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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 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.

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.
Are you scared?
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-
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?
Okay, are all areas of Theism inaccessible?
Name an area that is accessible.
The omni- attributes.
So critically examine those.
Well, no. But does it make you scared?
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.
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?
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.
Uh, yes?
How do you know?
Where is this going?
Answer the question.
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.
I suspect that Theism will hit at this point.
Right. And are you scared of that?
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.
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.
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


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


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.