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MrHen comments on The Meditation on Curiosity - Less Wrong

36 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 October 2007 12:26AM

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Comment author: MrHen 29 January 2010 08:38:06PM 6 points [-]

Good question.

I don't feel as if I am scared of losing it to critical examination. I more feel like critical examination isn't going to do anything useful at this point. But I will have to think more about that and get back to you because I am catching a lot of invalid and doublethinky thoughts running through my head.

If I don't post a response by the end of tomorrow, start pestering me because I apparently decided to avoid the topic. I don't trust my future self enough to follow through on this.

Comment author: Blueberry 29 January 2010 09:09:44PM 6 points [-]

I am catching a lot of invalid and doublethinky thoughts running through my head.

I'd love to know what they are, if you'd be willing to catch them and write them down.

Comment author: MrHen 29 January 2010 11:02:35PM *  24 points [-]

Here's a mind dump. I don't have a lot of time right now, but here goes.

If you don't expect to lose it, why are you so scared of critically examining it?

Err... I'm not scared?
Than examine it.
No. I decided not to do that.
Why?
Hmm... what have I said on that subject...

If I am holding an irrational belief I find it less likely that it will shift.

Going after the irrational beliefs directly doesn't do anything. They are in their little walled areas and are immune to mere arguments and inquiries. I have to knock down the walls first.

Okay, sure that makes sense, but what if the wall is merely a creation of fear?
Okay, do I have any fear of changing away from Theism.
I want to say no...
But I have to say yes because I feel fear.
What is the fear of?
Potentials:
- Fear of losing a belief
- Fear of social implications
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of judgement/punishment
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of admitting mistakes

Let's go down the list: Fear of losing a belief.
I don't fear losing a belief.
A belief or any belief?
Mmm... most beliefs? I don't know.
Can I think of a belief I would fear losing?
Can I think of a belief I don't fear losing?
Sure, that's easy.
Than name it.
Uh... I guess I need a list of beliefs...
- My name is my name
- 2 + 2 = 4
- The show tonight will be a success
- I am getting more rational

The first two have no fear.
The third has more emotional attachment, but I don't fear losing that belief. I'd rather the show tonight be a success, but losing that belief doesn't scare me.
The last... well, it's true or not. I would rather lose that belief if it were incorrect so I could change what I needed to become more rational. So no, I don't fear losing it.
Is it more accurate to say that I fear keeping it when I shouldn't?
Yes.
Is this a good fear?
Yes, in as much as fear can ever be good.
Can I think of a more valid fear?
We are getting off subject.
Okay. Do I fear losing Theism?
Which part?
All of it.
Uh... I don't see how that can happen as of yet.
So? It doesn't matter if you can imagine it. Does it scare you?
This wasn't the original question:

If you don't expect to lose it, why are you so scared of critically examining it?

Okay. But this answer matters.
Why?
Because it eliminates a potential cause for being scared of critically examining it.
Okay, what are the other causes?
- Fear of losing Theism
- Time wasted on other things
- Fear of confirming Theism and dealing with the social consequences
- Preemptive rejection of Rationality and/or Reality

Okay. So do I fear losing Theism?
I don't know.
You don't know or you don't want to know?
Well, what would be the point in not wanting to know?
- Meta-belief
- Belief in belief
- Convenient ignorance

(Ooh, Convenient Ignorance may be a good subject for a top-level post...)
Okay... so do I believe in my belief of Theism?
Sure, in the sense that I believe I believe in Theism.
Is that the same thing?
Err... no, I guess not.
So, do I believe in my belief?
What is the definition again?

You can much more easily believe that it is proper, that it is good and virtuous and beneficial, to believe that the Ultimate Cosmic Sky is both perfectly blue and perfectly green. Dennett calls this "belief in belief".

Okay, no, I do believe Theism.
Do you believe in your belief of Theism?
I don't think so, since I don't begrudge others their disbelief.
You match the description: "It is good and virtuous and beneficial to believe God exists."
Only in the sense that if it is true it is good to believe.
So if it wasn't true, you wouldn't want to believe?
Correct.
So go find out if it is true.
Yeah, okay, show me how.
Critically examine it.
I can't.
Why not?
There is a wall. That belief isn't accessible through critical examination.
If it were, would you examine it?
I don't know.
You don't know, or you don't want to know?
What difference does it make if I can't examine it anyway?
Because you may be able to examine it and you are lying to yourself about not being able to.
Oh.

And that's all the time I have. I'll try to add more tomorrow. If there is a better place to do this or people would rather me post a summary I am more than willing to comply.

EDIT: Part 2. (It isn't as interesting.)

Comment author: Alicorn 29 January 2010 11:16:07PM 3 points [-]

I find this really interesting to read and would love to see more, although it's kind of carriage-return intensive and might be better hosted offsite somewhere. I can offer space if you don't have a place to put it.

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 January 2010 11:27:33PM 1 point [-]

Me too.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:04:17AM 0 points [-]

I just posted it. Thanks for the offer, though.

Comment author: Blueberry 29 January 2010 11:31:26PM *  0 points [-]

I'd love to read more, and I'm especially curious what it would mean to you to no longer identify as a theist, and how that would feel. I'm also curious about the last two:

Fear of confirming Theism and dealing with the social consequences

Preemptive rejection of Rationality and/or Reality

Thanks for posting this!

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:13:10AM 5 points [-]

I'd love to read more, and I'm especially curious what it would mean to you to no longer identify as a theist, and how that would feel.

It is a complicated feeling. It is hard to adequately explain without delving into detail explanations of (a) my particular beliefs (b) the society of friends and family I inhabit and (c) a heck of a lot of personal history. I am not ready to deal with all of that here. I suspect bits and pieces will leak out.

The one thing I will say now is that it would completely wreck almost every aspect of my life. I have everything invested in this.

