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Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points

43 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 October 2007 01:59AM

A few years back, my great-grandmother died, in her nineties, after a long, slow, and cruel disintegration.  I never knew her as a person, but in my distant childhood, she cooked for her family; I remember her gefilte fish, and her face, and that she was kind to me.  At her funeral, my grand-uncle, who had taken care of her for years, spoke:  He said, choking back tears, that God had called back his mother piece by piece: her memory, and her speech, and then finally her smile; and that when God finally took her smile, he knew it wouldn't be long before she died, because it meant that she was almost entirely gone.

I heard this and was puzzled, because it was an unthinkably horrible thing to happen to anyone, and therefore I would not have expected my grand-uncle to attribute it to God.  Usually, a Jew would somehow just-not-think-about the logical implication that God had permitted a tragedy.  According to Jewish theology, God continually sustains the universe and chooses every event in it; but ordinarily, drawing logical implications from this belief is reserved for happier occasions.  By saying "God did it!" only when you've been blessed with a baby girl, and just-not-thinking "God did it!" for miscarriages and stillbirths and crib deaths, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of your God's benevolent personality.

Hence I was surprised to hear my grand-uncle attributing the slow disintegration of his mother to a deliberate, strategically planned act of God. It violated the rules of religious self-deception as I understood them.

If I had noticed my own confusion, I could have made a successful surprising prediction.  Not long afterward, my grand-uncle left the Jewish religion.  (The only member of my extended family besides myself to do so, as far as I know.)

Modern Orthodox Judaism is like no other religion I have ever heard of, and I don't know how to describe it to anyone who hasn't been forced to study Mishna and Gemara.  There is a tradition of questioning, but the kind of questioning...  It would not be at all surprising to hear a rabbi, in his weekly sermon, point out the conflict between the seven days of creation and the 13.7 billion years since the Big Bang—because he thought he had a really clever explanation for it, involving three other Biblical references, a Midrash, and a half-understood article in Scientific American.  In Orthodox Judaism you're allowed to notice inconsistencies and contradictions, but only for purposes of explaining them away, and whoever comes up with the most complicated explanation gets a prize.

There is a tradition of inquiry.  But you only attack targets for purposes of defending them.  You only attack targets you know you can defend.

In Modern Orthodox Judaism I have not heard much emphasis of the virtues of blind faith.  You're allowed to doubt.  You're just not allowed to successfully doubt.

I expect that the vast majority of educated Orthodox Jews have questioned their faith at some point in their lives.  But the questioning probably went something like this:  "According to the skeptics, the Torah says that the universe was created in seven days, which is not scientifically accurate.  But would the original tribespeople of Israel, gathered at Mount Sinai, have been able to understand the scientific truth, even if it had been presented to them?  Did they even have a word for 'billion'?  It's easier to see the seven-days story as a metaphor—first God created light, which represents the Big Bang..."

Is this the weakest point at which to attack one's own Judaism?  Read a bit further on in the Torah, and you can find God killing the first-born male children of Egypt to convince an unelected Pharaoh to release slaves who logically could have been teleported out of the country.  An Orthodox Jew is most certainly familiar with this episode, because they are supposed to read through the entire Torah in synagogue once per year, and this event has an associated major holiday.  The name "Passover" ("Pesach") comes from God passing over the Jewish households while killing every male firstborn in Egypt.

Modern Orthodox Jews are, by and large, kind and civilized people; far more civilized than the several editors of the Old Testament.  Even the old rabbis were more civilized.  There's a ritual in the Seder where you take ten drops of wine from your cup, one drop for each of the Ten Plagues, to emphasize the suffering of the Egyptians.  (Of course, you're supposed to be sympathetic to the suffering of the Egyptians, but not so sympathetic that you stand up and say, "This is not right!  It is wrong to do such a thing!")  It shows an interesting contrast—the rabbis were sufficiently kinder than the compilers of the Old Testament that they saw the harshness of the Plagues.  But Science was weaker in these days, and so rabbis could ponder the more unpleasant aspects of Scripture without fearing that it would break their faith entirely.

You don't even ask whether the incident reflects poorly on God, so there's no need to quickly blurt out "The ways of God are mysterious!" or "We're not wise enough to question God's decisions!" or "Murdering babies is okay when God does it!"  That part of the question is just-not-thought-about.

The reason that educated religious people stay religious, I suspect, is that when they doubt, they are subconsciously very careful to attack their own beliefs only at the strongest points—places where they know they can defend.  Moreover, places where rehearsing the standard defense will feel strengthening.

It probably feels really good, for example, to rehearse one's prescripted defense for "Doesn't Science say that the universe is just meaningless atoms bopping around?", because it confirms the meaning of the universe and how it flows from God, etc..  Much more comfortable to think about than an illiterate Egyptian mother wailing over the crib of her slaughtered son.  Anyone who spontaneously thinks about the latter, when questioning their faith in Judaism, is really questioning it, and is probably not going to stay Jewish much longer.

My point here is not just to beat up on Orthodox Judaism.  I'm sure that there's some reply or other for the Slaying of the Firstborn, and probably a dozen of them.  My point is that, when it comes to spontaneous self-questioning, one is much more likely to spontaneously self-attack strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, then to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points.  Similarly, one is likely to stop at the first reply and be comforted, rather than further criticizing the reply.  A better title than "Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points" would be "Not Spontaneously Thinking About Your Belief's Most Painful Weaknesses".

More than anything, the grip of religion is sustained by people just-not-thinking-about the real weak points of their religion.  I don't think this is a matter of training, but a matter of instinct.  People don't think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don't touch an oven's red-hot burners; it's painful.

To do better:  When you're doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most.  Don't rehearse standard objections whose standard counters would make you feel better.  Ask yourself what smart people who disagree would say to your first reply, and your second reply.  Whenever you catch yourself flinching away from an objection you fleetingly thought of, drag it out into the forefront of your mind.  Punch yourself in the solar plexus.  Stick a knife in your heart, and wiggle to widen the hole.  In the face of the pain, rehearse only this:

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn't make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn't make it go away.
And because it's true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn't there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
Eugene Gendlin

 

Part of the Against Rationalization subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

Next post: "Motivated Stopping and Motivated Continuation"

Previous post: "A Rational Argument"

Comments (105)

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Comment author: Douglas_Knight2 05 October 2007 03:04:41AM 0 points [-]

Science was weaker in these days

Could you elaborate on this? What do you mean by Science? (reasoning? knowledge?)

