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michael_vassar comments on The Third Alternative - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: michael_vassar 07 May 2007 10:17:17PM 1 point [-]

Rob: I think that some psychologists might say something like the following. Confirmation bias causes new evidence to accumulate in favor of existing beliefs. Subsequent to the accumulation of such evidence, the refutation of the original evidence for a belief will not eliminate the belief. When the beliefs in question are normative evaluations, this is called the "halo effect".

Initial evidence that something, for instance ethical behavior, is good because it leads to Santa giving presents could lead to a bias in favor of noticing other evidence that ethical behavior is good, such as it eliminates some of the cognitive burden of lying, and it makes other people happy thus promoting vicarious pleasure. Sensitivity to these possibilities may lead to their better exploitation, and thus to a history of Pavlovian reinforcement from good behaviors.

That being said, much of Jewish and to a lesser degree Catholic law consists of the justification of reversion to preferred morality where it differs (usually in the sense of being much more ethical as modern seculars would understand the term) than the morality promoted by their theoretical authority figure, implying a (fortunate) failure of internalization of religious morality. More speculatively, some scholars have blamed the barbarities of the Soviets and NAZIs on (among other things) the reversion to a tribal/nationalist preferred morality which Christianity had advocated replacing, or simply to conformity or sadism in response to a moral vacuum. Unfortunately for this thesis, the Japanese, with a presumably more resilient internalized morality, committed comparable though somewhat lesser atrocities, suggesting, at best, that reverting to tribalism/nationalism is not much worse for outsiders than never having abandoned it. Unfortunately for this discussion, there are no obvious examples of maturely secular nations with universalist ethical axioms fighting major wars, but that fact could also be seen as tending to confirm the above speculation.