful to them, that I stopped trying to talk 'em out of their religion when I understood it. Unless you can replace that, give them that support and encouragement they got when my brother went schizophrenic say, you may well do them a disservice by talking them out of their religion even it if were possible.

Personally I get mine from a few places. The subgenii thing doesn't really work well enough, there's maybe two dozen of us active here in the whole continent. We can do about two get-togethers a year and have to fly in cross continental airplanes to do it. Lucky if half of us turn up at one one event. If you don't also happen to be a heavy drinker you're probably not going to fit in all that well either. The fact it's so focused against something rather than for something can also be tricky. It's deliberately exclusive.

More useful to me is the art community. The four nine one gallery even have a building. Squatted, of course. Nobody involved there has enough money to buy or even rent a building. The entire ethos of the folks who originally squatted that building was to use that previously unused space to encourage community projects. They use it for parties and for yoga classes and for drawing classes and there's a cafe. There's always people moving through, using the space. We'll be using it for this years subgenius party come X-Day. They're some of the most accepting friendly people I know. Having accepting, friendly leaders is surely important.

Another friend is in the process, this week even, of arranging a peppercorn rent with a landlord to move into and renovate a dilapidated building over five years, using it as a community center in the mean time. I expect I'll do what I can to help, but I'm busy and it's quite far from where I live.

Planet Angel aim to have a building, and to use it for similar purposes. We run monthly clubbing events to try and build that community and raise the cash to get a building through official channels rather than squatting. Well over half my friendship circle have come to me though PA over the last seven or eight years. The key to that being anything other than just another night club is the lack of any advertising. Spreading through word of mouth means 'like minded' people are the only people that come. You don't get so much of the idiot trendy clubbing crowd that could destroy the friendly atmosphere. We try to organize bring-the-whole-family events a few times a year too, the night-clubbing thing is pretty restrictive if you really want to build a community.

The thing all these projects (except the subgenii one) have in common, the thing that drives whatever amount of success we're getting, is acceptance though. None of them would work at all if we tried to include only rationalists, only the smart, only the top 5% intellectually. Indeed, they all (including the subgenii thing) include people with weird ideas about reality, people who aren't all that smart, people who'd be bored reading lesswrong in about two minutes flat.

I think this is a good thing too. It's pointless to be a lone rationalist, or an exclusive group. You gotta find some way to preach to the masses, and that's only going to happen if you accept the masses, and give them that community they're after, fill the community hole in their brains that people seem to find particularly hard to fill in big cities.

Yet you also can't afford to grow so quickly that the group-norms are washed away, flooded with the wider society's norms.

It's a tricky problem

Comment author: cousin_it 28 March 2009 02:13:40PM 5 points [-]

It's pointless to be a lone rationalist

Surely you mean "a lone altruist". A lone rationalist can be very successful. Sorry about the nitpick, but Eliezer has recently been trying to conflate the two words for whatever aims.

Comment author: pre 28 March 2009 02:30:23PM 2 points [-]

Well, I meant that being a lone rationist doesn't spread rationalism, essentially. If that's the motive, you need to be more accepting of those that aren't in order to move them towards the path.

Comment author: cousin_it 28 March 2009 03:29:59PM *  12 points [-]

You've nailed exactly what worries me in your comment and the original post. You see, belief systems that aim for self-propagation are prone to turn really icky over time. A scientist doesn't want above all else to spread the scientific worldview, a painter doesn't set out to make everyone else paint, even a pickup artist has no desire to make all males alphas - they all have other, concrete goals; but religious or political views have to be viral. There's any number of movements whose adherents have a priority of spreading the word, and right now I can't think of a single such movement I'd want to be associated with.

Comment author: pre 28 March 2009 05:02:37PM 3 points [-]

There's any number of movements whose adherents have a priority of spreading the word, and right now I can't think of a single such movement I'd want to be associated with.

Innit. Personally I think I get more out of a community with a wide range of views anyway.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 09:12:04AM 5 points [-]

Like violence, there are understandable reasons to be squeamish about evangelism, but if you forswear it, you hand victory to those who do not.

Rather than not talk about it, we should analyse the bad consequences we fear from evangelism, and try to figure out how to get the good things while avoiding the bad things. This may not have been done before, but it would be a mistake to be so stuck on the outside view that you come to believe that only what has already been done is possible.

Comment author: cousin_it 30 March 2009 07:31:21PM *  12 points [-]

My examples indicate it's not necessary to hand victory to others. Science didn't spread due to evangelism, science spread because it works. Art spreads because people love it. This is the standard we should be holding ourselves to.