The thing whose weakness seems relevant to me is a cultural tradition of doubting religion. Also, prerequisites which I have trouble articulating because they are so deeply buried: perhaps a changing notion of benevolence.

Comment author: Danfly 09 April 2012 05:18:45PM 3 points [-]

I'll take a wild stab in the dark and say that he probably meant that the method of reasoning was not as sophisticated back then. You could call the Aristotelean method of reasoning from empirical observation a "strengthening" of science. Nevertheless you could still say that "science" was much weaker back then compared to Popper's critical rationalism, with its emphasis on falsification.

Nevertheless, I'm sure I will be informed if this interpretation is wrong, which will hopefully help me be less wrong in the future.

Comment author: TGGP4 05 October 2007 05:10:35AM 5 points [-]

That doesn't describe me at all. I was a full-bore Fred Phelps-style ultracalvinist (only an apathetic quietist rather than an activist). I was proud that my faith was so pure I could fully admit that God does this or that thing we find abhorrent because we are so pitiful in comparison to Him and His Plan that the very idea of questioning His Wisdom is laughable. I would say "You cannot question the goodness of His actions because there was no good before God defined it, whatever God does is good by virtue of His doing it and when you say one his actions is "bad" it is only a reflection of your complete inability to know what good is in comparison to Him". I believed in evolution and like you knew the importance of not having a human-centered perception of the world. God was not merely not a 20th century American, he was not human, was not of this planet or even of this universe. He was utterly incomprehensible, and what we did know of Him was only what he had chosen to let us (whose significance in His Plan we cannot know) hear, which left room for a dishonest and misleading approach to us (though we were to think of it as being as benevolent as a parent telling their children, mentally challenged ones at that, about Santa and the Tooth Fairy). I discussed that phase of my belief here, noted one of the contradictions in my God-conception here at Gene Expression and mentioned the resemblance of the deity I was supposed to revere to H.P. Lovecraft's Azathoth here.

Comment author: Tiiba2 05 October 2007 05:25:53AM 0 points [-]

I know it's not entirely on topic, but biblical physics seems like a more important test of the Bible's truth than God's morality. If God does not follow the arbitrary laws of human society, what does that prove? Nor does the Bible wrongly saying that God is merciful mean much - what would you do if you were God and had to write a book? But if the Bible accurately states the age of the Universe, that's something. In the end, the only important issue is whether you're going to hell or heaven.

I actually think it's rather irrational for someone to think that God's cruelty is an argument against His existence, and this seems a common opinion among atheists. I mean, I believe in Stalin, who also claimed to be a milkmaid's best friend while executing anyone who looked at him funny.

Comment author: Psychohistorian2 05 October 2007 06:09:22AM 4 points [-]

Tiiba: Because it is very hard to read ambiguity into moral acts. One can say that six days is not meant literally (even if the original language says that - though I'm not saying it does; I don't know). One cannot say that the firstborn of Egypt were all just sleeping.

Furthermore, one cannot explain away deception. Maybe God actually made the Universe in six days but wants us to think it was longer to test our faith. Yes, that's a lousy argument, but one might conceive of it being true. As for other offenses, God makes the laws of physics, so he obeys them at his whim.

By contrast, an action making God appear evil necessarily makes him incomprehensible for many religions. If you say that God is good, and that he slaughtered innocent children, and you believe that such a slaughter is wrong, then any defense of God must change the meaning of "God is good" to something completely unrecognizable. Either good is true of God by definition (What He does is good) or it is the "big plan" strategy, in which case it is actually good but you are too stupid to understand why, meaning he is good in a way that we necessarily cannot understand.

So, to end this rambling, people pick moral attacks because they don't allow the "Well, it's obviously false, therefore, it isn't meant literally!" defense. It also attacks concepts of God on a somewhat different level.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 October 2007 06:30:34AM 3 points [-]

TGGP, different people will rehearse different defenses, depending on what they think is strong - what they genuinely don't anticipate being called on, at least by themselves. You're an atheist now, so there was probably something you didn't think about, in the corner of your mind, which you can think about now. What was it?

Comment author: GreedyAlgorithm 05 October 2007 07:38:00AM 1 point [-]

Ha, this just happened to me. Luckily it wasn't too painful because I knew the weakness existed, I avoided it, and then reading E. T. Jaynes' "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science" gave me a different and much better belief to patch up my old one. Also, thanks for that recommendation. A lot.

For a while I had been what I called a Bayesian because I thought the frequentist position was incoherent and the Bayesian position elegant. But I couldn't resolve to my satisfaction the problem of scale parameters. I read that there was a prior that was invariant with respect to them but something kept bothering me.

It turns out that my intuition of probability was still "there is a magic number I call probability inherent in objects and what they might do". So when I saw the question "What is the probability that a glass has water:wine in a ratio of 1.5:1 or less, given that it has water:wine in a ratio between 1:1 and 2:1?" I was still thinking something along the lines of "Well, consider all possible glasses of watered wine, and maybe weight them in some way, and I'll get a probability..."

Jaynes has convinced me that the right way to think about probability is plausibility of situations given states of knowledge. There's nothing wrong with insisting that a prior be set up for any given problem; it's incoherent to set up a problem _without_ looking at the priors. They aren't just useful, they're necessary, and anyone who says it's cheating to push the difficulty of an inductive reasoning problem onto the difficulty of determining real-world priors can be dismissed.

If only I'd asked around about this problem before, maybe I would have discovered meta-Jaynes earlier! Speaking of that, why haven't I seen his stuff or things building on it before? I feel like saying that 99% of people miss its importance says more about my importance assignment than their seeming apathy.

