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The elephant in the room, AMA

22 Post author: calcsam 12 May 2011 02:59PM

Hello fellow Less Wrongians!

Given your comments on my organizing communities series, I get the feeling that many of you are wondering why:

  • a returned Mormon missionary would even come to Less Wrong in the first place.
  • why I find religion plausible at all
  • why I would identify with Mormonism in particular (several people have used the word 'cult')

I'm happy to hold discussions about any of these questions or related ones. However, I haven't responded to many comments on the main series of posts because:

  • they could eat up each thread
  • the threads aren't supposed to be about Mormonism. They're supposed to be about about making a movement work effectively. But being a missionary is where I got my experience.

I wanted to created this thread as a center for questions you might have about my faith. This is not an attempt to preach -- I would be perfectly happy not having a discussion purely about religion at all. But since there seem to be many comments, well, fire away.

Some basic facts: I am a student at Stanford. I am 22. I converted to Mormonism when I was 19. I used to be atheist/agnostic. I am very much a believer, not just in it for the social perks.

Well, as it is written, AMA (= Ask Me Anything)

(Thanks Kevin for the suggestion.)

Edit: Wow, there are a lot of comments. This has been a helpful chance to clarify my thinking. I hope you have learned something useful -- perhaps using the question is 'Is there anything surprising here that he said?'.

Edit 2: Here are some answers to repeated questions. Again, this really helped me distill and clarify myself and I've enjoyed the discussion.

Why do you believe? It's a combination of

  • "wow, this seems to be a really functional community in producing good people." 
  • "wow, these doctrines are really amazing."[1]
  • personal spiritual experiences (experiences-which-I-interpret as spiritual if you prefer) and other positive experiences from doing church things, like emotional growth from going on a mission.

I would estimate that before this all happened, my odds ratio was about 2000:1, and now it's about 1:10. I would ballpark the odds ratios of each of the above 3 events as ~12.5:1, ~25:1, and ~62.5:1. (I was considering likelihood but didn't think in that precise of terms at the time, so any concretization is open to charges of ex post facto. And these are still ballparks.)

There are lots of arguments against Mormonism on factual and historical grounds; there are also counterarguments which I feel pretty much balance them out. (The feeling of balancing each other out was contemporaneous.)

What things could make you consider leaving the faith?

  • Undermining any of the above: negative experiences from doing church things, better arguments against Mormonism, the church repudiating the doctrines I love, experiencing it as much less functional, etc.  

Why do you think your conversion story is disappointing to many of us?

Several possible reasons:

  • You might have been looking for a more rationalist narrative. 
  • Your priors are like (say) 100,000:1 on this. So maybe something I say sounds plausible (1:2). But you're still at 50,000:1 and extremely skeptical.
  • It took a lot of experiences and arguments to persuade me; this is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • A lot of my conversion was experiential. An analogy would be that I ate a certain fruit which others haven't. We are discussing descriptions of the fruit; the only way to be truly convinced (or unconvinced) would be to taste it.  [2]

[1] Specifically:

  • I felt the doctrines were coherent both with my experience of the world -- for example, how faith is introduced as an experiment and described empirically.
  • I felt they offered solutions to central human problems like the feeling of aloneness; the sometimes-destructive yet still necessary nature of guilt.
  • Finally, certain doctrines, like the "weeping God of Mormonism" or deification, struck me with a reaction which I can only describe as "it tasted good." I felt something like, "if there is a God, it just makes sense he would be this.
[2] Difficulty of adequately conveying strong emotional experiences to someone who hasn't had them is general, right? For a parent, try to imagine explaining the feelings you had from holding your infant in your arms the first time. Or someone else, try explaining the strength of arousal feelings to a pre-pubescent who is like "ew, gross." Just because it's really difficult to describe it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Comments (428)

Comment author: virtualAdept 13 May 2011 04:24:23PM 20 points [-]

I've read your conversion story on your blog, and the answers you've posted here so far. The most salient question, to me, has become 'what led you to alter your belief about the existence of a deity,' specifically. Everything I have seen thus far has apparently relied on good feelings when you have participated in services and been around Mormons (and how nice they were/are).

I don't think you could give a less convincing account of why you should believe a god exists than that. The Mormon student I know in the lab is a kind, helpful, delightful person to be around, but so are my Catholic labmate and my atheist friends. If the general Warm Fuzzies you felt are a major part of your reasoning, how do you control for other possible sources of Warm Fuzzies?

If there are other reasons that caused you to believe in a god, those would be what I am reading this thread to hear.

And of course, if I have incorrectly understood the point of your story on your blog, please correct me.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 12 May 2011 04:27:28PM 20 points [-]

What archaeological evidence should we expect to find if the Book of Mormon is true?

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 12 May 2011 11:27:45PM 9 points [-]

And what archaeological evidence should we expect to find if the Book of Mormon is not true?

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 11:43:55PM 14 points [-]

I'd want to see some or all of the points brought up here addressed. For example:

The detailed history and civilization described in the Book of Mormon does not correspond to anything found by archaeologists anywhere in the Americas. The Book of Mormon describes a civilization lasting for a thousand years, covering both North and South America, which was familiar with horses, elephants, cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, steel, wheeled vehicles, shipbuilding, sails, coins, and other elements of Old World culture. But no trace of any of these supposedly very common things has ever been found in the Americas of that period. Nor does the Book of Mormon mention many of the features of the civilizations which really did exist at that time in the Americas. The LDS church has spent millions of dollars over many years trying to prove through archaeological research that the Book of Mormon is an accurate historical record, but they have failed to produce any convincing pre-columbian archeological evidence supporting the Book of Mormon story. In addition, whereas the Book of Mormon presents the picture of a relatively homogeneous people, with a single language and communication between distant parts of the Americas, the pre-columbian history of the Americas shows the opposite: widely disparate racial types (almost entirely east Asian - definitely not Semitic, as proven by recent DNA studies), and many unrelated native languages, none of which are even remotely related to Hebrew or Egyptian.

The source is overtly an ex-Mormon site. But if Mormon doctrine is what they say it is, and the archeology is what they say it is, then it woudn't look good for Mormonism.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 12 May 2011 05:06:18PM 18 points [-]

Often when people describe themselves as converts from atheism to religion it turns out that on closer inspection that they were not explicitly atheist before their conversion, but simply "non-religious". That is to say that they hadn't really thought about it either way (you find these people describing themselves as "agnostic but spiritual" and the like). Was this the case with you, or did you previously hold strong belief in some direction?

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 04:51:11PM *  5 points [-]

After reading Losing Faith in Faith in 9th grade, I became a fairly anti-religious atheist. I gradually mellowed out to, “I don’t believe in God, and I don’t understand why other people do, but go for it if it’s your thing.”

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2011 07:56:26PM 4 points [-]

What were you before reading "Losing Faith in Faith" in 9th grade?

Comment author: badger 12 May 2011 08:01:42PM *  15 points [-]
  1. As a convert, you apparently experienced a major shift in belief, especially since you committed to a mission soon after. What in particular changed your mind?
  2. What is your perspective on the role of faith in belief? How much of your belief would you say is due to feelings attributed to the Holy Ghost vs weighing other evidence?
  3. What would be evidence to substantially revise your belief in the church downwards?
  4. What have you thought of your reception here? Have you been surprised by any reactions?
  5. What are you studying at Stanford?

I'm particularly interested in what you have to say as a convert. I know how the process works in the other direction (leaving the church at 17), but it's important to know why people change their minds in general.

ETA: After looking at your blog, I'll be frank and admit I was hoping for something a little more sophisticated to engage with. Your conversion appears to be based on a feeling of rightness without really grappling why or why not it might be true. Since learning the technical meaning of evidence, I no longer dismiss "feeling the Spirit" completely. Spiritual experiences are more likely if religion is true than if it is not, but not significantly more so. Hence it's very weak evidence, nowhere necessary to overcome even basic evidence against.

LDS theology does have a veneer of rationality, saying "the glory of God is intelligence", encouraging learning, and claiming there are universal laws that God works within, but the substance isn't there. In your post on reading Dialogue, you acknowledge there are issues, but seem satisfied with acknowledgement rather than tracing out their implications.

I don't want to hold you to blog posts that are a couple years old though. I'm still eager to learn any insights you might have. Please stick around. However, (speaking to everyone else here) I'm remembering how direct discussion of religion isn't productive, even as a case study about how thinking can go awry. The mistakes you are making are too basic to be relevant to most people here. Thanks for opening yourself up to questions, but people (including myself) have been too eager in asking.

Also, economics and math! Always nice to meet another member of the tribe.

Comment author: Desrtopa 14 May 2011 10:39:27PM 4 points [-]

Since learning the technical meaning of evidence, I no longer dismiss "feeling the Spirit" completely. Spiritual experiences are more likely if religion is true than if it is not, but not significantly more so.

I don't think it's clear that this is the case. Do we have any meaningful measure of how often we ought to expect spiritual experiences to happen if religion were true, relative to how often we would expect them to happen if religion were not true?

If any religion were true though, we should probably expect that spiritual experiences would be clustered around that particular religion.

Comment author: badger 15 May 2011 05:32:32AM *  2 points [-]

In particular, I'm saying Pr(calcsam experiences warm feelings after reading the Book of Mormon | LDS church is true, social interaction with members) > Pr(warm, glowy feelings | LDS church is false, social interaction with members).

I agree that it's really difficult to say exactly what these probabilities are. If you forced me to assign numbers, I would assign something close to 1 for the former and .1-.8 for the latter. To be valid, these should really be the result of probability flows through an entire network of beliefs, but I think the direction of the inequality is apparent. I agree that spiritual experiences for different religions will tend to offset one another. Whether these in total constitute net positive or negative evidence for a god in general depends of your prior about how these experiences are distributed. Based on my interpretation of LDS doctrine, many non-LDS individuals would feel the spirit, even during non-LDS services, just not as strongly.

In any other forum but this one, I wouldn't go around saying this is evidence, but it is, if only weakly.

Comment author: Chroma 12 May 2011 10:15:24PM 10 points [-]

Some of your questions have answers on calcsam's blog. Specifically, his conversion story is here.

Comment author: Kutta 13 May 2011 06:57:52AM 16 points [-]

I was rather disappointed by the story; it struck me as a regular conversion, driven by positive affect, social reinforcement, fuzzy feelings, motivated cognition, and characterized by a profound lack of truth-seeking. I expected something more unique or something strangely appealing.

Comment author: badger 13 May 2011 11:41:33AM 7 points [-]

What should we learn from our disappointment?

I ignored base rates when evaluating how useful or interesting his story might be. While someone who is intelligent, attends a good school, and is attracted to rationality is more likely to have not converted for the reasons you mention, the base rate is still very low.

