Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

The problem with too many rational memes

79 Post author: Swimmer963 19 January 2012 12:56AM

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? 

Comments (339)

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 18 January 2012 12:58:40PM *  30 points [-]

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 who would get visibly upset at times in class when arguing against reductionism (he's Christian), and I think we've all seen both religious and political debates get heated.

My model of all these situations is the same as my model of your situation. Before joining LessWrong, you spent a certain amount of identity points on "being rational," but probably didn't have much of a group to identify with, so when someone who's religious or superstitious got in a jab against their hated rival, the rationalists, you didn't feel anything or think much of it. Now that you've been a member of LW for some time and absorbed its memes, you're spending many more identity points on "being rational" primarily because, I conjecture, you now can point to a large, dedicated group of like-minded people. As such, you're much more likely to react with offense when someone brings up religion or homeopathy in a positive light, since that's implicitly an attack on your group.

Identity actually terrifies me because of how it seems able to control my actions and even my beliefs. I remember writing a political philosophy paper in undergrad and actually thinking "but if I use this argument, then I can't argue for Anarcho-Capitalism anymore." If that wasn't a red flag, I don't know what is - though naturally I didn't notice it as one at the time. One way to deal with this is to keep your identity small so that you minimize how often you're swayed in one direction or another for reasons purely of identity politics. Also, crafting a particular identity for yourself can work. I try to think of myself as curious and tolerant of beliefs that I know to be crazy.

My own experience has been similar to badger's - I've grown more tolerant of crazy beliefs (and beliefs that simply contradict my own) since discovering OB/LW. I can't really be sure about why, but I'd like to think it's because I've implemented the two strategies above. Learning that politics is the mind killer and realizing that this applied more broadly than groups based on political affiliation actually scared me to some extent. My immediate reaction was to reject all group affiliations (that I could anyway), but since then I've let some of the more innocuous ones back in because I'd rather consciously spend my identity points than let my brain subconsciously do it.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 07:55:07PM 2 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 18 January 2012 09:52:08PM *  1 point [-]

Why is that an indicator that it's probably true? (Actual honest question, not disagreeing... or agreeing for that matter)

Comment author: Swimmer963 19 January 2012 02:26:08AM 3 points [-]

It'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.)

Comment author: APMason 18 January 2012 01:10:21PM *  2 points [-]

I remember writing a political philosophy paper in undergrad and actually thinking "but if I use this argument, then I can't argue for Anarcho-Capitalism anymore."

Out 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.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 18 January 2012 03:20:35PM 2 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: Pumpizmus 09 July 2012 06:02:02PM 0 points [-]

I 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 out.

Comment author: AmagicalFishy 21 August 2012 07:31:05PM 1 point [-]

So 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?

Comment author: shminux 18 January 2012 07:53:43PM *  22 points [-]

‘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.

Comment author: fburnaby 19 January 2012 02:20:38AM 25 points [-]

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!

Comment author: katydee 19 January 2012 11:32:43PM 14 points [-]

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

Comment author: [deleted] 20 January 2012 03:55:34AM 3 points [-]

details? I can't even see how you got enough from that post to test.

Comment author: katydee 20 January 2012 05:29:13AM *  10 points [-]

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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 January 2012 02:24:09PM 4 points [-]

I 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. 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 January 2012 05:44:01PM 1 point [-]

Other 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.

Comment author: katydee 20 January 2012 03:58:45PM *  1 point [-]

I 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."

You'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.

Comment author: wedrifid 20 January 2012 05:44:42PM 5 points [-]

You'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.

Unfortunately 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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 January 2012 07:20:48PM 2 points [-]

Absolutely 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.

Comment author: katydee 20 January 2012 08:07:06PM *  10 points [-]

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)

<intentional pause> (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 <my actual point> might also apply in some cases here. I can see situations where <my reasoning> would occur-- for instance, imagine if <my example> 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)

<other person says something agreeing with me at least in part>

"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.

Comment author: APMason 20 January 2012 05:39:20AM 4 points [-]

This 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."

Comment author: wedrifid 20 January 2012 06:02:02AM *  5 points [-]

This may be unpopular, but this sets of my "Dark Arts" detector something fierce.

It 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.

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."

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.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 January 2012 08:16:18AM 3 points [-]

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.

Well. 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.

Comment author: summerstay 06 February 2012 04:32:16PM 4 points [-]

This 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.

Comment author: katydee 20 January 2012 05:51:13AM 4 points [-]

I agree with you, and I would certainly never use this technique with someone who is operating under Crocker's Rules. 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.

Comment author: APMason 20 January 2012 06:02:51AM 2 points [-]

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).

I 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.

Comment author: beriukay 20 January 2012 07:52:48AM 6 points [-]

I absolutely agree with this ... However

I see what you just did there!

