Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Republican voters are completely insane

If you were hoping that Helsinki might be Donald Trump's Joseph-Welch moment, think again.  Donald Trump will not suffer any negative consequences from his disastrous and treasonous remarks.  This is why:
A new tracking poll from Reuters/ Ipsos on Tuesday showed that rank-and-file Republicans not only continue to support President Trump but refuse to believe he’s doing anything wrong. The most galling number from the survey is: 71 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of Russia... 
Overall, more than half of those polled (55 percent) disapproved of Trump’s handling of Russia and agree (59 percent) with U.S. intelligence findings about Russian attempts to tamper with the 2016 election. But, also worrying, is the fact that only 32 percent of Republicans believe that Russia attempted to intervene in the election.
This is really getting scary.  I used to think that Trump's claim that he could shoot someone in Times Square and get away with it was hyperbole.  I'm not so sure any more.


206 comments:

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Don Geddis said...

Republican voters have achieved what they wanted. They got tax cuts. And they're going to get a much more conservative Supreme Court. They're very happy with their choice to support Trump in the last election. It has already paid dividends. All the rest is just noise. They can't be bothered to care about North Korea, or Iran, or Russia. Trump can do whatever he wants there.

Peter Donis said...

@Don:
They can't be bothered to care about North Korea, or Iran, or Russia.

I don't think this is because they genuinely don't care about the possibility of, say, a nuclear exchange with one of those countries.

I think it's because rank and file Republicans genuinely don't believe anything the mainstream media tells them, because to them, the mainstream media is the "liberal media" and is not to be trusted. And since the mainstream media has in fact been caught plenty of times outright lying, not to mention carefully filtering the truths they tell, it's hard to argue that not trusting them is a bad idea.

(Yes, I'm well aware that the mainstream media being untrustworthy does not imply that Fox News and Trump's tweets *are* trustworthy. But that just means there is *no* trustworthy source of information that any significant number of people will listen to. Which actually makes the situation even worse when you think about it.)

Don Geddis said...

Peter: You make a very reasonable point!

Luke said...

So … what do we do about this? Is the best strategy to negatively broad-brush the people we don't like in an effort to marginalize them so that the sensible people can take over government? (I've observed an analogous form of this practiced by atheists against religion. From what I've seen, it's a really bad strategy, but a self- and group-gratifying tactic.) I worry that in fact the political powers that be did indeed negatively broad-brush many Trump voters (I'm especially thinking the 2016 Presidential Primary), and had for decades. Human beings will only take so much humiliation before they strike back. Want a good example of humiliation? See the Animaniacs clip Meet John Brain. A constant stream of this kind of thing does not leave the human being unperturbed. Maybe broad-brushing Republicans as "insane" merely adds fuel to the humiliation fire. I think more polarization of America is a terrible thing.

An alternative strategy is to actually talk to people who are Trump supporters or at least live in Trump territory. An example of this would be Margaret Sullivan's 2017-12-28 WaPo Polls show Americans distrust the media. But talk to them, and it’s a very different story. What if you were to ask individuals, in conversation, what they think of Trump's interaction with Putin? I suspect that most would be much more interested in local affairs—in leading an honorable life while getting a decent wage. They will have party-line answers, but if you're going to critique those, critique them as party-line answers. Maybe the dynamic will be that the Establishment promised to take care of them (that is, manage non-local affairs) for decades and the failure of the Establishment has become blindingly obvious. The fact that Bernie Sanders had so much support (and that the Clinton campaign and DNC felt the need to harm his campaign) should make this clear.

Now, I agree that Trump is a train wreck. What should scare you more is that if Americans don't get together, Trump's failure to deliver on his promises could easily provoke someone more radical to run and get elected President. Maybe it'll get decided that Trump really is an insider, and a true outsider is required. Do you want that to happen? I don't. I suspect that the division and suspicion within America is a greater threat to national security and foreign policy than what Trump is currently doing. Were we so weak that the amount of meddling the Russians were able to do in the 2016 election was a deciding factor?

Ron said...

> Maybe it'll get decided that Trump really is an insider, and a true outsider is required. Do you want that to happen?

Actually, I think Donald Trump could have been an awesome president if he weren't such an idiot, narcissist, and puckering asshole. He was actually right about a lot of things: the political system in the U.S. *is* broken. It *does* need reform. And a strong outsider *could* be exactly what the country needs. Just not *him*.

(I voted for Bernie.)

Luke said...

I have decided to start praying that Trump becomes a Christian. Perhaps that would qualify as a 'miracle' for some number of atheists out there. >:-]

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: Trump already claims to be a Christian. What could you possibly mean, about him "becoming" a Christian in the future?

Your bar for "miracles" seems to be rather low...

Luke said...

Hmm, I had hoped my implication was obvious: that I do not believe him to be a Christian. This is based on a very simple metric: I am not convinced he has ever: (i) repented; (ii) asked for forgiveness. Here, consider which character you think Trump better matches:

>> He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18:9–14)

Feel free to switch the implication of righteousness with 'winner' and the term 'sinner' with 'loser'. Or check out the HuffPo article 10 Donald Trump Quotes That Should Horrify His Evangelical Supporters. I have my suspicions that plenty of other politicians are merely keeping up the appearances of Christianity, but one thing that marks out Trump is that he has dispensed with the standard appearances.


My bar for 'miracle' is predicated upon the belief that what the world needs most is a radical change of character, not more power over nature and fellow humans. If I cannot convince others of my gospel (whether it be Jesus or EE&R), I say the fault lies within, not without. Jesus came to free those who knew that they were imprisoned most powerfully from within, not from without (that is, by Rome). Anyone who lays claim to having the appropriate 'Reason' and laments having to use power to impose it on others is critiqued by Focault: that person's claim to truth/​goodness is merely a façade for power. Might does not, and never has, made right.

If you think we have no need for radical character change—if, for example, you think it's ok if the standard human modus operandi is to blame the Other for > 50% of the problem—then I suggest you make predictions about how the status quo character will ultimately solve problems we have and how, predictions which can be falsified by future evidence. My suspicion is that many of the promises made by Enlightenment philosophes and subsequent secularists have failed miserably (e.g. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man), but really establishing that would require a massive historical excavation. In the meantime, I endeavor to challenge people to make empirically testable claims about their chosen methods for solving our very real problems. You see, I believe in EE&R as well as Jesus. It's almost as if someone said to test trees by their fruit …

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: Ah, the No True Scotsman fallacy. And even better: you, the one and only glorious Luke, are apparently the appointed judge and jury for who is a "real" Christian, and who isn't. I wonder how many of the 2.2 billion humans on earth who profess to be Christian, would satisfy the Luke Test for "true" Christianity?

A "miracle" is intended to be something that is not explainable via natural science, and instead requires supernatural intervention. People changing their minds (or hearts) happen millions of times a day, as a regular part of ordinary life. Hardly much of a miracle.

Reason can lead you to truth. Politics isn't necessarily driven by truth. Finding truth is a very different process than convincing large groups of people to follow you. And, conversely, the failure to convince large groups says very little about whether you have correctly identified truth or not.

I'm very interested in "methods" for solving "real problems". But I don't think that's quite the topic under discussion right here.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Ah, the No True Scotsman fallacy. And even better: you, the one and only glorious Luke, are apparently the appointed judge and jury for who is a "real" Christian, and who isn't. I wonder how many of the 2.2 billion humans on earth who profess to be Christian, would satisfy the Luke Test for "true" Christianity?

I thought it would be rather agreed-upon that repentance and forgiveness are part of any "true Christianity". But if you insist, I will take the same tack with you as I did with Ron right in the beginning: separate self-identified Christians ('SI-Christians') into groups based on their demonstrated causal powers, caring about what they say only when that aids in prediction of what they do. It can take some time to make this judgment and see actions play out, which is arguably a big reason for the Parable of the Tares.

One thing I will point out is that complete reliance on self-report (see e.g. WP: Self-report study) is rather antithetical to the full practice of science. People's self-reports are notoriously bad in many ways; this ranges from the The Unreliability of Naive Introspection (expanded in Perplexities of Consciousness) to flat-out mimicry. A plethora of science on how our self-understanding can be terrible can be found in The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life.

> A "miracle" is intended to be something that is not explainable via natural science, and instead requires supernatural intervention. People changing their minds (or hearts) happen millions of times a day, as a regular part of ordinary life. Hardly much of a miracle.

I am well-aware of the "breaks the laws of nature" definition of 'miracle'; I would respond with Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles. One of my hypotheses is that those in the West think that all our problems can be solved within our own mind-changing resources, without any additional wisdom or knowledge inaccessible from within humanity's current powers. If this is false, one way God can demonstrate the falsity of it is to cease most/​all divine action until we are fully convinced that we are not as awesome as we tell ourselves. In the meantime, Christians can attempt to function as the OT prophets did, predicting where current societal trajectories will lead. They could also remember predictions of others made in the past, reminding society of them when it seems to be deviating appreciably from them. EE&R, right? (This view of the OT prophets may be foreign to you; I suggest checking out Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.)

> Finding truth is a very different process than convincing large groups of people to follow you.

That would seem to depend on whether you're more convinced by the Sophists or by Socrates. I personally suspect that people are rather more rational than we given them credit for—according to an understanding of 'rational' which fuses fact and value, rather than treating rationality as an instrumental means for obtaining arationally-arrived-at ends. I suspect people in the 21st century West realize, however inchoately, that they are being constantly manipulated from all directions; the only response when there is a new trahison des clercs going on is one of irrationality, of breaking things.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
(I voted for Bernie.)

I only wish I could have voted for him in the general election.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "I thought it would be rather agreed-upon that repentance and forgiveness are part of any "true Christianity".

Hardly. That definition might or might not be right, but it certainly isn't obvious, and there are plenty of plausible competing definitions which are incompatible. Your claim is far from "rather agreed-upon".

"how our self-understanding can be terrible"

That's not the problem. The problem is the lack of agreement on what it means to "be a Christian". One plausible definition is: a self-reported claim. In which case, there is no problem at all with "complete reliance on self-report", since that would be the very feature we were looking for.

"people are rather more rational than we given them credit for"

You're confusing different concepts. Real rationality is a methodology for discovering truth, for aligning internal models with the objective external world. That is simply a separate topic from rhetoric and persuasion, which are techniques for convincing people to make decisions. Rationality might be a typical component of effective persuasion, but it is neither necessary, nor sufficient.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> That definition might or might not be right, but it certainly isn't obvious …

Then you and I have very different exposure to the sum total of what passes for 'Christianity' in the world. I will bet you that most evangelicals in America would agree with my requirement.

> The problem is the lack of agreement on what it means to "be a Christian".

Yeah, which means you can predict … nothing from the mere self-report of 'Christian'. That is, aside from any contextual information, a self-report of 'Christian' is scientifically useless. I was hoping that you'd be able to grok something like the HuffPost article 10 Donald Trump Quotes That Should Horrify His Evangelical Supporters, but perhaps this hope was ill-founded.

> > > Finding truth is a very different process than convincing large groups of people to follow you.

> > That would seem to depend on whether you're more convinced by the Sophists or by Socrates.

> You're confusing different concepts.

If you meant 'distinguishing' rather than 'confusing', I would agree.