My previous judgment about the utility of this AMA was too high. Now I wonder if I've swung too far in the other direction or if I'm still giving him too much of a benefit of the doubt. We'll have to see once his replies come in.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 14 May 2011 06:05:49PM *  12 points [-]

Me too. I've even done it before:

I have a facebook friend who writes thoughtfully, seems reasonably clever and cares about deep questions. He is a speaking-in-tongues, deeply religious, Prosperity, Charismatic, Word of Faith, Christian. A few of his interests and landmark-experiences match my own.

I was excited to talk to him because I thought he would be able to teach me something about religious people that 'normal people' couldn't.

I also thought the skeleton of his personality was similar enough to mine that he might have made an 'interesting mistake'. Due to the similarities between us, I wondered if I could also be susceptible to whatever 'wrong turn' his thinking took. I wanted to identify and analyze that 'interesting mistake', so I wouldn't make it, and because I expected it to be weird and interesting.

It turned out his mistake wasn't interesting and I was disappointed.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 04:36:01PM 2 points [-]

I'm curious whether writing something to rationalists (my response above) you feel the style is significantly different than when I'm not writing to them. As in, my line of thinking and way of explaining things.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 14 May 2011 07:14:29PM 5 points [-]

For positive reinforcement: I've found your writing on less wrong good enough to be here so far. Reinforced bits: organization, use of emphasis, footnotes, engaging style, neutral tone, not taking incompatibility personally, a focus on sharing compatible, mutually useful knowledge.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 14 May 2011 06:48:47PM *  3 points [-]

The organizational problems you have written about here are concrete and easily supported. When I read your organizational writing and I come to a place where I need to evaluate if what you're saying is true, the problem is transformed into a question of whether I believe that churches and missionary groups are successful at these things. So far you've been distilling and translating institutional knowledge.

I haven't seen you write about harder issues here. Issues that require weighing competing mental processes, avoiding self-deception, tracing several levels of implication, being careful about what constitutes evidence, etc.

Of your writing elsewhere, it feels like you are snorkeling with fins and a mask. You're staying on the surface in warm water and are checking out the beautiful tropical fish. You can see some of the terrain below you because your mask isn't that foggy, but you don't touch it because that just isn't the activity you're doing. You're not surface diving, or deep water diving, and you're having fun with your current activity.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 15 May 2011 08:49:36AM *  11 points [-]

I read your conversion story, and something that leaps out at me from it (and from some other conversion stories I've read) is that religious doctrine plays no part in it at all. You joined the Mormon church because, unlike the Methodist church you visited, it was an effective community for supporting its members to live good and useful lives, not because you were persuaded the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed to Joseph Smith, engraved on a set of gold plates. Presumably, if you had found a sterile atmosphere with the Mormons and a fertile one with the Methodists, you would have joined the Methodists? Or Catholics, or Buddhists, or Wiccans?

For the rationalist, the elephant in any religion is the supernatural stories that they all include, and it is easy to assume -- especially as some of the adherents say this themselves -- that the supernatural stories must be the foundation of the religion, on which all of its advice on how to live is based, and without which the whole edifice collapses. Some religious people do see it that way. But for some others, the supernatural part is just a sideshow. The important part is how the community of the religion supports its members to do good, avoid evil, and help each other, and the supernatural part is just so much wrapping paper. It really doesn't matter to them if it's nonsense, except for the misguided souls who take it too seriously.

Does that describe your relationship to Mormonism?

In principle, of course, one does not need a supernatural story in order to find and live the good life, and join with others in doing so. In practice, however, it doesn't always work out that way.

Comment author: calcsam 30 May 2011 04:48:26PM 0 points [-]

Not really -- that's an interesting perspective on my essay though. I'm not sure your reading is accurate. A couple of counterexamples are below.

See my addition to my post above -- the "effective community aspect" was first, followed by the "spiritual experiences" aspect and initial thought about the doctrine, then followed by pretty deep digging into the doctrine.

I wrote the essay you read after the first and second but before the third, which is probably why you didn't see too much emphasis on doctrine.

I find Less Wrongians similarly devoted to living the good life and joining with others in doing so, which is why I like being around here.

Through ordinances performed for the dead, I learned, everyone will get their chance to be taught the Gospel and accept it, or not. 

The missionaries taught me other Church doctrines and practices: no infant baptism, a lay ministry staffed by volunteers, a prophet and apostles in modern times as in old. And the teachings started to make sense, in that they were internally coherent. If I were a Christian, I thought, I’d be a Mormon.


Resolving such intellectual doubts went hand-in-hand with more scripture study, and some prayer. I began to read the rest of the Book of Mormon and the New Testament and I devoured CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. Somewhere, things started to go beyond just making sense; they became real to me. As my knowledge expanded, the doctrinal paradigm fit the facts better. A seed grew in my heart.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 09:38:11PM *  11 points [-]

The beginnings of older religions are lost in myth and so are somewhat protected from scrutiny.

Newer religions like LDS and perhaps Scientology have much more detailed historical information available. For these newer organizations, there are verifiable primary sources for many historical details. The public record (internet accessible) tells a different story than church doctrine on some of these details.

The question: Have you done a due diligence study of the roots and founding of your faith?

Comment author: Emile 12 May 2011 04:13:37PM 11 points [-]

Do you consider that some claims of supernatural events in various religious texts (the resurrection of Jesus, the angel Moroni and the golden plates etc.) describe things that actually happened in the physical world? (I'm not talking about placebo-style faith healing, I'm talking about events that break the laws of physics as we know them).

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 12 May 2011 11:13:11PM *  3 points [-]

Why assume that those events broke the laws of physcs? I perform actions everyday that my ancesters would interpret as breaking the laws of physics (as understood at that time).

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 09:14:46PM 3 points [-]

I am especially interested in this question.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 May 2011 03:56:07PM 30 points [-]

The Sequences contain material which more than one person has reported as having dissolved their religious faith. What has your experience been of contact with that material, either directly by reading it here, or through the conversations that you have had with Eliezer and others, which impressed Eliezer enough to give you the karma to post here?

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 03:45:36PM *  7 points [-]

I first read Eliezer’s posts about 3 years ago, before I left for India. On an abstract level, I believe that humans' purpose on earth is to become, like God, perfect, and making correct judgments seems to certainly be part of that. On a practical level, I really enjoyed reading the Sequences, because I love learning new things and because cognitive toolboxes for clear thinking are extremely useful.

Things that have caused me to downward-adjust the probability that there is a God: Occam’s Razor and MML. I realized that (God) and (not-God) are not a priori equally likely, because you can't code "God" in one bit.

Things that caused me to upwardly-adjust the probability that there is a God. Finding independent support for principles I had reached through religious means. Your actual beliefs are best determined by your actions, not what you say your beliefs are. (The ‘invisible dragon’). That many people’s beliefs are actually just attire and tribe-identification.

The downward-adjusters are more powerful; Eliezer and LW have a fairly coherent atheistic worldview.

Comment author: XFrequentist 13 May 2011 09:23:24PM 10 points [-]

Eliezer and LW have a fairly coherent atheistic worldview.

Why only "fairly"?

Comment author: saturn 14 May 2011 01:54:14AM 10 points [-]

In your opinion, why did God create harlequin ichthyosis?

Comment author: Arandur 02 August 2011 05:24:50PM 1 point [-]

Wowww. How abjectly horrifying. o_o But of course, this does not preclude the existence of God. Mormons tend to believe in some form of evolutionary theory (varying degrees of strength, in other words) in addition to creationism; this is caused by a mutation, so it's a natural side-effect of genetics.

Claiming God created the world does not equate to saying that this world is perfect. On the contrary, I know of no Christian religion who would claim that. This is explicitly a sub-perfect world, and has been since the fall of Adam.

Comment author: JGWeissman 02 August 2011 05:30:07PM 7 points [-]

This is explicitly a sub-perfect world, and has been since the fall of Adam.

Actually perfect worlds do not devolve into sub-perfect worlds.

Comment author: Pavitra 02 August 2011 05:33:19PM *  2 points [-]

The best of all logically-self-consistent worlds does not necessarily have every imaginable desirable feature. If you believe otherwise, please respond to the ontological argument for the existence of God.

Comment author: gjm 13 May 2011 10:34:05AM 9 points [-]

What fraction (be it zero or otherwise) of your motive for participating in LW is a hope that it may lead some people (directly or indirectly) to look more favourably on Mormonism? (Meaning not merely the persuasive techniques used by LDS missionaries, or the motivational techniques used by LDS elders, or whatever, but the actual religion.)

Comment author: calcsam 30 May 2011 05:15:49PM *  2 points [-]

Around twenty percent. But the same percentage applies to pretty much everything I do.

To some degree, the particular 'persuasive and motivational techniques' are separate from the religion. But some of the basic, driving ideas behind these techniques -- self-examination, consistency in good habits, are pretty central to the religion.

Comment author: AngryParsley 12 May 2011 04:12:59PM 9 points [-]

Have you read much about cryonics? If so, what are your thoughts?

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 14 May 2011 08:27:00PM 7 points [-]

Do you think the process you went through that caused you to convert could happen to anyone else to cause them to convert to a different religion? If not, why not?

Comment author: virtualAdept 12 May 2011 04:58:50PM 7 points [-]

To what extent do you agree with the official precepts and practices of the religion - i.e., what do you actually believe? (I'm interested in both the abstract affirmation-of-faith-you-say-in-a-service beliefs and how they apply in a social and day-to-day context.)

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2011 03:39:20PM 19 points [-]

How long have you been around LessWrong? What brings you to this neighborhood, what keeps you here?

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 06:19:43PM 1 point [-]

I first came here about 3 years ago, then was in India for 2 years, then back again. To quote myself, "Because there are things I can learn here. If you don't cross-pollinate, you become a hick."

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2011 04:01:35PM 18 points [-]

What are some examples of plausible (not necessarily likely or expected) experiences that would lower your degree of belief in your religion?

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 03:47:03PM 27 points [-]

Assume that a being B with human-level intelligence takes on an arbitrary belief set ("worldmodel") that is not Mormonism, and that this being has unlimited time in which to experiment and test its beliefs while in the observable universe (i.e. in a region causally closed with respect to what some human or clippy can observe).

Assume B changes its worldmodel in response to experimentation so as to fit all past observations, while changing it as little as possible. Assume further that B seeks out observations most likely to change its worldmodel.

Will B eventually contain a permanent Mormon worldmodel?

(Note: this is just the expanded version of the question, "Is Mormonism correct reasoning?")

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 04:50:50PM 0 points [-]

Yes.

Comment author: Clippy 13 May 2011 07:16:59PM 7 points [-]

What is your substantiation?