I'm also curious about the last two:
Fear of confirming Theism and dealing with the social consequences

Since, at this point, I don't have much to think that critical examination will lead to me dropping Theism, it is still possible that it will strengthen Theism. I don't think it is more likely but I expect it would provoke a stronger reaction than my confession did.

Preemptive rejection of Rationality and/or Reality

If I really were scared enough to dodge critical examination I would be smart enough to drop anything that threatened a critical examination. As in, it wouldn't be given a foothold. I have enough power over my beliefs to choose what I want to believe. Right now, Rationality has my attention. If it scared me enough I would just leave and never return.

This hasn't happened and I do not expect it to happen. But if the situation were that dire, I would want to hold off on the critical examination until it was less scary.

For that to even make sense you have to give me the benefit of the doubt in terms of how I argue with myself. I don't expect it to translate well into other person's belief system. Also, it is very late... so... I don't promise anything and reserve the right to recant tomorrow. :)

Comment author: Blueberry 01 February 2010 07:29:16PM 0 points [-]

The one thing I will say now is that it would completely wreck almost every aspect of my life. I have everything invested in this.

Wow. Then it's not at all surprising you feel this way. You've left out a lot of details of your life, so I can't really comment on specifics (though please feel free to share them if you're ever ready to do so here). But given that, it's going to be almost impossible for you to change that belief.

I'm very confident that a detailed, unbiased examination of your theistic beliefs would reveal that there's no evidence for them and you hold them for social reasons. Do you agree? That being the case, you may not want to try to engage in this kind of examination right now. It sounds like you need time to think about what you really want in your life, and what kind of life you want to lead, independent of your beliefs about theism. Do you want to uproot your life right now?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 February 2010 07:51:38PM *  3 points [-]

Blueberry, the human species has got to do this sometime. Please don't get in the way.

Comment author: Blueberry 01 February 2010 07:57:30PM *  4 points [-]

I agree that humanity needs to do this sometime, and I agree that MrHen needs to do this sometime.

I don't know enough about MrHen's situation to know whether it's in his best interest to suddenly uproot himself from every aspect of his life right now, or whether there are ways of creating support networks and easing the transition that would help him. I'm not saying he should hide from the truth; I'm saying he may need to lay the groundwork for finding the truth first.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 February 2010 08:07:37PM *  6 points [-]

AFAIK these things just get more difficult the longer you put them off. This is the usual rule, and it's also the usual rule that people are heavily motivated on a cognitive level to find excuses to let things slide. Someone wrote about this very eloquently - I'm not sure who, possibly Tim Ferris or Robert Greene - with the notion that "hoping" things will get better isn't really hope so much as a form of passivity, motivated more by fear of action and change than any positive hope. Any delay of this sort should have a definite deadline attached to it.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 01 February 2010 08:20:43PM *  7 points [-]

I've found a definite (and not necessarily complete) list of steps to be useful in the absence of a deadline, and I think that's what Blueberry was getting at: MrHen might be best served by adding things to his to-do list that answer the question "what things do I need to do to get my personal life arranged in such a way that I would be able to be 'out' as an atheist without major repercussions?"

Comment author: ciphergoth 01 February 2010 10:38:05PM *  7 points [-]

In that case, you probably shouldn't think about whether or not there is a God just now.

Rather, you should first think about what you're going to do if you conclude there isn't. In your case, the line of retreat is rather more literal for you than it is for other people. Who would you bring in on your thinking before it had reached a conclusion, to let them know you're really wondering? What would you do to make the best of the situation, given how much you have invested? You'll find it very hard to think about this rationally until you can really face the thought of it going either way.

Comment author: MrHen 01 February 2010 10:54:06PM *  2 points [-]

You'll find it very hard to think about this rationally until you can really face the thought of it going either way.

Yeah. This is a hard mental exercise... and this area of thought experiments encounters a lot of resistance. Something is actively blocking this area and that is Very Bad. I have a hunch about what it is but don't know how to explain it well.

Hmm...

Comment author: ciphergoth 02 February 2010 12:20:44AM 6 points [-]

But don't delay. Whichever conclusion you come to, I can't imagine you would ever turn around and think "I'm really glad I spent so long putting off really thinking hard about that". You won't enjoy it, and you're unlikely to see it as time well spent.

I'm not saying rush to a conclusion; I am saying rush to thought.

Comment author: MrHen 02 February 2010 01:26:22AM *  2 points [-]

Agreed. Today is not the day, however, due to other circumstances. If I don't have at least two plausible options for both of the following questions by Saturday, February 6th feel free to pester me.

  • Who would you bring in on your thinking before it had reached a conclusion, to let them know you're really wondering?

  • What would you do to make the best of the situation, given how much you have invested?

Comment author: MrHen 08 February 2010 06:50:12AM 1 point [-]

Answer is up, one day late.

Comment author: MrHen 08 February 2010 06:49:41AM 2 points [-]

Who would you bring in on your thinking before it had reached a conclusion, to let them know you're really wondering?

If it came to the point where I began expecting to drop Theism I would tell my wife, my brother, and probably a good friend of mine in Minnesota. My wife because it affects her, my brother because he would probably have advice on how to deal with switching, and my friend because he has always had good advice before. And he's the one I feel I could actually talk to about the subject.

What would you do to make the best of the situation, given how much you have invested?

Given the option, I would leave my current city and go back to school. I suppose everything else revolves around the conversation I have with my wife. I would prefer to stay together but I honestly don't know what would happen. I don't see us splitting up, but I am not confident in this.

As for personal and non-social impacts, I would start over again. I would take the beliefs I have built in the journey to dropping Theism and continue the process. I expect I would continue acting relatively the same but with an attempt at slowly replacing all of the habits and rituals I have grown accustomed to having.

Comment author: ciphergoth 08 February 2010 08:38:15AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for thinking about this and answering. I hope that you're talking to these people now about the overall journey that you're on with respect to rationality, whether or not you raise the specific subject of theism. I think you'll have an easier conversation if you talk to them about the journey as it's going on than if you suddenly find yourself having arrived at somewhere that was not where you set off before those closest to you knew you were even setting out.