Comment author: Anubhav 20 January 2012 05:55:33AM 2 points [-]

You're right, but occasionally you'll find yourself debating with someone who sees all opposing arguments as soldiers to be killed. If making her see the truth is more important for you than abiding by the laws and customs of war, dressing as the enemy is definitely a useful trick.

Comment author: APMason 20 January 2012 06:18:53AM 1 point [-]

If making her see the truth is more important for you than abiding by the laws and customs of war, dressing as the enemy is definitely a useful trick.

I 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.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 January 2012 09:29:45AM 20 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Ciphermind 19 January 2012 10:39:30PM 6 points [-]

Truly the Voldemort of the Dark Arts.

Comment author: marchdown 19 January 2012 01:06:29PM 1 point [-]

What was the subject of their argument?

Comment author: [deleted] 06 February 2012 01:35:34PM 7 points [-]

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) were a foregone result of his election, what the President might or might not hope to accomplish if re-elected, the likelihood of such a reelection, and if we could reasonably expect the aforementioned political circumstances to change significantly during a theoretical Obama second-term.

We were moving toward analysis of voter apathy, I think, and the idea of an "energized block," and some talk about the odds of various scenarios. Things were getting heated. Body language was getting authoritative - fingers pointed, heads cocked, stare-downs, chests puffed out. Alpha-male posturing among intellectuals with political-science, law and philosophy backgrounds.

So the general consensus at the raising of this question (that is, who present had voted for him the last time) was a groan - this was in Illinois, in a college town, among young academics, educators & professional writers. OF COURSE, we all assumed, everyone present had voted for Obama. Whether we might choose to vote for him again, and why, and how excited we were to cast our particular vote in 2012, and what we might hope to gain from it, was a much more valuable topic of conversation. And clearly, the gentleman who raised the question meant to use this as a sort of unifier: "Okay, we obviously all voted for him last time," he meant to suggest, "so what's changed?"

But then one dude, a guy named ... uh, we'll call him "Mike" ... well, he went and said that he had voted for McCain.

After a moment to recalibrate ourselves, everyone present stopped to reassure everyone else of their total respect for Senator John McCain - no one there personally disliked or distrusted the man. No one here condemned McCain, no one hated him, no one thought he was a monster or a fraud or The Devil or anything like that. War hero, public servant, frequent guest on 'The Daily Show' - we hadn't voted for him, certainly, but that didn't mean we didn't LIKE him.

We just liked Obama better. Wanted him in office more than McCain. Wanted to vote for the first black president. Really got into the whole "Hope" thing. Didn't really dig on his choice of running mate, Governor Palin ... not that ANYONE there didn't respect her as a strong, capable, independent, 21st-century woman. We just didn't care for her specific policies.

But hell ... look, half the people in the room had met Obama - gone to a speech, shaken his hand, even worked for his campaign, going all the way back in 2004 when he was running for Senate. We wore the t-shirts, got out the vote, and threw a party during the inauguration. Some of us literally danced in the streets.

So it was a little unfathomable that someone in our peer-group had voted for McCain, of all people.

Finally, someone finally asked Mike the million-dollar question: "Why?"

There were a million answers that everyone present would have accepted, if not agreed with. A good example would be: "I'm from Arizona, I've met McCain; he's a good man. And, well, since Illinois was going to swing for Obama anyway, no matter what I did, I voted my heart."

His answer was ... different than that.

Mike said, and I quote as best I'm able: "The founding fathers never intended a black man to be president. It's in the constitution that it's illegal."

That seemed strange, coming from a man with a master's degree. Which I would like to note, Mike HAS.

When it was noted that the Constitution does not specifically prevent a black man from being president, Mike rebutted that it didn't really NEED to be spelled out - the founding fathers pretty obviously never intended a black man to be president. When asked to clarify, Mike explained that he could not vote for a black because it was morally wrong.

There was very nearly a scuffle.

But rather than see if anyone was able to knock Mike out, which at least one person there was willing to try, a friend attempted a different tactic.

He said, very simply, "You're right, but ..." - and the rest was history.

Rather than lecture Mike on why he was wrong - and I tend to believe that he was - my buddy was able to get Mike to explain his own cognitive error to HIM. By the end, not only was Mike able to explain to others why the original intent of a group of slave-owners was not infallible, but he was able to see how his view might have been construed as racist. He was even able to make a point about how interpreting both language AND intent are important, and that cultural mores change - often for the better.

And we also cleared up Mike's misconception that Lincoln had several illegitimate black children.

It was miraculous.

NOTE: yes, Mike has a Master's Degree.

Comment author: CaveJohnson 06 February 2012 11:29:07PM *  6 points [-]

Crazy 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.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 February 2012 12:32:57AM 1 point [-]

"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".

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 21 January 2012 08:22:04AM *  1 point [-]

I'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.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 January 2012 08:42:22AM *  1 point [-]

I'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.

