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I'd say the same applies to Catholics' aggrandisement of the Virgin Mary. Catholics are supposed to try to emulate someone whose virtue was so great before she was even conceived that she was born free from original sin (something no-one else can claim according to the appaling original sin doctrine). She then receives messages from god, bears his child (becoming both virgin and mother, a combination of virtuous states no-one else can achieve) and is bodily claimed into heaven. Isn't a human being who actually struggles with temptation, someone who overcomes actual weaknesses and flaws a better and more useful role model and example than this super-powered, divine intervention-fuelled juggernaut of unmatchable virtue? What can those seeking how to be good learn from someone to whom the mere notion of being bad is completely alien?
Sounds good, I'll look forward to it.
Thanks for the feedback. I think you're right that a key omission here is failing to note that each step must be useful in itself, and provide a non-negligable boost to chances of survival on its own. It also implies a greater sense of purpose than exists in nature (there's no mind aiming for things, just more resilient creatures surviving).
I realise the model has many flaws and omits wider context such as competition, but I'm still tempted by the appeal of using such a common situation as the analogy. Talk of guessing passwords or rolling dice does make excellent analogies, but if you want to engage someone it helps to talk about something closer to their personal experience, and I imagine most people played hangman on a board or margin at some point at school.
On a similar subject, the boardgame Guess Who is a perfect illustration of the point in Burdensome Details. Each additional claim about Person X (do they wear glasses? are they blond?) leads you to knock down some possibilities.
Very interesting article, and a real "ouch" moment for me when I realised that all my escapism growing up had exactly this effect. By becoming engaged with fictional worlds through films, books and games you can start to disengage with the world, finding nothing so interesting and vibrant in it (this is a particular risk if you are young and haven't found activities and people you value in reality yet). The scary thing was when I was realised the characters in my books felt more real than people in reality. If you have trouble connecting with people books offer ready-made connections that can distract you from getting the social skills you need to form meaningful relationships in real life.
To an extent I think I am still prey to this, so does anyone have advice on ways to balance your escapist pleasures so you can still enjoy them without losing the vibrancy of real life?
I realise it is over a year later but can I ask how it went, or whether anyone has advice for someone in a similar position? I felt similar existential terror when reading The Selfish Gene and realising on one level I'm just a machine that will someday break down, leaving nothing behind. How do you respond to something like that? I get that you need to strike a balance between being sufficiently aware of your fragility and mortality to drive yourself to do things that matter (ideally supporting measures that will reduce said human fragility) but not so much you obsess over it and become depressed, but it can seem a pretty tricky balance to strike, especially if you are temperamentally inclined towards obsessiveness, negativity and akrasia.
Cameron just made a homeopathy advocate Health Secretary. Maybe the problem was Britain not being broken enough...
Hmm, maybe I shouldn't have said "always" given that acting ability is required to signal a belief you don't hold, but I do think what I suggest is the ideal. I think someone who trained themselves to do what I suggest, by studying people skills and so forth, would do better as they'd get the social benefits of conformity and without the disadvantages of false beliefs clouding predictions (though admittedly the time investment of learning these skills would have to be considered).
Short version: I think this is possible with training and would make you "win" more often, and thus it's what a rationalist would do (unless the cost of training proved prohibitive, of which I'm doubtful since these skills are very transferable).
I'm not sure what you meant by the magisteria remark, but I get the impression that advocating spiritual/long-term beliefs to less stringent standards than short term ones isn't generally seen as a good thing (see Eliezer's "Outside the Laboratory" post among others).
Really enjoyed the article, and thanks for the link to the nerds article. I think it is easy to underestimate how big an effect this has. When growing up my mother was always incredibly helpful with schoolwork, but because she focussed on the negative, stating mistakes directly rather than praising the good first and then carefully broaching the subject, she came across as very harsh and demanding. Despite the best possible motives her delivery made me less happy and made me more resistent to suggestions and mutinous.
Unfortunately I think I've fallen into the same trap (I wrote a comment on my sister's blog which rather upset her because I didn't follow the advice here) so thanks for flagging this and pointing me to some reading material.
The character was just asked whether they would wish to conquer the world if given a wish-granting machine (and are saying no, they already have what they want and value). The way I understood the quote was that when people talk about ruling the world they really just want to control and protect the things they value around them. It made me think that "the world" isn't really a concept that people can easily grasp in the abstract, they need to look at the smaller scale to give them context.
I think "I want to protect humanity" or "I want to save the world" carry more weight and are easier to follow through on if you come at them from the angle of "I want to protect people like the people around me I love" or "I want to save the place where people like my friends and family live".
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