Comment author: MrHen 08 February 2010 02:32:19PM *  2 points [-]

Actually, I find it hard to talk about rationality because everyone I would want to talk to about it would think it was completely obvious. I talk about biases and the like, and particular examples, the but the basic concepts tend to get responses like, "Well... yeah? And?"

EDIT: Note that this is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people I would want to talk to about it are the most likely to have already thought about these subjects.

Comment author: Kevin 08 February 2010 02:38:45PM 0 points [-]

How about talking about the solution to determinism versus free will, or "if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 February 2010 01:40:03AM *  12 points [-]

I should also mention that, judging from the stories I've heard, it's a lot easier to talk about your doubts with your spouse when they're doubts. I presume you have a wife and kids and parents and siblings and local community who are all deeply religious? I don't know about the others, but the sooner you start talking to your wife about your doubts, the more likely you are to stay together as you go down whatever path you go down.

Comment author: MrHen 02 February 2010 02:35:07AM 3 points [-]

This is good advice. Thank you.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 January 2010 11:32:06PM 5 points [-]

I value this data. Keep commenting.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:13:56AM 2 points [-]

I am glad. What do you find most valuable about it? Is there a way I could make it more valuable?

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 January 2010 11:44:16PM 1 point [-]

"Theism" is something of a catch-all term that can include lots of different things. I think that it is indeed possible that our universe has a Creator, but I'll bet my immortal soul that the God of Abraham isn't it. ;)

Maybe you could simply pin down your beliefs instead of "critically examining" them?

Comment author: Alicorn 29 January 2010 11:48:20PM 4 points [-]

It's poor form to bet things you can't pony up if you lose!

Comment author: Kevin 30 January 2010 03:43:01AM *  0 points [-]

And beneath the powers of the creator of a universe, a Type 2+ civilization should be able to seed new planets with life, which is one of the more important powers of the monotheistic God.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:17:39AM 0 points [-]

Maybe you could simply pin down your beliefs instead of "critically examining" them?

For me, "pinning down" means fine tuning definitions. This and "critically examining" use the same toolset. I essentially see them as one and the same. If I am mucking around and bothering with those pesky definitions I am going to see the inconsistencies.

I can describe how I act and that is how I generally translate my old belief system. Rationality encourages beliefs as predictors and I am taking new forming beliefs and entering them that way. The data hasn't come back from those beliefs yet but I am eagerly awaiting.

Comment author: byrnema 30 January 2010 04:16:18AM *  3 points [-]

All that sounds like natural rambling free-association to me, and more like fear of double-think than any actual double-think.

Are you reluctant to "critically examine" your beliefs because it just sounds like a lot of work? (Counselors will say, 'let's work on this' and then an hour later when you feel like an exposed mess of emoted goo and they'll say, 'OK, see you next week.')

Given that you're comfortable with your beliefs, perhaps you're reluctant to expose your beliefs because it'll be like throwing them to the wolves. If not indiscriminate slaughter (no offense to the more militant atheists here), it'll still be something like 12 to 1.

Well, if you ever decide to do this, if it helps, I offer to help you defend your views to the extent that I can competently do so.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:24:55AM 2 points [-]

All that sounds like natural rambling free-association to me, and more like fear of double-think than any actual double-think.

For me, free association clears up doublethink. If I write my thought into a sentence, the sentence has a strict meaning in the English language. I can write the other side of doublethink as a second sentence and let them duke it out over a conversation with myself.

Also, by the time I had responded with the rambling I had mostly sorted out the initial emotional response. I was very surprised that I had one. (It wasn't big; but any at all is a BIG RED FLAG.)

Are you reluctant to "critically examine" your beliefs because it just sounds like a lot of work? (Counselors will say, 'let's work on this' and then an hour later when you feel like an exposed mess of emoted goo and they'll say, 'OK, see you next week.')

No. At least, not how I think of "a lot of work." I certainly avoid some topics because they are a lot of work but this isn't one of them.

Given that you're comfortable with your beliefs, perhaps you're reluctant to expose your beliefs because it'll be like throwing them to the wolves. If not indiscriminate slaughter (no offense to the more militant atheists here), it'll still be something like 12 to 1.

Nah. I am reluctant to expose my beliefs because that is a lot of work. I am too verbose for my own good and have a hard time not responding to every single comment or question.

Well, if you ever decide to do this, if it helps, I offer to help you defend your views to the extent that I can competently do so.

Hmm... how is this different than the clever arguer in The Bottom Line? Honestly, I won't need help defending my views. If I cannot defend them, why should you? The goal in talking about my beliefs wouldn't be defense and offense oriented (at least, not for me). Seeking the truth is not (or shouldn't be) a war.

Comment author: byrnema 30 January 2010 01:32:25PM *  1 point [-]

OK, you don't sound afraid or like you'll want help.

You seem more self-possessed than I am. (This could be related to gender.) When I was arguing for theism, I felt like the inferential distance was great and that there were too many angles to parry at once. I would have been grateful for an interpreter/mediator.

I was most uncomfortable when people speculated about my motives, often with motives I couldn't relate to. I felt more flubbed by identity issues than atheist arguments (which I find I like well enough when they're relevant).

Seeking the truth is not (or shouldn't be) a war.

I think there is one, out there. A war of world views. LW is a sandbox where we can see how different angles and themes will play out once physical materialism becomes more mainstream.

Hmm... how is this different than the clever arguer in The Bottom Line?

My impression of the origin of due process is that the designers of the legal system were well aware of "the clever arguer" and thought the only remedy was to even the playing field.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 04:40:50PM 3 points [-]

You seem more self-possessed than I am. (This could be related to gender.) When I was arguing for theism, I felt like the inferential distance was great and that there were too many angles to parry at once. I would have been grateful for an interpreter/mediator.

