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Viliam_Bur comments on How to not be a fatalist? Need help from people who care about true beliefs. - Less Wrong

6 Post author: Laoch 07 December 2013 07:17PM

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Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 December 2013 09:41:27PM 34 points [-]

Are there powerful arguments to counter fatalism?

How committed are you to countering fatalism with arguments?

For example, if it turned out that you could effectively reduce the temptation towards fatalism by means of a regular exercise program, a healthy diet, socializing more with friends, and/or making noticeable progress on projects you think are important... would that be acceptable, even if none of that provided you with arguments that you could articulate for why fatalism was false?

Comment author: lucidian 08 December 2013 02:05:05AM 10 points [-]

I wish I could upvote this comment more than once. This is something I've struggled with a lot over the past few months: I know that my opinions/decisions/feelings are probably influenced by these physiological/psychological things more than by my beliefs/worldview/rational arguments, and the best way to gain mental stability would be to do more yoga (since in my experience, this always works). Yet I've had trouble shaking my attachment to philosophical justifications. There's something rather terrifying about methods (yoga, narrative, etc.) that work on the subconscious, because it implies a frightening lack of control over our own lives (at least if one equates the self with the conscious mind). Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike. Therefore, if I really believe in my goals, it is in my interest not to do these things, even though my current state of (lack of) mental health also prevents me from accomplishing my goals. But I do want to be mentally healthy, so I spent months trying to come up with some philosophical justification for doing yoga that I could defend to myself in terms of my current belief system.

Earlier this week, though, some switch flipped in me and I realized that, in my current state of mental health, I was definitely not living my life in accordance with my values (thanks, travel, for shaking me out of fixed thought-patterns!). I did some yoga and immediately felt better. Now I think I'm over this obsession with philosophical justifications, and I'm very happy about it, but damn, it took a long time to get there. The silly thing is that I've been through this internal debate a million times ("seek out philosophical justifications, which probably don't exist in a form that will satisfy my extreme skepticism and ability to deconstruct everything" vs. "trust intuition because it is the only viable option in the absence of philosophical justifications; also, do more yoga"). Someday I'll just settle on the latter and stop getting in arguments with myself.

Also, sorry if this comment is completely off-topic; it's just something I've been thinking about a lot.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 December 2013 12:11:57PM *  10 points [-]

Particularly frightening to me has been the idea that doing yoga or meditation might change my goals, especially since the teachers of these techniques always seem to wrap the techniques in some worldview or other that I may dislike.

Yesterday I was in a church, for a friend's wedding. I was listening to some readings from the Bible, about love (obviously 1 Cor 13) etc. I knew this was cherry-picking from a book that a few hundred pages sooner also describes how non-believers or people who violate some rule should be murdered. But still, the message was nice, and some of the people around me were my friends, so I felt good.

And this is what I thought: "The people who wrote these parts of the Bible were good people who tried their best at optimizing the world. They lived long before Science, they were ignorant and brainwashed about too many things, so of course many of their beliefs were wrong, and subsequently their followers did a lot of harm. But their intentions and emotions were similar to mine. Instead of thinking about them as my enemies, I should think about them as my predecessors; a homo sapiens neanderthalensis to homo sapiens sapiens. A few thousand years ago, they made some things right and some things wrong. It is our generations' moral duty to do things better; to correct what they got wrong." And then I started imagining that one day, we could have a rationalist ceremony like this; with all the emotions, but without the bullshit. I viewed the ongoing ceremony as a prototype of something better.

I don't know how much this could translate to your situation. Caring about one's body and mind is an important instrumental goal. And it's great that some people put a lot of research into that. You can admire their dedication, without buying the stupid parts. Perhaps you can make it better. One day, we might have rational yoga and meditation exercises.

There's something rather terrifying about methods that work on the subconscious, because it implies a frightening lack of control over our own lives

If I have a lack of control about my own life, I want to know about it, and then I can interact with it, which actually gives me more control. Instead of illusion of control, I would rather optimize for the real control (even if the reality cannot give me as much real control as my ignorance could give me an illusionary control).