Comment author: g 05 October 2007 08:54:56AM 1 point [-]

Tiiba: Also, most religions *define* God as being supremely good; evidence against the existence of a supremely good god is evidence against those religions even though it's consistent with some other religions almost no one believes in. To get from there to positive "I have good reason to believe there is no god of any sort" atheism requires further work, but if your only reason for believing in God in the first place was tied to a particular religion, and since observationally that's true of the great majority of theists (which suggests, for agreement-theorem-ish reasons, that maybe all the best reasons for believing in God have that characteristic) it provides grounds for not positively believing in God any more.

Comment author: jeff_gray2 05 October 2007 09:25:34AM 1 point [-]

People don't think about the real weak points of their beliefs for the same reason they don't touch an oven's red-hot burners; it's painful.

Eliezer, unless I missed the analogy, people gloss the weak points to avoid finding themselves in error and avoid the pain of getting 'burned' by woeful ignorance. Perhaps I give humanity too much credit, but I think this is not the primary disincentive for most religious people. Laziness & Apathy are the first stage, where most people drop any thoughts they had of re-evalutating 'their' beliefs.

I observed this tendency in 13 years of private christian school, and at many churches (and I still love my parents...) As soon as people started to think about big problems, like the problem of evil, it became clear that they weren't going to be able to solve it by dinner-time. Since New Testament theology is strewn with paradoxes, most people seemed to merely accept doctrine as a super-strength version of 'Belief as Attire.' For some reason, something didn't click in my brain, b/c though I belonged to the group, I enjoyed exploring heterodox interpretations and other non-sanctioned ideas which unsettled the 'conventional' others.

Anyway, to actually examine the weak points of a religion like christianity or judaism is a huge project for one inside their system. I thought that I would have to master philosophy, logic, ancient languages, theology, and become a lay expert on physics and evolutionary biology in order to square the sacred text with the Life.

Belonging to a religion allows a person to let others do their thinking and believing for them, and that is the real problem. If all christians were Kierkegaards it would be a different situation (and I suppose if all Jews were Spinoza).

I guess I agree w/ Eliezer, I just think most people lie down once they realize the effort it will take to reach the next stage where you 'face-the-pain'.

And the thing that I didn't think about, being indoctrinated from the beginning, was that perhaps the bible wasn't/couldn't be inerrant; the perfect word of god. (Scary to think that there could be such relevant doubts that didn't even register!)

Comment author: jonvon 05 October 2007 02:16:24PM 5 points [-]

here here, living out what is not true is much more painful - and not just in the long run. it is more painful every day.

i grew up a christian. there is a parable about a man who gives up everything he has in order to find the "pearl of great price" which he knows is buried in a field. so he sells everything to buy the field, and then he is able to legally dig up the treasure. in other words he's done the work and has the right to the reward. i know this will sound crazy to most christians, but giving up christianity was my way of selling everything i had to find the pearl of great price.

Comment author: AndyCossyleon 08 September 2010 02:31:49PM 5 points [-]

Yes.

This is how I felt as well, that my personal discovery of atheism was merely the next step in my life having been raised as a Christian. Losing religion and coming clean about it was the test of my integrity, which was formed under the wing of the Bible and Christianity.

Comment author: waveman 22 March 2011 10:17:02AM *  3 points [-]

giving up Christianity was my way of selling everything i had to find the pearl of great price

It's very hard to do. I gave up Christianity 39 years ago and I'm still finding large chunks of it floating around in my brain. This was the point of "God is dead" - people no longer believed in God but unconsciously carry on as if it were still true.

Comment author: Silas 05 October 2007 05:06:20PM -2 points [-]

Eliezer_Yudkowsky: This seems to contradict your previous trivialization of the "9/11 hijackers are cowardly" claim. If indeed probing our beliefs at their weak points is painful, backing away from this is a sign of cowardice. Blowing yourself up in an attempt to kill off the people who disagree with you, instead of intellectually confronting this, and exposing yourself to that pain of being wrong, is indeed cowardly, even if you are sacrificing something precious in the process.

Americans may feel unjustifiably comfortable in retreating to "9/11 terrorists were cowards". They may endorse this purely because of pro-American bias. However, the claim is fundamentally correct, even if people support it for the wrong reasons.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 October 2007 05:21:14PM 5 points [-]

Silas: Ah, so the US soldiers in Iraq are cowards because they shoot people instead of arguing intellectually with them?

Rationality is not the default state of a human being. It requires an effort just to get a human mind to the point where it perceives a scary duty of argument. I have no evidence that the 9/11 attackers got to this point, so I have no evidence that they were scared enough to be intellectual cowards.

Comment author: TGGP4 05 October 2007 05:34:48PM 3 points [-]

I suppose in some sense I had not been a believer for some time, but my history of being a Christian had put in me a desire to be one whether or not I actually thought it was true. Like many youngsters I had started out with a primitive God-concept of the kindly old man in the sky variety who watches over us and occasionally intervenes sometimes. As I grew older and wiser I made omniscience, predeterminism and so on a more important part, so that God was now the inactive clock-maker (which seemed logical to me). The nature of God came to be shaped by what I knew about the world rather than my view of the nature of the world being affected by my concept of God. God was essentially out of the picture and the only justification I had for including him was the prime-mover argument (which I would now say brings in a conclusion inferior to maximum entropy). It wasn't that long ago I first announced to anyone else I had stopped believing, and still haven't told those I know personally. As I mention in the link, it was reading people like the folks at gnxp that pushed me over the edge. I was able to read them and take what they said seriously because, as I mentioned, I didn't feel my faith was threatened. There were occasional mentions of Bayesianism, but it was mostly the notion of belief as a probabilistic guess based on evidence that got through to me. I wanted to have a more accurate view of the world and tried to adopt that standard of belief. I also knew about how most people's religious beliefs (I did not initially think to include my own in that category) were not grounded in evidence, but group membership/arguments from authority and flawed intuition/heuristics. Eventually those concepts collided and I decided to consciously evaluate whether the evidence really suggested the existence of the judeochristian God. My conclusion was no and I had not really thought the evidence suggested it for some time but had a "preference over belief". Once I admitted I didn't actually believe I couldn't make myself believe anymore whether or not I had that preference. Can anyone honestly say "I believe this even though it isn't actually the case"? I can't really think of any killer argument against God I hadn't considered though.