That's not the technique. Sarcasm is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than this technique.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 19 January 2012 12:55:22AM *  15 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 19 January 2012 02:01:14AM 3 points [-]

Yeah, 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."

Comment author: shminux 19 January 2012 03:38:21AM 6 points [-]

I also have trouble imagining EY saying it with a straight face and in a non-threatening way.

Comment author: SurahAhriman 19 January 2012 07:17:29AM 2 points [-]

Having 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.

Comment author: Anubhav 20 January 2012 06:01:49AM *  4 points [-]

Having never met the man, my mental image is basically HJPEV.

Here, have a better mental image.

But for Sanity's sake don't look at the comments. (Apparently Eliezer joined the 'illluminaty' when we weren't looking.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 21 January 2012 06:00:50PM 5 points [-]

I 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...

Comment author: Xachariah 19 January 2012 05:59:25PM *  12 points [-]

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.

Comment author: shminux 19 January 2012 07:15:30PM *  3 points [-]

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

Comment author: fubarobfusco 20 January 2012 04:16:04AM 7 points [-]

"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?"

Comment author: Yvain 17 January 2012 09:31:14PM 18 points [-]

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.

Comment author: lessdazed 24 January 2012 09:06:25AM 1 point [-]

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. ,,, ...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.

How 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.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 09:09:16PM *  18 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 17 January 2012 10:19:01PM 5 points [-]

Even 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 10:21:46PM 5 points [-]

and triggers further analysis.

That'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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 09:17:22PM 3 points [-]

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.

Exactly! Kind of a scary thought, that.

Comment author: lessdazed 24 January 2012 08:29:36PM *  1 point [-]

You 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?

Comment author: Desrtopa 17 January 2012 11:16:52PM 14 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 12:55:11PM 2 points [-]

If you'd become a Born Again Christian, for instance, you'd probably be facing similar problems.

Yeah, 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.

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 January 2012 02:03:54PM *  6 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 02:50:55PM 4 points [-]

I 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."

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 January 2012 03:02:46PM 11 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 06:43:22PM -3 points [-]

I've met people who became atheists as a result of reading The God Delusion, so they definitely exist.

OK, so they exist. I haven't met them, but that's not evidence either way... But I think the title and presentation of 'The God Delusion' would dissuade a lot of religious people from picking it up at all, if they have any of my wanting-to-please-the-group-by-following-norms instincts. (And I suspect this instinct is more common among religious than among non-religious people, since NOT having it is a good way to become an atheist on your own very early, à la Eliezer Yudkowsky.) Some people who would curiously pick up a book called 'Comparing God and Science' or something similarly innocuous, might literally feel bad about reading a book whose very title implied that many of their friends and family were deluded.

Comment author: shelterit 19 January 2012 05:49:29AM 13 points [-]

OK, so they exist.

No, it's much more persuasive than that. All you have to do is to go to his website, to the "convert's corner" and start reading the letters from people who have done exactly that; converted because of his book. Convert's Corner

I also know both Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens mentions the tons of letters they receive thanking them for opening their eyes. These books are doing a lot more for changing people's mind than you let on.

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 January 2012 08:36:21PM 10 points [-]

I very much doubt that a book titled "Comparing God and Science" would have attracted nearly so much attention though. Richard Dawkins was already fairly well known, and his books already had antireligious elements, but The God Delusion was far more famous than his previous books.

I find that Dawkins is often characterized as being rude on far less basis than people arguing for a different position would be, but he's certainly brazen, and it's made him a public figure in a way that he almost certainly wouldn't have been otherwise, and allows him to reach a lot more people.

There are books in support of atheism which take a less openly provocative approach, and they may reach an audience that titles like The God Delusion don't, but I can guarantee that fewer people picked up this book than The God Delusion.

Comment author: lessdazed 24 January 2012 08:53:00AM *  1 point [-]

But I think the title and presentation of 'The God Delusion' would dissuade a lot of religious people from picking it up at all, if they have any of my wanting-to-please-the-group-by-following-norms instincts...Some people who would curiously pick up a book called 'Comparing God and Science' or something similarly innocuous, might literally feel bad about reading a book whose very title implied that many of their friends and family were deluded.

I know religious people who I think were significantly provoked by the title into buying it. In neither case did one deconvert (as far as I can tell, again, for all I know they were closet atheists and the book made them genuinely religious by attacking their social group).

Apparently, the book gave them an experience of encountering ideas of an opposing ideology, and having not been swayed by it (perhaps due to the rhetoric), they (apparently) have more conviction than before.

One thing to take from this anecdote is that people differ from each other greatly in how they interpret and react to things. You're generalizing too much from your responses to writing styles and such.

Bear in mind that my anecdotes are of religious people reacting defensively and failing to be convinced by the book, exactly as you predict. Nonetheless, there is diversity among such people and it's not at all clear that a more restrained title would have had more success among religious people by any metric.