> Real rationality is a methodology for discovering truth, for aligning internal models with the objective external world. That is simply a separate topic from rhetoric and persuasion, which are techniques for convincing people to make decisions. Rationality might be a typical component of effective persuasion, but it is neither necessary, nor sufficient.

Rationality helps us cooperatively generate expectations of the future, optionally work to make those expectations come to pass, and examine failures as well as successes. One can do this in a science laboratory, one can do it in a church, and one can do it in the nation at large. The only reason I can see for artificially restricting the domain of rationality is if you do not want to expose your own attempts to shape society and culture to full critical analysis.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Yeah, which means you can predict … nothing from the mere self-report of 'Christian'.

Not so. You can predict, for example, with very high accuracy that they will be a Trump supporter.

https://www.prri.org/spotlight/white-evangelical-support-for-donald-trump-at-all-time-high/

I couldn't find any data that was directly on point, but I strongly suspect that you'd find similar levels of agreement among self-identified evangelical Christians with the statement, "Donald Trump is a Christian."

You may need to make your peace with the fact that the word "Christian" doesn't actually mean what you want it to mean.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "you and I have very different exposure to the sum total of what passes for 'Christianity' in the world. I will bet you that most evangelicals in America would agree with my requirement."

I find it somewhat ironic that you have those two sentences right next to each other. There are 2.2B Christians in the world, while there seem to be something like 80-100M "evangelicals in America". You seem to be claiming to speak about "the sum total of Christianity in the world", but your specific evidence (such as it is) is about a tiny <5% subpopulation of Christians.

As to what is "required" of one, to "be a Christian", different Christian sects have advocated wildly different requirements. Is baptism necessary? Do your actions during your life matter, or only your final mental belief? Must you regularly attend and be involved with your church, or can you simply accept Jesus in private? Sorry, but your preferred definition is in no way "rather agreed-upon" -- even among Christians themselves!

"10 Donald Trump Quotes That Should Horrify His Evangelical Supporters"

You seem to have paid attention to the wrong part of that article! Because the critical lesson is, the evangelicals continue to support him despite those quotes. Notice the ever-important word "should" in the title. That means the author, like you, thinks these statements should be disqualifying for Trump. But the author, like you, is wrong.

"artificially restricting the domain of rationality"

It's not "artificial". Instead, "rationality" is already a well-understood specific concept. The term means something, and that something is a useful category. You seem to want to blur the definition, to talk about any action that "attempts to shape society and culture". That's very unhelpful, and loses the precise meaning of "rationality".

There's rarely a point about arguing over word definitions. If you don't want to use the term "rationality" for its standard meaning, we can just avoid using that term at all. But it would be helpful if you could provide some terms, in order to distinguish two important but separate concepts: (1) a method, used in science and math, for inferring true or justified conclusions from premises and data; vs. (2) techniques of politics and rhetoric for convincing large groups of people to make decisions.

You yourself have said "Sophists" vs "Socrates". Most people call that second one "rationality", but the exact word isn't as important as maintaining the distinction itself.

Luke said...

Good grief, what was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek joke ("I have decided to start praying that Trump becomes a Christian.") has morphed into something altogether different. So let me clarify the two terms at play.

When I wrote "I have decided to start praying that Trump becomes a Christian.", I first meant to play on the very ambiguity of the term 'Christian'. (Much humor is predicated upon ambiguity.) But I did mean to skew the possibilities toward my experience of Christian in America, which is a Christianity which tries rather hard not to play fast and loose with interpretation of the Bible. (I don't just mean 'fundamentalism'.) What I was banking on is that language such as found in the Sermon on the Mount really does set up expectations which can be contradicted by speech and behavior, such as 10 Donald Trump Quotes That Should Horrify His Evangelical Supporters demonstrates.

Now, evangelical Christians in America seem to be making a mockery of the expectations most English speakers in the West would generate upon reading the Sermon on the Mount. This, despite the fact that 'evangelical' has strong ties to not playing fast and loose with interpretation of the Bible. Paul's passage in Romans 2, ending with "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”", seems to apply to them. And so, 'evangelical' is becoming increasingly synonymous with 'hypocritical'.

The humor was supposed to be that a non-hypocritical Christian is just "a Christian". When words are used non-deceptively, the exterior appearance is supposed to correspond with the interior and give you predictive power. Non-deceptive use of language sets up expectations which are generally validated. I took it to be general knowledge among readers in this thread that being a politician with a moral backbone is rather hard these days. Those who follow Trump seem to be precisely those with no moral backbone. For Trump to suddenly get a moral backbone would therefore seem rather miraculous—at least, to me.

Now, none of the above works if you say that 'rationality' is restricted the the scientistic domain and therefore there are no rules of public discourse with the rhetorical force of logic which can be used to critique those in power. If it's not considered important to hold people to account when the expectations they generate fail to come true the majority of the time—other than via vague 'emotional' disagreement—then we make politics about nothing more than arational manipulation. And yet, that is precisely what I think Trump is doing, but without the veneer of those who occupied his office before him. This is the antithesis of "Let your 'yes' be yes and your 'no', no."

This is all made rather more complicated by the fact that the meanings of term can and do change over time. One example in the Bible is Jeremiah 7, where 'the temple of the LORD' has morphed from a place of costly sanctification to a place of cheap forgiveness. The term itself is not deceptive (cheap forgiveness is now the status quo), but it is deceptive in context (society crumbles under cheap forgiveness). Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language." One cannot construct nearly as much with corrupted building blocks. Failure to systematically compare the expectations we set up in people of what can be built with what we end up building allows us to ignore/​downplay the corruption. Because, you see, 'rationality' cannot function here; it's just sophistical manipulation of emotions. Or … maybe not.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: Most of what you say here in this last comment, I don't necessarily disagree with ... but neither do I find it particularly relevant. So I'll only respond to this one tiny bit:

"none of the above works if you say that 'rationality' is restricted the the scientistic domain and therefore there are no rules of public discourse with the rhetorical force of logic which can be used to critique those in power"

You're making a category error. There are plenty of "rules of public discourse", and plenty of criteria available to critique the rhetoric of those in power. Those rules and criteria, however, are not usefully described as "rationality". It's simply a different topic area.

"If it's not considered important to hold people to account when the expectations they generate fail to come true"

Again, holding public officials to account for lying, really has nothing to do with thinking "rationally" or "irrationally". There are many reasons why some action or speech might be worthy of harsh critique, besides the single accusation of "irrational!" When I say that "rationality" doesn't apply, in no way does that mean that I think criticism is "not considered important."

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Most of what you say here in this last comment, I don't necessarily disagree with ... but neither do I find it particularly relevant.

You're the one who wanted to rip into me with the "No True Scotsman" thing. You and Ron both ("And no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.").

> You're making a category error. There are plenty of "rules of public discourse", and plenty of criteria available to critique the rhetoric of those in power. Those rules and criteria, however, are not usefully described as "rationality". It's simply a different topic area.

I don't see why. Here's the rationality conversation:

> Luke: people are rather more rational than we given them credit for

> Don Geddis: You're confusing different concepts. Real rationality is a methodology for discovering truth, for aligning internal models with the objective external world. That is simply a separate topic from rhetoric and persuasion, which are techniques for convincing people to make decisions. Rationality might be a typical component of effective persuasion, but it is neither necessary, nor sufficient.

> Luke: Rationality helps us cooperatively generate expectations of the future, optionally work to make those expectations come to pass, and examine failures as well as successes. One can do this in a science laboratory, one can do it in a church, and one can do it in the nation at large. The only reason I can see for artificially restricting the domain of rationality is if you do not want to expose your own attempts to shape society and culture to full critical analysis.

> Don Geddis: It's not "artificial". Instead, "rationality" is already a well-understood specific concept. The term means something, and that something is a useful category. You seem to want to blur the definition, to talk about any action that "attempts to shape society and culture". That's very unhelpful, and loses the precise meaning of "rationality".

I will note that you emphatically ignored ("any", with italics) several aspects of my definition of 'rationality'. I very intentionally included a test–predict loop. Plenty of "attempts to shape society and culture" do not involve a test–predict loop! So why the [flagrant?] distortion of what I said?

> > If it's not considered important to hold people to account when the expectations they generate fail to come true the majority of the time—other than via vague 'emotional' disagreement—then we make politics about nothing more than arational manipulation.

> When I say that "rationality" doesn't apply, in no way does that mean that I think criticism is "not considered important."

But what kind of criticism is there, other than (i) rationality; (ii) emotional disagreement? Let's suppose such a thing exists and call it (iii) analysis. How does 'analysis' differ from 'rationality', other than merely having its domain arbitrarily restricted to what you've called 'the objective external world'? (How are the expectations my political candidate causes me to adopt somehow not part of 'the objective external world', while the expectations a scientific theory cause—before the experiment is run—a completely valid part? And then when the future comes 'round, how are the results of one critically different from the results of the other?)

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "You're the one who wanted to rip into me with the "No True Scotsman" thing."

Right, because your attempt at a joke was about Trump becoming a "real" "true" Christian. But really, you just have a personal code of behavior that you wish Trump would act like. And Ron probably has his preferences, and so do I. But your attempt to label your personal preferences as "Christian" is inappropriate and unhelpful. That label doesn't capture the behavior you're looking for.

"I very intentionally included a test–predict loop."

Yes, fine. That's not the important part, and not why I was objecting. There are plenty of processes that incorporate a "test-predict loop", that are not usefully included in the category "rationality".

"But what kind of criticism is there, other than (i) rationality; (ii) emotional disagreement?"

Oh! So the problem may be that you simply couldn't imagine any other alternatives. Sure, I can offer you a bunch.

The process of science/rationality, is a set of behaviors that allow you to form internal models, such that over time the models evolve to be closer and closer to the objective facts of external reality.

Forming accurate internal models is simply not the goal of many political processes. This is why I described your conflation as a "category error". You aren't comparing things on the same spectrum.

Let's take a topic like the "minimum wage". A science/rational analysis of minimum wage laws would try to do an economic analysis of the costs and benefits, and try to judge whether overall the society's net wealth increases with higher minimum wages. Or maybe net wealth is less, but inequality has lowered. Or maybe most workers are worse off, but the most poor workers have improved lives. A counterargument might try to establish the (possible) economic truth that, even the low-skill populations that are ostensibly targeted by the policy, are also worse off over time (on net).

But that is all a rational/science perspective. A political perspective, in contrast, might instead be: higher minimum wages are a Democrat policy; government giveaways to rich corporations are a GOP policy. Minimum wages "feel" like taking from the evil rich, and giving to the deserving poor, like Robin Hood. Being opposed to minimum wages mean that you're a corporate stooge, a supporter of Trump, and surely also in favor of grabbing women by the pussy.

In the political arena, logical arguments are tools used for persuasion. Can you find a couple of specific individuals who seem to be better off (even if the vast hidden majority are worse off) because of higher MW laws, and you can market their success? It is "rationalization", not "rationality". Essentially nobody cares about the accuracy of their internal models vs. the real world. What matters is signalling: who are you loyal to? What tribe do you belong to?

Whether minimum wages laws actually make low-skilled workers, on net, better off doesn't really matter to hardly anyone. It's completely beside the point.

