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No, Really, I've Deceived Myself

51 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 March 2009 11:29PM

Followup toBelief in Belief

I recently spoke with a person who... it's difficult to describe.  Nominally, she was an Orthodox Jew.  She was also highly intelligent, conversant with some of the archaeological evidence against her religion, and the shallow standard arguments against religion that religious people know about.  For example, she knew that Mordecai, Esther, Haman, and Vashti were not in the Persian historical records, but that there was a corresponding old Persian legend about the Babylonian gods Marduk and Ishtar, and the rival Elamite gods Humman and Vashti.  She knows this, and she still celebrates Purim.  One of those highly intelligent religious people who stew in their own contradictions for years, elaborating and tweaking, until their minds look like the inside of an M. C. Escher painting.

Most people like this will pretend that they are much too wise to talk to atheists, but she was willing to talk with me for a few hours.

As a result, I now understand at least one more thing about self-deception that I didn't explicitly understand before—namely, that you don't have to really deceive yourself so long as you believe you've deceived yourself.  Call it "belief in self-deception".

When this woman was in high school, she thought she was an atheist.  But she decided, at that time, that she should act as if she believed in God.  And then—she told me earnestly—over time, she came to really believe in God.

So far as I can tell, she is completely wrong about that.  Always throughout our conversation, she said, over and over, "I believe in God", never once, "There is a God."  When I asked her why she was religious, she never once talked about the consequences of God existing, only about the consequences of believing in God.  Never, "God will help me", always, "my belief in God helps me".  When I put to her, "Someone who just wanted the truth and looked at our universe would not even invent God as a hypothesis," she agreed outright.

She hasn't actually deceived herself into believing that God exists or that the Jewish religion is true.  Not even close, so far as I can tell.

On the other hand, I think she really does believe she has deceived herself.

So although she does not receive any benefit of believing in God—because she doesn't—she honestly believes she has deceived herself into believing in God, and so she honestly expects to receive the benefits that she associates with deceiving oneself into believing in God; and that, I suppose, ought to produce much the same placebo effect as actually believing in God.

And this may explain why she was motivated to earnestly defend the statement that she believed in God from my skeptical questioning, while never saying "Oh, and by the way, God actually does exist" or even seeming the slightest bit interested in the proposition.

 

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

Next post: "Belief in Self-Deception"

Previous post: "Doublethink (Choosing to be Biased)"

Comments (69)

Comment author: Yvain 05 March 2009 06:17:05PM 21 points [-]

When I first read "Belief in Belief", I liked it, and agreed with it, but I thought it was describing a curiousity; an exotic specimen of irrationality for us to oooh and aaah over. I mentally applied it to Unitarians and Reform Jews and that was about it.

I've since started wondering more and more if it actually describes a majority of religious people. I don't know if this is how Eliezer intended it, but it was two things that really convinced me:

The first reason was behavior. Most theists I know occasionally deviate from their religious principles; not egregiously, but they're far from perfect. But when I imagine a world that would make me believe religion with certainty - a world where angels routinely descend to people's bedsides to carry their souls to Heaven, or where Satan allows National Geographic into Hell to film a documentary - I find it hard to imagine people sleeping in on Sundays. Not even the most hardened criminal will steal when the policeman's right in front of him and the punishment is infinite.

The second was a webcomic: http://www.heavingdeadcats.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/file1126-2.jpg It wasn't so much that theists wouldn't drink the poison as that they'd be surprised, even offended at being asked. It would seem like a cheap trick. Whereas (for example) I would be happy to prove my "faith" in science by ingesting poison after I'd taken an antidote proven to work in clinical trials.

I see two ways this issue is directly important to rationalists:

  1. Is this solely a religious phenomenon, or are our own beliefs vulnerable to this kind of self-deception?

  2. What kind of tests can we create to determine whether a belief is sincerely held?

Comment author: Konkvistador 14 February 2012 07:30:20PM 4 points [-]

Link is dead. Would very much like to see web-comic. :)

Comment author: Yvain 14 February 2012 09:22:58PM 14 points [-]
Comment author: Konkvistador 14 February 2012 10:38:17PM 2 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 March 2013 09:40:24AM 2 points [-]

Is this solely a religious phenomenon

No. People can "believe" in non-religious things and yet refuse to make bets which should be 100% safe if their belief is true. Sometimes they don't realize that the specific bet is related to the abstract belief; but often there are separate magisteria of belief-space and everyday-action-space.