I wouldn't sell your gender short. I have been doing this sort of arguing for a long time so I kind of know what to expect. The idea of an interpreter is actually significantly more interesting to me than a defender. Perhaps I misunderstood your original intent.

I was most uncomfortable when people speculated about my motives, often with motives I couldn't relate to. I felt more flubbed by identity issues than atheist arguments (which I find I like well enough when they're relevant).

I can understand that. I think I am approaching this from a different angle than you did; we'll see how it goes. :)

I think there is one, out there. A war of world views. LW is a sandbox where we can see how different angles and themes will play out once physical materialism becomes more mainstream.

I think people are fighting each other and they keep trying to dig up a war so they can tell other people to fight for them. Christianity loves to talk about this war of ideas. I am not convinced such a war needs to exist and have decided not to partake. When it comes to the bottom line, I choose what I believe. I take the evidence and come to a conclusion and move forward. The war just isn't interesting to me.

My impression of the origin of due process is that the designers of the legal system were well aware of "the clever arguer" and thought the only remedy was to even the playing field.

Near the end of What Evidence Filtered Evidence?, EY says something similar.

My impressions of the community so far have been good. The vague confession didn't really draw a lot of heat and people were very kind when asking for more details. So all signs point to good things ahead.

That being said, I would still love your input when the time comes. I just don't want you to feel like you have to pick sides. I'm not picking a side and it'll be my beliefs on the table.

Comment author: MrHen 30 January 2010 07:02:30AM 4 points [-]

Okay, I finished it tonight. I should warn you that the rest of this is significantly less entertaining. It is longer and less focused/more rambling. Since I read all of your replies it was hard to keep you guys out of my head... there is one part I self-censor and a few places I drift off track. There were a few interruptions as well. They are easily marked. As it is with interruptions, things don't pick up exactly where they left off. (At least one had extremely unfortunate timing.)

If there was a spoiler tag so I could auto-collapse this that would be great. If not, such a feature would be nifty. (Or possibly auto-collapsing comments after a certain length.)

Hopefully someone gets some use out of this. There is a single paragraph summary near the end if all you care about is the result.

It may take a few edits to find all the formatting typos. If you notice one let me know.


There is a wall. That belief isn't accessible through critical examination.
If it were, would you examine it?
I don't know.
You don't know, or you don't want to know?
What difference does it make if I can't examine it anyway?
Because you may be able to examine it and you are lying to yourself about not being able to.
Oh.

So... am I able to examine the wall around Theism?
Let's start with Theism. Ignore the wall.
Okay, but first we need to decide how much of this is public.
Hmm... okay. What wouldn't be?
Event X.
Okay... anything else?
Specific beliefs, I suppose.
Okay, start with Theism. What in Theism is private?
Should we even bother keeping this private?
Honestly, this is a waste of time. Why is Theism inaccessible?
Because of event X.
And that's it? Is that the only thing?
Well, yeah.
So imagine event X disappearing. It is gone; event X never happened.
Okay...
Are you scared?
No.
Why not?
Well, event X is why my emotions are even here... without X, why would I fear anything?
Okay. Imagine event X and still believing in Theism. Is it possible?
Huh. Okay, that will take awhile.
No rush.
...
No. It doesn't make sense.
Why not?
Undoing event X precludes abandoning Theism.
No it doesn't; it is just the most likely result of Theism if you undo event X.
Well, okay, sure, but if I undo X and keep Theism...
It would suck.
It would suck.
So... what does that say about Theism?
Nothing. It says something about X.
Bah, we are way off topic.
And we did this once.
Okay, starting again, why is Theism inaccessible?
Man, this sucks. I don't see how we can do this without talking about X.
X doesn't matter.
Yes it does. And no one is going to want to read this.
So? This isn't for them. It's for you and they asked for it.
They didn't ask for this-
Anyway, this is irrelevant. Stay on topic.
The topic is X!
No it isn't. The topic is Theism.
...
I don't even know how to explain X-
Theism!
Grr...
If you tried, right now, to critically examine Theism without undoing X, what would happen?
[interruption from wife]


We still aren't getting anywhere. If you tried, right now, to critically examine Theism without undoing X, what would happen?
*sigh*
Okay, are all areas of Theism inaccessible?
No.
Name an area that is accessible.
The omni- attributes.
So critically examine those.
Here?
Well, no. But does it make you scared?
No.
Have you critically examined them?
Yeah. But not a whole lot.
Why not?
Because they don't matter that much.
Matter... how?
My behaviors won't change.
Why not?
Because I don't treat God as if he has any of those attributes.
Why not?
Because they failed the critical examination.
Okay... so how much have you examined?
Enough to know I cannot proceed unless I deal with X.
Argh!
Look, it's not my fault. You know why.
Yeah, but how do we tell them that?
We don't. Why do we need to tell them anything?
...
No, seriously, we don't need to tell them anything. And none of this has anything to do with fearing critical examination.
So do you fear critical examination?
Not the examination I have done.
Can you do more?
Absolutely.
Than why don't you?
Because my tools suck. I want better tools.
And when you get better tools?
Then I work on the framework of belief.
And then?
I make sure the new beliefs coming in are solid and useful.
And then?
Then I look at my old beliefs.
Which ones?
The ones affecting everyday behavior; then the ones affecting monthly choices, yearly, and so on.
Why not start with the bigger ones?
Because they are built on smaller ones.
Really?
Uh, yes?
How do you know?
Where is this going?
Answer the question.
Hmm...
...
Okay, something has to drive the bigger choices.
Like Theism.
No, Theism is a bigger belief.
That's what I meant.
Oh, okay. Yeah, like Theism. Theism is something that affects a larger scope of actions than others.
So why focus on the small stuff?
Because the small stuff is easier to attach to Reality.
Okay, that makes sense. Give me an example.
Assuming my tools work well, the way I spend my daily time.
Sure, that makes sense. And then?
The subjects to spend the time on.
Okay.
I suspect that Theism will hit at this point.
Right. And are you scared of that?
No.
Why not?
Because it is so far out I cannot predict anything about it. Even if I feared losing Theism, I have no reason to think I will drop theism from critical examination.
Okay. But do you fear losing Theism?
Well, sure. What was the original question?

