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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Rationality Quotes July 2012 - Less Wrong

3 Post author: RobertLumley 04 July 2012 12:29AM

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 08 July 2012 08:45:06PM 17 points [-]

"Buddhism IS different. It's the followers who aren’t."

-- A Dust Over India.

Commentary: Reading this made me realize that many religions genuinely are different from each other. Christianity is genuinely different from Judaism, Islam is genuinely different from Christianity, Hinduism is genuinely different from all three. It's religious people who are the same everywhere; not the same as each other, obviously, but drawn from the same distribution. Is this true of atheistic humanists? Of transhumanists? Could you devise an experiment to test whether it was so, would you bet on the results of that experiment? Will they say the same of LessWrongers, someday? And if so, what's the point?

Now that I think on it, though, there might be a case for scientists being drawn from a different distribution, or computer programmers, or for that matter science fiction fans (are those all the same distributions as each other, I wonder?). It's not really hopeless.

Comment author: ChristianKl 14 July 2012 11:54:45AM 3 points [-]

I don't think that the claim is really supported by the observations that he made in the article.

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christanity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddnism. As a result the followers do act differently. They are less likely to use violence against him but more likely to lie to him.

Why do you think that people are the same everywhere? And what do you mean with "the same"?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 15 July 2012 12:17:37AM 2 points [-]

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christanity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddhism. As a result the followers do act differently.

How much of this difference can actually be attributed to the followers attempting to obey religious precepts, and how much is simply floating in the sea of cultural memes in the parts of the world where Buddhism and Christianity respectively happen to be common? Would you expect practicing Christians in Japan, Korea, China, or India (and who are ethnically Japanese, Korean, etc.) behave more like your model of "Buddhists" or "Christians"?

Comment author: ChristianKl 15 July 2012 01:51:45PM 4 points [-]

How much of this difference can actually be attributed to the followers attempting to obey religious precepts

Religion is more than obeying general precepts. During the time my Catholic grandmother was in school she wanted to read some book. Before reading it she asked her priest to allow her to read it because it was on the Catholic census. Following the religion seriously and not reading anything that's on the census has an effect that goes beyond the general precepts.

A lot of Buddhists are vegetarians. A lot of Buddhists mediate. Those practices have effects.

and how much is simply floating in the sea of cultural memes in the parts of the world where Buddhism and Christianity respectively happen to be common? Religion isn't more than a bunch of cultural memes packed together into a packet.

Your question assumes that people in Japan can be either "Christians" or "Buddhists" but can't be both. Even when the Chrisitans in Malta pray to Allah you can't be Muslim and a Christian at the same time. There no similar problem with being a Zen Buddhist and being Christian at the same time.

Would you expect practicing Christians in Japan, Korea, China, or India (and who are ethnically Japanese, Korean, etc.) behave more like your model of "Buddhists" or "Christians"?

I think that there a correlation but I'm not sure about the extend to which Far East Christians resemble Western Christians. Making a decision to convert to Christianity when you live in China has a lot of apsects that don't exist when someone who lives in a Christian town simply decides to stay Christian.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 16 July 2012 05:29:17AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure I understand your response. Let me restate what I was getting at above, in responding to this assertion:

In Buddhism lying isn't as bad as it is in Christianity. Using violence is more accepted in Christian culture than in Buddhism. As a result the followers do act differently. They are less likely to use violence against him but more likely to lie to him.

This claim makes a prediction regarding the rates of lying and violence among "followers" of Buddhism and Christianity. But what counts as a data point for or against this claim depends on what could be meant by "the followers" of these religions. Two possible interpretations:

  1. "People who explicitly consider themselves to be Buddhists or Christians, and who attempt to live according to what they think the precepts of Buddhism or Christianity are";
  2. "People who come from those cultures which we call 'Buddhist' or 'Christian' respectively, regardless of whether those individuals consider themselves observant or religious at all."

For instance, I consider myself an atheist, but I was raised in a Christian family and live in a society where Christianity is the predominant religious influence. I have read the Gospels (and most of the rest of the Bible); by contrast I have not read the Qur'an, the Tripitaka, the Vedas, or the Talmud. I don't pray, attend church, or listen to the teachings of priests or pastors.

By interpretation 1, I am not a Christian; and whether I happen to lie or do violence would not count for or against the claim above. (It would also not count regarding Buddhism; although I've done Zen meditation more recently than I've done Christian worship ...) By interpretation 2, my cultural background counts me as a Christian; and my tendencies to lie or do violence would count for or against the claim above.

So, I'm asking: What would count as evidence for or against the claim regarding the rate of lying and violence among Christians and Buddhists?