Whereas coherent atheist message control is impossible, the best option is probably to have media catering to all sorts of personalities. Those whose receptiveness to moderate books depends on the absence of strident books, or vice versa, may be untargetable.

Comment author: Suryc11 18 January 2012 04:54:40PM 15 points [-]

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.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 18 January 2012 05:51:14PM *  1 point [-]

In any case, 'New Atheists' like Dawkins and Harris are raising the sanity waterline, albeit in a relatively confrontational manner.

Sam 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.

Comment author: p4wnc6 19 January 2012 01:21:18AM 3 points [-]

Sam Harris did considerable damage with The Moral Landscape. His new book about free will probably be just as bad.

Can 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.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 19 January 2012 07:16:31AM *  5 points [-]

Other 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?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 January 2012 09:21:38AM 3 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 06:39:47PM 1 point [-]

There's nothing original in The God Delusion, and his meta-ethics is sloppy. But he's basically right.

I 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.

Comment author: shelterit 19 January 2012 02:21:39AM 7 points [-]

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

I 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 wrong in their own reaction to the world. Things would quickly be a far gentler place.

Comment author: nshepperd 19 January 2012 06:56:39AM 2 points [-]

"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.

Comment author: BarbaraB 03 January 2014 03:18:41PM 1 point [-]

I 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".

Comment author: Creutzer 08 January 2014 06:20:36PM 1 point [-]

This 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".

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 January 2012 12:14:03AM *  3 points [-]

all the venom against religious people

That's really quite an accusation. Citations, please.

Comment author: Swimmer963 20 January 2012 02:41:36AM 3 points [-]

I 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.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 January 2012 12:21:16AM 4 points [-]

You may wish to try rereading it and seeing if it's actually the book you remember.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 05:58:26PM 0 points [-]

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.

What 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.

Comment author: yew 18 January 2012 06:59:59PM 8 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 07:41:34PM 2 points [-]

His writing introduced me to the idea that it was possible not to take one's "personal relationship with Christ" seriously!

I'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."

Comment author: yew 18 January 2012 08:23:11PM 10 points [-]

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.

Comment author: loup-vaillant 20 January 2012 04:56:01PM *  5 points [-]

"hey, we're all atheists here, let's feel superior."

If 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, 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. Maybe that's why so much people here dislike it.

Comment author: David_Gerard 20 January 2012 12:11:01AM *  13 points [-]

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 science, simple plain words are best.

The second, and more important, reason that I like Dawkin’s approach is that I suspect it’s the only approach that has much effect. There is a direct analogy with my own efforts to stop universities giving BSc degrees in subjects that are not science. Worse, they are actively anti-science. Take for example, homeopathy, the medicine that contains no medicine. I started by writing polite letters to vice chancellors. Usually they didn’t even have the courtesy to reply. All efforts to tackle the problem through the “proper channels” failed. The only thing that has worked was public derision. A combination of internal moles and Freedom of Information Act requests unearthed what was being taught on these courses. Like Westminster’s assertion that “amethysts emit high Yin energy”. Disclosure of such nonsense and headlines like

Professor Geoffrey Petts of the University of Westminster says they “are not teaching pseudo-science”. The facts show this is not true

are certainly somewhat strident. But they have worked. Forget the proper channels if you want results. Mock what deserves to be mocked.

Or, as Mencken put it decades ago:

One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

I suspect your true rejection is the claim that Dawkins is "unnecessarily critical". Unfortunately, this usually means "critical at all".

Comment author: Swimmer963 20 January 2012 02:44:45AM 3 points [-]

.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.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 January 2012 09:08:00AM 6 points [-]

One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

I don't want to believe that I live in a society where people have to be embarrassed into changing their minds.

This 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 20 January 2012 12:46:22PM 3 points [-]

Why don't you want to believe what is manifestly true?

I'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.

Comment author: AlanCrowe 20 January 2012 04:27:34PM 1 point [-]

When 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 which I stumble across. 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?

Comment author: Swimmer963 20 January 2012 11:53:06PM 3 points [-]

I read the news stories. Wow. That is...sad. As in 'society is more messed up than I thought.'

What is the background against which he stands out as obnoxious and unnecessarily critical?

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.

Comment author: CronoDAS 20 January 2012 10:40:55PM *  4 points [-]

Christopher 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.)

Comment author: David_Gerard 21 January 2012 12:18:34AM 3 points [-]

Literate ones are called contrarians.

Comment author: CronoDAS 21 January 2012 12:48:16AM 4 points [-]

Actually, I think the term might be gadfly...

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 03:39:10PM 1 point [-]

Sure, 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 06:37:53PM 2 points [-]

From what you've said elsewhere about your preference for fitting in to a social milieu and earning approval and admiration there...

SOOO 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...

Comment author: juliawise 18 January 2012 10:23:24PM 3 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: thomblake 18 January 2012 10:34:54PM 12 points [-]

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

Comment author: juliawise 19 January 2012 03:07:23AM 1 point [-]

We're moving next month. But she, like most paranoid people, is probably more of a danger to herself than us.