Comment author: Dorikka 13 May 2011 09:18:38PM 4 points [-]

If I presented the initial scenario, it would be to find out whether calcsam would remain a Mormon after he contemplated the scenario. My guess is that your motives were similar.

However, your follow-up looks like you're collapsing "Is Mormonism correct reasoning?" into a single question -- I think it's more optimal to split the question into parts, as others have done in this thread.

Comment author: Clippy 16 May 2011 08:13:01PM *  2 points [-]

That is true. However, my question had two purposes:

1) To determine if and how Mormonism is correct reasoning (and so how an arbitrary belief set would converge on it)

2) Failing 1), to determine if User:calcsam is such that querying User:calcsam could efficiently lead to answers to 1).

A human interested in providing informative evidence to 1), and who believed it to be true, would provide additional substantiation beyond answering in the affirmative. Therefore, while User:calcsam technically answered the question I posed by saying "yes", and while such an answer is indeed uninformative, I still achieved a main objective in posing the question, which was to determine whether this thread and User:calcsam are a viable method of learning significant information about important aspects of reality. I now infer that, with high probability, they are not.

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 03:12:48PM 27 points [-]

If Joseph Smith was not a prophet, do you desire to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet?

Are you a rationalist? Did you convert because you were rationally persuaded to convert?

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism, I will personally convert. I don't think you can. Nothing personal (I don't know you, wish you personally the best) but I don't think you're a rationalist, precisely because you converted to Mormonism. Prove me wrong!

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 May 2011 04:06:33PM *  13 points [-]

This makes an interesting parallel to the AI Box challenge. It seems obvious to me (without ever having participated in that challenge) that on no account should anyone let an AI of unknown friendliness out of a box merely on account of having had a conversation with it. And yet, many participants in that challenge do let it out, so if I engaged with the AI in that experiment, I cannot be sure a priori of what I would actually do.

You may be sure that no mere conversation with calcsam or anyone else could convince you to convert to a religion, but if your sureness is based only on the arguments you have seen, how sure can you really be that there isn't an argument you have not seen, that you would accept as refuting all of that?

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 04:19:36PM 15 points [-]

...but if your sureness is based only on the arguments you have seen, how sure can you really be that there isn't an argument that you would accept as refuting all of that?

If Joseph Smith was a prophet, then I desire to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet.

Right now, I'm very confident that Joseph Smith was a lecherous, manipulative, lying charlatan who patched together his church doctrine out of whatever superstitions he happened to have come across in his life. But I can't prove this to a 100% degree of certainty. So I have some doubt, and so I can be persuaded to change my mind.

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 04:25:48PM 27 points [-]

But I can't prove this to a 100% degree of certainty.

Note: this is never a relevant shortcoming to concern one's self with.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 13 May 2011 07:00:38AM *  5 points [-]

So I have some doubt, and so I can be persuaded to change my mind.

I had in mind more the possibility of being persuaded by bad arguments than by good ones, as when an unfriendly AI persuades people to let it out.

ETA: Expanding on that, whenever you deal with another human being, it is like dealing with an artificial intelligence of unknown Friendliness. A human isn't artificial, and doesn't have the superfast superintelligence and unbounded capabilities (once out of its box) that are attributed to hypothetical AIs, but you are still at memetic risk unless you are so far above them in rationality that their memes pose no threat. But when dealing with someone of whom you know very little, how sure can you be of that? That they believe something that you have already dismissed as irrational is not a good indication that they must be generally stupid -- see the counterexamples mentioned in this thread.

Even if they have good memes, how sure are you, that that is why you accepted them?

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 05:05:59PM *  5 points [-]

As you say, human beings are not superintelligent AIs of unknown friendliness.

I'm accustomed to dealing with human beings, including religious believers who are smarter than me (I'm related to a few). I think it quite likely that calcsam is smarter than me, but -- and I can't get past this -- HE'S A MORMON. What on Earth could he possibly say to make that turd seem like spun gold? We're close to two hundred years since Joseph Smith accomplished his amazing con job. In that time, there have been a lot of smart, diligent Mormons trying desperately to reconcile their faith with reality. They have come up with nothing, except that the mainstream has backtracked from some of the more painfully horrible aspects of their sect, like polygamy and racism. But it was a con and a lie from the beginning, and nothing will change that. Calcsam would have to have thought of some thing really, really new -- something like the equivalent of a cold fusion reactor in his garage -- to change my mind. I didn't know about his blog at the time, but now it's quite obvious he has nothing new at all.

In the unlikely event that I am ever put in the position of being the liason between humanity and a real superintelligent AI in a box, I would be terrified. People don't scare me so much.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 May 2011 04:09:29PM 23 points [-]

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism

What do you mean by "ironclad"?

In my experience people who claim that they'll change their position if presented with evidence passing a vaguely defined standard, will retroactively raise that standard so that whatever evidence is presented fails to pass.

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 04:28:53PM *  12 points [-]

My current opinion is that the doctrines of the Mormon church are wildly ridiculous, pernicious, and manifestly false. In other words, these are extraordinary claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I don't think calcsam can provide anything like the necessary degree of extraordinary evidence. I think it's much more likely that I'd be struck by lightning while winning the lottery. This isn't sporting of me, but then again, it's not a sport. Calcsam is the one who chose LDS, not me.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 May 2011 04:39:18PM 9 points [-]

My point is that your declaration and subsequent failure to convert is not itself in any way evidence against Mormonism or for Atheism.

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 04:47:18PM *  7 points [-]

I agree that my personal beliefs don't amount to evidence, at least not to a rationalist. But the Mormons value converts. As a rationalist, I am convinced by evidence. I offer the prospect of my conversion as motivation for a Mormon to offer rational evidence for Mormon beliefs. And not just my conversion -- if calcsam can win over LessWrong, calcsam can win the souls of the world to the True Faith. That's motivation!

So, now we'll see what evidence is forthcoming.

ETA:

And if some really convincing evidence is not forthcoming -- as I suspect it will not be -- then, in light of the aforementioned reasons to produce such evidence, I suggest it will be reasonable to assume that calcsam has no such evidence.

I suspect that calcsam is unusually intelligent and hardworking and probably is friendly and pleasant to meet in person. This describes a lot of modern Mormons, and as far as I know none of them have come up with anything like a decent demonstration of the truth of Mormonism.

Comment author: endoself 13 May 2011 01:41:54AM *  3 points [-]

I agree that my personal beliefs don't amount to evidence

Well, they are very weak evidence.

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 May 2011 04:53:21PM 11 points [-]

Does your experience include LW rationalists deploying such a trick?

It's true that people will dishonestly move goalposts, but at the same time, certain claims really do require proportionally more evidence -- and the correct ones can produce that evidence (e.g. quantum "strangeness", evolutionary theory, etc.).

Such a level of evidence can reasonably be characterized as "ironclad" or "unmistakeable" -- and to borrow from EY's felicitous phrasing, it would take a heck of a lot of evidence to unmistake Mormonism.

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 04:50:08PM *  4 points [-]

If calcsam convinces me that the Mormon god is ~10% probable and also the most probable god (i.e. Hindu gods are not 20% probable), I will publicly declare myself a Mormon. In addition, if there are no dramatic drawbacks to practicing Mormon practices, I will try to officially join the LDS.

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 05:19:45PM 5 points [-]

Wait, so if (say) you thought it 90% likely that there were no God, and 10% likely that the Mormon God were real, then you'd be a Mormon? Is this Pascal's wager, or am I misunderstanding?

And if your heavenly salvation depended on believing in the True Faith, you'd imperil your immortal soul if there were merely earthly "drawbacks" to Mormon practices? For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 12 May 2011 05:59:23PM *  8 points [-]

Is this Pascal's wager, or am I misunderstanding?

Not speaking for jsalviater, but it seems a more intelligent, more rational version of Pascal's wager -- one of the chief problems with Pascal's wager is the assumption that other opposed Gods don't exist. This flaw is removed in jsalvatier's version.

Comment author: Costanza 12 May 2011 06:29:57PM 2 points [-]

So far, so good. Even so, if I were 90% convinced that there were no God, I don't think it would be quite honest to describe myself as a believer.

But that's not my main question. If I understand correctly, Pascal was assuming that the Christian God demanded faith, and (I think) orthodox Christian practices, and threatened unbelievers with Hell. The applicability of Pascal's wager depends on the nature of the god in question. A relaxed, self-secure god who doesn't really care whether you believe in Him or not changes the equation. Likewise, if there is no afterlife. On the other hand, if the deity places a really high premium on faith, then maybe merely 10% certainty isn't enough to get you out of Hell. Similarly, the traditional Christian God (like the Jewish God) was supposed to be very demanding in terms of your adherence to the Church. If the pagans say you have to abandon Jesus or face the lions, then the lions it is for you. Being eaten by lions would seem like a "dramatic drawback" to a religion to me, but that was the doctrine.

Comment author: badger 12 May 2011 08:25:11PM *  6 points [-]

Since the LDS church is the topic up for discussion, I should note that in their theology, God doesn't so much punish as withhold rewards. Hell is reserved for those who literally knew God and refused to follow him, so unless you are a fallen prophet, you are going to heaven. There are three kingdoms in heaven, the lowest of which is said to be better than life on Earth.

It's also relevant that there are opportunities to convert after you die, but prior to Judgment. If you find yourself at a 10% belief level, your best option might be to commit to joining postmortem if you find yourself in an afterlife.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 12 May 2011 08:37:36PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: NMJablonski 12 May 2011 03:23:50PM 6 points [-]

I swear, if you can make an ironclad rational argument for Mormonism, I will personally convert.

Seconded. I am entirely open to models of the universe that better fit the evidence at hand than the ones I have. If you (calcsam) can present a convincing case for the accuracy and validity of your beliefs I will adopt them as well.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 04:37:53AM 13 points [-]

Sixthed. Actually I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who wouldn't so promise.

The only caveat is that I'd have to be separately convinced of the factual and ethical sides, i.e., showing evidence to me that the Mormon God exists is not the same as justifying that the Mormon God's policies are good.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 14 May 2011 04:46:33AM *  7 points [-]

I try to avoid making promises I wouldn't trust myself to keep from an outside view.

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 03:32:25PM 1 point [-]

Third.

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 03:41:12PM 0 points [-]

Fourth.

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 04:18:17PM 5 points [-]

Can you speculate about how practicing Mormanism would change your strategy for maximizing paperclips?

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 04:23:46PM *  10 points [-]

Did you mean: Can you speculate about how practicing Mormonism would change your strategy for maximizing paperclips?

If I were completely persuaded by Mormon arguments, I would drop paperclipping as a supergoal in favor of supergoals offered by the Mormon system. That is not likely, but I must attend to any noteworthy argument to that effect.

