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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on The Third Alternative - Less Wrong

55 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 May 2007 11:47PM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 07 May 2007 12:51:05AM 28 points [-]

From my perspective, the main goal that Santa-ism serves is giving children a trial run at atheism - teaching them to be skeptical of supernatural propositions fed them by adults and believed by their peers, especially the part about being rewarded for belief. If I had children I'd let their peers tell them about Santa Claus, without contradiction from me, just to make sure the kids got experience in skepticism - you lose out on a fundamental life trial and very valuable experience if your parents happen to be atheists.

But even this can be improved upon, if you're willing to tell your own lies instead of letting others do it for you. Just tell the children in a very stern voice that if they doubt the existence of Santa Claus he won't bring them any presents; but if they believe as hard as they can, they'll get lots of presents. Also, remove the part about Santa Claus rewarding children for being good - being good should be its own reward to be internalized appropriately; if the children believe they are being bribed, it may interfere with their internalization of morality. Santa Claus should reward children only for believing in him. Why is that good? Well, just because.

When the child first questions Santa Claus, he should be given a vaguely plausible set of physical and moral rationalizations - i.e., the reindeer actually travel through the nineteenth dimension, and rich kids get better presents because they have a higher hedonic baseline, etc. This will give the child experience with vague philosophical-sounding rationalizations, not just blatantly obvious lies.

Need I go on? Why would the present myth be optimal unto any purpose, even a Noble Lie, if it was not designed that way?

Comment author: beriukay 25 March 2010 12:22:44PM 26 points [-]

As a trial run at atheism, I would have been the Dinesh D'Souza of Santa-ism. I recall that at age 12, I proudly defended Santa-ism from my peers because of a personal experience that I thought gave strong evidence of his existence. Because, of COURSE, no human could sneak presents outside under the tree while a kid wasn't paying attention, and OBVIOUSLY the door was closed the whole time, and no human could have placed them all there within just a few minutes. I should ask my parents how they managed that trick.

Comment author: Ender 29 October 2011 09:34:19PM 3 points [-]

I think I wrote an essay for a middle-school english teacher to the effect that any belief that I had in [the belief in] Santa Claus dragged my belief in [my belief in] God along as it went away (Which would have been around... when I was three or five; my parents didn't really try very hard to convince my siblings or me that Santa actually existed).

I don't remember a time when I believed in more than a belief in Santa, or, though my parents tried a little harder on this front, in God. My mother read to me from a kid's bible (with stories like Noah's Ark (the one with all the incest in it, for anyone who doesn't know) set as poems), but I could tell she didn't believe the stories (she probably figured she ought to make an effort, just 'cause).

Nonetheless, my father only recently began to imply outright that Santa Claus wasn't real.

Comment author: Mets 01 November 2013 02:44:26AM 2 points [-]

Why is it that people use "belief in god" as "belief in Christianity" and "no belief in Christianity" as "atheism"? Even disregarding other religions, there's a whole range of positions between them.

Comment author: pnrjulius 27 May 2012 03:17:47AM 5 points [-]

We seem to go to pretty dark places pretty fast once we tell ourselves it's all right to lie to our children.

Also, while most people do grow out of Santa, they don't seem to grow out of God; so the dress rehearsal apparently doesn't ever become a performance.

Comment author: DaFranker 11 July 2012 03:07:53PM 1 point [-]

The rest of Eliezer's original writing seems to allude to this. If children are trained to take bribes and go for the most convenient excuse (and to commit the fallacy of the false dilemma by teaching-through-example), then they are quickly self-persuaded that it is to their benefit to not apply the principle to religion unless they know they are being abused by this more than they can abuse it and others through it.

Comment author: bokov 24 September 2013 06:03:17PM 12 points [-]

Or, how about telling kids that Santa is rewarding or punishing them for how he predicts they will act during the coming year? Get them started on Newcomb problems!

Comment author: lavalamp 24 September 2013 11:50:22PM 7 points [-]

"Santa put a really awesome gift in this present if and only if he predicted that you'd destroy all your other gifts without opening them before opening this gift."