How many believers in democracy would let their own life be decided by a majority vote of other people? How many believers in communism would share all their property with someone poorer than them?

Comment author: TimS 21 March 2013 01:01:08AM 6 points [-]

How many believers in democracy would let their own life be decided by a majority vote of other people?

That seems like a strawman. Most western democracies have substantial antimajoritarian components to their basic laws. Procedurally, most countries have judicial review of legislative acts. Substantive examples (from the United States) include the First Amendment (freedom of speech) and the Fourth Amendment (protection against unreasonable searches and seizures).

In other words, proponents of democratic government don't intend to communicate that they want every decision made by the majority of the citizens.

Comment author: Yosarian2 21 January 2014 12:49:57AM *  1 point [-]

One thing that makes Christianity such a powerful meme is that it has specifically developed defenses that seem designed to counter this kind of argument. They're actually written right into the Bible.

Matthew 4:7-

" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]”"

Basically, the exact kind of test you're talking about, an attempt to falsify the hypothesis that God exists and will protect you, is something that you are explicitly forbidden from trying to do in the Bible. Even the act of suggesting it as a course of action is associated with the Devil.

The fact that Christianity has such well-developed internal defenses against being challenged is one reason it's been such an effective meme. Also, perhaps more interesting, I would say that the fact that it was felt that they needed to do so proves that even at the time the Bible was written there were rationalists (or at least proto-rationalists) challenging religion on rational grounds, and the early religious leaders felt the need to counter those kinds of arguments.

Comment author: Liron 05 March 2009 04:47:05AM *  16 points [-]

Eliezer's post focuses on the distinction between two concepts a person can believe (hereby called "narratives"):

  1. "God is real."

  2. "I have something that qualifies as a 'belief in God'."

Either narrative will be associated with positive things in the person's mind. And the person, particularly with narrative #2, often forms a meta-narrative:

3. "My belief in God has positive effects in my life."

But: Unlike the meta-narrative, our analysis should not proceed as if the relationship between narrative and effects is a simple causal link.

The actual cognitive process that determines the narrative might go something like this:

  • Notice that the desirable aspects of life enjoyed by religious people in the community conflict with undesirable properties (e.g. falsehood, silliness, uselessness) of religious beliefs.

  • Trigger a search: "How do I make the undesirable properties go away while keeping benefits?"

  • Settle on a local optimum way of thinking, according to some evaluation algorithm that is attracted by predictions of certain consequences and repulsed by others.

The search can have a very different character from one individual to another. For example, if the idea of not having a defensible narrative isn't repulsive, then the person says: "I'm happy in my religious community, so I don't think too hard about my religion." The kind of thing they are actually repulsed by would be "for me or my peers to believe that I am not a fully committed member of my in-group".

Or, if the person is given to conscious reasoning, then it would be extremely repulsive to not have a defensible narrative. What their search evaluation algorithm is actually repulsed by might be something like, "the self-doubt that I am not a capable reasoner", or "the loss of respect and status among other intellectuals". So the quick fix is: Add more layers of justification and arguments surrounding religion, so that both you and your peers can plausibly feel that you are a capable reasoner occupying a justifyable stance on a complex issue.

So regarding Eliezer's post, it's not surprising that someone with narrative #2 can get a "placebo" version of the positive effects that come with narrative #1. The narrative doesn't independently cause the positive effects; the narrative is shaped by a cognitive algorithm that predicts the benefits of believing it.

Comment author: thomblake 05 March 2009 02:43:36PM *  7 points [-]

Also note the historical benefits to religion being in a 'separate magisterium' - scientists could go about the business of science without being hassled by religious conflicts (internal and external) and people in Europe didn't feel so much of a need to kill each other over heresy anymore. (cf. The Baby-Eaters)

EDIT: fixed spelling of cf.