Evangelism is the equivalent of proactive sales with an inferior product. A good evangelist/salesman can push through negative-sum deals, actually destroying total value in the world. If you've spent time in the IT industry, you recognize this picture.

Eliezer said repeatedly that rationalists should WIN. Great, now won't anyone take this phrase seriously? I don't want a rationalist technique to make myself pure from racism or somesuch crap. I want a rationalist technique to WIN. Fo' real. Develop it, and the world will beat a path to your door.

Right now you (we) have no product, and preaching is no substitute.

Comment author: ciphergoth 30 March 2009 09:30:16PM 2 points [-]

I have to say that I'm really enjoying lesswrong.com so far; so much of this is the sort of conversation I want to be having. I'm not convinced, I'm thinking about it, but you should make a top-level post about this, it would benefit from having more people in the discussion.

Comment author: cousin_it 31 March 2009 11:20:57AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for the encouragement! I wrote it up, should show under Recent Posts.

Comment deleted 28 March 2009 02:21:43PM [-]
Comment author: pre 28 March 2009 02:31:23PM 2 points [-]

I've never been to a mensa meeting. On the web they seem to do little other than congratulate each other for being so smart. Do they do more when they meet in meatspace?

Comment deleted 28 March 2009 06:13:51PM [-]
Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2009 09:18:42PM 2 points [-]

I attended a Mensa meeting. It seemed around the level of a small regional science-fiction convention. Not really enough for me to have conversations with people.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 11:54:39AM 2 points [-]

I went to Orbital 2008 in London largely in the hope of having such conversations, and despite IIRC 1500 attendees I found it a lot harder than I had hoped. I suspect that I could do better in future by making more advance effort to find the right people and bring them together; I'm inclined to try to do so for Orbital 2010.

Comment author: thomblake 02 April 2009 08:00:16PM 8 points [-]

teachers who would rather be doing something else

It seems to me you're thinking of school here, not university - it's not been my experience that teaching professors don't like teaching. As my mentor put it, (paraphrased) "Grading papers is what we get paid for - teaching we would do anyway".

Comment author: MBlume 02 April 2009 08:04:28PM 6 points [-]

As a current TA, agreed completely. I would gladly hang out in the physics study room and help random undergraduates even if I didn't have assigned office hours. Gradaing I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot-pole.

Comment author: jedharris 28 March 2009 03:05:03PM 8 points [-]

The Homebrew computer club was pretty much the kind of community that Eliezer describes, it had a big effect on the development of digital systems. Same probably true for the model railroad club at MIT (where the PDP architecture was created) but I know less about that. The MIT AI lab was also important that way, and welcomed random people from outside (including kids). So this pattern has been important in tech development for at least 60 years.

There are lots of get togethers around common interests -- see e.g. Perlmonger groups in various cities. See the list of meetups in your city.

Recently "grass roots organizing" has taken on this character but it is explicitly partisan (though not strongly ideological). The main example I know of is Democrats for America, which came from the Dean campaign in 2004 but outlasted it. It is controlled by the members, not by any party apparatus, and hosts weekly community flavored pizza meetups.

There are also more movable communities like music festivals, the national deadhead network that attended concerts (no longer so active), Burning Man, etc. These tend to be very strong support communities for their members while they are in session (providing medical, social, and dispute resolution services, etc.) but are otherwise only latent.

Comment author: roland 28 March 2009 11:50:56PM *  7 points [-]

One problem I heard about communities is that they often START with a purpose, but later END as self-serving institutions.

At the time I was still a christian a pastor once told an interesting story. I don't know if this is fictional or if it really happened, I'm relating it as I remember. There was a place with a lot of ship accidents and when that happened volunteers had to go to see for rescue. They decided to fund a rescue association so as to be more organized. Over time the association grew and they started to have social events like parties, etc... So it once happened that while they where all partying another ship accident happened, and so another group of volunteers went to help while the association was partying. They founded another rescue association. This cycle repeated itself until there where around 5 or so associations with the same purpose.

Now, the pastor told the story to make a point for the church. From my own experience having been a member of lots of churches it is always the case that they become self-serving and if you think of it, it's hard to expect otherwise. Humans are just selfish and if you join an association you often ask "what's in for me?"

So maybe we should just start with a simple plan, like make a rationalist meeting for like-minded people, and then see what we can grow from that. Personally I wouldn't have too high expectations.

Btw, I live in Rio de Janeiro(Brazil), if anyone is interested to meet in person, send me a message.

Comment author: Yvain 28 March 2009 12:11:13PM *  7 points [-]

How is this significantly different from the Lions Club and Kiwanis, crossed with the local atheist organization?

