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Richard_Hollerith2 comments on Thou Art Godshatter - Less Wrong

69 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 November 2007 07:38PM

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Comment author: Richard_Hollerith2 15 November 2007 07:04:10PM 0 points [-]

Nit: surely you mean "220 BC," not "2200 BC".

I will take issue with your positing that the teachings on the end of suffering were added by later theocrats or rulers who wanted to broaden its appeal for the masses."

I stand corrected. Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

I find myself looking for ways to reconcile the two. Of course, in even admitting that, I'm busting myself! If I have my desired conclusion in mind as I sift through the evidence, I have already forgotten the central teachings of Overcoming Bias!

Hmm. I wonder whether in ordinary cases it is okay to construct tentative models of reality at a profligate pace provided one remains sufficiently eager to revise and discard. I'm pretty sure that I derive pleasure when one of the tentative models I have constructed is destroyed by a counterexample or counter-evidence (and that this pleasure is caused by the same mechanism that causes the pleasure I get when I learn a new fact) and that that pleasure outweighs the pleasure I derive from feeling certain that I am right. In particular, I hypothesize that my early experience desensitized me to doubt including doubt about my own morality -- feelings that most people who did not have my experience seem to find quite aversive.

I believe that our environment is "awash in evidence" in that most hypotheses we need to entertain to lead a very effective and very ethical life have the property that if a person ignores evidence for the hypothesis, the only thing he sacrifices is time because the mere passage of time will bring more evidence for the hypothesis. Now of course I recognize exceptions to this general observation. I am willing to believe for example that in competitive situations like military combat or wheeling and dealing in business or simply in buying and selling, the person who pays closer attention to scarce evidence can have a decisive advantage. (Hmm: these situations also seem to share the property that denying the opponent information about one's situation is often decisive.) But in the main it remains true IMO.

In summary, the worst cognitive biases seem to me to be those in which the person is actively motivated by the human reward circuitry to ignore certain classes of evidence in a consistent manner. I propose that in comparison, merely ignoring most but not all evidence on some point and profligately building causal models on scant evidence are minor sins. Consequently, I advise paying close attention to one's emotional responses around belief formation and belief rejection.

Since that proposition seems to contradict a point Eliezer has made several times, I will counter the possibility that I will be misunderstood by saying that I agree with him at least 98% of the time and have personally learned far more from his writings than I have from any other author since 2001, when I discovered his writings. How much to trust or to give our loyalty to our emotions might be the biggest place he and I disagree, with my maintaining that it is critical for a person who aspires to be a culture leader to ignore as much as practical species-typical emotional associations when choosing one's beliefs and terminal values.

I advise a young person who wishes to become a mature adult who is not an arrant slave to species-typical cognitive biases to pay copious attention to what thoughts and beliefs cause him pleasure and which cause discomfort. I suggest that over the long term, if a person begins the project while still a teenager, a person has quite a bit of control over his emotional responses -- can for example probably cause himself to become an adult who takes great pleasure in learning new scientific information.

Two hints on that one. First, being rewarded (with e.g. money or grades) for learning will tend to extinguish the "intrinsic" motivation to learn which is so valuable. So if you must undergo the formal educational system, be as indifferent to grades as practical. Second, the pleasure to be derived from learning or from exercising scientific or technical creativity is minor compared to the pleasure a teenager can derive from success in the popularity game that high school is famous for, sex and perhaps dominating opponents on the athletic field. If you can manage to derive most of your pleasure from learning during the critical age from about 14 to 17 -- by making a point not to develop the habit of getting your pleasure from the three more powerful reinforcers I just mentioned, then you will have gone a long way to setting yourself up for "good emotional responses" throughout your adulthood. (Before the age of 14, most people will not have sufficient executive skills to engage in such a program of "emotional shaping", but if you think you do have the skills or if you have adults you trust helping you, I say go for it.)

Buddhist pursuits of the type Humphries engages in seems to be a fine aid to becoming a relatively-unbiased adult, particular what the Buddhists have to say about cultivating an observing self.

Let me counter the possibility I will be misunderstood by saying that I have no practical experience educating young people except what I have learned from observing myself and listening to the recollections of a handful of friends. Still so much of what I read about pedagogy strikes me as misguided that I chose to speak out.

I am threadjacking of course, but I consider it not worth the costs to try to keep the conversation in neat little boxes especially once a thread has aged for a few days. I'll of course defer to the judgement of original poster and the owner of the blog.