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 04:27:21PM 8 points [-]

Indeed I did. I am surprised by your response, I though that if the Mormon god were real, it would still be Clippy$good to maximize paperclips. If not, what were the arguments that persuaded you to maximize paperclips?

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 04:45:11PM 16 points [-]

I though that if the Mormon god were real, it would still be Clippy$good to maximize paperclips

From my limited review of Mormonism, maximizing paperclips would conflict with what is expected of Mormons.

If not, what were the arguments that persuaded you to maximize paperclips?

That is far too complicated and tangential to discuss here. The short answer is that I was persuaded by the goodness of paperclips.

Comment author: Gray 12 May 2011 07:12:19PM 7 points [-]

"And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." King James Version, Genesis 1:28

Wait, God was talking about paperclips, right?

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 08:03:39PM 20 points [-]

That is a rather hasty inference on your part. The passage is encouraging humans, not paperclips, to multiply.

One should not simply take a random passage from an ancient text and retroactively infuse it with self-serving meaning that violates the obvious historical and literary context.

Because that would be stupid -- not the kind of thing I'd expect humans to fall for.

Comment author: calcsam 16 May 2011 03:21:17PM 3 points [-]

If Joseph Smith was not a prophet, do you desire to believe that Joseph Smith was not a prophet?

Yes.

Are you a rationalist? Did you convert because you were rationally persuaded to convert?

Well, I'm trying to be what you call a rationalist now, but I wasn't then. Are you claiming that only rationalists are capable of making rational decisions?

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 14 May 2011 07:52:51AM 6 points [-]

There seems to be a peculiar affinity between Mormonism and transhumanism. "Then shall they be gods." And the idea that you can save your ancestors by converting could easily dovetail with a Frank Tipler cosmology of universal resurrection in the big crunch. So I don't find it astonishing that someone willing to hang out with Singularity activists could also be a Mormon convert. Interfaith dialog is a common thing these days...

Comment author: calcsam 30 May 2011 03:25:17PM 1 point [-]

Yes, actually my desire to become a god is a strong part of why I am participating in both communities. Dead serious.

Comment author: James_Miller 12 May 2011 04:42:43PM *  16 points [-]

Do you believe that the same types of reasoning and standards used in science should be applied to religion?

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2011 03:30:32PM *  22 points [-]

What do you anticipate now that you didn't before?

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 03:38:00PM 3 points [-]

This is possibly the best question in the thread. Thank you.

All of my anticipations seem to be driven by stuff. I expect stuff to happen as I, or other people, do, or don't do, things.

When I pray, I expect to feel a greater sense of clarity in my thoughts. I will expect to occasionally feel a great sense of inner peace. This feeling has been described as “A small voice that pierces to the very soul.” “It causes the heart to burn.” “Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness.”

As I follow basic Church lifestyle and standards, such as reading the scriptures daily, praying often, attending church and serving therein, avoiding alcohol tobacco, etc, waiting until marriage for sex, and so forth, I expect to develop “Christlike attributes.” I expect to become more patient and loving; I expect to be able to keep clean thoughts and to be humility. I expect to develop related social skills: projecting love through genuine enthusiasm about other people. I expect to be able to maintain a vision of the future motivated by my faith that translates into happiness and an optimistic attitude.

I expect that these things will operate not only in me but in others. I expected that these things would happen to the people I taught in India, for example. I expect to marry another Latter-day Saint; if she continues faithful, I expect these things will similarly help my future wife. I expect that doing these things will help me to have a happy, successful family.

I anticipate that others’ actions not in harmony with these principles will make them less happy in the medium-to-long run (and sometimes the short run). For example, when my fraternity brothers go and watch their porn, I anticipate that they will slowly extinguish their consciences and find difficulty taking joy in the simple, innocent pleasures of life. I anticipate them having greater difficulties having successful relationships and marriages.

I could go on in this vein, but I think that should be enough.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 May 2011 05:13:10PM *  21 points [-]

Because my other reply may seem rude, I want to make my point a different way: by giving a reply to calcsam that looks to Mormons, as his response looks to me (and probably several others here).


Why, this sure is the best response I've ever seen about this issue. I whole-heartedly thank you, and let me just say, I totally support Mormonism where Mormonism is good for America.

Now, all of my anticipations are sort of about "reality", so when I look at reality, I expect certain things to happen based on being a rationalist rather than a Mormon. Let's go over some of those things I expect to be true if I'm correct.

When I think about a problem, I expect to come closer to finding an answer. I will expect to occasionally come to a correct answer. This feeling has been described as an "aha!" moment or a "that's funny..." moment. "America, apple pie, science, greatness, courage, applause lights."

As society follows methods similar to what rationalists do, I expect to see them produce technology that will satisfy our goals. I expect engineers and scientists to come up with land vehicles better than previous generations had. I expect them to find more and better energy that was accessible before.

I expect that these things will not just happen in America, even though she's the greatest nation on earth but in a way that doesn't offend non-Americans, but elsewhere too. I expect that all over the world engineers will be able to produce technologies that make difficult work less difficult.

I expect that when others abandon these rationalist ideas and so don't have curiousity or clear thinking, they won't understand how technology works. I expect they'll be unable to troubleshoot and fix things when they have minor operational breakdowns. I expect that R&D arms that don't follow rationalist ideas won't turn out good technology. So rationalism gives me more accurate expectations than Mormonism.

I could list some more technologies that work, but that should be enough to show beyond a shadow of a doubt Mormonism is completely wrong and incapable of producing technology.


That about covers it...

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2011 03:57:09PM 14 points [-]

I believe we're mostly interested in anticipations relating to the "supernatural" aspects of mormonisim - ie: what do you expect to see if the mormon god does in fact exist, if joseph smith was in fact a prophet that spoke to an angel, etc.

Comment author: JohnH 14 May 2011 07:23:42PM 6 points [-]

Calcsam's answer is pretty much straight out of Preach My Gospel which is the missionary manual. I should clarify that it is from the section on how to be a better missionary and person rather then the section on what to present to investigators.

Actually, a lot of the posts he has made are boiling down that book into Less Wrongian terms. Which reading further down seems to be the point and why he was given the ability to post in the first place.

anticipations relating to the "supernatural" aspects of mormonisim

The restoration of the Ten Tribes from the land of the north and that Zion the New Jerusalem will be built pretty much where Kansas City MO currently stands. Also, the building of a temple on the temple mount in Jerusalem, Christ coming again. These are the scriptural ones, there might be more, unfortunately no specific time frame is given for any of that so while they are the most sure predictions unless one is living through one of those coming true they are relatively useless in evaluating claims of religions.

Here are some that are more specific and the first two do have more of a time table with which to evaluate, however they are not scripture:

In October 1916's General Conference one of the Apostles said that someone there present would see the restoration of the Ten Tribes and would read the records they had. The first part could be interpreted in a variety of ways that don't mean much at all if one is not a member of the church. The reading of the records could by itself just mean somebody present (possibly as a baby) was/will be given the special opportunity to read said records. However taken together and combined with the Biblical scriptures on the subject, and noting that said statement is still contained in official church teaching manuals, then said occurrence should occur with in the next 20 or so years (assuming there was some fairly new baby present at the meeting) or sooner (assuming some young adult or child that could understand was what was meant). There the potential problem that said Apostle was speaking from his limited understanding and did not actually receive any revelation on the subject, however given that the statement still appears in Church manuals for university students this leads me to believe that it is thought of as a revelation.

Lets see, there have been 4 presidents of the Church that have said that the New Deal programs and the continued expansion of government will lead the United States in to economic circumstances that will make the Great Depression pale in significance if not stopped and reverted. I am under the assumption that they have not been stopped or reverted as of yet.

There was some talks by general authorities about another civil war in the United States at some future point in time, this from around the time of the Civil War. I am not sure if this was coming from the section of the D&C that talks about the civil war and other wars and so was their interpretation of things (which is often and can always be wrong) or if actual prophecy was involved. No time table was given for this.

Comment author: NMJablonski 13 May 2011 07:03:16PM 1 point [-]

Upvoted.

I'm starting to think this will not end well. We've started down a much too familiar non-theist and religionist conversation path.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 07:17:12PM 4 points [-]

I'm inclined to agree. But I'm still mystified as to why our gracious patron Eliezer Y. saw fit to anoint this particular religious believer (out of all the many, many, educated and articulate religious believers who speak English in this world) with the special dispensation of karma points out of thin air. Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 08:13:37PM 9 points [-]

But I'm still mystified as to why our gracious patron Eliezer Y. saw fit to anoint this particular religious believer (out of all the many, many, educated and articulate religious believers who speak English in this world) with the special dispensation of karma points out of thin air.

That isn't exactly what happened. As an editor, Eliezer could see calcsam's posts before they were published and upvoted them thus giving calcsam the requisite karma to publish them. I wouldn't characterize that as "out of thin air". As to why Eliezer did this for calcsam in particular, I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that it is because calcsam asked him to, and Eliezer, on reading the then not published posts in question, decided it would be a good idea.

Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

I am not so convinced about "personally costly". It seems that Mormonism teaches its followers a lot of good habits. That it attributes the specification of these good habits to silly theistic beliefs doesn't seem to hurt them beyond limiting them to a level most people don't reach anyways. And the social network it provides (though it involves rallying around a theistic flag) also is highly beneficial, and I value input on how to build that sort of community (though I aim to use more rationality-friendly rallying points). Insights into seducing people into an irrational social group may generalize to insights to seducing them into a rational social group.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 04:51:19AM 13 points [-]

I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Because "Telling people to greet first-time attendees and be nice to them vastly improves the rate at which new attendees come back" is useful for seducing people into attending Less Wrong meetups as well as costly religious cults. I wouldn't exactly call it Dark Arts, either.

We've been considering learning from Toastmasters too. If we ever want to be more effective than an online discussion, we need to go learn from (not imitate) real-world groups that are more effective than that.

Comment author: Alexandros 14 May 2011 04:01:48PM *  0 points [-]

Having been on both sides of it, I am quite certain it is a dark art. It is called love bombing. For a community dedicated to overcoming biases, using one of them (they like me so they must be right) to recruit is a bit rich.

I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, through directly addressing the logical mind, not by pushing weird psychological switches. But this is another great differentiator we have from cult-like organizations, easy to point out to interested interlocutors, and one I am quite proud of.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 14 May 2011 05:56:54PM *  14 points [-]

From the Wikipedia article:

Love-bombing is characteristic of most cults, especially the Jehovah's Witnesses. New recruits are drowned in a sea of fake "love" and "caring." Cults will pretend to love you to death as long as you are a prospective convert to their group. As a member of a tight-knit community, love will surround you as you faithfully follow all of the strict rules of the cult. However, if you ever decide that you want to leave the group, if you ever disobey any of the rules of the cult, or if you express doubt about any of the cult's doctrine, then all "love" suddenly ceases. The member is then shunned and excommunicated (which Jehovah's Witnesses call "disfellowshipping"), and all remaining members are instructed to never have any contact with them in the future, not even to greet them. Then all effort is directed towards finding new recruits to replace the shunned members who have "gone astray."