Comment author: Raw_Power 12 October 2010 04:48:12PM *  14 points [-]

One goes through life thinking one's mistakes are unique to one, only to discover that they are much more common. Yet, I thought I was the only Muslim to force himself to belief like that. But I find that all of the Muslims I know, save perhaps one exception, follow this same pattern. And when I said: "I believe I will go to hell if I don't believe in God, but I can't bring myself into believing in God" they used to tell me "Do your five prayers, read then Qran, if you strive to get closer to God, God will get closer to you." Needless to say, whenever I did that, it backfired: I only got more scared of hell (anyone here who has read the Qran will agree with me that the threats are very vivid) but less believing in God, because it just didn't make sense that God be as he said he was and there be a Hell built after Judgement Day. Among other things.

I wonder if anyone ever fully analysed the Qran and all the resources it uses to tug at the feelings of the reader? I've started seeing some patters since I started reading this site, but I'd like to know if there is a full-blown, complete, exhaustive deconstruction of that book, that is not dripped in islamophobia, ethnocentrism, and other common failures I have seen in Western theologians when applied to Islam.

Comment author: Daniel 06 March 2009 05:03:41AM 11 points [-]

Georges Ray has defended a position he calls "Meta-Atheism." He believes that just about nobody who says they believe in God actually does, for reasons somewhat like the ones Eliezer mentions. I highly recommend checking it out. Here's a link: http://stairs.umd.edu/236/meta-atheism.html

Comment author: JoshuaFox 05 March 2009 07:13:26AM 6 points [-]

Persian legend about the Babylonian gods Marduk and Ishtar, and the rival Elamite gods Humman and Vashti

Although this does not speak directly to the heart of your argument, the Elamite etymologies you provide are almost certainly incorrect, and seems that the reference to the legend is even weaker.

Here is a good discussion of the point, with references.

Mordechai and Esther are of course theophoric, but theophoric names, including those named after the gods of the dominant culture but given by non-believers in the respective gods, are common in many cultures, ours included.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 March 2009 08:06:32AM 3 points [-]

Well - for a start, I actually got the story off her, then looked it up online to confirm; before then I was unaware of the etymology of Purim.

It's not clear to me how you could plausibly carry the theory that Haman, in the story, is a personal name, given that Haman and Vashti were paired male and female gods at least according to other sources (the name Vashti is mentioned in your cited book, but it's not clear in what connection). Haman is a coincidence but Vashti isn't? Either I'm missing something, or I must suspect the motives of your book's author; that is always a hazard in this sort of thing. (Of course, so is the converse hazard of going eager-beaver on a good atheistic strike - but obviously Mordecai and Esther are Marduk and Ishtar, so it certainly wouldn't be surprising if Haman and Vashti are rival gods; according to her, Vashti isn't even a very Persian name.)

Comment author: JoshuaFox 06 March 2009 01:27:56PM *  8 points [-]

Of course, the validity of the point about "Haman" is not relevant to your core argument.

When I said "good discussion" in my comment, I was trying to say that using my best judgment, honed in a PhD in a closely related field, and examining the argument and the affiliations of the authors, it seems like an unbiased discussion. Good scholarship is of course neither "pro" nor "anti" Bible.

The apparent phonetic resemblances between Haman and an Elamite god are linguistically far-fetched. There is absolutely no connection between a h and a kh (written also h-with-hook-underneath). It is always easy to find coincidences if you are willing to stretch resemblances far enough. Even Jensen admits that Vashti (perhaps pronounced Washti) is unattested and that he is is emending from Mashti.

Also, note that Haman and Vashti are in no way paired in the Biblical story, and Marduk and Ishtar were not a divine couple.

After the first modern Bible scholars tried (with religious motives) to understand the Bible in its historical context, and found that much of it was non-historical and that there were connections to other Near Eastern cultures, some went overboard in their enthusiasm to "debunk" the Bible. I suspect that Jensen in 1892 was motivated by this rather than atheism.