This objection, from me, all came because you said: "Anyone who lays claim to having the appropriate 'Reason' and laments having to use power to impose it on others is critiqued by Focault" I think that's very wrong. You can objectively analyze a policy correctly (like MW laws), and that's a very different question from whether you can convince people to follow the "best" policy. Your implication that if only your "reason" were actually "correct", that necessarily people would be convinced, is either: (1) wrong, or else (2) a trivial tautology, if you distort the meaning of the word "reason" sufficiently that you simply define it as successfully convincing people.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Right, because your attempt at a joke was about Trump becoming a "real" "true" Christian. But really, you just have a personal code of behavior that you wish Trump would act like. And Ron probably has his preferences, and so do I. But your attempt to label your personal preferences as "Christian" is inappropriate and unhelpful. That label doesn't capture the behavior you're looking for.

Do you just despise humor? Oh, and I want words to match deeds, words to set up expectations in those who have synchronized on the openly described social protocol which then, by and large, come true. When they don't come true, I want analyses which have the potential to produce repentance which improves future expectations. Do you and Ron not want this? (I didn't want to ask, but since you went hostile, I can't be sure.)

> The process of science/rationality, is a set of behaviors that allow you to form internal models, such that over time the models evolve to be closer and closer to the objective facts of external reality.

Sure, and it allows you to try to make some realities more likely than others via your actions. It also allows you to try to become like a certain person (e.g. who can thereafter resist pressures to sacrifice the long term for the short term). Or we can ditch rationality and pursue feel-good emotions which are betrayed when the chickens come home to roost.

> But that is all a rational/science perspective. A political perspective, in contrast, might instead be: higher minimum wages are a Democrat policy; government giveaways to rich corporations are a GOP policy. Minimum wages "feel" like taking from the evil rich, and giving to the deserving poor, like Robin Hood. Being opposed to minimum wages mean that you're a corporate stooge, a supporter of Trump, and surely also in favor of grabbing women by the pussy.

Yes, this is flat out manipulation. It works for a while when the technicians behind the scenes keep things running smoothly, but it ultimately crashes and burns. There are reasons that Americans are incredibly disenchanted with the nation's institutions and it isn't just propaganda. If your solution to this mess is just more arationality, more "managing the masses", please say so. Otherwise, we can quickly admit that much is manipulation, while working to increase the amount of rationality. And maybe that involves convincing people to do more than just obey their betters (the scientists).

> Essentially nobody cares about the accuracy of their internal models vs. the real world. What matters is signalling: who are you loyal to? What tribe do you belong to?

I realize this, too. Can America stay competitive with this dynamic? Are we just going to accept this as how things have to be?

> This objection, from me, all came because you said: "Anyone who lays claim to having the appropriate 'Reason' and laments having to use power to impose it on others is critiqued by Focault" I think that's very wrong.

But you just got done saying that what convinces people has nothing to do with rationality and everything to do with loyalty, which has purely to do with social power. What passes for 'truth' is actually just power.

> Your implication that if only your "reason" were actually "correct", that necessarily people would be convinced …

No, this is not actually a logical implication of what I said. People can be closed to rationality, in which case nothing in the reason domain would work. You would either have to give up, or resort to … power. Socrates would have failed and Protagoras would step up.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Or we can ditch rationality and pursue feel-good emotions"

Those are not the only possible alternatives.

"If your solution to this mess is just more arationality, more "managing the masses", please say so."

I wouldn't call it a "solution", but it is a fact that "the masses" are moved mostly by things other than pure "rationality". You can whine and rail against the injustice in the structure of the world, or you can deal with it as you find it. I prefer Neibuhr: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

"we can quickly admit that much is manipulation, while working to increase the amount of rationality"

I'm totally on board with that goal ... but perhaps I just have far lower expectations for total success than you do.

"Are we just going to accept this as how things have to be?"

Humans behave as they behave. I wouldn't describing it as "accepting" anything. I would describe it as observing "what is", honestly, rather than obsessing about how you wish the world were, instead.

"What passes for 'truth' is actually just power."

No, that's false in many ways. For one thing, truth is still a separate thing from power. And secondly, successful persuasion can certainly be very different from political or military "power".

"People can be closed to rationality, in which case nothing in the reason domain would work."

People mostly make decisions, primarily for reasons other than pure rationality. It is actually a very special subset of trained people, and even for them only in a very limited set of circumstances, who are able to act and decide according to rationality. (Think about science: first the Greeks just "thought". Then experiment: yay! Then "blind" experiment. Now we require "double-blind" experiments. Why? Because it is so overwhelmingly easy for human brains to delude themselves. It is extremely difficult to use human brains to successfully think rationally.)

Perhaps you think you are different. Alas, it is a consequence of the brain's amazing ability for self-deception, that it is extremely hard to observe this rationality failure in one's self. And, moreover, it's abundantly clear that you are already infected (just like everybody else): you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality. All of your thinking around Christianity, as evidenced in your many comments here, is completely motivated biased reasoning. Attempting to "reason" you out of your Christianity, would be just as futile as attempting political persuasion on abortion or gun control using only pure reason.

People rationalize. They don't reason.

"You would either have to give up, or resort to … power."

No. There's another alternative: persuasion. That isn't the same as "power" (unless you trivially define it as such, in which case the statement is empty).

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (1/2)

> > Or we can ditch rationality and pursue feel-good emotions

> Those are not the only possible alternatives.

Feel free to suggest additions. (Really, this can be a cooperative discussion.) So far, you write things like "better off doesn't really matter to hardly anyone." I'm tempted to lump that into "feel-good emotions". But I think I erred in excluding a category for promoting loyalty to the group and bolstering social status. What else ought we introduce?

> I wouldn't call it a "solution", but it is a fact that "the masses" are moved mostly by things other than pure "rationality". You can whine and rail against the injustice in the structure of the world, or you can deal with it as you find it.

I can also question whether what you call 'rationality' is the only option. For example, have you considered what is maximally rational to do if one's ability to judge which experts to trust is not the greatest? Or do you only judge what is maximally rational to do from your own perspective? Do you take account of how misinformation increases if that would be beneficial to various interests? There are a lot of moving parts.

> I'm totally on board with that goal ... but perhaps I just have far lower expectations for total success than you do.

I'm mostly just trying to work with what seems required for the US to stay competitive. There's always the option for us to just give up our position of superiority (we still have superiority in science and technology, for example). We could learn Mandarin. I'd prefer not—not for that reason.

> Humans behave as they behave. I wouldn't describing it as "accepting" anything. I would describe it as observing "what is", honestly, rather than obsessing about how you wish the world were, instead.

I … can't do both? Isn't it a good idea to observe what is, what one would think would be better, and chart a reasonable course? Humans are often able to pull it together if they have a good enough reason and cooperate. I would like that to be a reason more than merely consumerism, exploring space, and alleviation of poverty & disease. I worry that without some sufficiently good reason, some sufficiently good vision, most people just won't care that much about what is true until things get downright ugly. Is it so wrong to ask whether such visions might exist and might be worth pursuing?

> > What passes for 'truth' is actually just power.

> No, that's false in many ways. For one thing, truth is still a separate thing from power. And secondly, successful persuasion can certainly be very different from political or military "power".

I didn't say truth is actually power. And I didn't say the power is merely political or military. Most power is rather more subtle. For example, it lets you define the rules of discourse.

> People mostly make decisions, primarily for reasons other than pure rationality.

Again, that looks like a small definition of 'rationality'. If I want to make some futures more likely than others and become a certain kind of person, I say that 'rationality' can be a huge part of that; it can offer crucial guidance and course corrections. But you will note a theme: I'm talking about creating, not just describing. I don't see why rationality cannot also be used to try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain en route. I'm looking for where rationality really cannot apply, outside of (i) not caring about the impacts of one's actions on others or one's own future character; (ii) deceiving others.

> No. There's another alternative: persuasion. That isn't the same as "power" (unless you trivially define it as such, in which case the statement is empty).

What is a good example of persuasion that isn't rationality and isn't power?

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (2/2)

> Perhaps you think you are different. Alas, it is a consequence of the brain's amazing ability for self-deception, that it is extremely hard to observe this rationality failure in one's self.

Actually, from spending over 30,000 hours talking to atheists—largely online—I have learned to question myself before others. Virtually no atheists I've encountered have learned to do the same thing in ways I judge to be remotely competent, but I think that's mostly because they were the ones with social power in the places we discussed; those in power don't need to care as much about what is true as the underdogs. (Sadly, I couldn't find any decent plays to talk to Christians, so I went with atheists.) Learning to listen to others and work really hard to find ways to construe them as making a good deal of sense does take work, but it is possible. Admitting quickly when you've become convinced you were wrong is also possible. Sadly though, I've observed that admitted error is often counted very highly; too many admitted errors and the person is discredited. Just like among Christians these days, it appears that repentance is disreputable.

> And, moreover, it's abundantly clear that you are already infected (just like everybody else): you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality.

Unless you have peer-reviewed science which says that Christians are worse at doing science qua Christian, your definition of 'rationality' appears decidedly un-empirical. :-D To say the effect is 100% invisible due to cognitive dissonance is to believe in ghosts, in spirits. But hey, I'll offer you the challenge I have offered many other atheists—with not a single one delivering. Show me peer-reviewed science which demonstrates either:

     (1) When a scientist becomes an atheist,
             [s]he does better science.
     (2) When a scientist becomes religious,
             [s]he does worse science.

If you can't, then everything in your thought system which predicts the above needs to be exposed to a huge dose of skepticism. What's even more fun is if some scientists who are Christians take seriously what the Bible says about maintaining healthy relationships and staying humble; they could show increased ability to perform their full job as a scientist. My suspicion, though, is that you would still want to call their beliefs 'irrational'. That seems like dogmatic thinking, insisting that people think in one way rather than another, for signaling reasons—I'm reminded of your "better off doesn't really matter to hardly anyone." Maybe it doesn't here, either!

> All of your thinking around Christianity, as evidenced in your many comments here, is completely motivated biased reasoning.

What empirical evidence would falsify this hypothesis of yours? What would I have to be able to do in empirical reality to show you that you are wrong? I want to know how to test this not in dogma-land, but in evidence-land.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (1/2): "I erred in excluding a category for promoting loyalty to the group and bolstering social status."

Yes, exactly. That would certainly be a huge category. And you can keep going: appealing to fear and insecurity (e.g. of dangerous outsiders) is another common approach.

"Do you take account of how misinformation increases ... There are a lot of moving parts."

Sure, thinking rationally is difficult. But the problem is that most people aren't trying, most of the time, because rationality isn't a natural way for human brains to think.

"what seems required for the US to stay competitive ... There's always the option for us to just give up our position of superiority"

You believe the US has some (god-given?) "manifest destiny" to always be superior to everyone else? If you had been born Chinese, what is the rational reason why you must forever remain inferior to the US?

"Isn't it a good idea to ... chart a reasonable course?"

Sure, I'm with you on that. You haven't been talking about how to cause people to act more rationally, more of the time. We've only been discussing how people do in fact act today.

"I would like that to be a reason more than merely..."

I don't. Those seem like pretty good reasons to me.

"I worry that ... most people just won't care that much about what is true until things get downright ugly."

You're right to worry. That's exactly how people act.

"Is it so wrong to ask whether such visions might exist and might be worth pursuing?"

Ask away. I'm highly skeptical that any "vision" will cause people to act rationally and seek truth more often. (Especially a false vision!)

"I say that 'rationality' can be a huge part of that; it can offer crucial guidance and course corrections."