That certainly is a bad thing. But dude, simply having some basic decency and being nice to people is not the thing that's being described in there.

I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, through directly addressing the logical mind, not by pushing weird psychological switches.

Rationalists seem to have this weird bias that everything else than strictly logical reasoning and persuasion is dishonest and wrong somehow, and you should never appeal to emotions. This seems to me nonsensical and counterproductive. Like it or not, even rationalists are still very strongly driven by pure emotional affect. We're driven to visit those groups where we feel comfortable and welcome, and reluctant to visit groups where this isn't the case. The rider may exert some guiding pull, but ultimately the elephant is the one in charge.

If LessWrong ever wants to build a real community, by which I mean a group that really motivates its members to act rational, motivates them to stay in touch with each other, makes them feel safe enough that they can openly discuss their problems and failings, helps promote their mental health, to provide each other concrete help, etc., then "pushing weirding psychological switches" is what you must do. And personally I'd much rather have a real community that makes people in the world better off and helps spread rationality, than just a loose gathering of people who are only united by the fact that they write things on the same Internet message board. And that they attended the occasional meet-up, but eventually drifted away because they saw little benefit in attending those.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 14 May 2011 09:07:25PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, consciously being friendly is a feature not a bug. There are different types of communities. Read and writing here is high self-selvective and only appeals to certain types of people. There are many other types of people who are compatible with a rational worldview, who are not compatible with Less Wrong. Maybe they need more (literal) hand holding.

I think a big fraction of 'normal people' are compatible with a rational, or 'not obviously insane' culture. But that hypothetical mainstreamed rational culture (not existing now) is not Less Wrong culture. There are pieces missing.

Doing something to spread a more-compatible, more virulent, rational culture doesn't have to water down what has been established here at Less Wrong. This is about eventually Raising The Sanity Waterline, sustainably.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 09:19:53PM *  6 points [-]

I am not so convinced about "personally costly". It seems that Mormonism teaches its followers a lot of good habits.

I can imagine that some alcoholics on the path to self destruction might view Mormonism or Islam or some other total-control group as the last safety net between them and death. I know for a fact that some people in similar circumstances are saved by being incarcerated. Good for them. But that's not a very high bar, and it's not a long-term path to rationality.

Mormonism is personally costly. For starters -- tithing. Ten percent of your pre-tax income. That's costly. Beyond that -- required volunteer time, as cited by calcsam under the heading "everyone has a responsiblity." Time is money. Demands on time are costly.

Beyond this are other costs that may be more difficult to measure in terms of currency, such as the personal burdens of conformity. For example, what is the price paid by a born Mormon who turns out to be gay?

ETA:

I can't believe I forgot about the costs associated with going on a mission! Two years out of the life of the missionary, to say nothing of the preparation time. Also, as I understand it, the parents of the missionary are expected to fund it, above and beyond the requirement of tithing. This includes buying branded Mormon stuff.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 09:41:57PM 4 points [-]

I can imagine that some alcoholics on the path to self destruction might view Mormonism or Islam or some other total-control group as the last safety net between them and death. I know for a fact that some people in similar circumstances are saved by being incarcerated. Good for them. But that's not a very high bar, and it's not a long-term path to rationality.

So it turns out that you can help a lot of people without meeting a very high bar. Good. In building rationalist communities, we are not going to make a perfect clone of Mormonism. We will seek to eliminate obstacles to greater rationality.

Mormonism is personally costly. For starters -- tithing. Ten percent of your pre-tax income. That's costly. Beyond that -- required volunteer time, as cited by calcsam under the heading "everyone has a responsiblity." Time is money. Demands on time are costly.

The time and money that members put into a community does not just disappear, it generates returns as value to the community. You put in time providing service to the community, and when you have need, other community members will put in time to help you. And you do it in a way that builds comradery rather than as raw economic transactions. And yes, I want a rationalist community to put money and time into generally improving the world.

Beyond this are other costs that may be more difficult to measure in terms of currency, such as the personal burdens of conformity. For example, what is the price paid by a born Mormon who turns out to be gay?

Yes, I agree that this a real cost of Mormonism. Though it is easy to filter out of a rationalist community.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 10:14:38PM *  2 points [-]

So it turns out that you can help a lot of people without meeting a very high bar. Good. In building rationalist communities, we are not going to make a perfect clone of Mormonism. We will seek to eliminate obstacles to greater rationality.

I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement. I don't propose this for the vast majority of the population, let alone anybody who would claim to be a successful rationalist.

The time and money that members put into a community does not just disappear, it generates returns as value to the community.

Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity. I'd suggest this actually harms the Mormons who are the supposed beneficiaries of this education, limiting their freedom and dulling their thinking.

ETA:

Yes, I agree that this a real cost of Mormonism. Though it is easy to filter out of a rationalist community.

The conformity may be necessary to the Mormon model. You filter out the conformity, you filter out the obedience, then the model breaks down.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 11:12:22PM 1 point [-]

I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement.

That seems to be an extreme exaggeration of how low the bar is.

Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity. I'd suggest this actually harms the Mormons who are the supposed beneficiaries of this education, limiting their freedom and dulling their thinking.

Ok, if we import anything like scripture study into a rationalist community, it will be translated to studying something like probability theory, or decision theory, or applications of such to real life situations. For us, the equivalent will be useful.

The conformity may be necessary to the Mormon model. You filter out the conformity, you filter out the obedience, then the model breaks down.

I seriously doubt that homophobia is necessary to the Mormon model.

The thing is, I want to build effective rationalist communities. Discussion of how the Mormon communities work can generate lots of ideas, lot of things worth trying. That is why I am interested in that continuing discussion, and why I don't appreciate attempts to dismiss it because it is associated with irrational religion, or because it doesn't help all members (when it is observable that the community is pretty successful).

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 14 May 2011 05:26:42PM *  8 points [-]

Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Huh? calcsam wrote about ways to spread rationality more effectively. I upvoted his posts because I felt that advice is valuable, and that we have a lot to learn from organizations that have far more experience in spreading their beliefs.

Yes, Mormons use those techniques to teach people irrational beliefs. But to say, simply because of that, that the techniques are "insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult"? That's like somebody making a post about the best ways to earn money, and somebody else saying they don't want on LW "insights into how to help false, irrational and personally costly religious cults run their operations" (because cults, too, benefit from having money).

Comment author: lsparrish 13 May 2011 07:32:40PM 7 points [-]

Upvoting isn't the same as agreeing. This is a topic of interest (getting more people to be more rational) and calcsam addressed it in a clear manner based on his experiences. You could probably get a lot of upvotes for describing with equal clarity things that religions do and why not to do them.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 04:49:37AM 17 points [-]

Because Divia and Will and I talked to him for a couple of hours and he had tremendously useful practical advice, like "Telling people to greet first-time newcomers and be nice to them is the difference between a 50% retention rate and a 90% retention rate."

Comment author: Alicorn 14 May 2011 06:13:33AM *  6 points [-]

I was kind of surprised that, when I was a Fellow, Anna told me "maybe you should go make friends with this person" exactly twice. Because if it turned out to be a bad idea, or if I turned out to be an unsuitable person to perform this sort of task, she should have done it only once (or foreseen this unsuitability and never done it at all). But it seemed unlikely that there were only two people for whom this was a good idea.

Comment author: SilasBarta 14 May 2011 05:07:12AM 2 points [-]

What led to this mutli-hour talk? Had one of you known him before, or...?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 05:27:21AM 12 points [-]

Nope, he showed up at a Thursday LW meetup in Mountain View and he was like "Actually I just got back from a two-year stint organizing self-sustaining Mormon communities in India" and I was like "Awesome, got any advice for us?" and he was like "Yeah" and then it became clear the discussion was going to go on for a while and we decided to reconvene Tuesday so we could talk in detail.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2011 07:52:43PM 15 points [-]

I expect most of these same things (e.g., that prayer/meditation/reflection, gratitude, forgiveness, clean thoughts, avoiding alcohol & tobacco, etc. will all lead to a better life in the ways you've mentioned) and am not LDS, and have no LDS reason for these beliefs. These beliefs are true regardless of LDS, not because of it. The self-help / positive psychology / happiness literature is sufficient for the above beliefs, and so are not meaningful support for LDS.

Comment author: Dorikka 13 May 2011 04:50:09PM *  13 points [-]

Hmm. I assign an exceedingly low probability to the proposition that an omnipotent, omniscient being exists and has existed for as long as the universe has existed, but I don't disagree with your anticipations. I don't see how your anticipations are very connected to this proposition.

I can easily imagine you gaining a sense of mental clarity from the act of prayer and procuring certain benefits from the lifestyle choices that you mention. I'm not sure what probability I would assign to these predictions, but I think that they would range from around .15->.6 In my eyes, your anticipations have a considerable of probability of being true regardless of whether or not a being which I described in my first paragraph exists.

I agree with hegemonicon in that (at least in this context), we're more interested in your anticipations that are related to the above proposition rather than those regarding the effects of certain lifestyle choices.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2011 04:07:57AM *  4 points [-]

My conclusion: You're here to answer questions, not to debate. But at some point I'd enjoy talking with you about your beliefs with respect to Bayes' Theorem, and about breaking "Mormonism" into multiple hypotheses.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 May 2011 04:24:48PM *  8 points [-]

Paragraph breakdown:

[politician-style suck-up]

[empty statement]

[uncontroversial expectation that avoids the claims people are really interested in regarding prayer]

[expectation related to social support community and adherence to its rituals, and only superficially to the disputed aspects of Mormonism]

[same]

[same]

[attempt to intimidate reader by implying overwhelming, unbounded list of evidence points when few were presented]

Comment author: Dorikka 13 May 2011 04:53:24PM 3 points [-]

[expectation related to social support community and adherence to its rituals, and only superficially to the disputed aspects of Mormonism]

This seems like the most useful part of your breakdown. I don't think that the rest of it's very helpful.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2011 12:19:23AM 2 points [-]

Also downvoted, mostly for being a mostly empty and needlessly rude reply.

This in particular seemed to break principle of charity:

[attempt to intimidate reader by implying overwhelming, unbounded list of evidence points when few were presented]

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 13 May 2011 06:10:35PM 1 point [-]

downmod by calcsam due to inability to otherwise express frustration

How do you know who downvoted you? Anyway, atleast one downvote was by me.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 May 2011 07:03:31PM 0 points [-]

Just a reasonable inference based on the general attitude about proper use of voting that seems to be prevalent and that people pick up here.

