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The Meditation on Curiosity

36 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 October 2007 12:26AM

"The first virtue is curiosity."
        —The Twelve Virtues of Rationality

As rationalists, we are obligated to criticize ourselves and question our beliefs... are we not?

Consider what happens to you, on a psychological level, if you begin by saying:  "It is my duty to criticize my own beliefs."  Roger Zelazny once distinguished between "wanting to be an author" versus "wanting to write".  Mark Twain said:  "A classic is something that everyone wants to have read and no one one wants to read."  Criticizing yourself from a sense of duty leaves you wanting to have investigated, so that you'll be able to say afterward that your faith is not blind.  This is not the same as wanting to investigate.

This can lead to motivated stopping of your investigation.  You consider an objection, then a counterargument to that objection, then you stop there.  You repeat this with several objections, until you feel that you have done your duty to investigate, and then you stop there. You have achieved your underlying psychological objective: to get rid of the cognitive dissonance that would result from thinking of yourself as a rationalist, and yet knowing that you had not tried to criticize your belief.  You might call it purchase of rationalist satisfaction—trying to create a "warm glow" of discharged duty.

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