Yes, it "can". But other things can as well. That's why (above) I said that rationality was neither necessary nor sufficient. It does often play a role in decision-making, however.

" I don't see why rationality cannot also be used to try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain en route. ... I'm looking for where rationality really cannot apply"

I'm never arguing against choosing to think rationally. I'm arguing that most people, most of the time, do not in fact think rationally. But, in principle, they could. They just don't.

"What is a good example of persuasion that isn't rationality and isn't power?"

A mugger catches you in a dark alley, has a gun. Steals your cash. Is considering killing you, to leave no witnesses. You guess and hope that maybe he has young kids himself. You start telling him about your wife and young daughters at home, and how they would suffer for no good reason if he killed you. You try to build empathy, ask him to consider how his own children would feel if he was suddenly killed, to imagine how they would then grow up without a father. You promise that you can both just walk away, you won't go to the police. Just take the cash and go. Don't turn the robbery into a murder. And in his mind, something changes and you move from the category of an instrumental entity who is only useful for his own purposes, to a fellow being who he shares humanity with and cares about. So he lets you live.

You don't have any "power" (other than speech and persuasion). Making emotional connections isn't about "rationality", isn't about making more accurate models to predict objective reality. It's about manipulating emotions in order to change decisions. (In this case, whether he's going to kill you or not.)

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (2/2): "they were the ones with social power in the places we discussed; those in power don't need to care as much about what is true as the underdogs"

Amusing. In the US, you find atheists to have social power, and Christians to be "underdogs"?! You must have found quite a special corner. "Atheist" is the label that, for decades, has been the most disqualifying feature for a political candidate. The bottom of the barrel! Worse than being convicted of a felony murder! Even today, the US is still 75% Christian. But ok, tell me about your troubles, "underdog".

"Unless you have peer-reviewed science which says that Christians are worse at doing science ... your definition of 'rationality' appears decidedly un-empirical."

I made no prediction that bad thinking about religion would necessarily imply a less effective scientist. The only claim I made was that the religious thinking itself was clearly non-rational.

"everything in your thought system which predicts the above"

I wouldn't be surprised, but nothing in my model predicts that it would be true.

"you would still want to call their beliefs 'irrational'"

Yes, religious beliefs are irrational.

"insisting that people think in one way rather than another"

Isn't that what we've been talking about this whole time? Most people, most of the time, make decisions based on non-rational processes.

"What empirical evidence would falsify this hypothesis of yours?"

Well, we'd have to start with how rational/science thinking actually works ("double blind", etc.). And then I'd ask you to take me through your religious thoughts, demonstrating your awareness and use of rationality at every step. It's like doing a math proof: just show me the proof. You're either doing valid math, or you aren't.

I don't know your actual religious beliefs. Let me guess that you think an omnipotent and benevolent God created the universe, has a personal interest in human affairs, that Jesus was born and died around 2000 years ago and was the son of God, that Jesus was resurrected a few days later, the the Bible is the inerrant word of God, that humans have an eternal soul and that there is an afterlife. Is that about right? That would be a pretty typical Christian story.

True scientific thinking begins with the data, and then considers the probability density of all possible theories that could explain the data. You don't do this. You start with your conclusion: Christianity is True. And then you look for a way to explain any data you encounter, within the framework of the theory you have already believe. You're not looking for the best explanation of the data; instead, you're looking for "proof" that you must give up your cherished theory. If you don't find sufficient proof against, then you feel justified in maintaining your belief. This isn't rationality; it is rationalization.

(It's just a version of Sagan's Dragon in My Garage.)

Ron said...

> Yes, religious beliefs are irrational.

Much as I sympathize with this position, I have to push back a little bit on making it such a categorical claim.

Things can only be rational or irrational with respect to some quality metric. Religious beliefs are indeed irrational with respect to a quality metric that values objective truth, but might not be irrational with respect to some other quality metric. For example: relative to a quality metric that values one's own mental well-being and de-values sinking into a pit of existential despair, certain religious beliefs may well be rational.

For example, consider your mugger scenario. Believing that God has your back may well be the difference between mustering the composure to tell him about your kids and hence save your own life, and having an emotional meltdown that prevents you from successfully executing this intervention. Or, to take another scenario, suppose you didn't have kids. The ability to dissemble and tell the mugger that you did have kids and be convincing about it may well be the difference between life and death. The ability to deceive and be deceived has survival value, which is why humans are so good at it, and so engaging in deception and allowing oneself to be deceived is rational with respect to a quality metric that values human survival (at least in the ancestral environment, but probably still today).

Being rational with respect to objective truth won't do you a lot of good if you end up dead as a result. Of course, the converse also applies. But Darwin always has the final say.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: Granted! There's definitely "stuff that works", vs. "forming more accurate models of reality", and they aren't always the same thing. I agree!

One likely example: individual selfishness has villagers run away from violent conflict. But a village that can bond the people into believing in something greater than themselves -- often using the power of religion -- can convince the men to form a unified army and defeat the neighboring villages in war. "For Aslan!" It doesn't matter whether the lion actually really is god or not; what matters is that those who believe in the cause of Aslan, will willingly sacrifice themselves for the good of the village. And that village "wins", in survival of the fittest, against the disorganized individuals in the other villages that don't have a (perhaps false) unifying principle.

Or, to take another example: an old believer, on their deathbed, content and peaceful about a near transition to heaven and being reunited with their lifetime of loved ones ... gains nothing by being convinced that their whole lifetime belief system was a lie, and there is nothing more than dust to dust, and life is a purposeless struggle with suffering.

"Truth" does not necessarily lead to happiness (or success). I agree.

That said: "Religious beliefs are indeed irrational with respect to a quality metric that values objective truth". In the discussion above, my impression is that this is not a source of contention, because I think Luke already conceded that "getting closer to Truth" is indeed his objective. (In fact, Luke seems to be objecting when I keep bring up effective persuasion that is not about truth.) So I thought we had already agreed on the second half of your sentence, and thus I took the shortcut of just saying "religious beliefs are irrational."

But sure, I agree with your comment.

Don Geddis said...

"It was really sad when I went to visit my friend Jim at the state mental institution. He was convinced he was on a tropical island with no cares or worries. It took me a long time to convince him that no, he was in a room with bare walls and a bare bed and he was wearing a straitjacket."

("Deep Thoughts", by Jack Handey, 1999, Saturday Night Live)

Ron said...

> I think Luke already conceded that "getting closer to Truth" is indeed his objective.

Well, yeah, of course. But this is exactly the problem: Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are.

This is the problem with self-deception: in order to be fully effective, it has to go infinitely meta. You have to deceive yourself not only that some untrue thing is true, but also that the methods that led you to this untrue conclusion are in fact the most reliable way of reaching the truth. No one deliberately says, "I'm going to choose to believe this with 100% certainty despite the fact that I know (or even suspect) that it is untrue."

And once you recognize *that*, it actually becomes quite challenging to muster an argument that *you* are not the one engaged self-deception, and meta-self-deception, and meta-meta-self-deception... because, how would you know? That's the problem with infinitely-meta self deception: it does not yield readily to introspection.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "This is the problem with self-deception: in order to be fully effective, it has to go infinitely meta."

Amusing! I like it. You're probably right.

"the methods that led you to this untrue conclusion are in fact the most reliable way of reaching the truth"

My approach to this part of the problem, is to attempt to evaluate "methods of reaching truth" in other, much less emotional contexts. Why was medicine led to "double blind" studies? Let's look at examples where none of us care about the actual result. Then study the data that was actually available, the conclusions that different methods came to ... and, finally, the "true" result that everyone eventually realized was the case.

Which kinds of methods led in the wrong direction (when there was still uncertainty), vs. which kinds of methods gave reasonable answers early, that were eventually born out when the fully truth became available?

You can study what nutritionists thought of high-fat diets vs. carbs in the 1970's. What physicists thought of the Copenhagen interpretation of QM in the 1940's. What medical doctors claimed about breastfeeding vs. formula in the 1980's. What macroeconomists thought about the Phillips curve in the 1970's. Etc etc etc.

So it seems plausible to evaluate reasoning approaches, outside of the context that you most care about, and only then, at the end, be willing to apply the "best" reasoning methods in the domain that actually concerns you.

But I suppose you would say that this is merely a meta-reasoning approach, and perhaps others disagree even at this level of meta-reasoning.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: Oh! And of course I left out studying and being aware of the long list of logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Argument from Authority, Confirmation Bias, etc etc etc.

The whole point of the list, is that these are well-known ways of convincing oneself (and others) of some claim, but in a way that is now known to not be correlated with objective truth. If you care about Truth (rather than mere persuasion), you would yourself want to avoid using these techniques.

Alas, it appears that merely being familiar with the fallacies does not inoculate one from continuing to commit them. (These are natural habits of human brains.) But at least one could pre-commit, that if your debate opponent points out that you've committed one of them, you intend to withdraw that argument and you accept the responsibility to replace it.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (1/3)

Before I fisk (unless you declare it unnecessary after this reply), I want to emphasize something which is central to my contentions but which you seem to have largely ignored (I've included your reply to » this bit «):

> > Again, that looks like a small definition of 'rationality'. If I want to make some futures more likely than others and become a certain kind of person, » I say that 'rationality' can be a huge part of that; it can offer crucial guidance and course corrections. « But you will note a theme: I'm talking about creating, not just describing. I don't see why rationality cannot also be used to try to maximize pleasure and minimize pain en route. I'm looking for where rationality really cannot apply, outside of (i) not caring about the impacts of one's actions on others or one's own future character; (ii) deceiving others.

> Yes, it "can". But other things can as well. That's why (above) I said that rationality was neither necessary nor sufficient. It does often play a role in decision-making, however.

Your imagined confrontation with the mugger can be construed as you challenging him that he will grossly violate the kind of person he thinks he is or is becoming, if he murders a father with children. If that's what's really going on, then "emotional connection" is an obscuring shorthand. You would actually be challenging the robber to be rational. I realize this is a foreign way of thinking in these times; even talking about what kind of person it is good to be had fallen out of fashion in Western moral philosophy (Sources of the Self, 3). Refusing to articulate the core being of a person has been seen as a threat to objectivity and offensive (Missing Persons, 10). Even defining 'person' apparently wasn't a sociology thing to do (What is a Person?, 2n2). And in some sense, modernity has fractured the person so that character is more highly situate-dependent than it used to be; people act their appropriate roles. (Lack of Character) So I can see how "building character" has fallen off the radar.

Now, character isn't just an individual thing, it's hugely social. When Paul wrote "bad company corrupts good morals", he was right, for any chosen set of { good, bad }. So groups have character as well. This phenomenon shows up in Robert Wuthnow's recent The Left Behind. (Yes, I thought Tim LaHaye at first …) Apparently it's something rather ill-understood by coastal elites—that, or they just don't care. The willingness to move from place to place and community to community which characterizes the cosmopolitan is extremely different from many in rural America. Why should we be surprised if these folks take great strides to protect their felt identity? Actions which seem irrational can actually appear rather more rational if one understands what they're doing and prescinds from value judgments. Surely one can deploy rationality to build and maintain a model.

Even building group loyalty and establishing prestige systems can be rational. Loyalty can be earned and have duties. If I invest in these ways, I get those dividends and can e.g. spend less time ensuring my own safety and more time investigating reality. I tend a social model which is absolutely critical for sustained scientific inquiry. Prestige can be a shortcut for evaluating competence, as actually evaluating competence is very costly. It is supposed to be a good model; in practice we muddle through. With these ideal models, we can then judge human actions by whether they increase or decrease the fit to the model. Increased fit is 'rational'.