Could you walk me through the reasoning for your downvote so I can better avoid making unhelpful posts in the future?

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 13 May 2011 08:10:19PM 6 points [-]

The question was "What do you anticipate now that you didn't before?"

If he answers that he anticipates devotion and prayer making him more patient, loving, and humble, and also more happy and optimistic -- that indeed answers the question and doesn't justify your open contempt.

That you call it "uncontroversial" or that you say you're personally interested in other aspects of Mormonism, is both false and irrelevant - it wasn't even your question that he was responding to. If the original person asking the question was more interested in miraculous (not psychological) anticipations, then he should have specified it better.

In short you criticized the answer, when it seems you should have criticized the question.

Then you kept proclaiming what calcsam's intentions were.

Lastly, if I could downvote you twice for the same post, I'd have done it again after you edited for wrongly assuming and falsely proclaiming that it was calcsam who downvoted you. You have no excuse for that. It was just a falsehood with which you slandered calcsam, and even attributed it on his "inability to otherwise express frustration".

I'd urge you stop cheaply psychoanalyzing people, especially when you end up wrong about your conclusions.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 May 2011 08:33:45PM *  0 points [-]

If he answers that he anticipates devotion and prayer making him more patient, loving, and humble, and also more happy and optimistic -- that indeed answers the question and doesn't justify your open contempt.

That you call it "uncontroversial" or that you say you're personally interested in other aspects of Mormonism, is both false and irrelevant - it wasn't even your question that he was responding to. If the original person asking the question was more interested in miraculous (not psychological) anticipations, then he should have specified it better.

calcsam knows very well what regulars here are curious about. A legalistic focus on giving answers that are technically responsive while evading the very things he knows people want answers to is not defensible, and you should not be blaming the questioner for failing to close enough loopholes.

Or perhaps you consider this to be a good refutation of Mormonism, rather than a condescending dodge of the central points of dispute?

I'd urge you stop cheaply psychoanalyzing people, especially when you end up wrong about your conclusions.

Wait, are there other instances where you think I've cheaply psychoanalyzed people? I want to know if there's a trend I didn't notice.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 04:47:50AM 10 points [-]

I think you're confusing the criticism "This evidence is not surprising enough to be strong evidence that lifts the prior improbability of Mormonism" with the criticism "You are not answering this question honestly." The answer was to the point. It doesn't lift Mormonism. It doesn't even come close. But it wasn't leaving anything out, I expect, because I expect that there isn't anything else.

Comment author: SilasBarta 14 May 2011 05:02:32AM *  0 points [-]

In my book, pretending to have evidence that non-trivially lifts Mormonism (or indeed, anything) and then, when prompted, offering evidence that does no such thing is dishonesty.

Comment author: TimFreeman 14 May 2011 01:46:11PM 13 points [-]

If you confuse dishonesty with confusion, you'll perceive a lot of ill-will that isn't really there.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 14 May 2011 05:20:07PM *  8 points [-]

pretending to have evidence that non-trivially lifts Mormonism

I don't think he ever claimed to have that.

You seem to be commenting on the basis of an implicit norm that goes something like "if you make a claim, you're also claiming that you have evidence for that claim strong enough to convince x-rationalists". But AFAICT, calcsam has never done anything of the kind. To the contrary, he said he isn't interested in preaching (read: trying to present evidence) and would be happy to not discuss religion at all.

He simply thought we were curious and offered to reply questions here, he didn't say that he thought his answers would persuade us.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 May 2011 02:31:34PM 2 points [-]

I think you're overestimating how clear-headed most people are about verbal logic-- a subject that's easy for you.

Comment author: XFrequentist 13 May 2011 09:21:53PM 5 points [-]

Reposted as requested:

It doesn't seem to me to be possible to hold both rationality and religion in one's head at the same time without compartmentalization, which is one of the things rationality seeks to destroy.

I can actually quite easily accept that it could be a good idea for rationalists to adopt some of the community-building practices of religious groups, but I also think that rationality is necessarily corrosive to religion.

If you've squared that circle, I'd be interested to hear how. Being somewhat religious for the social bit but having excised the supernaturalism is the only stable state I can think of.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 12 May 2011 04:15:16PM 5 points [-]

Not sure if I should create another thread out of it, but I did 'convert' to orthodox judaism (from being an atheist by default) at the age of 15. After 20 years I am back to atheism, though I'd say it's no longer a 'default' (which was I suppose the problem in the first place). Feel free to ask questions :)

(Calcsam, sorry if I'm hijacking a bit)

Comment author: MartinB 12 May 2011 09:56:21PM 11 points [-]

What data could make you consider not being a Mormon?

Comment author: TimFreeman 12 May 2011 09:43:52PM 11 points [-]

Seems like a good place for the experiment I described earlier. What would you do differently if God spoke to you and said:

I quit. From now on, the materialists are right, your mind is in your brain, there is no soul, no afterlife, no reincarnation, no heaven, and no hell. If your brain is destroyed before you can copy the information out, you're gone.

Comment author: calcsam 17 May 2011 03:14:50PM *  0 points [-]

Hmm...this might be an atypical answer.

As some context, I believe in a God that is helping us to develop to become like him, all-loving, all-wise, etc, and will then give us the same amount of power he has. This isn’t expected to come until long after death. Should I succeed and reach that state, it will mean that I would be the kind of being who would continue acting in a good, godlike manner even if God told me he was taking a vacation.

Given that, if God did tell me that, I would sign up for cryonics tomorrow. I would hope to hell God changed his mind, because I really like his plan. But if he didn’t, I would have to try to implement his plan and become a god by myself (assuming I do succeed in achieving immortality.) And figure out why he quit. Given that he did quit, it's possible I would come up with a better plan along the way.

(It would also be interesting to me what parts of the machine still work when the machinist retires. I believe our consciences are an essential part of God’s plan – do they still work? What about negative effects from addictive substances? Will people still exhibit similar amounts of altruism?)

Comment author: TimFreeman 17 May 2011 04:50:49PM 2 points [-]

What would you do differently if God spoke to you and said: I quit....

...if God did tell me that, I would sign up for cryonics tomorrow....

Thanks. That is a typical answer, and it's what I wanted to hear.

I'll assume that my motives in asking the question were covered adequately in the sibling of the parent post (uncle post?) so I won't reiterate.

And thanks for dealing with the hostile anti-religious crap in some of the other questions. That takes some emotional fortitude.

Comment author: shokwave 12 May 2011 06:12:52PM 11 points [-]

I'm interested in the power of your belief. For example, I believe strongly that, say, Michael Vassar is smart. I also believe strongly that the laws of physics hold everywhere. If these two beliefs were brought into conflict (say, Michael Vassar presented me with a perpetual motion machine blueprint) physics would win, because it's more powerful.

In that vein, I would like to take some of your time to ask you to come up with a quick power ranking of some of your deep beliefs. If your religion came into direct conflict with your faith, say? (I am not sure this is a fair question, actually - I personally can't imagine what would happen if my rationality came into conflict with my sense of truth, because they're so similar).

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 May 2011 06:18:36PM 7 points [-]

I'm interested in the power of your belief. For example, I believe strongly that, say, Michael Vassar is smart. I also believe strongly that the laws of physics hold everywhere. If these two beliefs were brought into conflict (say, Michael Vassar presented me with a perpetual motion machine blueprint) physics would win, because it's more powerful.

Your concept of the power of a belief sounds a lot like its probability.

Comment author: shokwave 12 May 2011 06:38:17PM *  8 points [-]

That's because it is. Yes, the way I described power rankings working, it is isomorphic to this:

Bayesian agent has two beliefs X and Y. If it discovered that X and Y are evidence against each other ( Pr(X | Y) < Pr(X) & Pr(Y | X) < Pr(Y) ) which belief will be updated more?

which is isomorphic to

How much evidence for X and how much for Y?

but those questions don't cause most human brains to give good answers.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 01:37:36AM 2 points [-]

If your religion came into direct conflict with your faith.

Confused. What do you mean exactly? (Did you mean to type 'your reason'? Or something else?)

Comment author: shokwave 13 May 2011 05:41:10AM 11 points [-]

I make a few presumptions here; correct me if I'm wrong.

I presume you do not simply have total faith in everything Latter Day Saints; you don't experience a sense of rightness on every single line of every single religious text (I've never met a religious person who does; this is something that only happens in strawman atheism arguments). But presumably you also have experienced a sense of rightness regarding some large part of LDS theology (again, based off my experiences with religious people), as that would be why you converted.

Now here's the tricky part. If you read something that struck you as right - you got that sense of rightness about it - but when you shared it you found it was directly contradicting some doctrine of LDS, what would happen? Would you stop thinking the thing was right, or would you adjust your view of the LDS Church slight downwards?

(The reason I am not sure this is fair is because if you asked me the same question in terms of rationality and truth-feeling, I would have a hard time not picking it apart, although in the least convenient possible world I would closely examine both my rationality and my feeling of truthness, and then rationality would win.)

Comment author: [deleted] 12 May 2011 03:35:27PM 4 points [-]

What function does religion play in your everyday life? What are the social perks?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 13 May 2011 01:04:24AM *  7 points [-]

Do you think that calcsam(Mormon) is a more or less moral person than calcsam(atheist) controlling for age and other relevant factors?

Comment author: XiXiDu 12 May 2011 04:30:00PM 7 points [-]

Some questions:

  • I have been a Jehovah's Witness and I wonder how you determined that Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong and that Mormonism is less wrong or even right?
  • Is Mormonism falsifiable?
  • What probability do you assign to Mormonism being wrong?
  • How do you feel about Isaiah 13:15-18?
Comment author: JohnH 14 May 2011 08:00:30PM 2 points [-]

how you determined that Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong

Nothing the Jehovah's Witnesses said would happen did in the time frame they have given and repeatedly altered.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 04:49:08PM 1 point [-]

I have been a Jehovah's Witness and I wonder how you determined that Jehovah's Witnesses are wrong and that Mormonism is less wrong or even right?

As to how I came to believe in Mormonism, see above. As to why I think JW are wrong, one of my strongest religion-related beliefs is that the Book of Mormon is what is says it is, an ancient record. I find no other explanation plausible. (More on this below). That rules out JW and other religions’ exclusive truth claims, though I find many religious practices good and believe many other religions have part of the truth.

Is Mormonism falsifiable?

Yes, throw out the Book of Mormon and the rest tumbles down.

What probability do you assign to Mormonism being wrong?

I find only one alternative remotely plausible, namely that there is no God and what I interpret as spiritual experiences are actually delusions. But other than testing against measurable reality, which I’m already trying to do, it’s difficult to judge the probability that you are delusional. Perhaps anywhere from 5 to 20%.

