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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Fake Justification - Less Wrong

40 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2007 03:57AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 November 2007 02:45:46PM 13 points [-]

Topo: Of course if the Bible is a work of extraordinary moral and artistic depth, you could not be expected to see it.

Henry V: Eliezer, you've really begun to go far afield from your desire to "overcome bias". An atheist can have a neutral reading of the Bible? A Jew? A Muslim?

Ahem. (Clears throat:)

Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,
leader beloved, and long he ruled
in fame with all folk, since his father had gone
away from the world, till awoke an heir,
haughty Healfdene, who held through life,
sage and sturdy, the Scyldings glad.

But I guess neither of you can possibly look at this translated poetry and guess whether the original was a worthy work of art, since you are atheists with respect to the existence of Grendel. You take a position on the existence of dragons: you are biased in the guise of rationality!

It is pure Judeo-Christian-Islamic exceptionalism, I regret to inform you, to think that failing to believe in the Bible God signifies anything more than failing to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Likewise the notion that no one can properly judge the Lord of the Rings as literature, because we either believe in Frodo's factual existence or disbelieve it.

Now I am, as it happens, probably prejudiced against the text of the Old Testament in particular, not because I'm an atheist, but because my parents and teachers forced me to read the damn thing; and because it represents part of a great corruption that nearly ruined my childhood and still divides my parents from me. Even so, I can read literary works that praise Death, and to praise death is also a great corruption of human spirit, and yet I judge these works as well-executed. Having being forced to read the whole damn thing, I think I'd have noticed if the Old Testament resembled literature, rather than a census report. It's boring. Full stop.

Silas: Admiring Shakespeare also seems to better correlate with "trying to activate the applause lights" than actual admiration. How do people's use of their own time on Shakespeare compare to e.g. the Halo series?

I'm on record as stating that the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more emotionally moving than Romeo and Juliet. But even so, Buffy is not written in iambic pentameter. I have to concede Shakespeare credit for writing poetry and literature at the same time. Perhaps many greater contemporaries were lost to time; but still the feat is impressive. (I couldn't do it... maybe poets find it less impressive.)

Daniel: Judging ancient works by modern standards is a Freshman Comp 101 mistake.

Only if you're trying to be fair. Isaac Newton was one of the great discoverers of the ages. He is no longer a good physicist. This is right and proper. All arts should move forward, and if they don't, something is wrong. If no one had ever done better than Shakespeare - as evaluated by a blinded judge who didn't know Shakespeare was supposed to be great - it would be cause for deep concern. Not all arts are like the art of science, but artists should still learn from each other.

A proper reading of an ancient work should take into account the frame of mind the author expected the reader to have. But modern novels are better, not just different, because modern novels don't include boring damn censuses right in the middle of their text like the Old Testament does. John Galt's lecture in Atlas Shrugged, as disruptive as it may have been to Rand's text - I still remember my incredulity, counting the pages as I flipped them over, searching for the resumption of the plot - has nothing on the Old Testament.

Time moves forward; well it should. Incidentally, if that last sentence had been in Ecclesiastes I'm sure it would be a famous proverb by now, whether it deserved to be or not, just because it "sounds profound" if you read it while expecting profundity.