Velikovsky is a more familiar example of this phenomenon. He was motivated by a desire to scientifically describe incidents in the Bible, but went overboard into pseudo-science.

Mordecai and Esther are simply common names coming from Marduk and Ishtar (like Maria and Jesus today).

By the way, this book about Esther has a chapter on its historicity, bringing arguments for and against, and definitely concludes against.

In writing this, I feel like I am acting out this webcomic, but hey, at least the PhD is good for something.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 March 2009 01:39:17AM 4 points [-]

I accept your verdict.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 05 March 2009 06:45:57AM 14 points [-]

I may not be too far from this. I started to be an atheist but (as best as I can describe) found myself believing in god anyway. I interpreted it as catholicism having etched a god shaped hole into my brain. It seemed like more trouble than it was worth to fight it. In this context 'I believe in god' isn't a conclusion but an observation.

Knowing that your brain hasn't updated correctly does not make it trivial to force it to.

By my current theology, my Gods are rather a lot like the dragon in my garage which is invisible, can't be touched, and leaves no thermal signature. For example, I may be wired to believe in divinity, but I am apparently not wired to believe in a creator (Thanks PBS!) so in my thinking on cosmology, physics, or evolution, my theology just doesn't come up. This is at least partly by design.

Comment author: nwthomas 30 June 2011 06:33:07AM 6 points [-]

I can relate to this. I had a crisis of faith about a month ago (thanks LessWrong!), and while I've "officially" stopped believing "those things," they still sometimes show up in my thinking. I am, as it were, in the midst of a complex re-architecting process. Particularly hard to eliminate are those beliefs which actually serve a functional purpose in my life. For instance, the beliefs that give me emotional support, and the beliefs that I use to decide my actions, are very hard to deal with. In these cases I need to figure out how to build a new structure which serves the same function, or figure out how to live without that function. This has required a significant amount of creativity and deep thinking.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 February 2010 03:40:42PM 5 points [-]

I'm a little surprised that the lack of evidence for peripheral stories that aren't in the Torah is considered significant, compared to the lack of evidence that Hebrews were ever slaves in Egypt.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 December 2010 04:23:56AM 2 points [-]

That was my trigger. I'm still pissed about that.

Comment author: jimmy 05 March 2009 09:34:25PM 12 points [-]

It's worth mentioning that one can actually believe in god yet only say "I believe in god".

When I talk to religious people, I usually say "I don't believe in god" rather than "God does not exist". They both get the point across that I'm an atheist, but nothing else. The second, however, is less confrontational, and it often takes effort to keep people from seeing the discussion as a "battle".

Comment author: RobinHanson 05 March 2009 02:56:23AM 6 points [-]

What is the evidence that "she does not receive any benefit of believing in God"? I would expect that with her attitude she would be accepted and included into religious communities.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 March 2009 03:47:05AM 20 points [-]

That's not a benefit of believing in God. You don't have to believe in God to be accepted into religious communities. You just have to say "I believe in God".

It may help to genuinely believe you believe in God. But in the Modern Orthodox Jewish community that I remember from Chicago, someone who actually seriously believed in God and acted accordingly, who was over the age of 20, would probably get looked at a little funny - they wouldn't get the warm friendship that accrues to those who just say the passwords.

A "benefit" of actually believing in God would be, say, that you weren't too sad at funerals because you genuinely believed the deceased was in Heaven. Pretty sure no one at the family funerals I attended went that far.

Comment author: Yvain 05 March 2009 06:21:13PM 5 points [-]

Doesn't she receive a benefit by not having to live a lie her whole life? I've read deconversion stories, and they almost always include a point where someone has lost faith but tries to stay in their religious communities and go through the motions. Most of them end up miserable (granted that there is a 100% selection bias because these are deconversion stories)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 March 2009 06:58:59PM 3 points [-]

Well, yes, there is a 100% selection bias here. I'm not sure I can count that as evidence, like, at all.