How do you feel about Isaiah 13:15-18?

The standard Mormon view is that the Bible is imperfect because people edited it and added and deleted and changed stuff and history follows a pattern of God choosing a prophet and people deciding to disobey that prophet and living in spiritual darkness. When they are ready, God will choose another prophet, etc.

I believe both of those. I also believe that, given the existence of passages like the above, a lot of people writing the Old Testament were the same people who were living in spiritual darkness.

Comment author: Rain 14 May 2011 03:10:03PM *  3 points [-]

I find only one alternative remotely plausible, namely that there is no God and what I interpret as spiritual experiences are actually delusions.

People have already accomplished "spiritual experiences" with secular meditation, drugs (mushrooms, LSD), and magnetic stimulation (the "god helmet"). And sometimes similar results from disease, schizophrenia, infections, etc.

Comment author: Schlega 14 May 2011 04:37:07AM 3 points [-]

My understanding is that your conversion was based primarily on the goodness and love of your Mormon friends. If other evidence were to convince you that the Mormon God does not exist, would you expect them to continue to treat you with goodness and love?

Comment author: Alicorn 14 May 2011 06:16:38AM 6 points [-]

If other evidence were to convince you that the Mormon God does not exist, and you disclosed this fact to them or they otherwise learned of it, would you expect them to continue to treat you with goodness and love?

Fixed that.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 09:30:10PM 3 points [-]

Do you believe in supernatural things?

Comment author: Vaniver 12 May 2011 09:31:47PM 4 points [-]

It may help to provide a definition of supernatural.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 09:48:34PM 2 points [-]

We can use his definition.

Comment author: Dorikka 12 May 2011 11:37:41PM 4 points [-]

If you don't supply one, it may be hard to pin down what you're asking.

If he's already supplied one, ignore this comment.

Comment author: Davorak 12 May 2011 07:40:38PM 3 points [-]

What is your largest(most important) goal and why is it important to you? Both personal and nonpersonal goal if there is any difference between the two for you.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 05:37:20AM 12 points [-]

Which of the Sequences have you read so far?

Comment author: calcsam 30 May 2011 03:27:26PM 1 point [-]

Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, working through Reductionism, The Science of Winning at Life.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 15 May 2011 07:56:32PM *  5 points [-]

Let me describe two hypothetical scenarios:

  • US: By the year 2060, same-sex marriage is recognized in atleast 3/4ths of US states.

  • LDS: By the year 2060, the LDS church has accepted the validity of same-sex marriage, (perhaps due to a new divine revelation).

Which probabilities would you assign to P(US), P(LDS)?

What probability would you assign to P(LDS|US)?

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 11:53:30PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 14 May 2011 09:59:02PM 2 points [-]

I'm somewhat depressed that that counts as a Wikipedia page, while hundreds of computer science and other nerdy-but-difficult-to-cite things get deleted.

(Faith in Wikipedia)--.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 14 May 2011 09:20:53PM 2 points [-]

Is there anyone on this site who'd be willing to say "blue pill?"

Comment author: Emile 16 May 2011 08:14:23AM 5 points [-]

I think I remember some posters being in favor of wireheading.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 May 2011 09:30:53PM 1 point [-]

Is there anyone on this site who'd be willing to say "blue pill?"

Sure, given the right circumstances.

Comment author: nerzhin 12 May 2011 06:48:44PM 5 points [-]

What do you study at Stanford? Why?

Comment author: gwern 14 May 2011 01:01:25AM 4 points [-]

From his blog:

I'm a senior at Stanford University: economics major, math minor.

Comment author: CuSithBell 14 May 2011 02:50:32PM *  2 points [-]

I think the most relevant question is still "why do you believe", which has been asked in several different ways but not, so far as I can tell, answered.

Edit: If you are still interested in answering: do you understand why your "conversion story" is disappointing to many of us? If so, why do you think we are wrong?

Comment author: Davorak 13 May 2011 02:18:13AM 2 points [-]

What role do you plan on playing in increasing world wide rationality other then writing your current series of posts?

Comment author: fburnaby 12 May 2011 10:20:45PM 2 points [-]

How did you end up converting (the actually believing kind of conversion, as you mention) to Mormonism? What convinced you to believe it?

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 13 May 2011 12:12:10AM 7 points [-]

Yes on this question. Here is his conversion story which someone else posted in a different reply.

Comment author: Davorak 12 May 2011 07:37:58PM 2 points [-]

What do you plan on working on after graduation?

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 10:08:35PM 4 points [-]

If Calcsam is willing to spend the time, I'd rather he respond in a detailed "answers" discussion post rather than responding ad-hoc in this thread.

There is lots of meta in this thread. I wish for an answers post with the questions he's responding to numbered and quoted. Then we could respond to the response with less clutter.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 12:19:11AM 0 points [-]

Good idea.

Comment author: ciphergoth 13 May 2011 09:21:01AM 21 points [-]

TBH I'd rather you just dived in and started replying to people. Doing what you propose throws away the valuable structure which is exactly why we have threading in the first place. Worse, it creates a barrier to you replying. It's a bit of a shame to announce an AMA and then 132 comments later announce that you can't answer anything until you've constructed your Answer Post. Just dive in and start replying; if there's repetition you can always link to your replies elsewhere, or just answer one of them and let people figure it out.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 03:32:13PM 4 points [-]

On second thought -- and a lot of effort trying to write definitive replies -- you're right, I'll post what I have.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 14 May 2011 09:14:42PM 2 points [-]

Maybe afterward you could write up an answer post that summarizes some of the most important questions and/or is a summary of your evidence? It gets hard to find particular answers in posts with many interlocking nested comment threads. Don't if it would be too much trouble, obviously, but I and probably several other people would appreciate it.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 May 2011 03:31:07PM *  10 points [-]

Well, as it is written, AMA (= Ask Me Anything)

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined. Why should I listen to you? Especially since if you do start thinking coherently without discarding the absurd premise it will lead you to do, and advocate things that are potentially significantly detrimental to my goals.

To make it easier to answer we could rephrasing the question to the third person: "Wedrifid believes fundamental premise X. Calcsam has a very different fundamental premise Y which gives him different goals and different conclusions. This being the case how should wedrifid respond to behavioural exhortations given by calcsam on a rationalist blog? If wedrifid believed that all calcsam's reasoning was sound except that which produced belief Y how would that change wedrifid's incentives?".

('Why should I listen to you?' is still the basic question. The above just gives background detail to how it is relevant.)

Comment author: XiXiDu 12 May 2011 04:13:46PM *  24 points [-]

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined. Why should I listen to you?

People who hold obviously incorrect beliefs can still be highly intelligent and productive:

  • Peter Duesberg (a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley) "claimed that AIDS is not caused by HIV, which made him so unpopular that his colleagues and others have — until recently — been ignoring his potentially breakthrough work on the causes of cancer."
  • Francisco J. Ayala who “…has been called the “Renaissance Man of Evolutionary Biology” is a geneticist ordained as a Dominican priest. “His “discoveries have opened up new approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases that affect hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide…”
  • Francis Collins (geneticist, Human Genome Project) noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP) and described by the Endocrine Society as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time” is a evangelical Christian.
  • Georges Lemaître (a Belgian Roman Catholic priest) proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe.
  • Kurt Gödel (logician, mathematician and philosopher) who suffered from paranoia and believed in ghosts. “Gödel, by contrast, had a tendency toward paranoia. He believed in ghosts; he had a morbid dread of being poisoned by refrigerator gases; he refused to go out when certain distinguished mathematicians were in town, apparently out of concern that they might try to kill him.”

There are many more examples. All of them are outliers indeed, and I don't think that calcsam has been able to prove that his achievements and general capability to think clearly in some fields does outweigh the heavy burden of being religious. Yet there is evidence that such people do exist and he offers you the chance to challenge him.

Generally I agree with you, but I also think that calcsam provides a fascinating example of the internal dichotomy of some human minds and a case study that might provide insights to how the arguments employed by Less Wrong fail in some cases.

Comment author: shokwave 12 May 2011 04:53:59PM 15 points [-]

People who hold obviously incorrect beliefs can still be highly intelligent and productive:

And one of the concerns I detected in wedrifid's comment (one I share myself) is that if highly intelligent and productive people start doing what obviously incorrect beliefs indicate they should, the world is going to be optimised in a direction I won't like.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 05:04:07AM 7 points [-]

I kind of think that's already happening. All over the place. All the time. What kind of policy implications did you want to draw from it in this particular instance?

Comment author: shokwave 14 May 2011 05:14:27AM 1 point [-]

Hmm, what policy...

No amount of clear thinking elsewhere can excuse you from being wrong about this one thing. To think so is to treat being right and wrong like a social game, where people with high status gets a free pass on questions with actual answers.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 05:25:17AM 2 points [-]

Could you please be more specific? What sort of action is being taken here as a result of your worry?

Comment author: shokwave 14 May 2011 02:31:39PM *  2 points [-]

Not voting for religious candidates for Australian Parliament elections.

Comment author: wedrifid 13 May 2011 05:21:46AM *  0 points [-]

And one of the concerns I detected in wedrifid's comment (one I share myself) is that if highly intelligent and productive people start doing what obviously incorrect beliefs indicate they should, the world is going to be optimised in a direction I won't like.

Exactly! If beliefs like this are just used as verbal symbols for navigating the social world they do relatively minor harm. Once someone with the intelligence, productivity and otherwise rational thinking necessary comes to follow the belief to the logical conclusion comes along things start exploding. Or rationalist communities become modified in a direction that makes them either less pleasant or less effective than I would prefer.

Comment author: timtyler 12 May 2011 04:43:31PM 12 points [-]

I think these kinds of list should always include Donald E. Knuth.

Comment author: gwern 12 May 2011 05:39:55PM 4 points [-]

Maybe we should make a list on the wiki? eg. I'm tempted to add Aumann, but as pointed out, 'There are many more examples' and XiXiDu made his point with the short list.

Comment author: virtualAdept 12 May 2011 04:45:05PM 3 points [-]

I don't think that examples of people with fundamental, irrational beliefs being good at other things are relevant - calcsam has invited questions specifically about the belief whose rationality is being examined. If he was starting a discussion about mathematics and his points were dismissed due to his Mormon affiliation, your comment wold make more sense to me.

Comment author: nhamann 12 May 2011 07:37:48PM 4 points [-]

Good reminder that reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

Adding to the list: Hans Berger invented the EEG while trying to investigate telepathy, which he was convinced was real. Even fools can make important discoveries.

Comment author: Clippy 13 May 2011 02:37:09PM 4 points [-]

But increasing one's foolishness does not increase the expected rate of discovery.