If you don't expect to lose it, why are you so scared of critically examining it?

[interrupted by the show]


Okay, so I fear losing Theism but the remaining question is whether I am scared of critically examining it.
First, do I even accept the first part of this question: "If you don't expect to lose it..."
Yes, I said that clearly.
So if you were to lose it, would it be through critical examination?
Yeah, probably.
So critical examination is the most likely way to lose Theism.
Yes.
And I fear losing Theism.
In the sense that I fear not having it.
So the most likely path to this end is through critical examination.
Yes.
Does that make you fear critical examination?
No. If anything, I fear what it might do.
Would that prevent you from the examination?
If the fear was strong enough... sure.
Is it strong enough?
No. I have critically examined areas of my Theism.
But those really weren't core aspects. They would never attack Theism, only particular beliefs inside of Theism.
Which brings us back to the wall around Theism.
Right, so we are back in the same place.
Well, what have we learned?
- I fear not having Theism for various reasons
- I am not ready to critically examine Theism
-- Event X
-- Higher priorities (better tools, incoming beliefs, beliefs that are "closer" to Reality)
- Theism will eventually be critically examined
- When this happens, I do not expect Theism to fall
- If Theism is untrue I will want to know it is untrue
- I still fear not having Theism even if it is untrue
- The fear has little to do with belief and more to do with the fallout of not believing

[interrupted]


So the direct answer to the question is that I am not critically examining Theism because (a) I don't expect significant progress and (b) doing other things will likely improve my ability to critically examine things which will eventually be useful with Theism.

Followup questions for a future time:

  • Completing analysis of the list of potential fears. I only looked at one.
  • Looking at the list of reasons I might fear critical examination. I ended up taking a completely different route to the conclusion... so most of this was extraneous.
  • Convenient Ignorance is still an interesting topic. Is there a full post here?
  • How does Belief in Belief work with beliefs that are self-referential and dictate morality? Should it be a red flag when a belief includes the clause, "And believing this belief is good"? Hunches say yes.
  • I didn't really define the wall around Theism.
  • At some point, I will probably need to explain and define Event X. I expect this to be troublesome and slightly awkward. I apologize if this vagueness annoys you; I do not apologize for being vague.
  • This question was never directly answered: "If you tried, right now, to critically examine Theism without undoing X, what would happen?" It would be good to revisit.
  • The actual priority list could use a good examination.
  • This sentence may be touching a bigger topic: "Because the small stuff is easier to attach to Reality." Something connected to that would provide enough material for a full post. It is likely someone has already posted it... so start with a search.
  • In the meantime, whilst not examining Theism, what is the correct way to act?
Comment author: JGWeissman 01 February 2010 10:07:48PM 1 point [-]

I still fear not having Theism even if it is untrue

Why?

How has this affected your thinking?

Comment author: MrHen 01 February 2010 10:25:39PM *  0 points [-]

There are impacts from not having Theism. The most obvious are social. Most of the others are easy enough to deal with. There is also a really, really vague one that I haven't figured out how to do talk about yet.

Sorry there isn't more information being offered here.

I don't understand your second question.

Comment author: JGWeissman 01 February 2010 10:37:30PM 0 points [-]

I don't understand your second question.

Would your belief in theism be different if you did not have a fear of losing the belief even if not true? To what extent does this fear compete with your desire for accurate beliefs?

Comment author: MrHen 01 February 2010 10:47:15PM 2 points [-]

Ah, okay. Bullet point answers:

  • IF Assuming Theism was not true
  • AND Assuming no fear of losing Theism if Theism was not true, then
  • THEN I would drop Theism as soon as I convinced myself it wasn't true

Other variations on the above format:

  • IF Assuming Theism was not true
  • AND Assuming there is fear of losing Theism if Theism was not true, then
  • THEN I would drop Theism as soon as I convinced myself it wasn't true
  • ONLY IF I overcame my fear of losing Theism.

I would expect convincing myself Theism isn't true would be harder than overcoming my fear of losing Theism. This leads into your question:

To what extent does this fear compete with your desire for accurate beliefs?

You are implying a scenario more like the following:

  • IF Assuming Theism was not true
  • AND Assuming there is fear of losing Theism if Theism was not true, then
  • THEN I would convince myself Theism wasn't true
  • ONLY IF I overcame my fear of losing Theism.

Which is a subtle but important difference. I like to think that my fear wouldn't cloud my ability to perceive the truth... but I don't actually know how to verify that. Signs seem to point the exact opposite way, in fact.

I suppose one solution would be to lesson my fear in losing Theism, which seems to be the route pjeby suggested in another comment.

Comment author: pjeby 01 February 2010 08:58:29PM 5 points [-]

I find this self-dialog very interesting; in certain aspects it resembles the sort of self-dialog I teach people to use to throw off more mundane fears and mental/emotional blocks, outdated moral injunctions, etc.

There are a few places in what you're doing where a more focused approach would be helpful, though. For example, I would define an outcome and a test procedure: what are you attempting to change, and how will you know if you changed it? This alone will help you trim distractions a bit.

Also, generally speaking, the key to getting rid of an irrational belief is to clearly identify the past negative consequences associated with disbelief in that belief. Your expectations of what will happen in the future are usually either an irrelevant speculative extrapolation by your logical mind, or a simple projection from emotional memory... And it's the latter category that's relevant, as long as you focus on identifying the "near", sensory memory of the events your future prediction is based on.

In particular, you are looking for memories involving the loss of either personal status/significance, the loss of connective bonding, the loss of perceived safety, or the loss of available novelty/stimulation, (with these latter two being far less common), associated with either you or someone else failing to believe (or act upon) the belief in question.