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 08 December 2013 01:32:51PM 0 points [-]

And then I started imagining that one day, we could have a rationalist ceremony like this; with all the emotions, but without the bullshit. I viewed the ongoing ceremony as a prototype of something better.

Actually many modern western wedding ceremonies are on a good way toward that. As many people are paying less and less commitment behind their nominal religion their wedding ceremonies consequently carry less and less weight on the scripture and more on the athmosphere, the ceremony (which by its structure supports the promise) the feelings (which are loosend by such celbrations), the music (which also works on the emotions), and lots of customs which all help to bring all involved together and by the facilitated exchanges support the couple.

Those people use the effects of the ceremony and the traditional willingness to participate in the ceremony without neccessarily believing the scripture or more than paying lip-service to it.

The question is: How to progress from here? Weddings outside of a church are usually not as grand. But maybe they can be made so (if you want to use this device at all of course).

The longer I think of it, the more it becomes clear that any ceremony is analogous to a technical device which makes some outcomes more likely than others. In this analogy a ceremony is like a pump which brings the actors/particles sufficiently close together that in this mood/field certain interchanges (commitments/reaction) are more likely to happen. And afterwards when the ceremony/pressure is over the commitment will not simply undo because of the same reasons the molecules formed will not (likely) revert.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 December 2013 03:18:55PM *  5 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

For some people this may be a sufficient reason to hate ceremonies. Because they are typically designed by someone else, and may support goals we don't agree with. Or the idea of some process predictably changing my mind feels repulsive.

The problem is, "changing my mind using emotions" is what happens all the time. No ceremonies, not even other people are required. The mere fact that I feel hungry, or tired, or lonely, or angry, is enough to change my mind. If these influences happen all the time randomly, usually without providing me any benefit, what's wrong about using the same process deliberately to bring me something that I want?

My emotions are subject to thousand biases. I may believe that something is important, and yet not feel strongly about it; I may even forget it quickly. I may believe something is harmful, and yet not feel repelled by it. Modifying my emotions to fit my beliefs could be very helpful. (Also risky, if my beliefs are wrong. But that does not mean that having random emotions is safe.) I would like to have a machine to give me the emotions I want to have. (Similar to the "remoralization" spell in Night Watch.)

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 08 December 2013 08:56:42PM 0 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

You talk about it as if it were ovious/well known.

Is there actually any theory which does apply technical theories like particel dynamics, thermodynamics and/or process optimization theories to human social behavior patterns thus actually exploiting this analogy of ritual=machine?

Comment author: Lumifer 10 December 2013 05:45:40AM *  2 points [-]

Is there actually any theory which does apply technical theories like particel dynamics, thermodynamics and/or process optimization theories to human social behavior patterns

Psychohistory :-D

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 12 December 2013 12:07:53AM 0 points [-]

I know that one :-) I especially liked the part where the student discovered that the predictions were met better than 'possible' (probably by some convergence speed theorems).

But no. I thought more about something along the lines of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_Economics (actually mentioned on your link).

Some theory which doesn't try to predict aggregate outcomes of human actions (that wouldn't work for longer time spans for the same reasons whether cannot be forcast precisely - chaos theory). I thought about some theory which models smaller structures like transactions, rituals, customs, ceremonies and measures and predicts their frequency and 'success'.

Comment author: Brillyant 09 December 2013 02:49:26PM 0 points [-]

A ceremony is a machine that uses emotions to change people.

This is a great little phrase. And, in the church, I think ceremony is a useful or harmful machine in the ways you mention. And I think the potential for emotion-alteration is greater in a ceremony than just regular life. Not only at weddings, but in all kinds of formalized ceremonies -- funerals, baptisms, worship services, etc.

Generally, it seems to me that adherents of religion enjoy the experience. It is meaningful and sometimes even euphoric. And it "gives them the emotions they want to have." It's a win for them in every sense...apart from having to accept nonsense. But they don't seem bother with that aspect from my experience. (In that way, it all functions like an anti-fatalist mechanism for the believer...)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 December 2013 04:39:47PM *  1 point [-]

It's a win for them in every sense...apart from having to accept nonsense.

Which is exactly why I'd love to have the ceremonies without the nonsense. To feel rational, strongly and reliably. (Well, more reliably than using other methods.)