But perhaps you will say that the psychological and social foundation required to promote rationality is not itself 'rational'? I will be suspicious of that; I will be suspicious that declaring anything off-limits to rational investigation is an attempt to hide something.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (2/3)

I want to take an interlude to clarify your stance on 'rationality' with some Karl Popper:

>> I said above that the work of the scientist consist is in putting forward and testing theories.
>>     The initial stage, the act of conceiving or inventing a theory, seems to me neither to call for logical analysis nor to be susceptible of it. The question how it happens that a new idea occurs to a man—whether it is a musical theme, a dramatic conflict, or a scientific theory—may be of great interest to empirical psychology; but it is irrelevant to the logical analysis of scientific knowledge. The latter is concerned not with questions of fact (Kant's quid facti?), but only with questions of justification or validity (Kant's quid juris?). (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, 7)

Do you see 'rationality' as applying only to matters of Kant's quid juris? I know that the philosophy of science has long been obsessed with how scientific theories are justified, but being married to a scientist, I have second-hand experience that the process of "aligning internal models with the objective external world" involves much more than post hoc justification. There seems to be a kind of prejudice that the generation of hypotheses is dark magic; from a while ago we have:

>>     Polykarp Kusch, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, has declared that there is no ‘scientific method,’ and that what is called by that name can be outlined for only quite simple problems. Percy Bridgman, another Nobel Prize-winning physicist, goes even further: ‘There is no scientific method as such, but the vital feature of the scientist’s procedure has been merely to do his utmost with his mind, no holds barred.’ ‘The mechanics of discovery,’ William S. Beck remarks, ‘are not known. … I think that the creative process is so closely tied in with the emotional structure of an individual … that … it is a poor subject for generalization ….’[4] (The Sociological Imagination, 58)

Nowadays things are changing; I am told that general hypothesis formation is the gold standard of machine learning (and that we are far from being able to do it). But I wonder if the "dark magic" mentality sticks around. I do have testimony that Polanyi's concept of 'tacit knowledge' was used for a time to claim that various scientific skill is innate and unteachable; this was later falsified.

One hypothesis for how we do hypothesis formation so well is that we come pre-programmed with a number of very useful cognitive tools. Kant wasn't entirely off the mark to think that the mind has pre-programmed categories; the tabula rasa folks were wrong. Supposing that our pre-programmed instincts are actually quite important for general hypothesis formation, are they part of what you consider 'rationality'? I could see you going either way on this.

There's another reason to think that the a priori is important for success in "aligning internal models with the objective external world". It comes from Grossberg 1999; I wrote you a partial summary three years ago. What I want to key in on is that Grossberg suggests that if we have patterns on our perceptual neurons which are not sufficiently well-matched by patterns on our non-perceptual neurons, we may never become conscious of them. Is it possible that the model cannot always be merely derived from the phenomena, but sometimes that it (= a tentative model) must precede the phenomena?

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (3/3)

Here's another non-fisking response, this time on the Christianity front.

> > Actually, from spending over 30,000 hours talking to atheists—largely online—I have learned to question myself before others. Virtually no atheists I've encountered have learned to do the same thing in ways I judge to be remotely competent, but I think that's mostly because » they were the ones with social power in the places we discussed; those in power don't need to care as much about what is true as the underdogs. « (Sadly, I couldn't find any decent -plays- _places_ to talk to Christians, so I went with atheists.)

> Amusing. In the US, you find atheists to have social power, and Christians to be "underdogs"?!

I'm really beginning to like Iain McGilchrist's model of (i) the left brain hemisphere decontextualizing; (ii) the left hemisphere dominating Western though and thereby our own ways of thinking. Here, you just completely ignored the context. Sometimes I worry that you're strategically looking for ways to construe what I've said as idiotic, Don. Perhaps you would consider how you might act differently in our very discussion, if there were a horde of people ready to lambaste you every time you made any sort of error—real or perceived. Consider this critical attitude mostly applied only to the Other. I intentionally put myself in that kind of social reality because I actually believed the dogma the atheists were selling me about rationality and evidence and prediction. :-D


If you side with 'rationality' merely having to do with post hoc justification of theory (see my "(2/3)" response), the following will probably be irrelevant. But if 'rationality' is rather wider than that, it may be relevant.

What I want to do is get some sense of the boundary between things that promote "aligning internal models with the objective external world" ("R") and are part of 'rationality', and things that promote R and yet are not part of 'rationality'. For example, eating healthy food probably does help one be a better scientist, but I'm not sure we want to say it's 'rational' to eat healthy food. Doing so might set one on a trajectory toward natural law theory and that seems rather taboo among non-Christians, if not non-Catholics.

If Christianity can aid in R—let me know if you think this is empirically impossible—then on what basis is it a priori ("dogmatically") guaranteed that Christianity cannot possibly be 'rational'? For example, if God really did create reality and really did ensure the Bible was written and preserved to help us understand that creation, then it seems that it could serve a role similar to the pre-programming I discussed in "(2/3)". If reality really was designed to operate better in some ways than others, it seems that this should be empirically demonstrable in principle. But I don't know if R allows such demonstration.

To pick out a social/psychological dimension of Christianity, I have noticed that people are very, very bad at taking responsibility for harm caused others. This leads to a scapegoating phenomenon. René Girard makes quite the case that without Judaism and Christianity, we might never have become convinced that scapegoats are actually innocent. That is, we could be forever locked into a fallacious model of social reality. Do you think this is empirically possible?

Finally, it seems empirically possible to me that our desires are too small and pathetic to need God to give/tell us any more, and that we will have to first fail before we [sufficiently strongly] desire more from life than what we currently get. Perhaps you would describe this as 'motivated reasoning'. But what if it ends up helping analyze the current social situation and improving it? Does it still get called 'motivated reasoning'?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> But this is exactly the problem: Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are.

Wrong. Well, except maybe that I suspect that paying more attention to the outputs of social science research could help you better achieve your goal of "Preaching the gospel of evidence, experiment and reason", without requiring you to be charismatic like MLK Jr. But such suspicion, not tested by the evidence, I hold very lightly. So if you would, I would like to know what reasoning process led you to this conclusion and what you think the best change is to it so that you no longer generate this description from your model of me.

Unlike those who seem pretty happy to judge based on dogma, I try my best to judge trees based on fruit. I care if words match actions. And I try to expose my own words and actions for others to judge because I know I am severely limited in this domain. (See my "over 30,000 hours talking to atheists".) I do ask that they actually convince me of their judgments; without that, I don't know how to investigate my reasoning process and make the appropriate changes. (see: 'repentance', widest definition)

> This is the problem with self-deception: in order to be fully effective, it has to go infinitely meta.

I just don't know how to take this, given your own stance on deception:

>> I used to believe in democracy, not because I thought it produced the best outcomes (it clearly doesn't) but because by giving people at least the illusion of having a say in the matter it encourages them to become engaged in the political process and, more importantly, to accept the results without resorting to violence. At least in America the checks-and-balances built in to the system keep things from spinning too wildly out of control. (I no longer believe in democracy)

Or given that the following appears true among the humans who do the most EE&R:

>> Our basic thesis—that we are strategically blind to key aspects of our motives—has been around in some form or another for millennia. It’s been put forward not only by poets, playwrights, and philosophers, but also by countless wise old souls, at least when you catch them in private and in the right sort of mood. And yet the thesis still seems to us neglected in scholarly writings; you can read a mountain of books and still miss it. (The Elephant in the Brain, ix)

Or … are you using the term 'deception' in a dogmatic way, where it doesn't necessarily have any empirical correlates of decreased fitness in e.g. "aligning internal models with the objective external world"?

> And once you recognize *that*, it actually becomes quite challenging to muster an argument that *you* are not the one engaged self-deception, and meta-self-deception, and meta-meta-self-deception... because, how would you know?

Language creates expectations for the future which can end up anywhere from completely verified to completely falsified. You can judge others based on whether they attempt to create expectations in your mind which then come true, and you can ask them to do the same for you. What's so impossibly difficult about that? It might be hard, but many things worth doing are hard and require ingenuity.

Ron said...

> > Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are.

> Wrong.

Really? You believe in Jesus. You believe He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. You believe that the Bible is His Word. Don and I don't. If you don't think that these beliefs put you closer to the truth than us, why do you believe them?

(BTW, even if *you* don't believe that being a Christian puts you closer to the truth than us atheists, the vast majority of (SI-)Christians do believe that.)

> You can judge others based on whether they attempt to create expectations in your mind which then come true, and you can ask them to do the same for you. What's so impossibly difficult about that?

Unfortunately, the deception of religion goes so deep that people continue to adhere to it even when the expectations it creates go unfulfilled. That is a big part of the problem. This is what produces people who (for example) will stick with Donald Trump "no matter what." Even if he craters the economy with his tariffs, even if he starts WW3 with his systematic dismantling of the western alliance, even if he has affairs and demeans women and rapes his own daughter in the middle of Times Square, his core supporters will cling to him "no matter what." (Or at least that's what they say. Whether they actually will when things get really bad remains to be seen.)

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: I appreciate you taking the time to write such a detailed response. I'm sure you thought you were engaging in discussion. Unfortunately, I found your comments to mostly be irrelevant extended red herrings, and I was disappointed that you essentially ignored the key insights that I directed at you.

For example, you said nothing about what you specifically believe about religion, as a Christian, and how you "rationally" justify those beliefs, given the actual evidence you have. This is my key point about why you are wrong to believe that you yourself are (always?) a rational thinker ... but you simply ignored that section, and didn't respond at all. I'm not actually surprised, but it makes it hard to engage with you.

You also put forth the idea, that if being a Christian was an irrational belief, then it somehow must show up as Christians being substandard scientists. And you (apparently) felt confident that if no such specific proof could be found, then you remained justified in "rationally" believing in Christianity. But this claim itself is a clear example of poor rationality. Because your proposed test is not a necessary consequence of the question under discussion. But again, no acknowledgement from you that your confidence in that test was hugely misplaced, and that you made a major mistake in your thinking.

I'm impressed with your wide review of literature, and your extensive links. I have little to add or respond to all the many subthreads you've brought up. If we were just having social conversation over dinner, we could explore various threads for the fun of it, with no need to ever conclude anything. But I had thought we were actually trying to resolve some specific points of disagreement. Unfortunately, I find you too unfocused for it to be likely that either of us could ever make any real progress.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > > Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are.

> > Wrong.

> Really?

I'm empirical in how I measure "closer to the truth". Have I not made that sufficiently clear? I couldn't care less how well your thinking adheres to canons of dogma or some particular meaning of 'rationality', unless those are strongly correlated to empirical superiority. Anything else is only potentially valuable and thus absolutely and utterly worthless in making comparisons such as "closer to the truth".

> (BTW, even if *you* don't believe that being a Christian puts you closer to the truth than us atheists, the vast majority of (SI-)Christians do believe that.)

I'm not sure why you thought this was relevant to say. You've claimed that I've invented my own religion and you've written "This theory explains most of the observed data, but not all of it. In particular, Luke is still an unexplained anomaly, and that keeps me a little humble." (Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment) You somehow got it into your head that I see myself as superior to you and that is 100% wrong. It's so wrong that I suspect you've really badly understood me in some core ways. I'm happy to take responsibility for that, but I'm at a loss as to how to better portray myself.