Comment author: Pseudonymous2 05 October 2007 05:42:22PM 9 points [-]

To do better find someone smart who disagrees with you. He'll do a much better job of questioning your beliefs than you ever will.

Better still, find many such people.

Comment author: Arandur 01 August 2011 12:51:13AM 6 points [-]

That would be why I'm here. :3

Comment author: AnneC 06 October 2007 12:31:58AM 2 points [-]

When you're doubting one of your most cherished beliefs, close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts the most.

This is good advice.

I started doing this around 9 years ago, because at the end of adolescence I experienced a sudden "mortality awareness". I imagine this is probably common -- that is, many people probably experience a moment in their life when the fact that they, too, are getting older, comes into sharp relief. But in my observation, most people seem to respond to this moment by saying, "Oh well, I'm just not going to think about that". I couldn't not think about it, though. I was already an atheist at this point, but when I was 20 I still hadn't come up with much of an approach for thinking about how to live my life in full awareness of biological vulnerability. So I forced myself to imagine becoming very old and sick, to imagine contracting cancer, to imagine every single worst-case scenario that would lead to pain and death (not just mine, but that of my family, etc., as well).

I didn't mention this to very many people, but those I did seemed to think it was "unhealthy", and that I was exhibiting a kind of OCD-like obsession with doom. But it was a phase I needed to go through, so that I could process the worst-that-could-happen without just reacting emotionally to it. It isn't that I'm "fine" now with the idea of horrible things happening -- of course I would like to avoid them -- but that I don't think that "not thinking about horrible things" is an effective means of avoiding them. I figure that (a) there are some things that could very well happen regardless of what I do or how I think, and (b) I am more likely to come up with an effective strategy for avoiding something bad if I don't hide from thoughts about that bad thing.

Also, after processing the "worst case scenarios" I thought up, I came to realize that even if every bad thing I can imagine happens at some point, life is still infinitely worth living in the meantime -- this is especially pertinent in how I try to approach the subject of life extension, because I think it would lead to damaging bias (e.g., overconfidence with regard to the development of effective biotech solutions for radical longevity in my lifetime) if I were to make my ability to live without despair contingent upon achieving this longevity.

Comment author: Benoit_Essiambre 06 October 2007 03:45:59AM 0 points [-]

I call myself an atheist. However, I actually think believing in a vague god is based on probabilisticly rational and bayesian kind of thinking, at least for the limited context humans live in.

I say 'vague god' because I believe most people who believe there is a god and have somewhat solid arguments supporting this fact often use fallaciously the wrong level of conceptual abstraction to support their _own_ specific god. The word god is not very well defined and there is quite a large margin around the definition to play with. I find the best arguments, like the prime-mover or entropy argument, are bayesian in a certain context but even where they make sense, they prove nothing but a very vague god. Theists have a very annoying tendency to use these arguments, which in reality, only support the fact that there is 'something' that somewhat fits the definition of "god" (in that it is a creator) that is complex enough to have 'created' the universe (assuming the concept of 'creation' makes sense outside the universe), or at least something which created the thermodynamic order found in the universe. There is never any good evidence for the specific gods, only for some vague god that is probably more similar to a physical phenomenon like the big bang than to the gods of religious literature.

Now why do I think the vague gods are, in some sense, rational ? It came to me while I was thinking about bayesian probabilities, while reading Jaynes book. In most problems, propability is conditioned on some variable I, representing general contextual knowledge. The equations often take the form of P(H|O,I) which represents the probability of an hypothesis H knowing some observations O and other more general facts 'I'. Jaynes never said much about 'I' except that it is whatever else we know about the problem. I like to think of 'I' as a sort of low enthropy bounded context. I sometimes call it the 'contextual urn' because probability texts often idealise this information into an urn. The contextual urn need not have a hard boundary like a real urn, its bounds can be empty space as distance itself or even time can isolate things in the universe. (As an aside, I think studying how we recognise these contexts and their bounds could explain a lot about how we reason and how to make predictions about the universe. It is a hole in probability theory which needs to be understood before we can build Jaynes rational robot) 'I' is some recognisable context that allows us to make predictions. The fact that it is recognisable means it has properties that we have seen before. The contextual urn defines a sitation, a spacio-temporal region, that is low entropy enough to be recognisable and that repeats itself often enough that we can learn things about it.

The next thing I noticed about the relationship between 'I', 'O' and H is that we can kind of view 'I' and O as a cause of H and effects seem never to be more complex than their causes. This is particularly true about creation as far as we can take a creator and his creation to be a cause and effect (Which philosophers like Hume accepted). Taking an information theoretic perspective, if something can create someting else, it contains all the information to create it and probably more. It is at least as complex entropically as the thing it creates. Humans have always lived in a world where this was true almost all the time and hence it is perfectly reasonable for them to deduce using bayesian reasoning that's how things pretty much always work. It is not hard to see then that living organisma, humans or even the universe in general contain a great amount of complexity and there has to be something even more complex which created them. e.g. god.

If we look further than our immediate existence, we find out that it is not always true that a cause is more complex than its effect. Because of random variations, an effect is not very probable to be more complex than its cause but _it CAN happen_ sometimes. And as a result of natural selection, it is possible for the complexity of populations of effects to increase given a bias which makes the more complex survive more than the less.

Evolution is not something that happens in the time-scale of a human life therefore it is not very useful to us. We thus have evolved and rationally learned during our lifetime that effects are probably _always_ less complex than their causes. And in the context of a relatively short life span this is right!

We have to look at a wider timespan to see that there is actually another way for complexity to arise and that it explains the complexity we observe much better than the gods of religions. This is of course the theory of evolution.

I think this explains why theists feel so threatened by evolution. It's because it is the only good alternative for the creation of complexity. And although most people don't understand the principles of entropy and thermodynamics, most people's innate Bayesian reasoning leads them to the right conclusions: When they see the alternative explaining the creation of complexity and when they see how well the theory of evolution fits historical evidence, their last argument for the belief in god vaporises.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 06 October 2007 04:23:02AM 0 points [-]

Benoit: The universe may actually contain almost no information despite looking complex, just like (say) pi or e.

Anne: I love your comment. In Buddhism (as I understand), it is recommended to meditate every day on your death and the deaths of your loved ones, so you can consider the possibility without going crazy. I always thought that sounded like a good idea.