Comment author: Yvain 06 March 2009 09:52:19AM 8 points [-]

The intention was to provide a clarifying example of an existential statement that should be non-controversial ("There exist some people who are uncomfortable living a lie"), not to assert probabilistic evidence for a universal statement ("Everyone I have read about is uncomfortable living a lie, therefore this is true of all humans"). I noted the selection bias only to clarify that I am not making the stronger universal statement, but it doesn't interfere with the existential statement.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 05 March 2009 07:01:59PM 2 points [-]

In human terms, or ideal Bayesian terms?

Comment author: steven0461 05 March 2009 07:59:25AM 0 points [-]

Wait, couldn't people have been programmed by evolution to grieve no matter what they truly believe about where the deceased went?

Comment author: Benja 06 March 2009 11:17:44AM 7 points [-]

This seems like an empirical proposition. Does anybody here know what cryonics believers say who've seen friends or loved ones frozen?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 June 2009 07:56:47PM 14 points [-]

An interesting point. Keeping in mind that cryonics "believers" trust cryonics with varying degrees of probability and that many or even most of them try to appear more rational to their skeptical friends by saying "The probability is only 20% but that still makes it a good bet based on expected utility", then I'd say that I've seen both behaviors. That is, I've seen some cryonicists expressing grief, some cryonicists (including myself) saying "See you later", and my untrustworthy eyeballs indicate that this correlates to how much trust they have in cryonics.

Eyeballs also indicate that someone who's more deeply involved in the cryonics community per se is less likely to mourn, regardless of what they say about their verbal probabilities. And furthermore, when someone is suspended who themselves believed strongly in cryonics, "weak" cryonics advocates are less likely to mourn that person! This may have something to do with the degree to which mourning is empathy...? Or do they, perhaps, believe just strongly enough to worry that the one will come back and be annoyed at the "condolences"?

Are weakly religious people less likely to mourn the death of strongly religious people? I'm guessing "Yes" - and it'd be easier to gather data here.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 25 June 2009 08:16:30PM 8 points [-]

Sounds like priming: since the deceased is associated with not mourning cryonically suspended, the attitude towards this issue changes in the context. I expect that the verbal probabilities, if not premeditated, will also change, if the question is framed like "what is the probability that [this person] will be restored?", depending on the belief of [this person] in the success.

Comment author: Lotska 22 May 2013 09:49:27AM 0 points [-]

I'm sure it's possible to believe in God but deceive oneself into belief of atheism. And then grieve shallowly with a feeling that the deceased is not really gone forever.

Comment author: shminux 22 May 2013 03:07:20PM *  0 points [-]

Also known as "there are no atheists in foxholes".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 May 2013 02:09:04PM 0 points [-]

That sounds theoretically possible but I haven't seen it.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 May 2013 02:31:08PM *  -1 points [-]

Really? I would expect you of all people to see it.

Most atheists alieve in God and trust him to make the future turn out all right (ie they expect the future to magically be ok even if no one deliberately makes it so). Hence "beyond the reach of god" and all that stuff.

I guess this is offtopic in this particular thread, though.

Comment author: DSimon 22 May 2013 06:43:35PM 4 points [-]

Most atheists alieve in God and trust him to make the future turn out all right (ie they expect the future to magically be ok even if no one deliberately makes it so).

The statement in parentheses seems to contradict the one outside. Are you over-applying the correlation between magical thinking and theism?

Comment author: Vaniver 22 May 2013 06:56:49PM 1 point [-]

The statement in parentheses seems to contradict the one outside.

The implication is "no one human"- that is, the atheists in question still live in a positive universe rather than a neutral one, but don't have an explanation for the positivity.

Comment author: redlizard 22 May 2013 03:51:03PM 1 point [-]

I highly doubt that that expectation is due to hidden belief in gods. It sounds more like an overly strong generalization from "it all adds up to normality" to me.

In other words, you can expect the future to turn out alright without any agents actively making it so based purely on inductive bias.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 May 2013 03:20:54PM -1 points [-]

I've seen that for planets a lot more than for people, yes.

Comment author: hairyfigment 22 May 2013 11:12:46PM 0 points [-]

People alieve that nothing too bad will happen if they behave well or otherwise follow some set of rules. (I have to fight this feeling myself!) I can well imagine people having a mental picture, which they habitually use to make predictions, in which something justifies this feeling. But do they picture a deity as commonly described? Or do they picture their parents/society/church having (limited) magical powers?