I see how it's more rationalist-oriented than the Kiwanis, and more service-oriented than the Atheist Club. And they could probably get more charitable value for money by focusing on high-utility causes - if the rationalists were high-level enough, which the sort of people who respond to "rationalist club" ads might not be. But does "altruist rationalists" correspond to such a significant cluster in personspace that they need their own club? And is this just "we should start a fraternal organization"?

These clubs are interesting and do some good work, but I don't hear people speaking of them in the same breath as religion (except maybe when they get mystical, like the Freemasons).

Comment author: Demosthenes 29 March 2009 04:04:29AM 2 points [-]

Yvain is spot on; secular service organization already exist and function. I have occasionally attended some meetings at a Rotary club and it usually involves eating, a list of ongoing activities, community highlights and recognition of visiting members.

What is special about the way a rationalist helps people? Maybe starting a program to fund probability and philosophy of science classes in the community?

Law school sounds like the best option for finding fellow argumentative atheists.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 08:25:04AM 4 points [-]

A lawyer's expertise is in rationalization, not rationality. Of course, many lawyers may also be excellent rationalists, but my experience is that they're not generally very sciency people.

Comment author: Demosthenes 29 March 2009 06:48:17PM 0 points [-]

That was my point; I was making a dig on the goals of argumentative atheists looking for a support group vs people who might want to advance rationalist goals

Comment author: MichaelVassar 28 March 2009 12:40:16PM 4 points [-]

Serious altruist atheists are likely to take rationalism fairly seriously, creating a correlation that creates a cluster in personspace.

Comment author: Tom_Talbot 28 March 2009 05:27:52PM 20 points [-]

Re: incremental implementability - if we ever do organise LessWrong meetups, we should organise rationalist book clubs. How many people here have actually read Judgement under Uncertainty? I confess I never got around to it, though I meant to, but knowing fellow readers might motivate me.

And another thing, when are we going to get a LessWrong wiki? The glut of information here and on OB is unmanageable and we ought to force some kind of order on it - a rationalist curriculum or cheat sheet or something. Having "previously in series" at the top of new posts leads to an impenetrable expanding tree of long blog posts, discouraging new members and confusing lazy and forgetful individuals such as myself.

Comment author: MichaelGR 28 March 2009 10:23:39PM 5 points [-]

++ Book club

It would definitely be a great addition to the toolkit. Main benefits would be:

1) More shared experiences would probably help strengthen community

2) More shared knowledge to build on in LW/OC posts

3) Difficult books become less intimidating when you know you can ask others for elucidations

4) Building an archive of discussions about certain books could be tremendously helpful to newcomers (wouldn't you have liked to find such an archive a few years ago?)

Comment author: [deleted] 13 October 2011 04:53:31PM *  0 points [-]

+1 point for stating the obvious, yet not yet done. I also strongly recommend having a book club. I love HPMoR, but it's definitely not the only work of fiction worth discussing. So, everyone, LET'S DO IT!

edit: I meant online, not just in real life. It should be a section on this site, perhaps next to discussion and main?

Comment author: lessdazed 13 October 2011 05:07:01PM 2 points [-]

How about a pdf club for shorter things?

Comment author: Jack 13 October 2011 05:38:17PM 0 points [-]

I think this is a great idea. For a lot of people involvement in Less Wrong is somewhat sporadic and committing to reading long-form non-fiction is implausible. By the third chapter no one is left. Getting used to discussing journal articles or standalone chapters might make tackling longer texts easier, too.

Does any have things they'd like to read, say, between 30 and 100 pages? What about Scott Aaronson's "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity?"

Comment author: [deleted] 13 October 2011 09:52:16PM 3 points [-]

HPMoR is already more than a thousand pages. I don't think we are being fair to other works.

The problem here is that HPMoR is a fanfic, while books are books. Fanfics are read chapters at a time, yet books are read in their entirety.

Chapter by chapter discussions of FFs make sense. However, for books they become tiresome. Think about all the people that want to read the next chapter already.

Why not just have one thread per book, where people can discuss anything they want? Chapters, quotes, themes, etc?

Comment author: dlthomas 13 October 2011 10:31:01PM 0 points [-]

We should at least be able to specify minimum chapter requirements, so we can discuss without spoiler disclaimers everywhere.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 October 2011 01:21:42AM 1 point [-]

I think people should just live through it and wait until they finish the book to ask. In my own experience, I remember having questions about a specific line/chapter and then by the end I realize what the answer to the question was, or I realized the question was insignificant. It would be better if people wrote notes of things to discuss while reading the book and at the end they posted what they wanted to talk about. An added benefit of this is self quality control.