Comment author: AnneC 06 October 2007 06:07:57AM 1 point [-]

Nick: I'm not a Buddhist (definitely can't grok the reincarnation stuff), but in a lot of ways I can see where the Buddhists are coming from, especially with regard to "letting go of attachments".

Comment author: Benoit_Essiambre 06 October 2007 02:28:28PM 0 points [-]

I dunno Nick, your link implies the 'multiple universes' interpretation of quantum theory, and like Jaynes and Einstein, I tend to disagree with this interpretation. But yeah, I'm sure there exists some kind of physical explanation that when written down is more similar to a scientific article than a religious text. We just don't know it yet.

Comment author: waveman 22 March 2011 10:12:35AM 0 points [-]

multiple universes... I'm sure there exists some kind of physical explanation

It is well explained in "Quantum Mechanics and Experience" by David Z. Albert.

Essential the many worlds theory works like this (on one interpretation):

There is really one universe. It is the deterministic world of the wave function. Our apparent universe is actually just a projection of that deterministic wave function. There is no collapse of the wave function, it just seems like there is, due to decoherence.

If you imaging a movie screen showing two different stories at once, there is just one movie, but each of the characters in each story behave as if they are aware of their story. In our world, decoherence is what creates the multiple stories.

At least one survey of physicists found MW was the most popular interpretation of QM; at worst it is mainstream.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 October 2007 04:40:42PM 2 points [-]

Many-worlds was invented by Everett in 1957. Einstein died in 1955. Einstein and Jaynes both disapproved of the Copenhagen interpretation - I have no evidence that either ever considered many-worlds or even heard of it. Both of them objected to inherent randomness, and MWI gets rid of this.

Comment author: ksvanhorn 18 January 2011 04:42:48AM 4 points [-]

??? Jaynes died in 1998. It strains credulity to imagine that he wouldn't have been aware of the MWI.

Comment author: Benoit_Essiambre 06 October 2007 06:53:55PM 0 points [-]

I see, that's is not how I had understood it. I guess I should just leave this stuff to physicists.

Comment author: Benoit_Essiambre 06 October 2007 07:18:53PM 1 point [-]

But Eliezer, Wikipedia says about the Copenhagen interpretation:

Aage Petersen paraphrasing Niels Bohr: "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."here is no quantum world. There is only an abstract physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

Doesn't this imply that Bohr didn't believe in inherent randomness but in randomness in the "description"? This seems like the same position as Jaynes and Einstein to me. Is Wikipedia wrong here? What am I missing???

Comment author: buybuydandavis 28 September 2011 01:10:33AM *  3 points [-]

In one of Jayne's paper's, he discusses how Bohr relentlessly talked only on the epistemological level, which many of Bohr's interpreters mistook for the ontological level.

It was the Clearing up Mysteries paper, section Confrontation or Reconciliation. http://bayes.wustl.edu/etj/articles/cmystery.pdf

So to answer your question, Bohr believed in randomness in the description, and didn't speak of inherent anything - didn't speak on the ontological level.

Comment author: lessdazed 28 September 2011 01:42:39AM 0 points [-]

The papers of his hosted there, are those all of his papers?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 29 September 2011 11:22:35AM 0 points [-]

If you go to the top level address http://bayes.wustl.edu/

You can navigate down to everything available on Jaynes, plus papers from a lot of other folks.

You can probably get the original draft of his magnum opus as latex or .pdf files somewhere in the web as well, although it was removed from that site once the book was published. It includes chapters that weren't published in the book.

Comment author: W 08 October 2007 04:04:22PM 3 points [-]

Biblical literalism is a relatively new phenomenon, and mostly a Christian one. Jewish (and many Christian) theologians have for many, many centuries regarded such things as the seven-days, two-parents creation story as myths. The questions isn't whether the mythology is true in the sense that science is true; of course it isn't. The question is whether what the mythology is intended to communicate is true.

The moral offense that moderns tend to find in the story of the killing of Egypt's firstborn is rooted in our individualist morality. The ancient view was that every member of the tribe was to some extend morally responsible for the tribe as a whole. When the pharoah offended, all of Egypt suffered, just as later all of Israel would suffer for the offenses of idolators and such.

I suspect that collective morality on that scale is quite alien to most of us, but it's fundamental for understanding the biblical worldview. But still we might ask, for instance, Are all Americans to some extent to blame for Iraq, or is blame restricted to the formal government and chain of command, or to those who voted for Bush, or to those who voted for Bush and those who didn't vote at all, or ...?

Comment author: Belkar15 07 December 2010 09:18:28AM *  3 points [-]

Truly there is no moral or scientific evidence to the existence, or nonexistence of the Jewish god (which is not the same as the Christian god; I have not thoroughly studied that one yet, so I cannot make assumptions upon it). The god, as a non-material being that is not confined to space or time, cannot be properly defined by humans, especially when Jewish texts, and more importantly Masoret (tradition; more accurately inherited information not by means of writings), give us very little information about god (bear with me here, I know this is a bit abstract). That is why all scientific definitions of god are so vague. No one has ever bothered to tell us (I mean religious Jews) what god is, and quite frankly, it does not matter. What matters in Judaism is not the Belief in god, but the Law (Belief is, of course a basis to that Law, but if we take into account that god cannot be proven or dis-proven, that if it were the case, it would have been done, belief becomes less critical). In Israel, for example, 90% of Jews believe in the Jewish god, but only one-third of them follow Jewish law (that is, Orthodox Judaism). The rest keep some of the laws, like Shabbat, or Kashrut, but only those they choose, and they may change their opinions many times. This is because, Judaism is not belief, rather it is "kabalat ol malkhut shamaim" (קבלת עול מלכות שמים) (roughly=Acceptance of the Burden of the Kinghood of God). Those who are religious not only believe in god, they accept a long list of rules, rules that guide their society, way of thinking, and morality.

In WWII, near the end of the Pacific Campaign, two speeches were made. One by Eleanor Roosevelt, and one by Hideki Tōjō. Each of them spoke, to their people, of why the campaign was necessary, why they should continue their support.