> You believe in Jesus. You believe He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. You believe that the Bible is His Word. Don and I don't. If you don't think that these beliefs put you closer to the truth than us, why do you believe them?

I think they have the potential to deliver empirical results and am willing to wager some amount of my life, but not all of it (unless I die young), on that wager before throwing in the towel if there are no sufficiently promising results. (We just went over this in email—I said "I doubt I could last ten more years without God doing a lot more than the maximum I can remotely plausibly [here-to-date] justify claiming.") The wager itself is based on extrapolation from small successes. It is also based on my observing others' analyses of our present conundrums and finding their analyses and/or suggested courses of actions to be severely lacking in comparison to my [barely] educated take when I activate my tentative beliefs in Jesus & related and integrate them into my [desperate] attempts to see some way out of our current situation. But that is all only potential. It plus $4 can buy you a cup at Philz Coffee.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

I don't know what you mean by 'rationality' anywhere nearly articulate enough to answer your questions to your satisfaction. For example, if you mean it to solely exist in the realm of justifying hypotheses and not generating them, then many of my religious beliefs are not 'rational'. But neither would key aspects of human cognition be 'rational', even though those aspects are actually required for the practice of 'rationality'. Solomonoff induction may be pretty in theory, but it does not work in practice.

> This is my key point about why you are wrong to believe that you yourself are (always?) a rational thinker

I neither said nor entailed your "(always?)".

> You also put forth the idea, that if being a Christian was an irrational belief, then it somehow must show up as Christians being substandard scientists. And you (apparently) felt confident that if no such specific proof could be found, then you remained justified in "rationally" believing in Christianity.

"X does not measurably impair rationality" ⇏ "X is rational"

> But this claim itself is a clear example of poor rationality.

Then don't make it and impute it to me unless what I said logically entails it. Please.

> Unfortunately, I find you too unfocused for it to be likely that either of us could ever make any real progress.

Were you to dial back on the insults and the unnecessarily negative interpretations of what I have written (unless you can make a good case that the only plausible interpretations were fucked up stupid / evil), I would feel much less need to explain myself. And please stop it with the logic errors that make me look like a buffoon. You've made quite a few more than I picked out in this particular reply, which I've noted above. I don't ever recall you acknowledging error or making any attempts to see why you made those errors. Can you see why I might find this frustrating?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: OK, we can try a very specific example from this thread. You are now claiming that I misunderstood or misrepresented you: ""X does not measurably impair rationality" ⇏ "X is rational"" and "Then don't make it and impute it to me unless what I said logically entails it." is your response to my assertion that: "But this claim itself is a clear example of poor rationality."

So let's go back and look at the actual previous text, shall we? Here is the sequence that concerns me:
Don> "you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality."
Luke> "Unless you have peer-reviewed science which says that Christians are worse at doing science qua Christian, your definition of 'rationality' appears decidedly un-empirical."

So I made an assertion that belief in Christianity cannot be justified rationally. You responded directly to this assertion. Presumably, a relevant response would either agree that Christian belief has non-rational roots, or else would attempt to justify Christianity itself on some rational basis.

Your response was a challenge about the quality of scientists doing their jobs (with or without a belief in Christianity). I see no connection between my claim, and your response. (Perhaps you think that being irrational on one topic, necessarily implies that you must act irrationally on every topic? I'm grasping at straws here to make sense of your response.) So I can see only two possibilities:
1. You're bad at reasoning, and you thought your response was relevant, but you were incorrect that it addressed my claim.
2. You're bad at having a discussion, and you pretend to be addressing the other person's comments, but you're really just throwing out unrelated non-sequiturs.

It may well be that I misunderstood in some way. Perhaps there are more possibilities than my #1 and #2. I am open to you explaining to me how I made a mistake, and how your response was neither illogical nor irrelevant. At the moment, I am unable to see another alternative.

(P.S. yes, since you've asked many times, I would reserve the word "rationality" for logical entailment, Bayes Rule, lack of Confirmation Bias, etc. etc. These are all things about drawing conclusions from evidence or assumptions, and whether those conclusions are justified. Which is "in the realm of justifying hypotheses", as you put it. "Generating hypotheses" is a different process, and "rational" (or not) doesn't apply to that process.)

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I'm empirical in how I measure "closer to the truth". Have I not made that sufficiently clear?

You've said that many times, yes, but I'm not convinced it's true. The central tenet of Christianity is that we have an immortal soul that is inherently sinful, and only by God's grace can we be saved from well-deserved eternal suffering after death. How would you test that empirically?

In fact, Jesus himself specifically warned against empiricism (Mat 13:17, John 20:29). If I were to channel myself a Southern Baptist, I would tell you that your empiricism is the *reason* that God has not yet answered you: God requires faith, so the only way you can ever get proof is to stop demanding it. If you're measuring truth empirically, then you cannot possibly have given your life over to God.

You see how this game works?

> > (BTW, even if *you* don't believe that being a Christian puts you closer to the truth than us atheists, the vast majority of (SI-)Christians do believe that.)

> I'm not sure why you thought this was relevant to say.

Because this is not all about you, Luke. Look at the title of the OP to which this discussion is attached. At the end of the day, what you and I and Don believe won't matter a whit. What will matter is what a small minority of Republicans in a few key states believe. This November, that will make the difference between the U.S. sinking irredeemably into the Trump swamp with its lies and its corruption, or not. The future of the country (and the planet) quite literally depends on this.

> You've claimed that I've invented my own religion and you've written "This theory explains most of the observed data, but not all of it. In particular, Luke is still an unexplained anomaly, and that keeps me a little humble."

Wow, you really like citing that sentence. Consider the possibility that the "inventing your own religion" may have been said somewhat in jest, and that unexplained anomalies rarely remain unexplained forever. (That's one of the beauties of science: it evolves!)

> I think they have the potential to deliver empirical results and am willing to wager some amount of my life, but not all of it

Ah, so you've literally accepted Pascal's wager (except that you're not really all-in). Are you sure you've bet on the right deity and the right doctrine? There are so many to choose from. If you get negative results, how can you be sure it's not because you didn't choose Catholicism?

For that matter, suppose you do get some positive results. How will you distinguish an effect caused by God from an effect caused by *belief* in God? Unfettered belief is a fearsomely powerful thing.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I think they have the potential to deliver empirical results

What focused your attention on those particular hypotheses? As Ron has pointed out, even if we just restrict ourselves to religious hypotheses, there are an awful lot of them out there. What made you pick these particular ones?

(And of course restricting to just religious hypotheses would need to be justified in the first place; why just those?)

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> So I made an assertion that belief in Christianity cannot be justified rationally. You responded directly to this assertion. Presumably, a relevant response would either agree that Christian belief has non-rational roots, or else would attempt to justify Christianity itself on some rational basis.

You made rather more than "an assertion":

> … > Perhaps you think you are different. Alas, it is a consequence of the brain's amazing ability for self-deception, that it is extremely hard to observe this rationality failure in one's self. And, moreover, it's abundantly clear that you are already infected (just like everybody else): you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality.

Let me number them:

     (1) the probabilistic labeling as 'self-deceived'
     (2) the definite claim of characterized as 'infected'
     (3) the definite claim of "not … come to via pure rationality"

Since these are all in the same paragraph, I assumed that they are "of a piece". The common theme here is that of defect, which I charitably interpreted as "manifesting empirically demonstrable deficits". You could perhaps project that into the future, as not all deception or infection is measurably damaging right away. However, aside from those who reason dogmatically and criticize people for heresy which seems to have nothing to do with particle-and-field everyday life, those terms really do mean things in the empirical world. And so, I guessed that 'rationality' also showed up in this domain. Furthermore, if nothing else, neurons tasked to religious woo-woo thinking would be neurons not tasked to scientific inquiry. So ceteris paribus, you really should see (1) or (2). Unless my charitable interpretation was wrong and your 'self-deceived' and 'infected' have nothing to do with empirical reality.

Second, your initial definition of "Real rationality is a methodology for discovering truth, for aligning internal models with the objective external world." does not make clear that it takes the generation of 'internal models' for granted. So again, I assumed that you were doing something more than just advancing a dogmatic system; I assumed you were advancing some way of thinking which has been empirically demonstrated to somehow enhance the global scientific endeavor. I don't think this was just projection; I take you to despise purely dogmatic systems where 'heresy' doesn't seem to matter one whit in the non-religious/​non-ideological world. That at least fits with my statistical inferences; feel free to object.

So, I went with the idea that you care more than just about the … justification/​legitimation process of science—something probably in a way cared most about by philosophers from Hans Reichenbach in 1938 to the 70s and 80s, where thinking about 'justification' became considerably less uniform (SEP: Scientific Discovery). Now, I'm very skeptical that you can show me even a single peer-reviewed journal article showing that when your idea of 'rationality' is operationalized and taught to scientists more explicitly than they currently understand the various components (e.g. statistics), they go on to do better science. (Some scientists would do well to better understand statistics, but 'statistics' ⇒ 'rationality'.) I think there's a lot more to 'rationality' than you do—which is also critical to the practice of science—but I'm not going to defend my faith as 'rational' according to your anemic standard. I just don't think your standard matters, empirically. Show me I'm wrong via science, via empirical evidence, and I will reconsider.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> > I'm empirical in how I measure "closer to the truth". Have I not made that sufficiently clear?

> You've said that many times, yes, but I'm not convinced it's true.

So you remember I'm big on that, and yet were still confident enough to write:

> Ron: Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are.

? C'mon.

> The central tenet of Christianity is that we have an immortal soul that is inherently sinful, and only by God's grace can we be saved from well-deserved eternal suffering after death. How would you test that empirically?

First, I want to note that you're so confident in your own reasoning processes that you're willing to stomp all over mine, make a claim with which I vigorously object and you knew there was textual evidence against, and then not even back down one iota. You care about R a lot more than EE, in EE&R. Maybe you're ok with this?

Second, I almost certainly view the whole salvation issue much differently than you do. I think the very template for 'faith' (pistis/​pisteuō), Abraham, extrapolated from 'less' to 'more'. God asked a small thing, Abraham listened and consented, and good happened. Abraham doubted God, created problems for other people when he doubted, God warned them, and then he found out that God had been on his side. The key here is extrapolation, not blindness. How Abraham got started is tricky; his father was actually the one who left their nice city life, but he didn't reach the destination of the [future] Promised Land. Maybe his father was listening to a call to the PL but wavered and settled in Haran?

So, if it's actually a matter of trust based on evidence, that changes things. But we still have your conceptions of the radically discontinuous jump from here to heaven, taught you and believed by a sizable fraction of US Christians. What I will say in short is that I think that conception of heaven violates the extrapolation/​trust pattern which I can argue permeates the entire Bible. If you need still more to let EE outweight R, I will oblige. (But I'll note it's the atheist speaking in terms of 'certainty', not the theist.)

> In fact, Jesus himself specifically warned against empiricism (Mat 13:17, John 20:29).

Oh give me a break. Jesus said to judge trees by their fruit. The Matthew passage is against a kind of empiricism where we can just predict and discover everything all by ourselves, as if any relationship with God where he helps us explore reality (which might not even be created yet) would be insulting to our arrogance. Your interpretation of the John passage depends on the fact/​value dichotomy, which alone eviscerates pretty much the entire Bible, but also much of human life.