Comment author: gwern 28 March 2009 07:34:41PM 2 points [-]

And another thing, when are we going to get a LessWrong wiki?

Why not take over the SL4 wiki? It's not like they're using it.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2009 09:19:27PM 3 points [-]

SL4.org is unreliable, if we're going to have a wiki it should be hosted on-site.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 12:07:05AM 2 points [-]

I think that at the moment a wiki would be trouble. NPOV and the ultimate power of Jimbo are what make Wikipedia work. Other wikis work because what they discuss is not that contentious.

Comment author: gwern 29 March 2009 01:42:32AM 6 points [-]

Whoa now. Wikis aren't just about compiling neutral encyclopedia articles or FAQs or things of that nature. Remember that the original wiki was all about contentious (programming) discussions & ideas.

Comment author: William 29 March 2009 05:04:01AM 7 points [-]

Agreed. TVTropes works very well without any but the lightest semblance of neutrality.

Warning, though: It is horrendously addictive

Comment author: MBlume 29 March 2009 09:13:58AM 9 points [-]

Ironically enough, I just clicked through to see what was behind "horrendously addictive" and lost half an hour.

Comment author: CannibalSmith 29 March 2009 12:37:49PM 14 points [-]

JUST HALF AN HOUR!?

Comment author: haig 29 March 2009 07:58:44AM *  4 points [-]

We don't want to create a new religion, but whatever we create to take the place of it needs to offer at least as much as that which it replaces, so we might end up actually needing a new 'religion' whether we like it or not. If indeed there is a biological predisposition for humans to want to engage in 'worship', then we might as well worship rationally. I hesitate to call this new organization a religion or the practice worship, those are the things they are replacing, but those words get my idea across.

How about we create a church-like organization that has local congregations and meets weekly to listen to talks on rationality, the latest scientific discoveries, lectures on philosophy, the state of the world, etc. And they don't need to lack beauty or awe. A weekly dose of the unimaginable beauty of biology, or astrophysics, or even economics, in a shared setting, would sure add value to my life. A 'bible study' about fermi's paradox would have made my day as a child. We can tug on the emotions as much as traditional religions without being irrational.

And the missionary arm would maintain the rationality of the 'church'. If the catholic pope denounces condoms in africa, then our 'church' goes one further and starts a viral campaign to not only spread the reason why the pope is wrong, but gets creative and sets up condom donations or incentive structures to promote their use, or whatever.

I know there are many organizations that promote skepticism, secular humanism, reason, enlightenment, etc. but don't know if they are widespread, have local chapters that meet regularly, or have much of a following.

And yes, 'canonizing' the vast information to make it more accessible would help a lot.

UPDATE: In regards to the post wondering how this all would be different from the atheist groups and other such organizations that currently exist, well, that is the rub isn't it. Those have the right idea but aren't successful....how can we make one succeed? Or, can we prove that one can't succeed so as to not waste any more time over it.

Comment author: Ford 06 April 2011 12:21:27AM 0 points [-]

A "church-like organization that has local congregations and meets weekly to listen to talks on rationality, the latest scientific discoveries, lectures on philosophy, the state of the world, etc."?

Sounds like a Unitarian fellowship, at least the ones I know. Some may be closer to their Protestant roots, though. Of course, they also have talks on irrationality ("spirituality") and, while atheists and other rationalists are certainly welcome, aggressive promotion of any particular world-view is discouraged.

Comment author: BradTaylor 28 March 2009 10:38:16AM *  9 points [-]

A persuasive school of thought in the economics of religion suggests that in order to build community, churches often artificially increase barriers to exit and require all sorts of crazy behaviour to signal commitment, thus preventing free-riding. Irrational belief and the accompanying ritual seems to be pretty good at this. I'm not too sure how a rationalist community would fare in this respect...

Comment author: cabalamat 28 March 2009 02:03:51PM 6 points [-]

At least for now, most people are not atheists/rationalists. Atheism may seem to be a crazy behaviour to a lot of people! So maybe one can signal commitment by publically associating oneself with an atheist/rationalist organisation.

Comment author: BradTaylor 30 March 2009 05:12:42AM *  2 points [-]

I think a lot of religious signaling works because folks can signal commitment to a particular religious community. While publicly being an atheist/rationalist may make it harder to join a religious group, thus keeping you an atheist, I doubt it commits you to a particular organization. It seems to me that part of the reason religious communities are so stable is that so much of an individual's identity is tied to believing in this particular organization, having these particular goals, or following this particular charismatic leader. Strong and unqualified loyalty to a particular group seems at odds with rationalism.