Roosevelt’s speech went something like “A glass of milk for every child”, while Tōjō reminded the people that despite the many losses, they were fighting to “preserve the honor of the Emperor” and that theirs was a noble sacrifice. We see here two totally different values: On the one hand, the needs of the people, on the other hand, the honor of the Emperor. These values were used to convince people of opposite justifications: The American, and the Japanese.

The amazing thing is that these speeches worked. The Japanese truly believed in the honor of the Emperor as a principle worth dying for, while the Americans truly believed in “the needs of the people” as a principle worth dying for.

If, say, an American said to a Japanese man and said to him: “But what of the starving children?” He would answer “Who cares! What of my dishonored Emperor?” People choose their principles, not by using logic, but rather base their logic on their highest principles, and from them glean new, sub-principles.

In short, so long as your religion does not give you science to learn (which will undoubtedly be disproved and proved again through the ages), but principles to follow, the only reason for you to leave that religion would be that you do not hold those as your highest principles, and therefore it is only a matter of time before those principles clash with your highest principles.

The reason one does not believe, is that he believes differently.
Comment author: buybuydandavis 28 September 2011 12:49:33AM 1 point [-]

This brings up a point that has become clear to me - religion is to be attacked not on truth grounds, but on specific moral grounds, as concretely and personally as possible.

And yes, denial and evasion is the root of almost all crazy.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 14 February 2012 11:26:14PM 1 point [-]

This rings so true. For years I've celebrated passover, without really considering what happened, or even if it was true. I'm glad my family is liberal enough, and I didn't ONLY rehearse the strong points, but it was interesting for me at the time how the creation myth uncannily fit in with the Big Bang theory.

That said, I was permitted to not only doubt, but not even have to defend. I just didn't follow my thoughts through. "Considering all this, is there any reason to actually worship a God, if that exists, which is unlikely? Moreso- oooh, youtube video giving a simple enough explanation to quantum physics that even I can understand it! I'll think things through later." and never actually arriving at the conclusion.

Judaism has, to me, still seemed most open and accepting of questioning. The philosophies are certainly interesting, and continue to affect me now - the core of "question everything" that I strive to follow originated from Judaism. Well, for me anyway. The lesswrong community has helped me even further, though. I still consider, if you are to believe in something before you become atheist - as in, a logical threshold you need to cross to become logical, Judaism has the lowest.

I'm not quite sure what there is to add to this, though. There is nothing more to add, in my opinion. Insightful.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 13 April 2012 01:41:20PM -3 points [-]

I would like to ask if you have turned this idea against your own most cherished beliefs?

I would be really interested to hear what you see when you "close your eyes, empty your mind, grit your teeth, and deliberately think about whatever hurts" rationality and singularity the most.

If you would like to know what someone who partially disagrees with you would say:

In my opinion, the objective of being a rationalist contains the same lopsided view of technology's capacity to transform reality that you attribute to God in the Jewish tradition.

According to Jewish theology, God continually sustains the universe and chooses every event in it; but ordinarily, drawing logical implications from this belief is reserved for happier occasions. By saying "God did it!" only when you've been blessed with a baby girl, and just-not-thinking "God did it!" for miscarriages and stillbirths and crib deaths, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of your God's benevolent personality.

Technology cures diseases, provides a more materially comfortable life style for many people, and feeds over 7 billion. By saying "rapid innovation did it" when blessed with a baby girl who would have died in birth without modern medical equipment, and just-not-thinking "rapid implementation of innovation did it" for ecocide, the proliferation of nuclear waste, the destruction of the ocean, increase in cancer, and the ability to wipe out an entire city thousands of miles away, you can build up quite a lopsided picture of technological development's beneficial personality.

The unquestioned rightness of rapid, continual technological innovation that disregards any negative results as potential signs for the need of moderation is what I see as the weakest point of your beliefs. Or at least my understanding of them.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 13 April 2012 01:50:32PM 0 points [-]

Yup, implementation of technological innovation has costs as well as benefits.

What kind of moderation do you have in mind?

Comment author: Swimmer963 13 April 2012 01:59:38PM 0 points [-]

Based on our earlier discussion of exactly this topic, I would say he wants to use some way of slowing down technological progress... My main argument against this is that I don't think we have a way of slowing technological progress that a) affects all actors (it wouldn't be a better world if only those nations not obeying international law were making technological progress), and b) has no negative ideological effects. (Has there ever been a regime that was pro-moderation-of-progress without being outright anti-progress? I don't know, I haven't thoroughly researched this, so maybe I'm just pattern-matching.) Also, I'm not sure how you'd set up the economic system of that society so there weren't big incentives for people or companies to innovate and profit from it.

Of course, "no one has ever succeeded at X in the past" isn't an unstoppable argument against X at all... But I am worried than any attempt to transform our current, no-brakes-on society into a 'moderated' society would be messy in the short term, and probably fail in the long term. (At our current level of technology, it's basically possible for individuals to make progress on given problems, and that would be very hard to stop.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 13 April 2012 02:18:47PM 2 points [-]

I disagree with your claim that our current society has no brakes on technological innovation. It does have such brakes, and it could have more if we wanted.

But slowing down technological innovation in and of itself seems absurd. Either technological innovation has been a net harm, or a net gain, or neither. If neither, I see no reason to want to slow it down. Slowing down a net gain seems like an actively bad idea. And slowing down a net harm seems inadequate; if technological innovation is a net harm it should be stopped and reversed, not merely slowed down.

It seems more valuable to identify the differentially harmful elements of technological innovation and moderate the process to suppress those while encouraging the rest of it. I agree that that is difficult to do well and frequently has side-effects. (As it does in our currently moderated system.)

Which doesn't mean an unmoderated system would be better. (Indeed, I'm inclined to doubt it would.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 13 April 2012 02:23:15PM 0 points [-]

It seems more valuable to identify the differentially harmful elements of technological innovation and moderate the process to suppress those while encouraging the rest of it. I agree that that is difficult to do well and frequently has side-effects.