> If I were to channel myself a Southern Baptist, I would tell you that your empiricism is the *reason* that God has not yet answered you: God requires faith, so the only way you can ever get proof is to stop demanding it. If you're measuring truth empirically, then you cannot possibly have given your life over to God.

Ok? Is the context here "Luke thinks that he *is* closer to the truth than you and I are." or is the context something else? (continued in part 2)

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> > > (BTW, even if *you* don't believe that being a Christian puts you closer to the truth than us atheists, the vast majority of (SI-)Christians do believe that.)

> > I'm not sure why you thought this was relevant to say.

> Because this is not all about you, Luke.

So you used me as a piece of evidence to rationally support a hypothesis of yours, and when that evidence [threatened to] actually falsify the hypothesis, you told Karl Popper to take a hike and you doubled down. Ok, I didn't realize that my being used as an example was largely throw-away. My bad. I will increase my prior probability that I'm merely being used as a means to an end, in conversations involving you—until you instruct me otherwise.

> Look at the title of the OP to which this discussion is attached.

I am fully aware that there is a larger context; what I am utterly baffled by is that you think it's a small thing to essentially accuse another person of thinking he's a superior being. Most humans I know would immediately understand the intensity of your statement. Most humans despise arrogance and self-righteousness (regardless of whether they are), and for excellent reasons.

> At the end of the day, what you and I and Don believe won't matter a whit.

That is tantamount to saying that your vote does not matter. If most of the people like us take your attitude, we will not maximize our availability to our community for consultation on matters where we specialize. We are, in essence, lay-intellectuals, sitting between the average layperson and professional intellectuals. If you think that position could not possibly be important to do as well as possible in a democracy, I would be interested to know why.

> What will matter is what a small minority of Republicans in a few key states believe.

What they believe is partially a function of what their [perceived] opponents believe. Extreme breeds extreme ("Republican voters are completely insane"). "A soft answer turns away wrath, / but a harsh word stirs up anger." But here, since I'm apparently retarded in the head in this domain, I suggest checking out Lee Siegel's 2018-07-25 NYT op-ed Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor?. There's also James Baldwin § Social and political activism, especially the Time quotation "There is not another writer, who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South." But hey, let's judge people based on media portrayal and polls instead of talking to them. :-|

> The future of the country (and the planet) quite literally depends on this.

First, Christians have you beat on apocalyptic speech. Second, plenty of people have gone apocalyptic before you and were wrong; I suggest using EE&R.

> Wow, you really like citing that sentence.

Please correct me and tell me how I ought to interpret it.

> Ah, so you've literally accepted Pascal's wager (except that you're not really all-in).

No, this is not a game of free association. Pascal intended his wager to be exceedingly synthetic in order to explain decision theory; I eschew any subsequent developments and religious application which preserve the property "that the premises are designed to make the actual likelihood of God’s existence irrelevant or indecisive." (The Flight from Authority, 56–57) More following, in response to you and @Peter Donis.

Luke said...

@Ron + @Peter Donis:

> Ron: Are you sure you've bet on the right deity and the right doctrine? There are so many to choose from. If you get negative results, how can you be sure it's not because you didn't choose Catholicism?
>
> For that matter, suppose you do get some positive results. How will you distinguish an effect caused by God from an effect caused by *belief* in God? Unfettered belief is a fearsomely powerful thing.

+

> Peter Donis: What focused your attention on those particular hypotheses? As Ron has pointed out, even if we just restrict ourselves to religious hypotheses, there are an awful lot of them out there. What made you pick these particular ones?
>
> (And of course restricting to just religious hypotheses would need to be justified in the first place; why just those?)

I start with verified, tested bits like relational sin, a set of three passages in the NT which adjure Christians to make keeping "short accounts" approximately the most important thing they do, while avoiding gossip. The mentor of the Caltech Christian Fellowship while I was there rabidly insisted that these passages be obeyed. As a socially awkward person who was bad at picking up on subtle social cues, this was a godsend. A result was that the social group was free of all sorts of suspicion and stupid social games which can soak up so much time and energy. This I considered good evidence. I also experienced three events in my life where I either disobeyed, was neutral to, or obeyed those passages. I discovered that said mentor was absolutely right. Years later I happened to encounter a vice president of an school "academy" system, which boarded children of troubled homes during the week so that they wouldn't return to a toxic atmosphere every night and have their schooling be nullified. The VP presented me a new conflict resolution plan he had just implemented across the academy system. I immediately recognized the core ideas behind it. It was how I got taught 'relational sin'. Since implementing that plan, the number of conflicts which got intense enough to be recorded dropped by 50%. Empirical success, I say. But I also know a scientist who has both violated the 'relational sin' guidelines and suffered greatly, who then went on to obey them to great success—up to convincing his/her PI to adopt them (in secular form).

There are other examples in addition to the above, but I have 4096 characters. Suffice it to say that having good models of humans and humans in groups aids in the execution of scientific inquiry and in general vastly improves human existence. But these models are not for controlling humans—far from it. Without voluntary consent to not dissemble, not build up arsenals of accusations, not gossip, you get incredible gumming up of the works. Somehow though, I'm a stupid-ass self-deceiving fucktard for thinking such things are valuable. At least, that's the impression created by the sum total of criticism I receive for me being me—unless I'm just a faceless representative of the mass of disliked Christians, in which case I'll accuse my interlocutors of being exceedingly illiberal and irrational.

There are more types of confidence I draw than the above, but I have 4096 characters. The key question is whether one can extrapolate and trust which has as its limit value, some remotely orthodox version of the Christian faith. The limit value is not a model of reality, although it includes them and generates them. It is at root a way of being and relating (the two cannot be separated), which promises excellence and beauty and goodness—including competence at scientific inquiry. If continuing tests yield progress, is it rational/​reasonable to wager that further progress awaits?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (1/2): "The common theme here is that of defect"

Sure! Granted. But you almost seem to have responded as though I was uniquely criticizing you. I of course did in the final sentence ("you profess to be a Christian..."). But the ones before that ("self-deception", "infected") are a description of all human brains. I was mostly trying to make the case that you are not somehow uniquely immune from this standard poor thinking.

"I guessed that 'rationality' also showed up in this domain."

Yes. Rational thinking leads to closer correlation between internal models, and external reality. Irrational thinking leads to uncorrelated models, which might or might not randomly drift closer or away from external reality.

"neurons tasked to religious woo-woo thinking would be neurons not tasked to scientific inquiry. So ceteris paribus, you really should see (1) or (2)."

No. That doesn't at all follow. Whether or not someone gave in to religious belief, doesn't change that the vast majority of people, the vast majority of the time, make decisions on a basis other than rationality. And the brain doesn't work the way you seem to think it does. Having religious belief doesn't "use up" neurons, and not having religious belief doesn't "free" neurons in any way that would be expected to improve scientific inquiry. There's just no connection between those things.

"Unless my charitable interpretation was wrong and your 'self-deceived' and 'infected' have nothing to do with empirical reality."

On the contrary, they have a lot to do with empirical reality. Most scientists continue to exhibit this bad thinking. That is why the culture and practice of science so rewards selfish others for tearing down the ideas proposed by any scientist. No scientist can be trusted to avoid bad thinking. It is the scientific method which allows the whole field to make progress, even if individual human brains are rarely able to on their own.

"it takes the generation of 'internal models' for granted"

You keep saying this, but I have to admit, I don't understand the significance. We can talk about more and less productive ways of generating hypotheses ... but you could produce by randomness too, just as well. As long as you have a good process ("science") for separating the good from the bad (and maybe enough time), it doesn't really matter where the ideas come from. Perhaps it's a little like evolution: random mutation is good enough, if you have natural selection to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (2/2): "I assumed you were advancing some way of thinking which has been empirically demonstrated to somehow enhance the global scientific endeavor."

I am. Irrational thinking allows people to maintain strong and confident beliefs which are in conflict with objective reality, for a very long period of time. The detection of irrationality is a bright clue that there is likely something very fishy about the conclusion.

"I'm very skeptical that you can show me even a single peer-reviewed journal article showing that when your idea of 'rationality' is operationalized and taught to scientists more explicitly ... they go on to do better science"

LOL! It's even worse than that! The evidence strongly suggests that explicit training and study of rationality has almost no effect on that subject avoiding the ordinary typical biased thinking in the future. I never proposed that teaching scientists rationality would lead to better science! That doesn't seem to work at all.

No, all I've been claiming is that I can identify bad science by observing the irrationality in the argument. No different than finding an error in a bad math proof. The proof fails; the conclusion is no longer justified.

"I'm not going to defend my faith as 'rational' according to your anemic standard."

Yes, but the question is why you believe in your faith. If it isn't for rational reasons, then it's just a random accident of your time and place and culture. Not much different from the Romans believing in Zeus, or a primitive tribe believing in cannibalism. It might be interesting to observe as anthropology, but it is useless for those of us who wish to explore the truth of external reality.

"Show me I'm wrong via science, via empirical evidence"

Scientists who have made claims using poor rationality, have regularly later been discovered that their conclusions were actually false. The demon theory of illness; the low-fat theory of healthy diets; etc etc etc. Again, no different than asking why a valid math proof needs to follow the strict rules of deduction.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I start with verified, tested bits like relational sin

Which, as the very link you give notes, is common sense--the fact that the NT happens to mention it doesn't mean that verifying that it works is evidence for Christianity.

having good models of humans and humans in groups aids in the execution of scientific inquiry and in general vastly improves human existence

What does any of this have to do with the question I asked? Are you claiming that Biblical Christianity is the only source of "good models of humans"? Or that the ones that happen to appear in the Bible don't appear anywhere else?

The key question is whether one can extrapolate and trust which has as its limit value, some remotely orthodox version of the Christian faith.

No, the key question is why you are focusing on the Christian faith as the hypothesis to be tested. You seem to have a fundamental confusion between what I'll call "narrow" hypotheses and "broad" hypotheses.

A narrow hypothesis is something like one of the rules given on the "relational sin" page you link to; for example: never let the sun go down on your anger. Yes, this rule can certainly be tested and found to work, at least a lot of the time. I try to follow the same rule myself, and I've found it to work pretty well.

A broad hypothesis is something like the entire model of the universe that the Christian religion says is correct. You can't test this hypothesis directly; the best you can do is to look for predictions that it makes and test those.

Your reasoning, as far as I can tell, is basically: a few narrow rules you got from the Bible turned out to work; therefore you have good evidence for the broad hypothesis that the model of the universe given by the Christian religion is correct. Can you see the huge logical gap there?

Correct reasoning of this sort would look like this: you would need, first, to figure out what other models of the universe there are that give the same narrow rules; then you would need to find some other predictions that were made differently by the different models; then you would need to test *those* predictions to see which models got them correct. After a long, long, laborious process of narrowing down, you might eventually come out with only one model that has passed all the tests. If you look at how scientific theories are validated, that's what the process looks like. (Plus, it keeps on iterating as new evidence comes in, which sometimes invalidates *all* of the known models so you have to go looking for new ones.)