Comment author: MBlume 29 March 2009 09:16:42AM 2 points [-]

Brad, HTML markup doesn't work in comments. The syntax you want to use is link text in square brackets, followed immediately by URL in parentheses. While working on a comment, you can click "help" (just below and on the right of the edit box) to see more.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 April 2015 06:25:03PM *  3 points [-]

And what level of responsibility would this community take upon itself? If on a wintry night the police will drive, beating and kicking, unarmed protesters down the street, will it let the protesters in and leave the police out? Mikhailivsky Cathedral in Kyiv did it, on the night of December 1st, 2013, if I remember it right, and later let people rest inside and served as a hospital base. A protestant church in Luteranska str. also served as a hospital.

I'm not saying this is behavior expected only of churches.

I am saying that 1) the churches occupy a position outside common law, in people's eyes (after all, Berkut could force the doors), 2) if you are seeking to outperform something, you should steelman it like there's no tomorrow, 3) if you think churches just 'fill a hole' in bored and scared people's minds, then yeah, you can go fill it yourself, just don't expect the protesters survive it. Edit: 2013, not '14.

Comment author: teageegeepea 29 March 2009 02:43:05AM 3 points [-]

As a Stirnerite too apathetic and unsociable to pursue even a Union of Egoists, I have no helpful advice to give rather than nitpicks.

It seemed very odd to me that Eliezer seemed to imagine hunter-gatherer bands as intentional communities (which I admit to also being interested in on an abstract level) rather than tribes of related individuals, a sort of proto-clan. More like the ideal of the National Anarchists than Seasteaders, however less appealing we may find the former. Eliezer seems to endorse something like antinatalism, which runs contrary to successful tribalism. The Shakers disappeared pretty quickly, because you can't just rely on converts and people are naturally going to be attracted to more pro-natalist institutions.

I agree with Brad Taylor on certain factors we might consider irrational being integral to the success of religious institutions. Using one of Hopefully Anonymous' favorite phrases, succesful institutions are non-transparently about self-perpetuation and will sacrifice other ideals (seeming irrational from that idealistic perspective) to serve that purpose.

The idea of infiltrating an institution to take it over is known as "entryism" and is most closely associated with Trotskyites.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 05 April 2013 02:28:45PM *  0 points [-]

As I understand it, the Shakers were knocked out by the advent of state-run orphanages (partly at the behest of furniture-makers in competition with the Shakers).

They had had a steady supply, then they couldn't adapt. Of course, given their positions, it's hard to see what they could have done.

Comment author: dreeves 12 April 2009 06:08:10PM 5 points [-]

Just as a comment on labels, I used to be an "evangelical atheist" but this essay by Sam Harris changed my mind:

http://richarddawkins.net/article,1702,The-Problem-with-Atheism,Sam-Harris

Excerpt:

...I'm not saying that racism is no longer a problem in this country, but anyone who thinks that the problem is as bad as it ever was has simply forgotten, or has never learned, how bad, in fact, it was.

So, we can now ask, how have people of good will and common sense gone about combating racism? There was a civil rights movement, of course. The KKK was gradually battered to the fringes of society. There have been important and, I think, irrevocable changes in the way we talk about race—our major newspapers no longer publish flagrantly racist articles and editorials as they did less than a century ago—but, ask yourself, how many people have had to identify themselves as "non-racists" to participate in this process? Is there a "non-racist alliance" somewhere for me to join?

Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn't really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as "non-racism" is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.

Comment author: James_Miller 28 March 2009 12:23:49PM 7 points [-]

Deleting religion from the world would increase many peoples' fear of death. Also, to reject all faiths you almost have to admit to yourself that after this life their is only eternal nothingness. Fear of death is so strong that many people try to convince themselves that a belief they "know" is irrational could be true.

So might an increase in the popularity of cryonics give a huge boost to rationalist organization builders?

Comment author: MBlume 29 March 2009 09:20:15AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: CCC 31 January 2013 09:54:20AM *  2 points [-]

When looking at examples of community, as community, it is probably a good idea to look for other types of communities as well, and identify common factors.

One other, successful type of community (which, like the desired community, is volunteer-run, and consists of people with a shared goal of self-improvement) is Toastmasters. The self-improvement in question is in the narrow realms of communication (especially as regards speeches) and leadership, but a lot of the basic principles would probably carry over reasonably well to a rationalist community.

Comment author: DBreneman 11 May 2011 09:37:42PM *  2 points [-]

I think the community that I grew up in might have something that can be looked into as a sort of semi-example. I grew up in a rural town, and it had no shortage of religiosity, but most community events didn't happen at the churches. There were weekly sermons sure, but marriages, town hall meetings, debates, just about any big event would happen at our Grange hall .