Comment author: less_schlong 05 March 2009 08:36:25AM 8 points [-]

If you knew that everyone got uploaded to a virtual world when they died, and the virtual world was better in every way than the natural world, and when you died you would be reunited with them in the virtual world, then would you really have something to grieve about when their soul passed out of their body?

Comment author: Baughn 05 March 2009 10:30:19AM *  9 points [-]

Yes; you would be unable to talk to them for.. however long it'd take before you could join them.

Of course the rational solution then would be suicide or, failing that, good, ethical actions that certainly would get you into heaven but just happen to be incredibly dangerous. I'm sure we could find some.

Comment author: Neoryder 06 March 2009 10:44:46AM 0 points [-]

You don't grieve because of what you said. You grieve because you miss them and you don't know when you will see them. I know it is selfish but its true. I attended a funeral once where the son of the deceased was a friend and "We are sad not because we would no longer see him, but because we do not know when.", Of course he maybe lying but sometimes we can take these people's statements at face value. Some people are short sighted, they are saddened inspite of their belief that they would be reunited and what they term the other side/life would be a far far better place. They are saddened because their lives have to change , maybe not for the better.

Comment author: pwno 05 March 2009 03:27:28AM *  3 points [-]

I think EY just means that she doesn't get the benefit from truly believing in God, but another, possibly similar, benefit one gets by deceiving oneself into believing in God.

Comment author: infotropism 05 March 2009 08:06:02AM *  5 points [-]

Rationality is about winning. Sometimes it's a great psychological relief to be able to use belief as a shield or help. I have never had any qualms about using it to counter other irrational beliefs, fears, anguishes. Like for instance, when I was a child, the fear of darkness or monsters below my bed or whatnot.

Telling myself "ok, this isn't real and you know it, so no fear should be necessary" doesn't have quite the same effect as "God will help me chase them away / protect me".

Those are two different ideas, even though we use "belief" for both. I believe in God, gods, fairies, anything and whatever, whenever I find it convenient, just the same way I'll use nootropics when I'll find those convenient, both to the purpose of enhancing my mood or cognition. That is believing, as in, making up a comfortable, warm, fuzzy story, that recovers myself my serenity. Not believe as in "what can help me understand or manipulate the real, physical world, what is real and what will have a causal effect on that external world".

The only wrong consequence I can foresee for such a behavior is to go too far, to really start believing in such things, and hence loose some of your potential for rational reasoning as you'll then have to defend a lie and forgo truth sometimes, or also, feeling the need to elaborate further and further upon the stories, whether you believe them or not, wasting your time upon fantasizing.

Please note here how such stories which were at first understood to be fiction became serious stuff. Science fiction that becomes religion, as in scientism (to end up believing in your own story), or how some people will go to ludicrous lengths to demonstrate how star wars is still physically "not impossible" (to waste your time embellishing your fantasy and rationalizing it).

Comment author: kurige 05 March 2009 06:14:37AM *  6 points [-]

This I can understand.

I am a protestant Christian and your friend's experience with "belief" are similar to mine. Or seem to be, from what I gather in your post.

One thing I've come to realize that helps to explain the disparity I feel when I talk with most other Christians is the fact that somewhere along the way my world-view took a major shift away from blind faith and landed somewhere in the vicinity of Orwellian double-think.

The double-think comes into play when you're faced with non-axiomatic concepts such as morality. I believe that there is a God - and that He has instilled a sense of right and wrong in us by which we are able to evaluate the world around us. I also believe a sense of morality has been evolutionarily programmed into us - a sense of morality that is most likely a result of the formation of meta-political coalitions in Bonobo communities a very, very long time ago.

These two beliefs are not contradictory, but the complexity lies in reconciling the two. This post is not about the details of my Escher-esque brain, so suffice to say there are questions unanswered by viewing only the scientific side and there are just as many unanswered if viewed only from the spiritual side.