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 July 2012 05:10:26PM *  0 points [-]

I don't think you understand what Buddhism happen to be. If I go into something rumored to be a Buddhist monastry and ask the inhibatans whether they attempt to live according to the precepts of Buddhism there a fairly good chance that the answer is no.

Attempting stuff means having attachment to it. Buddhism is about moving beyond such attachments.

What's my empiric claim?

log(Time spent in Buddhist rituals + X /Time spent in Christian rituals +X) correlates with log(Rate of lying Y / Rate of being violent + Y)

The formula is only supposed to give a general idea. There probably a better way to express the idea.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 10 July 2012 04:46:08PM *  3 points [-]

It's religious people who are the same everywhere

That's evidence that the religion does not change people too much.

Which might be a good thing. Religious cults do change people. An average Scientologist does not behave the same way as an average Christian. You could measure the influence of the religion by measuring how the distribution of personalities changes.

On the other hand, let's not reverse stupidity here. Changing personality is generally a bad thing, but that is not necessary, just very probable.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 July 2012 07:09:26PM 2 points [-]

That's evidence that the religion does not change people too much.

It's also evidence that religion may change people in the same way regardless of details.

Comment author: brahmaneya 03 August 2012 09:06:24PM 2 points [-]

I don't his comment about Buddhist people being not different is even true. They are, for example, on the average, less violent than Muslims. They're simply not different to the extent he expected them to be.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 July 2012 02:51:22AM 2 points [-]

Is this true of atheistic humanists? Of transhumanists? Could you devise an experiment to test whether it was so, would you bet on the results of that experiment? Will they say the same of LessWrongers, someday? And if so, what's the point?

Now that I think on it, though, there might be a case for scientists being drawn from a different distribution, or computer programmers, or for that matter science fiction fans (are those all the same distributions as each other, I wonder?).

If LW-rationality goes mainstream, it's followers will then be drawn from the same distribution.

Comment author: faul_sname 03 August 2012 05:56:33PM 0 points [-]

If LW-rationality goes mainstream, it's followers will then be drawn from the same distribution.

I find it unlikely that we'll have to opportunity to observe this.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 03 August 2012 07:04:29PM 1 point [-]

I think it's plausible that LW-rationality, or rather a third hand version of it, will go mainstream.

Comment author: kajro 08 July 2012 11:25:33PM 1 point [-]

<pseudo-math> You could define equivalence relations on the set of religious people (RP) and the set of atheistic humanists (AH). In most cases, the people in the sets only interact with (or at least influenced by) other members of the same or similar sets. Turn these interactions into operations on members of the set (a,b in RP, a*b = "a makes b feel awkward/scared/unhappy around a" or maybe something based on social relationships between members). These operations would create new "people" whose characteristics are similar to that of the person who has been molded by the defined social interaction(s).

Starting from a certain subset of RP, these operations could possibly generate the entire set of members (i.e a*b = c in RP, where c has the equivalent disposition as someone who has interacted with b under some applicable equivalence relation). Do the same for AH (using the same equivalence relation), and compare the structures. Under different types of interactions between members, this could reveal some interesting group-theoretical properties. Maybe there is a generating set for RP and not for AH if we keep the equivalence relations from getting too specific. </pseudo-math>

I guess what I'm getting at is that the structural elements of a certain set of people could tell us something about the distribution that the set was pulled from, or even invalidate the need to look at the distribution at all. Maybe the structure is even more important; these sets could pull from the same distribution, but the ideologies that formed these sets could result in drastically different results from operations (social interactions or relationships) between members of the set. Or we could see if only the generating members of the set were pulled from the same distribution, but the social interactions between them created a set member not from the original distribution, resulting in the set having to pull from that distribution also.

Anyway, this is probably not coherent or useful at all, but if nothing else it did lead me to the work of Harrison White on mathematical sociology:

A good summary of White's sociological contributions is provided by his former student and collaborator, Ronald Breiger:

... ... (2) models based on equivalences of actors across networks of multiple types of social relation; (3) theorization of social mobility in systems of organizations; (4) a structural theory of social action that emphasizes control, agency, narrative, and identity ...

This was particularly interesting:

For instance, we are told almost daily how the average European or American feels about a topic. It allows social scientists and pundits to make inferences about cause and say “people are angry at the current administration because the economy is doing poorly.” This kind of generalization certainly makes sense, but it does not tell us anything about an individual. This leads to the idea of an idealized individual, something that is the bedrock of modern economics.[6] Most modern economic theories look at social formations, like organizations, as products of individuals all acting in their own best interest.[7]