I think there might be a part of my brain that, when given the problem "moderate technological progress in general", automatically converts it to "slow down harmful technology while leaving beneficial technology alone" and then gets stuck trying to solve that. But you're right, I can think of various elements in our society that slow down progress (regulations concerning drug testing before market release, anti-stem-cell-research lobbying groups, etc).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 13 April 2012 03:15:36PM 1 point [-]

Sure... this is why I asked the question in the first place, of what kind of moderation.

Framing the problem as the OP does here, as an opposition between a belief in the "unquestioned rightness of [..] innovation that disregards any negative results" and some unclear alternative, seems a strategy better optimized towards the goal of creating conflict than the goal of developing new ideas.

Since I don't particularly value conflict for its own sake, I figured I'd put my oar in the water in the direction of inviting new ideas.

I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing everything that anyone labels "technological innovation", but I know people who consider most of our existing regulations intended to prevent some of those things to do more harm than good. Similarly, I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing none of those things (or at least, no one who retroactively endorses not having done any of those things we've already done), but I know people who consider our current level of regulation problematically low.

Comment author: thomblake 19 April 2012 02:55:43PM 0 points [-]

Similarly, I don't think I know anyone who seriously endorses doing none of those things (or at least, no one who retroactively endorses not having done any of those things we've already done)

FWIW, I know plenty of libertarians who think regulation is unquestionably bad, and will happily insist the world would be better without regulations on technological advancement, even that one (for whatever one you'd like).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 April 2012 02:59:09PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I believe you that they exist. I've never met one in real life.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 20 April 2012 03:13:56PM 0 points [-]

I don't think we have a way of slowing technological progress that a) affects all actors (it wouldn't be a better world if only those nations not obeying international law were making technological progress), and b) has no negative ideological effects.

By "negative ideological effects" do you mean the legitimization of some body of religious knowledge? As stated in my post to Dave, if your objective is to re-condition society to have a rational majority, I can see how religious knowledge (which is often narratively rather than logically sequenced) would be seen as having "negative ideological effects. However, I would argue that there are functional benefits of religion. One of which is the limitation of power. Historically technological progress has for millennia been slowed down by religious and moral barriers. One of the main effects of the scientific revolution was to dissolve these barriers that impeded the production of power (See Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia). However, the current constitution of American society still contains tools of limitation, even non-religious ones. People don’t often look at it this way, but taxation is used in an incredibly moral way. Governments tax highly what they want to dissuade and provide exemptions, even subsidies for what they want to promote. The fact that there is a higher tax on cigarettes is a type of morally based restriction on the expansion of the tobacco industry in our society.

Stronger than taxation there is ability to flat out illegalize something or stigmatize it. Compared to the state of marijuana as an illegal substance and the stigma it carries in many communities makes the limitation of the cigarettes industry through taxation seems relatively minor.

Whether social stigma, taxation, or illegalization, there are several tools at our nation’s disposal to alter the development of industries due to subjective moral values, next to none of which are aimed at limiting the information-technology industries. There is no tax on certain types of research based on a judgment of what is right or wrong. To the contrary, the vast majority of scientific research is for the development of weapons technologies. And who are the primary funders of this research? The department of homeland security and the U.S military make up somewhere around 65-80% of academic research (this statistic might be a little off).

In regards to non-academic research, one of the primary impetuses may not be militarization, but is without doubt entrepreneurialism. Where the primary focus of a person or group is the development of capital the purpose of innovation becomes not fulfilling some need, but to create needs to fulfill the endless goal of cultivating more wealth. Jean Baudrillard is a very interesting sociologist, whose work is built around the idea that in western society no longer do the desires (demands) of people lead to the production of a supply, but rather where desires (demands) are artificially produced by capitalists to fulfill their supplies. A large part of this production is symbolic,, and ultimately distorts the motivations and actions of people to contradict the territories they live in.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 20 April 2012 02:19:51PM 1 point [-]

Honestly, I would moderate society with more positive religious elements. In my opinion modern society has preserved many dysfunctional elements of religion while abandoning the functional benefits. I can see that a community of rationalists would have a problem with this perspective, seeing that religion almost always results in an undereducated majority being enchanted by their psychological reflexes; but personally, I don’t see the existence of an irrational mass as unconditionally detrimental.

It is interesting to speculate about the potential of a majorly rational society, but I see no practical method of accomplishing this, nor a reason to believe that, I see no real reason to believe that if there was such a configuration would necessarily be superior to the current model.

Either swimmer or Dave, are either of you aware of a practical methodology for rationalizing the masses, or a reason to think why a more efficient society would be any less oppressive or war driven. In fact, in a worst case scenario, I see a world of majorly rational people as transforming into an even more efficient war machine, and killing us all faster. As for the project of pursuit of Friendly AI, I do not know that much about it. What is the perceived end goal of friendly Ai? Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society, or is it that humanity itself is digitized? I would be very interested to know…without being told to read an entire tome of LW essays.

Comment author: Vaniver 20 April 2012 02:27:35PM 1 point [-]

Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society, or is it that humanity itself is digitized?

Pretty much the first, but with a perspective worth mentioning. Expressing human values in terms that humans can understand is pretty easy, but still difficult enough to keep philosophy departments writing paper after paper and preachers writing sermon after sermon. Expressing human values in terms that computers can understand- well, that's tough. Really tough. And if you get it wrong, and the computers become the primary organizers and arbiters of power- well, now we've lost the future.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 20 April 2012 02:57:42PM 0 points [-]

Either swimmer or Dave, are either of you aware of a practical methodology for rationalizing the masses

For a sufficiently broad understanding of "practical" and "the masses" (and understanding "rationalizing" the way I think you mean it, which I would describe as educating), no. Way too many people on the planet for any of the educational techniques I know about to affect more than the smallest fraction of them without investing a huge amount of effort.

It's worth asking what the benefits are of better educating even a small fraction of "the masses", though.

or a reason to think why a more efficient society would be any less oppressive or war driven

That depends, of course, on what the society values. If I value oppressing people, making me more efficient just lets me oppress people more efficiently. If I value war, making me more efficient means I conduct war more efficiently.

My best guess is that collectively we value things that war turns out to be an inefficient way of achieving. I'm not confident the same is true about oppression.

In fact, in a worst case scenario, I see a world of majorly rational people as transforming into an even more efficient war machine, and killing us all faster.