Simply because your friend is not blind to contradictions in the Orthodox Jewish belief system does not mean she does not sincerely believe - or that she's deceived herself into believing that she believes. It means that she, as all intelligent believers who practice crisis of faith should, understands just how much she doesn't understand.

Comment author: Estarlio 14 July 2013 01:03:26PM -1 points [-]

suffice to say there are questions unanswered by viewing only the scientific side

Do you have a list?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 29 October 2011 10:23:43AM *  4 points [-]

This is of a piece with the Doublethink article. I think you just don't get it, as too many atheists don't.

This seems a case of someone concluding consciously and subconsciously that believing in God had greater instrumental rationality - more winning - than not believing in God. The supposed mystery of her stress on her belief in God, rather than his existence, is easily explained by this. Her belief pays the freight, not God.

To be clear, I'm an atheist. But it's clear that belief in God does have instrumental benefits for lots of people. If your goal is winning, and not just accurate prediction, it could be perfectly instrumentally rational to believe in God.

I remember having a similar discussion with a friend in college. She "decided she would have a better life" if she believed in God. Being an atheist and epistemic rationalist at the time, I was appalled. How peculiar and unfathomable it was. What gibberish. She's wasn't saying it was true, just that believing it would give her a better life.

Well, turns out she had a greater appreciation for instrumental rationality than I had, though I doubt it was particularly conscious on her part. My appreciation for that kind of instrumental rationality is now conscious. I haven't quite made the leap yet, and don't know that I will, but dismissing it as irrational is just incorrect.

Comment author: TuviaDulin 03 April 2012 07:18:51AM 7 points [-]

I've thought about this as well. Its basically the same question as "If I had the option of living in a virtual reality fantasy world without ever knowing that the real world existed, and I would be happier in the VR world, would I rather live there?" Is increased happiness worth the cost of self-deception?

I've tried to do what you describe. It didn't work, and it made me feel cheap, like I wasn't respecting myself. That's just my own subjective experience of course.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 03 April 2012 07:50:57AM *  2 points [-]

That's my subjective experience as well. But clearly other people don't operate the same way, to the same extent.

I compare it to the recent empirical work on morality, where they have found a number of different moral modalities by which people determine something good or bad, and further found that people weight those modalities differently. Fairness might have the greatest weight to you, while autonomy might have the greatest to me.

I think a similar thing happens with ideas. They get accepted according to a multimodal valuation. Only one of those modes is predictive power, but that's the mode predominant in rationalist circles, and rationalists get together and wonder how other people can believe tripe. Well, because the tripe fulfills some other valuation that we don't feel as strongly. Maybe that value is believing what powerful people tell you. Maybe that value is believing what your neighbors believe. Maybe that value is believing what your elders believe. Maybe it's not believing what your elders believe.

Comment author: jimrandomh 05 March 2009 02:06:51AM 4 points [-]

Many people cannot distinguish between levels of indirection. To them, "I believe X" and "X" are the same thing, and therefore, reasons why it is beneficial to believe X are also reasons why X is true. I think this, rather than any sort of deliberate self deception, is what you have observed.

Comment author: Liron 05 March 2009 02:32:17AM 1 point [-]

I expect it is an easy distinction for most people whom Eliezer describes as "highly intelligent".

Comment author: MichaelHoward 05 March 2009 01:44:54PM 3 points [-]

If it's a distinction they'd rather not think about, I wouldn't bet on it. If you don't put some work into preventing it, more intelligence can just mean cleverer defences for your irrational beliefs.

Comment author: pwno 06 March 2009 04:13:21AM 1 point [-]

How can more intelligence lead to be more likely to defend your irrational beliefs?

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 06 March 2009 02:52:32PM *  9 points [-]

How can more intelligence lead to be more likely to defend your irrational beliefs?

See Positive Bias: Look Into the Dark and Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People.

Comment author: Ali 05 March 2009 08:30:50AM 2 points [-]

It depends on how seriously they took the conversation.