Comment author: Spurlock 18 January 2012 05:19:45AM 13 points [-]

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 beyond the reach of reality.

Unless I'm modeling them very incorrectly. But what little conversation on the subject I've had/heard with them doesn't suggest this is the case.

Anyway, this just resonated with me because of the culture of non-criticism you mentioned Charlie cultivating. It has the same memetic defense structure: we should stand up and cry out against it, but in doing so we only guarantee that we will be shut out or dismissed. It's a very frustrating situation, and perhaps that was a part of what you experienced as well.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 03:58:32PM 2 points [-]

I'm curious: do you feel this strongly about similarly irrational settings that aren't related to your own personal history?

Comment author: Spurlock 18 January 2012 04:21:47PM 5 points [-]

I'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 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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 04:38:41PM 1 point [-]

Nope, that answered my question. Thanks!

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 12:44:16AM 54 points [-]

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 brainwashing. What it felt like was undermining the precision of thought that we had trained as engineers. It felt like my brain would turn to mush by being forced to integrate these incorrect bits of knowledge.

I don't think that terrible feeling was the result of a clash of memes from opposing belief systems. Engineering is not a belief system; it is a precise art that requires precise thought. It felt like being forced to use your nicely sharpened tools on a task that would destroy them.

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.

Communication must be two-way to be useful. If you disallow criticism, so that only agreement is allowed, the communication ceases to be interactive. You lose the ability to discuss an idea before accepting or rejecting it.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 02:44:27AM *  22 points [-]

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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 03:42:27AM 7 points [-]

It's potentially useful even if I don't, if I trust my mind to recognize a good-faith effort at explanation.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 19 January 2012 08:35:49PM *  0 points [-]

Downvoted for confusing "postmodernists" and "relativists" and spreading a common missconception.

Comment author: ahartell 20 January 2012 03:47:20AM 9 points [-]

Could you explain the two of them to me?

Comment author: [deleted] 19 January 2012 08:37:43PM 2 points [-]

Fixed, thanks.

Comment author: lessdazed 24 January 2012 07:55:16PM 1 point [-]

that relativists get the same "ick" reaction

I wonder. An analogy: a relatively uncompartmentalized mind encountering such (potentially instrumentally useful) wrong beliefs suffers from epistemic contagion like water encountering Ice-nine. A honeycombed, extremely inconsistent mind encountering universal laws suffers like a ship with extensive compartment breaches.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 January 2012 01:18:11PM *  7 points [-]

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?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 03:29:32PM 5 points [-]

In environments like that, I generally go with "Y". If Y implies not-X, so much the better.

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 January 2012 01:22:07AM 10 points [-]

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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 01:30:34AM 5 points [-]

Also, 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.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 January 2012 08:35:54AM 3 points [-]

This 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.

Comment author: Strange7 20 June 2012 07:02:37AM 2 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: NickiH 30 January 2012 06:20:19PM 2 points [-]

if people are afraid their contributions will be criticized, they'll be less likely to share them

And 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.

Comment author: Konkvistador 20 January 2012 08:53:12PM *  2 points [-]

She would state crazy beliefs like that homeopathy was just as legitimate as "western" medicine

Gah! That's so annoying. I'd probably just blurt out: "Homoeopathy is Western medicine, its just not very good you nincompoop."

What it felt like was undermining the precision of thought that we had trained as engineers. It felt like my brain would turn to mush by being forced to integrate these incorrect bits of knowledge.

I also know exactly how you feel I took some "liberal studies" courses too in my second year. I had the exact same feeling.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 19 January 2012 01:36:54AM 1 point [-]

Communication must be two-way to be useful. If you disallow criticism, so that only agreement is allowed, the communication ceases to be interactive. You lose the ability to discuss an idea before accepting or rejecting it.

I 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.

Comment author: velisar 18 January 2012 07:13:44PM 1 point [-]

Unfortunately 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.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 10:39:14PM 3 points [-]

where people (generally) understand any criticism as targeting the self (that mysterious whole) and not the idea/point.

Here's an interesting take on that

Comment author: thomblake 17 January 2012 09:27:31PM 11 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Manfred 18 January 2012 02:30:04AM *  10 points [-]

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)

Comment author: wedrifid 18 January 2012 02:56:36AM 16 points [-]

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..

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 04:09:59AM 1 point [-]

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.

This 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.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 20 January 2012 08:54:14AM 2 points [-]

If 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.

Comment author: Emile 18 January 2012 10:00:41AM 4 points [-]

And 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!
Comment author: Ciphermind 19 January 2012 03:26:17AM *  43 points [-]

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 was, and were forced to pray and "reflect" in a circle for hours at a time multiple times per day. This wasn't just indoctrination. This was brainwashing. I wasn't gullible enough to accept one iota of the spiritual garbage, but to understand my failing of mental hygiene it's important to know that Kairos is a very secretive retreat. Its rituals, itinerary, and operations are supposed to be unknown to all but retreat alumni to ensure that future attendees get to experience all the great "surprises" and such.