The neurological phenomenon known as "reconsolidation" explains why access to the original memory is useful; it's simplest to remove an emotional attachment to a thought or belief by reinterpreting the original memory that triggers the emotions, rather than to build elaborate reroutings of thought "downstream" of the source.

Once you've identified the specific memory you're using to form your emotional/intuitive judgment (creating the fear), you can use further questioning to cast doubt on your original interpretation of events, consider other possible interpretations, wonder whether the situation is different, etc... and in the process, this sets up alternative lines of thought linked from the original memory, allowing you to have a different emotional probability distribution, so to speak.

I'm being necessarily terse here, as I know of at least two whole books that have been written on minor variations of this basic process: "Loving What Is" by Byron Katie, and "Recreating Your Life" by Morty Lefkoe, each proposing a different sequence and set of questions, but essentially following the same general process I've just described. I've also done workshops on my own set of variations, with slightly different scopes of applicability than either of their methods.

Either book, however, is quite good with respect to having lots of example dialogues to show how to apply their processes in practice, and either one would, I think be helpful in focusing your approach to this, or any other attempt to change an emotional belief or judgment.

Comment author: MrHen 01 February 2010 09:58:26PM 4 points [-]

There are a few places in what you're doing where a more focused approach would be helpful, though. For example, I would define an outcome and a test procedure: what are you attempting to change, and how will you know if you changed it? This alone will help you trim distractions a bit.

Agreed. I posted Easy Predictors as an attempt to get input from the community about easy to test predictor beliefs but didn't get much of a response. I am keeping track of smaller things that have easy turnaround times to see if it is possible to do this sort of thing informally.

This does not apply to outcomes of belief creation, however. Is there a good way to test things like that? Or am I misinterpreting your suggestion? Or... ?

The rest of your comment is interesting to me because it directly focuses on the prediction of trauma due to dropping Theism (and related subjects). I hadn't really thought about the details of the fallout beyond key trouble spots. Is this a fair two-sentence reduction of your suggestions?

Looking at similar past events that carry the same emotional trauma due to dropped beliefs can give me the ability to question the validity of my fear of the future by comparing and contrasting the differences. In addition, this process may reveal a solution to the projected trauma by preventing it from happening or weakening its impact.

Am I close?

Comment author: orthonormal 02 February 2010 01:56:04AM 1 point [-]

Mr. Hen, I'm going to break custom and say something that may be regarded as poisoning the well. It's my conclusion that P.J. Eby is more or less a quack trying to drum up support for his psychological services, and that (in such an important matter as this) you shouldn't be trying to understand his jargon, let alone trying to take his advice.

His persistent trumpeting of perceptual control theory, which couples grandiose claims of precision with a complete lack of experimental support, is telling, and it's not the only red flag I've seen...

Comment author: MrHen 02 February 2010 02:42:58AM 1 point [-]

I am still willing to at least listen and dialog with pjeby, but I find it interesting that this comment is at +3 so quickly. Thank you for the warning (and concern). It does have an impact. (The karma swing helped.)

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 04:10:21AM 7 points [-]

trying to drum up support for his psychological services

Right, that's why I recommended two books written by other people. You have brilliantly exposed my clever scheme:

  1. Offer assistance, while recommending books by other authors
  2. ????
  3. Profit!!!
Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2010 09:29:51AM *  3 points [-]

Mr. Hen, I'm going to break custom and say something that may be regarded as poisoning the well.

I should note, now that the parent is at -1, that my vote does not represent disapproval of well poisoning, just disagreement in this instance. Pjeby's practical advice seems well founded to me and I believe it will benefit those willing to receive it.

I probably agree with you when it comes to the rigid use of PCT models and of his custom jargon. I find PJ's practical experience more useful than his abstract theorizing. I would not vote except, as you say, the matter is important. Even more so when someone's reputation is at stake.

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 04:01:18AM 7 points [-]

This does not apply to outcomes of belief creation, however. Is there a good way to test things like that? Or am I misinterpreting your suggestion? Or... ?

I mean that if you're going to go digging around your head to change something, it would be best to have a criterion by which you can judge whether or not you've succeeded. Otherwise, you can rummage around in there forever. ;-)

An example criterion in this case might be "Thinking about not believing in God no longer causes an emotional reaction, as evidenced by my physical response to a specific thought about that."

Defining a test in this way -- i.e., observing whether your (repeatable) physical reaction to a thought has changed -- allows you to determine whether any particular approach has succeeded or failed. I suggested the two books I did because I have found it relatively easy to produce such repeatable, testable results with their techniques, once I got the hang of paying attention to my sensory responses to the questions asked, and ignoring my logical/abstract ones. (Since changing one's logical beliefs isn't the hard part.)

The rest of your comment is interesting to me because it directly focuses on the prediction of trauma due to dropping Theism (and related subjects). I hadn't really thought about the details of the fallout beyond key trouble spots. Is this a fair two-sentence reduction of your suggestions?

Looking at similar past events that carry the same emotional trauma due to dropped beliefs can give me the ability to question the validity of my fear of the future by comparing and contrasting the differences. In addition, this process may reveal a solution to the projected trauma by preventing it from happening or weakening its impact.

No, what I'm saying is that your projection is based on some specific, sensory experience(s) you had, like for example your parents speaking disparagingly about atheists, or other non-followers of your parents' belief system. At some point, to feel threatened by being outcast, you had to learn who the outgroups were, and this learning is primarily experiential/emotional, rather than intellectual, and happens on a level that bypassed critical thought (e.g. because of your age, or because of the degree of emotion in the situation).

Identifying this experience and processing it through critical thought, weakens the emotional response triggered by the thought, then gives you the ability to think rationally about the subject again... thereby leading to potential solutions. Right now, the fear response paralyzes your critical and creative thinking, making it very hard to see what solutions may be in front of you.