I completely agree with Jim, the difference between, "I believe God exist" and "God exist" is a debate in itself

I also think that Eliezer should have brought up this point to her attention to really get the response she "believes in"

For many people saying "I believe God exists" is a stronger proposition than "I know God exist"

Comment author: botogol 05 March 2009 05:48:28PM 3 points [-]

I like this article (but then I liked Dennet's ideas of belief in belief right from the start) and I've been thinking about this off and on all day.

But I think perhaps Eliezer over-analyses: On the surface this person's beliefs and thoughts seem fuzzy, so Eliezer admiraly digs deeper - but perhaps it's just fuzz all the way down.

Perhaps she believes P and ~P, perhaps she believes P>Q and she believes P but she beleives ~Q.

Perhaps you just have to shrug, and move on.

My experience is that most religious people give very, very, very little thought to what they actually believe. (About 10,000th of the introspection that Eliezer performs, say :-) ) and analysing it terms of doctrine, beliefs (or indeed impressions) is simply using the wrong tools. Perhaps better to think about emotions invovled in 'being religious' and being 'part of' a religion.

Comment author: thomblake 05 March 2009 10:29:56PM 3 points [-]

But for an academic actually doing that analysis (not that I'm necessarily calling EY an 'academic'), one must invoke the principle of charity, which necessitates assuming she's saying things that are reasonable, justified, and truthful, as far as you can push it.

Argue against the belief, not the person - if you can wrestle out some truth from what someone's saying, count that as a win even if they oppose you.

Comment author: ciphergoth 05 March 2009 09:54:09PM 3 points [-]

What you say doesn't account for the curious absence of any direct affirmation of her belief - it's weird that she's always at one remove from her own belief.

Comment author: David_Gerard 19 January 2011 10:42:20AM *  2 points [-]

This sounds very like she enjoys the feeling of doublethink. Applying aesthetics to one's own feelings. I suspect this is behind New Age as a grab-bag people tend to give credence to all of, or crank magnetism - people assess beliefs by how it feels to profess them.

Whether this is "real" belief depends then on what you call "belief". It's a real something, I think, and "belief" is not an invalid word for them to use for it, but we might benefit from separate ones for "I like this belief" (which I mean in a sense stronger than "I think I should believe") and "this belief pays off in expected experiences." It may be covered by "belief in belief", but I have a nagging feeling that it's a bit stronger.

Comment author: rhollerith 06 March 2009 04:53:01PM 1 point [-]

My curiosity is drawn to the nature of the benefits the woman expects. Does she get a high from the false belief or does her mental model inform her that the false belief will favorably affect external reality -- e.g., she will have friends more likely to behave charitably towards her than atheist friends will be?

A very intelligent conservative Christian once gave me the latter as a primary reason she become a Christian. OTOH, Garcia thought that the former was usually the motive in the population he interacted (which was very different from the population at large though).

Comment author: christopherj 11 October 2013 03:16:39AM 1 point [-]

Faith is a major component of Christianity. For example, Jesus says to Thomas“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” So Thomas, who knows Jesus is resurrected because he has seen and felt him, is less blessed than those who simply believe (but don't know). Likewise, though God could easily get a bunch of converts by showing Himself, doing that would lose the faith aspect.

Don't go being smart and saying that you by definition have faith in things you know -- Christians don't mean this definition of faith, nor is it necessarily true. You can also set up certain experiments you personally know by the laws of physics won't hurt you, yet if you measure your fight or flight response will realize that you "believe" they are dangerous despite knowing they are not. Or compare how you feel about roller coasters compared to other activities you know to be of comparable likelihood of injury.

Another thing is that it is the dogma of many Christian denominations, that faith is a prerequisite (for some the only prerequisite) to salvation. Thus I claim that for Christians, faith is a more praiseworthy trait than knowledge of the same thing as a fact. A Christian who says that they know God exists, is signalling a very strong faith and most definitely not that they don't need faith because they have factual knowledge.

Now although Christian, Jew, and Muslim all claim to follow the same God of Abraham, I can't say for sure how this applies to your Jewish friend. The Torah also has "thou shalt not put God to the test", and various bits praising faith, plus they also need something that predicts that God doesn't go show Himself to the world population. Anyone here know whether for Jews it is better to believe in God than to know God exists?