One of my friends (who didn't attend) has been involved with Lesswrong far longer than I have; and upon my return he asked me what specifically happened on the retreat. He asked with the intent to publish the information, exposing this blatant brainwashing for what it is. Then I did the (to me) unthinkable; I refused to disclose, solely to preserve Kairos' secrets. I was so caught up in the social bonds I formed and the general emotional hokum that I was convinced to actually defend such a terrible institution.

Now, just a week later, I am ashamed. I utterly failed my art. Perhaps if not for the intervention of my friend I'd still be protecting the secrets of Kairos. I was so easily put in a position where I would knowingly allow minds to fall victim to brainwashing, and I gave my tacit sanction to the ritualistic breaking of my peers' psyches for the sake of a retreat whose singular goal is to convert them to Catholicism. All of this because I got lost in the sociality of the retreat. I've since resolved that I must never permit my mental integrity to be compromised. Not for the sake of a group, not for the sake of a better social life, and not for the sake of my emotions. I think it's definitely warranted to be incredibly selective in who you associate with and how; the effects they have on your mind could be devastating under the right conditions.

Comment author: ZankerH 19 January 2012 04:16:11PM 8 points [-]

He asked with the intent to publish the information, exposing this blatant brainwashing for what it is.

Well? Don't leave us hanging here, did this actually happen / where is it published?

Comment author: Ciphermind 19 January 2012 10:15:25PM *  14 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 22 January 2012 06:47:52PM *  3 points [-]

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.

They seem to have borrowed the idea from Coleridge:

If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awake — Aye, what then?

Comment author: NickiH 31 January 2012 06:34:16PM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 19 January 2012 03:01:38PM 5 points [-]

A 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.

Comment author: Ciphermind 20 January 2012 01:58:36AM *  4 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: shminux 19 January 2012 06:02:35AM 11 points [-]

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

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 20 January 2012 02:49:52AM *  13 points [-]

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 our secrets and past traumas and family troubles and be consoled by our new best friends forever, but since nobody knows beforehand if you have any past traumas, it's pretty easy to get away with not spilling anything. Some people did break down and cry on everyone's shoulders, but I didn't.

It was less about converting us to Catholicism than to general theism. One or two people out of the 11 I heard talk about it did claim to have found faith in God there, so it works at least a little). The main thing they were trying to convert us to is love and hugs and rainbows and flowers and bunny rabbits, which gets deeply annoying but not particularly horrible.

I mostly used Kairos to get to know the other people, trying to co-opt it for my own social skill-building purposes. The main thing I learned from it was how to pretend to love people I actually couldn't care much less about. The first thing I did when I got back was tell one of my (graduated without going) friends everything. I'm not telling anyone who might still attend, much for the same reason I wouldn't spoil a book. I notice as I finish writing this that my hands are shaking a little, but I don't know why.

Comment author: Strange7 23 January 2012 10:16:48AM 9 points [-]

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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 January 2012 02:51:41AM 6 points [-]

A 10-20% recruitment rate is pretty good as these things go, actually.

Comment author: jhuffman 20 January 2012 11:58:28PM 3 points [-]

Yes but these effects can be very short-lived.

Comment author: Ciphermind 20 January 2012 03:47:25AM 12 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Oligopsony 19 January 2012 03:17:08PM 3 points [-]

For 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.

Comment author: scav 19 January 2012 12:18:54PM 9 points [-]

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!

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 09:17:53PM 39 points [-]

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.

Comment author: selylindi 18 January 2012 07:57:03PM 7 points [-]

That is the situation of the "no criticism" rule. While it might sound fair and reasonable, the truth is, that this rule favours the cultists.

To 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 09:38:06PM 9 points [-]

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 skeptical that he can't help it a little.

But yeah...it does bother me that Charlie is saying these things to a group of new immigrants who are doubtless feeling a little bit shy and wanting to impress. Vulnerable, in other words. He explicitly says that everyone's welcome no matter where they come from and what they believe, and that no one criticizes anyone else, but implicitly, just by being the leader of the group and a good public speaker, he's going to root the ideas of ghosts and dead grandmothers in other dimensions into their minds. Not that I think he intends to do anything by implanting those ideas...he just believes them himself, AFAICT. But when I do the thought experiment, it wouldn't annoy me nearly as much if he were a low-status weird guy talking about the same beliefs, or if he were in the same position and believed the same things but kept them to himself.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 January 2012 10:22:53PM 9 points [-]

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.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 17 January 2012 11:54:58PM *  8 points [-]

Conversational intolerance is just really, really hard. Very few people are good at it. I'd like to think that, if I'd been in your shoes and first heard the ground rules (criticism "expressly forbidden," etc) and then heard about Grandma's spoon tapping, I'd have been able to use the perfect, Sagan-esque mixture of body language, word choice, and tone of voice to plant a non-threatening seed of skepticism into the minds of all present.