IOW, your prediction of trauma comes from a past trauma -- our brains don't come with a built-in prior probability distribution for what beliefs will cause people to like or not like us. ;-) If you want to switch off the fear, you have to change the prediction, which means changing the probability data in your memory... which means accessing and reinterpreting the original sensory experience data.

In order to find this information, you focus on the sensory portion of your prediction, prior to verbalization. That is, when you ask, "What bad thing is going to happen?" refrain from verbalizing and pay attention to the images, feelings, and general impressions that arise. Then, let your mind drift back to when you first saw/felt/experienced something like that.

A recent personal example: I discovered yesterday that the reason I never gave my software projects a "1.0" version is because I was afraid to declare anything "finished" or "complete"... but the specific reason, was that when I did chores as a kid, or cleaned my room, my mother found faults and yelled at me. Emotionally, I learned that as long as someone else could possibly find a way to improve it, I was not allowed to call it "finished", or I would be shamed (status reduction).

Until I uncovered this specific way in which I came by my emotional response, all my conscious efforts to overcome this bad habit were without effect. The emotion biased my conscious thoughts in such a way that I really and truly sincerely believed that my projects were not "finished"... because the definition I was unconsciously using for "finished" didn't allow me to be the one who declared them so.

But having specifically identified the source of this learning, it was trivial to drop the emotional response that drove the behavior... and immediately after doing so, I realized that there were a wide variety of other areas in my life affected by this bias, that I hadn't noticed before.

Most psychological discussion of fears tends to focus on the abstract level, i.e. obviously I was afraid to declare things finished, for "fear of criticism". But that abstract knowledge is almost entirely useless for actually changing the feelings, and therefore removing the bias. Mostly, what such abstract knowledge does is sometimes allow people to spend a lifetime trying to work around or compensate for their feeling-driven biases, rather than actually changing them.

And that's why I urge you to focus on specific sensory experience information in your dialoging, and treat all abstract, logical, or verbally sophisticated thoughts that arise in response to your questions as being lies, rumor, and distraction. If your logical abstract thoughts were actually in charge of your feelings, you'd already be done. Save 'em till the bias has been repaired.

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 04:09:14AM 3 points [-]

IOW, your prediction of trauma comes from a past trauma -- our brains don't come with a built-in prior probability distribution for what beliefs will cause people to like or not like us. ;-) If you want to switch off the fear, you have to change the prediction, which means changing the probability data in your memory... which means accessing and reinterpreting the original sensory experience data.

Btw, the Iowa Gambling Task is an example of a related kind of unconscious learning that I'm talking about here. In it, people learn to feel fear about choosing cards from a certain deck, long before their conscious mind notices or accounts for the numerical probabilities involved. Then, their conscious minds often make up explanations which have little if any connection to the "irrational" (but accurate) feeling of fear.

So if you seem to irrationally fear something, it's an indication that your subconscious picked up on raw probability data. And this raw probability data can't be overrided by reasoning unless you integrate the reasoning with the specific experiences, so that a different interpretation is applied.

For example, suppose there's someone who always looks away from you and leaves the room when you enter. You begin to think that person doesn't like you... and then you hear they actually have a crush on you. You have the same sensory data, but a different interpretation, and your felt-response to the same thoughts is now different. Voila... memory reconsolidation, and your thoughts are now biased in a different, happier way. ;-)

Comment author: MrHen 02 February 2010 04:40:43AM 1 point [-]

No, what I'm saying is that your projection is based on some specific, sensory experience(s) you had, like for example your parents speaking disparagingly about atheists, or other non-followers of your parents' belief system. At some point, to feel threatened by being outcast, you had to learn who the outgroups were, and this learning is primarily experiential/emotional, rather than intellectual, and happens on a level that bypassed critical thought (e.g. because of your age, or because of the degree of emotion in the situation).

Okay, that makes sense. My initial reaction is that the fear has less to do with people's reactions to me and more the amount of change in the actions I take. Their responses to these new actions is more severe than their expected actions as a result of my dropping Theism.

But the more I think about it the more I think that this is just semantics. I'll give your suggestion a shot and see what happens. I am not expecting much but we'll see. The main criticism that I have at this point is that my "fears" are essentially predictions of behavior. I do not consider them irrational fears...

So if you seem to irrationally fear something, it's an indication that your subconscious picked up on raw probability data. And this raw probability data can't be overrided by reasoning unless you integrate the reasoning with the specific experiences, so that a different interpretation is applied.

Ah, okay, this part relates to the trigger of dealing with the initial reaction to the questions being asked.

My personal solutions for this style of fear (which is separate from the fear of future social reactions, which I can understand may not have been obvious) is the same as my pattern of behavior relating to pain tolerance. It goes away if I focus on it just the right way.

By the end of the week I expect to be able to return to the topic without any overt hinderances. I take this to mean the fear is gone or I am so completely self-deluded that the magic question no longer means the same thing as it did when it was first asked. I prefer to think it is the former.

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 05:06:32AM 5 points [-]

My initial reaction is that the fear has less to do with people's reactions to me and more the amount of change in the actions I take. Their responses to these new actions is more severe than their expected actions as a result of my dropping Theism.

I was just giving an example. The key questions are:

  1. What is the trigger stimulus? and
  2. What is the repeatable, observable reaction you wish to change?

In what you said above, the trigger is "thinking about what I'd do if I were not a theist", and you are using the word "fear" to describe the automatic reaction.

I'm saying that you should precisely identify what you mean by "fear" - does your pulse race? Palms sweat? Do you clench your teeth, feel like you're curling into a ball, what? There are many possible physical autonomic reactions to the emotion of fear... which one are you doing automatically, without conscious intent, every time you contemplate "what I'd do if I were not a theist"?

This will serve as your test - a control condition against which any attempted change can be benchmarked. You will know you have arrived at a successful conclusion to your endeavor when the physiological reaction is extinguished - i.e., it will cease to bias your conscious thought.