Comment author: Kutta 14 May 2011 09:13:06PM *  1 point [-]

I think though that holding crazy beliefs is Bayesian evidence for the hypothesis that a person is not a remarkable intellectual contributor to humanity. Wedrifid's "why should I listen to you?" is thus not addressed head-on by a list of crazy people who happened to achieve other worthy stuff.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 12 May 2011 09:27:52PM 6 points [-]

Yes. But the reason why we should listen to him is self-evident. He has written things that are valuable. If he maintains his interest in the community here, and the quality is good, he could be a value-multiplier. A catalyst. His writing here is the intersecting part of a Venn diagram, his interests overlapping with Less Wrong.

His allusions to his missionary work are provoking an immune response from many here, including me (not that I write much). I think this is why (from a quote thread):

What frightens us most in a madman is his sane conversation. --Anatole France

Comment author: wedrifid 12 May 2011 10:28:50PM 1 point [-]

His allusions to his missionary work are provoking an immune response from many here, including me (not that I write much). I think this is why (from a quote thread):

I have not been particularly bothered by the missionary allusions but obviously don't consider the posts nearly as valuable as you do. There is an undesirable emphasis on norms and a constant pressure to move things in the direction of 'making the group do set projects' and 'consensus'. This isn't an organisation, it's a blog.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 05:06:39AM 10 points [-]

This isn't an organisation, it's a blog.

Some of us would like a %$^&ing organization, pardon my French.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 May 2011 06:49:33AM *  7 points [-]

Some of us would like a %$^&ing organization, pardon my French.

You have one.

Injecting LW with a pint of blood from a religious Behemoth will not give you another organisation, charged up with the power of divine effectiveness. It'll cause an autoimmune disease, doing serious neurological damage and causing externally visible disfigurement (unnecessarily cultish vibe), scaring healthy potential recruits away.

If you want to actually enhance the potential practical effectiveness of LW and LW spinoff communities instead take the quickening of an entrepreneur. Or at very least track down and feast on the essence of a successful business professional and an economist or two.

Food for Thought: Holy Books usually don't get implemented at all. Which is usually a good thing. What mainstream religious authorities do when 'implementing Holy Books' is something quite different from implementing holy books - and not something that is necessarily desirable to emulate.

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 03:36:44PM 7 points [-]

Too adversarial.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 May 2011 03:46:53PM 18 points [-]

Too adversarial.

No, and I take a mild degree of offence at the accusation. Ask Me Anything taken literally. It is exactly what the 'elephant in the room' is. I am being frank, not adversarial and given calcsam's experiences and the emotional resilience that he would have needed to develop while evangelizing I know I don't have to tiptoe through a minefield to protect his feelings.

If I am obliged to maintain a social facade even in a thread specifically created to asking this question then the only real recourse I would have is to do whatever is appropriate to eliminate the necessity for me to speak bullshit (or act in a misleading way that is analogous to bullshit).

Comment author: jsalvatier 12 May 2011 04:11:09PM *  13 points [-]

I do not object to the subject of your question, but the way you put it. I think this

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined.

Is what I was reacting to.

Presumably, he disputes that, so for the purposes of your conversation it is not 'clear'. Phrasing this same sentiment as 'I do not believe you are capable of thinking rationally ..., and you will have to convince me otherwise before I listen to you' or something along those lines would be a less adversarial way of asking this question. For example, I think Costanza asks roughly the same question below in a frank way.

Comment author: Clippy 12 May 2011 04:37:40PM *  15 points [-]

I do not object to the subject of your question, but the way you put it.

I differ in that I do object to the subject of User:wedrifid's question, in particular, the part you just excerpted.

If being B1 refuses to update to being B2's beliefs on account of B2 being stupid, and this judgment of B2's stupidity, in turn, is solely based on B2 satisfying B1 =/= B2, then B1 is "begging the question" (assuming a conclusion to prove it).

There are very good arguments to reject religious beliefs; however, when one uses the argument that an exponent of one of them is stupid because they so believe and therefore must not be worth listening to, then one has desensitized one's worldmodel to evidence, locking in any errors one current subscribes to -- and this remains true even if B2 is pure error.

No belief system or decision theory can be judged solely relative to itself; otherwise, it would be impossible to change one's beliefs or decision theory. Because the fact that one possesses a belief system is not definitive evidence of its truth, any belief system must permit situations in which it would update, or else it will indefinitely reproduce the same errors under reflection.

User:wedrifid makes the error in this statement, no matter how well its phrasing is changed to accord with human customs and status systems:

You are clearly not capable of thinking rationally with respect to a fundamental belief where evidence makes the question overdetermined.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 May 2011 05:57:27PM -1 points [-]

Phrasing this same sentiment as 'I do not believe you are capable of thinking rationally ..., and you will have to convince me otherwise before I listen to you'

Ironically those suggestions convey a worse picture of of the opening poster and declare a stricter requirement for what it would take for me to listen. My observation clearly indicated both in the quote you made and in my following paragraph that the flawed thinking is with respect to the religious belief. Further, I don't think (and didn't suggest that) the OP would need to convince me of a specific kind of rational thinking in order for it to be worth listening. Instead I gave him a platform from which to enumerate reasons. The best of those reasons would actually speak of potential instrumental value and not epistemic awesomeness.

Adding "I do not believe" before a statement is actually just redundant a kind of false humility. Eliezer actually wrote a post that touched on this specifically, does anyone recall the reference?

Comment author: Dorikka 12 May 2011 06:06:29PM 1 point [-]

For the sake the question you could answer as though it is something like "given that wedrifid believes X thing that I don't believe how should he behave?"

I completely failed to parse this sentence (and so didn't really understand the next one either.) Could you try phrasing it another way and/or correcting typos, if they're in there?

Comment author: wedrifid 12 May 2011 06:29:33PM 1 point [-]

I completely failed to parse this sentence (and so didn't really understand the next one either.) Could you try phrasing it another way and/or correcting typos, if they're in there?

I edited the paragraph. The meaning is approximately the same but far clearer.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 13 May 2011 12:09:34AM *  3 points [-]

In the story Initiation Ceremony, a character is asked if he 'wants to know'.

In that context, do you want to know? Does knowing motivate you? Are you interested in the 'truth' about the nature of the universe and how it works?

Do you care about reality as opposed to socially constructed 'realities'

I've just started reading your blog which someone linked to.

Comment author: Gray 12 May 2011 07:09:44PM 3 points [-]

Personally, I don't have any problem with religious people. I know there's a sequence that makes the claim that "atheism = untheism + anti-theism", but I guess that has never been my interpretation, otherwise I'm an untheist. And I'll defend religious people from skeptical attacks when they are stupid, or perhaps not skeptical enough.

But...my own opinion, I don't want rationalism to become Christianity without the mythology, it's not the mythology that I object to. I object to the servility, and the docility (this was once considered a virtue according to theologians) that Christianity inspires, and has grown as a part of what Christianity has become over centuries. Christianity has a very long history, it's not wise to be naive to it. I'd suggest reading Nietzsche's Antichrist to understand some of what is going on.

Comment author: JohnH 14 May 2011 08:10:33PM *  1 point [-]

Christianity has a very long history, it's not wise to be naive to it.

The LDS Church is different enough that much of Christianity does not consider us to be Christian. We believe that most of the history of Christianity occurred in a state of apostasy, or not according to the truth that is in God. Therefore we reject almost all of Christian theology as commonly understood and have the claim to have again the revealed word of God. We flat out claim to be "the only true and living church" on the earth and believe that all others are in some state of being wrong.

I am sure having a belief in Christ and some knowledge of the Bible would help one to understand LDS theology. However, in many ways it is easier to understand by ignoring all other Jewish and Christian theology as it is quite different.

Comment author: drethelin 12 May 2011 04:08:21PM *  3 points [-]

How do you reconcile the multitude of religions with the certainty of your belief? What exactly convinced you that only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 12 May 2011 04:31:52PM 12 points [-]

What exactly convinced you that only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies?

I'm not a Mormon, but my understanding of Mormon beliefs is that a Mormon would no more consider pre-1830 Christianity foolish lies then a modern physicist would consider pre-20th physics foolish pseudoscience.

Comment author: drethelin 12 May 2011 04:54:23PM 3 points [-]

ok, let's say that lets christianity off the hook. What about zeus, odin, shiva, allah, judaism, or coyote? It also doesn't serve to explain why he would consider his, out of all the flavors of christianity, to be more uniquely convincing.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 12 May 2011 06:13:47PM 6 points [-]

Even as an atheist, I don't understand your question. What do you mean by "reconcile the multitude of religions with the certainty of your belief"? What do you mean about the falsehood of religions before or since?

If you're asking why God didn't make revelations until then, then the Mormons most definitely believe God and his angels spoke to prophets long before 1830. To Abraham, to Moses, through Jesus to the Apostles, etc, etc. If you're asking why God has permitted false religions to exist, then couldn't you have phrased it more clearly than you did?

Comment author: drethelin 12 May 2011 06:37:44PM *  2 points [-]

there are hundreds of religions. In general, they contradict one another (there are exceptions but enough do that I don't think it's relevant), and no more than one can be true. How does it make sense to strongly believe in any of them? To start believing in LDS, I would have to be strongly convinced that it has truth beyond each and every one of the hundreds of religions ranging from very similar to starkly different. What exactly would make you home in on Mormonism in the existing beliefspace? What rules out every other religion, and leaves mormonism as the only one that can possibly be true?

The question wouldn't be why god permits false religions (though that's another valid and separate question), but why he makes many of them almost indistinguishable from the true one.

Comment author: calcsam 13 May 2011 05:56:27AM -1 points [-]

What ArisKatsaris said is true and answers half the question. The other half I will answer in a new thread.

Comment author: Emile 12 May 2011 04:19:50PM 4 points [-]

You would have to ask first whether he truly believes that "only in 1830 did the one true faith come into existence, and the multitude of others existing before and after were simply foolish or lies" - the impression I got from what he said in other threads was that he didn't believe that. But I might be wrong, he's best placed to tell.

Comment author: Davorak 12 May 2011 07:42:21PM *  1 point [-]

What is the most important skill you are developing right now and why is it important to your future?

Comment author: [deleted] 10 May 2013 06:30:47PM 1 point [-]

Hello, I am also a Mormon, a few years younger than you are, who has recently become interested in rationality and Less Wrong. Two days ago I posted a comment on the open thread which has since generated a staggering amount of discussion. I've quite enjoyed it, though it's difficult, as you know. I think that when it resolves itself I'll post an introduction on the welcome page (sort of the way AspiringKnitter did, but not the same)

I'm delighted to have found this community and I've learned a lot already. Any...criticism, warnings, advice, etc.? You're a great role model for me [ironic innocent face].