Sure. But that scenario implies that wanting to kill ourselves is the goal we're striving for, and I consider that unlikely enough to not be worth worrying about much.

What is the perceived end goal of friendly Ai? Is it that an unbiased, unfailing intelligence replaces humans as the primary organizers and arbiters of power in our society

Similar, yes. A system designed to optimize the environment for the stuff humans value will, if it's a better optimizer than humans are, get better results than humans do.

or is it that humanity itself is digitized

Almost entirely orthogonal.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 21 April 2012 12:37:55AM 0 points [-]

That depends, of course, on what the society values. If I value oppressing people, making me more efficient just lets me oppress people more efficiently. If I value war, making me more efficient means I conduct war more efficiently.

So does rationality determine what a person or group values, or is it merely a tool to be used towards subjective values?

Sure. But that scenario implies that wanting to kill ourselves is the goal we're striving for, and I consider that unlikely enough to not be worth worrying about much.

My scenario does not assume that all of humanity views themselves as one in-group. Whereas what you are saying assumes that it does. Killing ourselves and killing them are two very different things. I don't think many groups have the goal of killing themselves, but do you not think that the eradication of competing out groups could be seen as increasing in-group survival?

Almost entirely orthogonal.

You are going to have to explain what you mean here.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 April 2012 12:52:33AM 0 points [-]

So does rationality determine what a person or group values, or is it merely a tool to be used towards subjective values?

Dunno about "merely", but yeah, the thing LW refers to by "rationality" is a tool that can be used to promote any values.

My scenario does not assume that all of humanity views themselves as one in-group. Whereas what you are saying assumes that it does.

I don't think it assumes that, actually. You mentioned "a world of majorly rational people [..] killing us all faster." I don't see how a world of people who are better at achieving what they value results in all of us being killed faster, unless people value killing all of us.

If what I value is killing you and surviving myself, and you value the same, but we end up taking steps that result in both of us dying, it would appear we have failed to take steps that optimize for our goals. Perhaps if we were better at optimizing for our goals, we would have taken different steps.

do you not think that the eradication of competing out groups could be seen as increasing in-group survival?

Sure.

Almost entirely orthogonal. You are going to have to explain what you mean here.

I mean that whether humanity is digitized has almost nothing to do with the perceived end goal.

Comment author: thomblake 13 April 2012 02:55:19PM 0 points [-]

Definitely barking up the wrong tree there. <strike>Chaos-worshippers</strike>Dynamists like me are under-represented here for such a technology-loving community - note that the whole basis of FAI is that rapidly self-improving technology by default results in a Bad End.

Contrast EY's notion of AGI with Ben Goertzel's.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 14 April 2012 01:19:28PM -3 points [-]

Definitely barking up the wrong tree there.

I am asking for Eliezer to apply the technique described in this essay to his own belief system. I don't see how that could be barking up the wrong tree, unless you are implying that he is some how impervious to "spontaneously self-attack[ing] strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, then to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points."

Comment author: Desrtopa 15 April 2012 03:42:14AM *  7 points [-]

Eliezer hasn't argued for the unquestioned rightness of rapid, continual technological innovation. On the contrary, he's argued that scientists should bear some responsibility for the potentially dangerous fruits of their work, rather than handwaving it away with the presumption that the developments can't do any harm, or if they can, it's not their responsibility.

In fact, the primary purpose of the SIAI is to try and get a particular technological development right, because they are convinced that getting it wrong could fuck up everything worse than anything has ever been fucked up.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 April 2012 07:05:18AM 2 points [-]

In fact, the primary purpose of the SIAI is to try and get a particular technological development right, because they are convinced that getting it wrong could fuck up everything worse than anything has ever been fucked up.

Well put. SIAI needs to adopt this as a mission statement! :P

Comment author: HungryTurtle 18 April 2012 12:20:30PM 0 points [-]

Could you show me where he argues this?

Comment author: Desrtopa 18 April 2012 01:57:18PM 2 points [-]

I'm afraid I don't remember which post he discusses the idea that scientists should worry about the ethics of their work, and I'm having a difficult time finding it. If you want to find that specific post, it might be better to create an open request in a more prominent place and see if anyone else remembers which one it was.

Although it would take a much longer time though, I think it might be a good idea for you to read all the sequences. Eliezer wrote them to bring people up to speed with his position on the development of AI and rationality after all, so that if we are going to continue to have disagreements, at least they can be more meaningful and substantive disagreements, with all of us on the same page. It sounds very much to me like you're pattern matching Eliezer's writing and responding to what you expect him to think, but if his position were such a short hop of inferential distance for most readers, he wouldn't have needed to go to all the work of creating the sequences in the first place.

Comment author: non-expert 06 February 2013 08:25:04PM 1 point [-]

How has Rationality, as a universal theory (or near-universal) on decision making, confronted its most painful weaknesses? What are rationality's weak points? The more broad a theory is claimed to be, the more important it seems to really test the theory's weaknesses -- that is why I assume you bring up religion, but the same standard should apply to rationality. This is not a cute question from a religious person, more of an intellectual inquiry from a person hoping to learn. In honor of the grand-daddy of cognitive biases, confirmation bias, doesn't rational choice theory need to be vetted?

HungryTurtle makes an attempt to get to this question, but he gets too far into the weeds -- this allowed LW to simply compare the "cons" of religion with the "cons" of rationality -- this is a silly inquiry -- I don't care how the weaknesses of rationality compares to the weaknesses of Judaism because rational theory, if universally applicable with no weaknesses, should be tested on the basis of that claim alone, and not its weaknesses relative to some other theory.

NOTE: re-posting without offending language in the hopes i dont need to create a new name. looks like i lost on my instrumental rationality point, got downvoted enough to get be restricted. on the bright side I am learning to admit i'm wrong (i was wrong to misread whether i'd offend LW, which prevented me from engaging with others on substantive points i'm trying to learn more about).

Comment author: fortyeridania 22 October 2013 07:44:18AM 0 points [-]

My point is that, when it comes to spontaneous self-questioning, one is much more likely to spontaneously self-attack strong points with comforting replies to rehearse, then to spontaneously self-attack the weakest, most vulnerable points.

Typo: "then" should be "than."