I consider this a litmus test for any psychological change technique: if it can't make an immediate change (by which I mean abrupt, rather than gradual) in a previously persistent automatic response to a thought, it's not worth much, IMO.

But the more I think about it the more I think that this is just semantics.

Focus on what the stimulus and response are, and that will keep you from wandering into semantic questions... which operate in the verbal "far" mind, not the nonverbal "near" mind that you're trying to tap into and fix.

This is one of those "simple, but not easy" things... not because it isn't easy to do, but because it's hard to stop doing the verbal overshadowing part.

We all get so used to following our object-level thoughts, running in the emotionally-biased grooves laid down by our feeling-level systems, that the idea of ignoring the abstract thoughts to look at the grooves themselves seems utterly weird, foreign, and uncomfortable. It is, I find, the most difficult part of mindhacking to teach.

But once you get used to the idea that you simply cannot trust the output of your verbal mind while you're trying to debug your pre-verbal biases, it gets easier. During the early stages though, it's easy to be thinking in your verbal mind that you're not thinking in your verbal mind, simply because you're telling yourself that you're not... which in hindsight should be a really obvious clue that you're doing it wrong. ;-)

Bear in mind that your unconcious mind does not require complex verbalizations (above simple if-then noun-verb constructs) to represent its thought processes. If you are trying to describe something that can't be reduced to "(sensory experience X) is followed by (sensory experience Y)", you are using the wrong part of your brain - i.e., not the one that actually contains the fear (or other emotional response).

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2010 09:35:20AM 3 points [-]

IOW, your prediction of trauma comes from a past trauma -- our brains don't come with a built-in prior probability distribution for what beliefs will cause people to like or not like us.

The brain doesn't need past trauma in this instance. Our brains do come with a built-in prior probability distribution for what will happen when you become an apostate, rejecting the beliefs of the tribe in which you were raised.

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 02:44:40PM 0 points [-]

Our brains do come with a built-in prior probability distribution for what will happen when you become an apostate, rejecting the beliefs of the tribe in which you were raised.

Ahem. We are adaptation executers, not fitness maximizers. Our brains come with a moral mechanism that's been shaped by that probability distribution, but they don't come with that specific prediction built in at an object level.

Instead, we simply learn what behaviors cause shaming, denunciation, etc., and this then triggers all the conscious shame/guilt/etc., as well as the idealizing, moralizing, punishing others, and punishing of non-punishers... with all of these actions being more highly-motivated in cases where the behavior is desirable to the individual involved.

Professing or failing to profess certain beliefs is just one minor case of "behavior" that can be regulated by this mechanism. I have not observed anything that suggests there is a mechanism specific to religious beliefs or even beliefs per se, distinct from other kinds of behavior. There is litle difference between an injunction to say some belief is true or good, and an injunction to always say thank you, or to never brag about yourself. (Or my recently discovered injunction not to say something is finished!)

All of these are just examples of verbal behavior that can regulated by the same mechanism. (In any case, MrHen has already pointed out that the fear is less about him stating new beliefs, than it would be about acting on them.)

Anyway, it seems to me that we have only one "moral injunction" apparatus that is applied generically, and the feelings that it generates do not contain any information about being kicked out of the tribe or failure to mate, etc. Instead, the memory of a shaming event is itself the bad prediction or negative reinforcer. Adaptation execution FTW, or more like FTL in this case at least.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 February 2010 03:45:31PM 3 points [-]

Adaptation execution FTW, or more like FTL in this case at least.

That isn't the issue here. Yes, adaptation execution, Woohoo!! Obviously the probability distribution for expected consequences isn't built in to the amygdala.

I nevertheless assert that the universal human aversion to changing our fundamental signalling beliefs is more than just Mommy Issues filtered through PCT. Human instinctive responses are sophisticated and a whole lot of them are built in, no shaming required. We're scared of spiders, snakes and apostasy. They're adaptations right there in the DNA.

Comment author: pjeby 02 February 2010 04:43:54PM *  3 points [-]

We're scared of spiders, snakes and apostasy.

Er, research please. Everything I've seen shows that even monkeys have to learn to fear snakes and spiders - it has to be triggered by observing other monkeys being afraid of them first.

I nevertheless assert that the universal human aversion to changing our fundamental signalling beliefs is more than just

Occam's razor says you're more likely to be wrong than I am: a general purpose mechanism for conditioning verbal behavior is more than sufficient to produce the results we observe, especially if you consider internal verbal thinking a form of verbal behavior -- which it pretty plainly is.

For example, this provides a simpler mechanism for "belief in belief", than your proposal of a distinct mechanism. It allows us to "believe" - i.e. consistently say we believe (even to ourselves on the inside), when in fact we don't.

[edited to delete unfair rhetoric of my own]

Mommy Issues filtered through PCT.

FWIW I said nothing about PCT, nor did I say that a parent had to be the one delivering the shame. If your own personal bias about me is such that you can't avoid engaging in this type of rhetorics, perhaps you should consider giving yourself some cooling off time before you reply.

Comment author: AngryParsley 02 February 2010 02:04:22AM 0 points [-]

There is a wall. That belief isn't accessible through critical examination.

Are you talking about separate magesteria or something? How does one get correct beliefs without examining evidence and understanding arguments?

Comment author: MrHen 02 February 2010 03:01:49AM 1 point [-]

No. This is not separate magesteria.

Okay, I guess the first point is that "belief" for a majority of my belief network was not Predictor based. It is Action based. The concept of separate magesteria applies to a Predictor based belief system such as the Map/Territory concept promoted here. An Action based belief system has trouble with the concepts of magesteria.

The whole system is ridiculously complicated because I never bothered to sit down and sort it out. Theism is behind a wall of beliefs built on a system completely incompatible with Predictor based beliefs. "Incompatible," here, means "untranslatable."

If I am not making sense I can try another path of explanation. I am typing up a full explanation now, actually, so... yeah.