But of course I'd have failed. I simply don't possess that kind of mastery, especially in social circumstances devoid of magical clickers. And I'd be even worse off than you, because I am not one to fume silently. I probably would've alienated a lot of people, and quickly.

So I think that you possess more mastery than you realize. But I don't think the level above yours looks like perfect, silent equanimity amidst the wrong beliefs you hear propagated around you. I think it looks more like walking carefully through a minefield because the other side is worth getting to.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 04:22:27AM 6 points [-]

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.)

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 18 January 2012 04:43:41AM 2 points [-]

if the choice is between being a mediocre-to-poor physicist or an awesome nurse, I'd pick being an awesome nurse any day.

At least you get to choose between two careers that value empiricism. Being an artist and practicing good epistemic hygiene really puts a new spin on the "guy with one eye in the land of the blind" adage. That cyclopean bastard would probably be burned at the stake for heresy.

Comment author: beoShaffer 18 January 2012 04:50:35AM 2 points [-]

Unsuprisingly, there is a short story about that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Country_of_the_Blind.

Comment author: CronoDAS 20 January 2012 11:13:16PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: fburnaby 19 January 2012 02:37:47AM *  2 points [-]

In 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?

Comment author: Swimmer963 19 January 2012 02:41:02AM *  2 points [-]

In your LW articles, you come off as both charismatic and intelligent.

I 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.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 19 January 2012 05:50:35PM 2 points [-]

You 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.

Comment author: beriukay 20 January 2012 08:20:25AM 1 point [-]

I'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 to help with my verbal tics.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 09:41:53PM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 09:57:24PM *  3 points [-]

If 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.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 10:52:09PM 2 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 January 2012 11:34:57PM 5 points [-]

Personally, 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.

Comment author: p4wnc6 19 January 2012 01:27:16AM *  6 points [-]

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 worldview, that's often a contemptible idea all on its own merits. It has very negative consequences even if it can sometimes allow for coalition productivity in achieving subgoals. Those subgoals would have to be mighty highly valued by me before their benefit would offset the cost of perpetuating the idea that the social discomfort of critical examination makes it bad and in need of avoidance.

Comment author: Stabilizer 18 January 2012 04:56:47AM *  6 points [-]

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 have an affect on their behavior?
c) Is it likely to backfire? For example, they might take offense at their beliefs being challenged.

Usually, the result of estimating these variables is that I keep my mouth shut. I usually try much harder if the person is someone very close to me or if it affects me directly. It's probably not the best strategy for propagating rationality, but it kind of works out for me. After being around very religious people for a long time, I've kinda become pretty good at it.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 12:51:08PM 1 point [-]

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?

I 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!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 January 2012 03:41:17PM 2 points [-]

I'm curious: why don't you?

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 05:55:24PM 1 point [-]

Mainly 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.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 19 January 2012 04:16:55PM 2 points [-]

Well, 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.

Comment author: CarlShulman 28 January 2012 09:34:58PM 4 points [-]

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

Comment author: lessdazed 29 January 2012 12:19:13AM 5 points [-]

Nemeth … divided two hundred and sixty-five female undergraduates into teams of five. … The first set of teams got the standard brainstorming spiel, including the no-criticism rules. Other teams were told … “Most studies suggest that you should debate and criticize each other’s ideas.” The rest received no further instructions. …The brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated twenty per cent more ideas. And after the teams disbanded, … brainstormers and the people given no guidelines produced an average of three additional ideas; the debaters produced seven. …

“There’s this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone’s feelings. … Well, that’s just wrong.”

Did 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.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 18 January 2012 01:06:16AM 4 points [-]

Perhaps this is one of the stages of mastery: a feeling for quality of your art.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 January 2012 08:52:35PM 4 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 08:58:23PM 1 point [-]

This 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.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 17 January 2012 08:40:49PM *  4 points [-]

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.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 17 January 2012 09:01:10PM *  4 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: badger 18 January 2012 04:24:47AM 7 points [-]

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.

Comment author: shminux 18 January 2012 07:42:44PM 1 point [-]

So, you basically treat them like one would their mentally infirm relative at a family gathering: avoid arguing and feel sympathetic, but distant?

Comment author: badger 19 January 2012 04:20:00AM 3 points [-]

No, 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.

Comment author: MixedNuts 24 January 2012 03:11:39PM 3 points [-]

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 something, don't start discussing it. In part it's a status grab ("I'm allowed to assert things, you aren't") but mostly it's the sheer stupidity of "first expressed idea wins".