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_National_Grange_of_the_Order_of_Patrons_of_Husbandry , it's basically freemasonry for farmers)

The grange serves as sort of a meta-communal arranger of all the sub-communities of the town's religions; we have a dozen flavors of christian including catholic and jehova's witnesses, mormons, quite a few jewish people, a very few muslims, and even less atheists. But all of those groups have sub-populations belonging to the Grange, and they all get along at grange meetings fairly well. It's like it was a neutral ground, where they could all go to get things done.

Probably not a perfect example, but it's the cached thought that came to my mind as an example when i was reading this.

Comment author: nescius 30 March 2009 08:12:23AM 2 points [-]

Folks get a variety of satisfactions/comforts from church membership. Community does seem like a big one, but nebulous.

I think one of the greater draws of church community is a sense of being valued. For the self-assured this motivator might be hard to grasp. (Conversely, those of low self-esteem might overestimate its importance.) Anyway, I recommend research into the psychological problems correlating with religiosity. I haven't seen such studies in particular, but I've seen studies of psychological problems associated with conservatism and "Right-Wing Authoritarianism", which are mindsets correlated with religiosity. Fear of death and difficulty coping with chaos are two prominent traits.

Not to say that the urges towards church community are all pathologies. Just that certain "holes" might be keener felt when neuroses impinge. The terms "hole" and "gap" feel loaded. It might be easy to misread these terms as implying unnatural deficiencies rather than natural needs — like the gap in my stomach half a day after my last meal — even if holes are allowed as perhaps "even worth filling."

Service also promotes a sense of personal worth.

I believe that valuation of membership (or at least the perception of such by members) is fundamental to all "community"-like organizations. Maybe it's explicit ("Jesus loves you. This organization is supposed to be about promoting his teachings.") or maybe it's implicit (by serving the public, a valuation of all is implied).

You cannot support an organization that does not support you. And the more folks fear for their well-being (fearing death or instability), the stronger they'll want and seek the assurance of being cared for (by organization or by deity).

Why there isn't a world-wide "Mutual Care Society" but there are plenty of Objectivist clubs... Well, I trust there are details that somehow save my above ideas from invalidation...

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 30 March 2009 02:44:16AM 2 points [-]

Eliezer jumps from the ostensible purpose of churches to the claim that they are not optimized for community. The ostensible purpose doesn't tell us much! Churches look to me to have a lot of optimization for community.

I do not claim that churches are optimal but I doubt it is as easy to improve on them as Eliezer implies. The very items he points to look to me to be powerful rituals. Maybe those rituals serve some purpose (eg, brainwashing) other than community, but it is important to understand the data we have about organizing humans. Communities are slow and expensive experimental subjects.

Comment author: roland 29 March 2009 12:06:15AM *  2 points [-]

Someone already mentioned a wiki, my suggestion is:

-there needs to be a place to announce rationalist meetings, a page where you can look up your country/city and join a rationalist community or create a new one.

-MENSA could be an inspiration and a place to look for members(although this idea to fish members from another organization has the potential to generate friction).

-there is already too much information on this site, tons of postings and this thread alone now has 28 comments(and counting), I'm not going to invest a lot of time to wade through this quagmire, sorry. Not that information is bad, but my time is limited, hence I second the motion for more organization(wiki).

PS: I live in Rio de Janeiro, send me a message if you want to meet.

Comment author: thomblake 02 April 2009 08:04:21PM 2 points [-]

Indeed. While this site is valuable, I don't think most worthwhile people have the time to keep track of it all. It seems that a motivated person (or softbot) could do well to filter the gems into a wiki or something.

Perhaps someone could summarize main points in the discussion and post a weekly article somewhere giving a narrative of what's going on over at LW.

Comment author: biochem06921 28 March 2009 06:13:53PM 2 points [-]

Make sure that the binding of community is done based on a premise that is both simple to understand and allows at least one safe harbor from direct individual criticism, even if that is allowing non-participation in certain activities. A general community needs a safety and a common simple goal allowing for many levels of participation while offering all levels similar benefits of community.

Comment author: Loren 28 March 2009 08:13:47PM 6 points [-]

The idea of rationalist taskforces has its appeal, but given the rate of accelerating change we simply don’t have time to develop a sense of community from scratch which can replace the millennia of development that’s gone into religious institutions. Our best shot is to TRANSFORM existing religious institutions into something that is compatible with rationality (and this requires some transformation on our part too – I’ll talk about this below). The Protestant reformation happened in about a dozen or so decades. Given the trouble that churches are having right now, it’s reminiscent of the discontent people had with the Catholic church in 1517. This time, however, I think the new reformation can happen in just a few decades, because of better technology and communication.