Comment author: thomblake 17 January 2012 09:29:39PM 3 points [-]

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.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 January 2012 09:50:00PM 2 points [-]

Probably more exposure to those sorts of groups would help.

My 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.

Comment author: Swimmer963 18 January 2012 06:45:15PM 2 points [-]

If church advances my goals, I want to believe that church advances my goals, and the Way opposes my anger.

Upvoted 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.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 January 2012 01:29:55AM *  6 points [-]

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

Comment author: ahartell 20 January 2012 02:14:48PM 2 points [-]

I 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.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 23 January 2012 09:32:02AM 0 points [-]

I would say it to a child I felt was actually receptive the next day.

Comment author: Strange7 23 January 2012 10:18:55AM 1 point [-]

Yeah. Wait until they're already feeling some of the negative effects.

Comment author: lessdazed 24 January 2012 07:52:21AM 0 points [-]

Both 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.

Comment author: asparisi 27 January 2012 10:43:12AM 2 points [-]

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 criticize goes against maybe half of the Rationalist Virtues. Being in an environment where that is encouraged and not dismissed would then make the opposite seem intolerable.

It seems like there are times when the optimal behavior pattern for yourself is to disregard the need for argument and evidence for some practical purpose, but it is a consolation. It is giving something up. And that choice should be painful. I don't think I should want to be good at agreeing not to criticize. I think it should be a fight. If it is easy, then it is easy to compromise when you shouldn't.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 27 January 2012 03:17:44PM 3 points [-]

I 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."

Comment author: asparisi 27 January 2012 05:36:58PM 0 points [-]

That said: I'm under no obligation (moral, rational, or otherwise) to respect or value Sam in this way.

I 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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 27 January 2012 07:04:16PM 3 points [-]

Oh, 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.

Comment author: dlthomas 27 January 2012 08:00:52PM 0 points [-]

It 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.

Comment author: MixedNuts 27 January 2012 11:09:42AM 1 point [-]

IAWYC. 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.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2012 05:48:07PM *  6 points [-]

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 thinking so, newcomer that I am. In my conversations here with particular people, I've found members of this community to be very reasonable and resistant to clubishness.

Comment author: freyley 19 January 2012 02:08:55AM *  3 points [-]

I think that might be the source of the somebody's wrong on the internet thing.

Comment author: Strange7 20 June 2012 07:24:18AM 1 point [-]

Have you since taken the time to explain your own worldview, within said no-criticism zone? It would, after all, be just as protected.

Comment author: BarbaraB 03 January 2014 07:39:09PM 0 points [-]

Exactly. 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.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 20 January 2012 12:22:47AM 0 points [-]

He sounds like an asshole to me. You're worrying too much.

Comment author: handoflixue 23 January 2012 08:44:50PM 1 point [-]

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 :)

Comment author: Strange7 20 June 2012 07:26:26AM 0 points [-]

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

Comment author: blacktrance 03 January 2014 04:05:42PM *  0 points [-]

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 my friends. But now that I have the option of being surrounded by rationalists, I find non-fundamentalist Christians as irritating as I found fundamentalist Christians before (aside from my Christian friends), and actual fundamentalists are beyond the pale. I assign a high probability to many of my future friends belonging to the rationalist cluster. I don't think there's anything wrong with this development - it's like, I'd rather eat gruel than dirt, but I'd rather eat pie than gruel if both are available.

Spending time in a rationalist community (or even with a few rationalists) makes you realize that things can be much better than they currently are, and that the status quo is not as good as it seemed before. Irritation is a natural reaction, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 01 September 2013 05:56:10PM *  0 points [-]

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.

Comment author: MaoShan 08 February 2012 11:24:38PM 0 points [-]

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?

Comment author: Swimmer963 09 February 2012 03:22:38PM 1 point [-]

You yourself just said that you've updated on your beliefs due to things you've heard here.

I'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.

Comment author: MaoShan 10 February 2012 03:53:55AM 0 points [-]

I 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?

Comment author: Swimmer963 10 February 2012 04:05:27AM 1 point [-]

I 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.

Comment author: MaoShan 12 February 2012 03:31:39AM 0 points [-]

Which 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.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 February 2012 11:34:30PM 1 point [-]

Just 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.

Comment author: TruePath 27 January 2012 08:51:49PM 0 points [-]

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 focus of the event. Watch the way people behave at a party. <B>No one is comfortable talking about subjects they feel they need to hide their opinions to avoid giving offense</B>. The natural (and appropriate) response is to change the subject and talk about something else. But it just isn't possible to change the topic of church away from the supernatural or change the topic of book clubs away from giving arguments (often rationalists give arguments or voice standards that others don't relate to).

So yah, this guy's supernatural inclinations took over the meeting and effectively denied you the chance to feel comfortable and a member of the community. It would be surprising if this didn't annoy you.

If you start feeling the same way in situations where there is no real community (many workplaces) or where the topic can be easily avoided then it's an issue.