So what transformation do us rationalists need to make? All of the talk I see on LW and OB seems to be about abolishing religious institutions (or watch them wither and die), rather than transforming them. This is not rational, IMHO, because doing a remodeling of religion should be a lot faster than tearing down the whole building and constructing another one from scratch. But a remodel job means that the new tenants (us) will have to find ways to embrace some of the old architecture which up to now we have found unappealing. Examples: Faith is interpreted to mean Trust in the emergent nature of the universe, rather than some sort of belief. God is interpreted to mean The Wholeness of Reality. God is that which sources and infuses everything, yet is also co-emergent with and indistinguishable from anything. Any “God” that can be believed in or not is a trivialized notion of the divine, and certainly not what we’re talking about here. Reality (God) rules! That which is fundamentally and supremely real always has the final word. Everything bows to it, with no exception.

Many traditional words (Faith and God are only two) can have extremely rich meanings to us rationalists if we only give them a chance. Often a rationalist interpretation is closer to the true original meaning of the word. The true meaning got distorted thru the centuries by those who interpret scripture literally (it’s likely scripture wasn’t even intended to be interpreted literally, except at a spiritually immature stage). Of course, some scripture is just off-base given what we now know, and should be discarded. But not all of it!

Michael Dowd (you can Google him for more info) is starting to have quite a bit of success taking this approach, especially in the more liberal churches. I think we should either take an approach similar to Michael’s or perhaps join forces with him. This would involve going into the churches and synagogues and mosques, becoming active members, and preaching about the power of having Faith in Reality, and witnessing about how the Faith transforms individuals so that their lives have more integrity and joy, and how it spreads to the lives of those around them. I fear we don’t have time to do it any other way.

We’d have to avoid churches that interpret scripture literally to begin with, because we’ll be seen as too radical. But I am impressed with the very large number of churches that have a majority of members who do NOT interpret scripture literally.

I’d love to do an entire post of my own on this subject, but alas, I’ve been told I don’t have enough karma to make a post. Is there a posting somewhere that explains the whole karma system? I clicked on the ABOUT link, but it didn’t have the kind of hints on how to increase karma that I was looking for.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 28 March 2009 09:57:07PM 3 points [-]

Make comments that other people like, and your karma will go up. The trick is that the correlation between a comment's insighfulness, and the votes it gets, may be negative.

Comment author: pre 29 March 2009 01:32:15AM *  2 points [-]

I quite like the idea of infiltrating some religion and taking over. I doubt the christian ones would be the best bet, but it's a nice plan. One of the newer religions may be more corruptible.

It's a fantasy though, not something that I think could actually be orchestrated.

Karma here is pretty simple: You get a point for every upvote, and lose one for every downvote. You automatically upvote your own comments (unless you deliberately cancel it).

So make 20 posts that don't get voted down and you're there.

Comment author: Loren 29 March 2009 02:27:07AM 2 points [-]

pre, if we are to be successful, there needs to be some attitude adjustment on our part. We need to gain some humility, and some respect for what religion has accomplished in the past several thousand years.

We wouldn't be infiltrating, we would be transforming, in the spirit of Martin Luther and Paul the Apostle.

There are many Christian churches that are dying because their theology doesn't speak to people today, and they know it. Mainline Protestants are the most obvious examples, but the evangelicals now realize they are in trouble too:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0310/p09s01-coop.html

Many, many, Christians are desperate for renewal. We have a tremendous opportunity to provide it for them, if we can steer Christian theology back to its original intent, which is reverence for knowledge. It's quite possible that a sub-group of Gnostics, or knowers, wrote the New Testament. I'll post more on this later.

So, we aren't corrupting the Christian religion. I think it is quite likely we're restoring it back to it's original intent.

If you don't think this can be orchestrated, take a look at what just one person, Michael Dowd, has been able to accomplish in just a few years. Christianity is ready to hear a new Gospel, and I hope Judiasm, Islam, and other religions are too.

So I get a karma point for commenting on someone's comment about my comment? Getting to 20 points may be easier than I thought.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 28 March 2009 07:54:48PM *  3 points [-]

I don't see why "rationalism" would be a good thing to organize around; but I don't think that's what Eliezer is talking about. As cousin_it noted, Eliezer is implying that rationalism implies altruism. Should we add altruism to the bundle of extra-rational values that Eliezer thinks are part of rationalism? Combined with his insistence that "rationalists always win", and his earlier comment that a Bayesian master would place inherent value on rationality, that would make 3 irrational elements of Yudkowskian rationalism.

Eliezer's search for a "rationalist gestalt" that can be a lifestyle, rather than just a tool for thinking, probably has a lot to do with the accusations of cultism that he is rightly concerned about. The one sacred rule of rationalism is that you not make it sacred.

Rationality is sometimes equated with altruism, liberalism, and egalitarianism, when actually those are just historically-contingent alliances. (This is important when addressing the important charges made against rationalism by, say, Nietzsche, or Allan Bloom, who say rationalism => egalitarianism => utility placed on mean rather than maximum values => crappy art. Basically, the charge against rationalism is really against egalitarianism, but it's more sexy and socially acceptable to say you're attacking rationalism. But that's a subject for another post.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 March 2009 07:31:10AM 5 points [-]

As cousin_it noted, Eliezer is implying that rationalism implies altruism

As usual, I note once again that Phil Goetz, as on virtually every occasion when he describes me as "seeming" to possess some opinion, is attacking up the wrong straw tree.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 March 2009 03:08:28PM *  2 points [-]

As usual, I note once again that Eliezer merely denies my reasonable interpretations of his writing, without any specifics or any explanation.

This post by Eliezer assumes that rationalists want to evangelize non-rationalists, and that they want to join together to do "all the work that needs doing to fix up this world." If Eliezer believes something different, he could explain why what he wrote sounds the way it sounds, instead of making yet another baseless snide comment about me. His practice of issuing long pronouncements and then labeling people as "getting it" or "not getting it" calls to mind a priest more than a scientist.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 05 April 2013 02:38:23PM 3 points [-]

... or you could take a minute to think what he might mean. What I came up with in a few seconds is:

"Most people are altruistic to some extent. However, altruism is a tricky problem - most people are not particularly effective at it. Since altruism is common, many rationalists are altruistic, and they will want to do better. This will take some effort."

How did I do, EY?

Comment author: Annoyance 28 March 2009 03:26:25PM 1 point [-]

"But religion does fill certain holes in people's minds, some of which are even worth filling."

Are they? There is such a thing as a Fruitful Void. God is used as a placeholder to stop questioning and abolish uncertainty. Those are very valuable absences.

Comment author: ciphergoth 29 March 2009 08:42:23AM 22 points [-]

It's not a God-shaped hole, it's a hole-shaped God.

Comment author: MBlume 29 March 2009 09:29:58AM 2 points [-]

I think I'm going to have to quote that from time to time

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 March 2009 08:47:59AM 1 point [-]

...very good point.

Comment author: William 29 March 2009 06:14:08AM 4 points [-]

The use of "some of which" suggests that he considers most of the holes to be Fruitful Voids, merely not all of them.

Comment author: stripey7 28 December 2014 03:10:17AM 1 point [-]

Actually many such groups exist already, except they're not arbitrarily limited to self-described rationalists -- for instance, the committee that's working on a garden for an elementary school in my neighborhood.

Comment author: Nebu 13 April 2009 03:21:33PM 1 point [-]

How about adding a feature on LessWrong where we can state our location (in as generic terms as we want, e.g. "Canada"), so that it's a bit easier to judge if there are several other people near us physically to start thinking about holding meetings?

Comment author: steven0461 13 April 2009 03:27:23PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Wind 11 August 2016 11:39:48PM *  0 points [-]

I already live in that post religious world. Yes, we do have religion, of course. But to most people here, religion is a private matter. There are people here that goes to church regularly, and for whom this is their prime community, but those are a small minority.

Instead our communities are the workplace or organized hobbies, or just fiends that one drinks alcohol with regularly. My parents prime community (except family) is the local Orienteering club. My self, I would not say that I have a community right now. Possibly my flat mates, if five people can be called a community. Mostly I have a network of friends, and I think that this is the most common form of "community" in my country.

This kind of network of workplaces, relatives, hobbies, friends, means that many people have one foot here and one there, which makes weaker communities. And there are people that just do not have a community.

But there are some efforts to patch the holes. In my neighborhood there are something called "Fika common", which is a social meat up where everyone is invited. Anyone who wants to, brings cake, or similar, and share with everyone else. I rely like that this exist, but I have not been there, because I don't like strangers much.

Comment author: VAuroch 09 December 2013 08:47:05PM 0 points [-]

It might be useful, in thinking what these hypothetical organizations would look like, to think about the history of the Elks/Masons/Odd Fellows/Knights of Columbus/etc. Which were essentially social clubs mixed with a primitive form of insurance; you joined the group and paid dues, and those dues paid for the families of members who became disabled or died, with the implicit promise that your family would get the same if it happened to you. Some of them were religiously-oriented, but most weren't (explicitly), and they're probably the most purely community qua community organizations that persisted.