What you are doing, instead, is to have just one broad hypothesis, and not even consider whether there might be others that would also account for all the evidence you have so far; basically, as long as you can interpret the evidence you have so that it supports your broad hypothesis, you consider the broad hypothesis confirmed. Do you really consider that to be justified?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Somehow though, I'm a stupid-ass self-deceiving fucktard for thinking such things are valuable."

Not at all! You're reading far too much into this criticism. It's great that you found "a set of three passages in the NT" which has led to a moral code which improved your life, compared to your natural uneducated instincts. We can all celebrate that success. That's not the problem.

But your bar is very low. The natural instinctive state of humans, more like the usual state of nature, is a horrible existence (Lord of the Flies). It's hardly astonishing that a little guidance and wisdom might be able to improve on that.

Secondly, the Bible is filled with thousands of pieces of advice. There's good stuff in there, and bad stuff. Cherry picking a couple of successes hardly provides much evidence that the bulk of the advice is worthwhile. Nobody is trying to challenge your success. The question is how much you have thus learned about the value of the rest of the claims.

It doesn't seem like you're giving modern psychology much of a chance here. We know much more today about how humans think, and how human groups work, than the biblical authors did thousands of years ago. I'm not saying you could necessarily invent this all on your own; but if you're looking for guidance, the Bible is a rather noisy source, filled with a lot of bad advice along with the good, and missing much very good advice that we have discovered since that time.

Using the Bible as inspiration for possible hypotheses is not a problem. Take inspiration wherever you find it! Relying on it as your exclusive source is the problem. There is no reason why it alone should have such a privileged position in your exploration on how to live a successful and fulfilling life.

Luke said...

@Ron: (PS 1/2)

> You see how this game works?

Given that you role-played a blue-collar male (husband?) in the South where you grew up and heard me respond, I should think you ought to remember that I do know how this game works. In that conversation, I raised some scripture I thought was central (Deut 5, emphasis on vv22–33), of which you had no recollection. You said that I scared you—partly in jest, I am sure. Nevertheless, I demonstrated that perhaps I have more resources to tested alleged falsifiability of any given system of Christian thought. I offered to sit down with any such Christian with you present, and try to hash things out where you had hit a wall. You responded affirmatively (maybe even with anticipatory excitement), while lamenting that you weren't sure you could find someone interested in participating.

As it turns out, I was just talking to an older sociologist yesterday about unfalsifiable systems. The context was two books by Michael Tomasello: The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (1999) and A Natural History of Human Thinking (2014). In contrast to most psychologists, he said he was able to get through both books. You see, most psychologists in his experience are exceedingly incompetent about social dynamics and thus extremely incompetent about major influences on individual consciousness. Perhaps you could imagine a refusal to move from classical mechanics with billiard balls and quantum mechanics with fields. Anyhow, I asked him how psychologists might counter-critique sociologists in some domain where the field of psychology might have an edge. He replied that the only response he's really gotten is psychoanalysis, which can easily be an unfalsifiable system (and was exactly that, in his experience on this matter). So this whole concept of an unfalsifiable system seems like it could be rather wider than what is often called 'religion'.

It is my belief, based partially on my own lack of being trapped in anything you would consider traditional Christianity (but your sampling is pretty restricted in space and time), that I may have exceeded the bounds of standard trapped-ness. I'm not claiming that I am not trapped; instead I am saying that neither I nor others have become convinced that I am trapped. I imagine such convincing happening by them being able to predict my responses better and better, combined with a mounting of evidence that they, but not I, believe to be sufficiently inconsistent with my own categories. Or perhaps an Ultraviolet Catastrophe which I just tolerate while remaining convinced of classical physics. Anyhow, it is others who would become thusly convinced, with much higher probability than me. It therefore seems rational/​reasonable for me to express my thought as best I can to critical or even hostile interlocutors to judge and take their judgments as seriously as possible. Do you disagree?

It is my hypothesis that the Bible is actually specially constructed to defeat unfalsifiable models of it. This is not via core contradictions which merely yield the logical principle of explosion. I think there's a true trajectory of development of consciousness and morality throughout the alleged timeline of the Bible, which can account for any interesting apparent contradictions (I exclude # of chariots) in a way that does not fall prey to the multiplication of ad hoc hypotheses. Furthermore, the more I test this hypothesis by myself and with others, the more it seems to help me better understand humans and society—including in ways to maybe be part of fixing the terrible situation upon us. So the attempt to rationalize (bring coherence to) seems to yield limited empirical fruit plus promissory notes with a deadline on maturation. Am I in intellectual or empirical error for pursuing this course?

Luke said...

@Ron: (PS 2/2)

> For that matter, suppose you do get some positive results. How will you distinguish an effect caused by God from an effect caused by *belief* in God? Unfettered belief is a fearsomely powerful thing.

I think that's an excellent topic of discussion. If you recall, you first asked me this when we were walking up the Embarcadero together; I might even be able to walk up it again and point out the location to within ± 50m. When you asked it, I immediately thought of the debate between realism and antirealism in science. You seem to very obviously come down on the 'realism' side, as your acceptance (correct me if I'm wrong) of the The Church–Turing (Deutsch) thesis seems rather ontological. But there is your 31 Flavors of Ontology, which makes me less sure and in need of further clarification.

By the way, I first touched on this kind of topic with another atheist interlocutor who was much more hostile than anything I've gotten on Rondam Ramblings. He considered all Christian "relationships with Jesus" to be indistinguishable in kind from his "relationship with Atticus Finch". Atticus Finch is of course fictional, but he was still very inspiring to this atheist. Likewise, Jesus can be very inspiring and yet fictional. Andy Schueler challenged me to therefore make a distinction between Jesus being fictional and real. I am not at all confident I have succeeded, but I hope the fact that (i) I recognize this is a valid question; (ii) I have done some work on it before, will somehow matter to you.

I suspect my ultimate answer will be to say that if I can recognize both facts and norms (I'm thinking in the way that a husband and wife negotiate how things will go, where both get a big say) coming from outside of myself, then I can have solid reason to think I am interacting with another being. The next step is for humanity to recognize facts and norms which come from outside of itself. If it can do this, then it can conclude that some being exists out there. From here, we can talk about extrapolation from the known to the unknown, yielding a limit value of understanding of said being, but always open to corrections from new evidence and values (I'll temporarily assume the fact–value dichotomy).

My sense is that by this paragraph, you might be rather frustrated that I haven't given a more direct answer. I'm sorry, but I'm not nearly as smart as you suggest when you're being nice. I need help to understand these things and I find I can get quite far in dialogue with people who try at least a bit not to render what I say as stupid as possible when there are alternative, plausible interpretations. I would be quite happy for you to be such a dialogue partner, but if you find me tedious (and you seem to be finding me increasingly tedious these days), I suggest that I work on this with someone else, and report back at some later time.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> > Somehow though, I'm a stupid-ass self-deceiving fucktard for thinking such things are valuable.

> Not at all!

Well, I've taken to a longtime, major commenter on this blog face-to-face (I can even tell you in which parking lot, and approximately where each of us was standing and how we were oriented) about this matter and [s]he agrees that you have a rather critical attitude toward Christians in particular. More critical than the commenter does, who (i) is still plenty critical of Christians; but (ii) has worked very hard to try to understand Christians in a non-caricatured way. So perhaps your model of how you come off differs greatly from how two people think you come off—one atheist, one Christian.

> You're reading far too much into this criticism.

I read it in context of your total commentary on or somehow related to Christianity and perhaps religion in general, based on my recollection of your comments on this blog. (I have not read every single one.) I could be wrong in my recollection, we could be used to very different social protocols, and you could be more of a fragmented personality than I am currently assuming. There are many ways that I could be wrong, but I do not believe my initial guess was a bad model of the evidence available to me. (Here, you might begin to see that hypothesis generation is a rather bigger deal than you have just stated.)

> But your bar is very low.

That, or you are coming to premature conclusions. Historical evidence demonstrates that it is in fact rather difficult to formulate a remotely coherent and articulated personal philosophy which can stand up to the tiniest bit of critique without crumbling or being shown to be woefully incomplete. I am in fact working on such a personal philosophy, but as you have noted, I am nothing special. Therefore, your expectations of what you should be able to see to-date are, statistically, irrational. However, discussions like these are giving me crucial information for formulating a good-enough "Why I am a Christian" guest blog post, which Ron invited me to contribute. If you are too impatient, I will wait 'till there are enough other dialog partners who are more patient.

> The natural instinctive state of humans, more like the usual state of nature, is a horrible existence (Lord of the Flies).

I suggest you investigate empirically whether that is truly a good model of human beings. Note that the "state of nature" according to Locke and Hobbes was a myth and they knew as much. For an analysis of the sociological and ideological preconditions for Hobbes' "war of all against all", I suggest C. B. Macpherson's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism.

> It's hardly astonishing that a little guidance and wisdom might be able to improve on that.

The debate, of course, being whether it is merely "a little". Recall my 2x "but I have 4096 characters". A guest blog post is not thusly limited. But I also need to vastly reduce the current size that said blog post would take—see Mark Twain on writing a shorter letter.

> Secondly, the Bible is filled with thousands of pieces of advice.

Yes, I'm aware of this line of objection. See my excerpt of The Elephant in the Brain if you want to guess how I would respond to it. Otherwise, offer to devote entire comments to this (again, 4096 characters), or be patient.

> It doesn't seem like you're giving modern psychology much of a chance here.

I judge trees by their fruit. Having multiple people around me with mental illness, seeking the best there is to offer, has been informative. But I do have much to learn.

> [1] Relying on it as your exclusive source is the problem. [2] There is no reason why it alone should have such a privileged position in your exploration on how to live a successful and fulfilling life.

[1] Do you have textual evidence that I am doing this? [2] I will judge empirically, not dogmatically.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "if I can recognize both facts and norms (I'm thinking in the way that a husband and wife negotiate how things will go, where both get a big say) coming from outside of myself, then I can have solid reason to think I am interacting with another being"

Not really, nope. That's extremely poor evidence that you are "interacting with another being". There are many far more plausible explanations of where "facts and norms" might come from, other than from "another being". You would only find such an argument convincing, if you already wanted to believe in another being, and you were using motivated reasoning in order to confirm your bias.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (1/2)

> > I start with verified, tested bits like relational sin

> Which, as the very link you give notes, is common sense--the fact that the NT happens to mention it doesn't mean that verifying that it works is evidence for Christianity.

Then why do I find it to be exceedingly uncommon? I am friends with a scientist at a lab which is tearing itself apart by flagrantly violating every single aspect I emphasize at relational sin. Furthermore, when I tell other people about having a "statute of limitations" whereby my wife and I cannot hold more than a week's worth of issues against each other if we haven't told the other it is an issue, everyone but one or two has seen it as a noble but utterly unattainable goal. Furthermore, why did the psychologist who was VP of the academy system I spoke about only recently impose such a common sense conflict resolution system? Why wasn't it so obvious to do from the start—especially given that these are troubled kids—that he and his nonprofit would have done it from the get-go?

I realize the above are only anecdotal; I could present my thoughts about 'relational sin' to some experts who ought to have something like a representative sampling. But I have found this matter to be so exceedingly uncommon in my personal experience that I just don't see how I would have magically lived in all the places where people suck royally at it—aside from two islands. One possibility is that this is a dogma all people pay lip service to while not doing, but that is still a severe problem which grants my position credibility (I say the Bible teaches us what we need to hear and desperately don't want to hear). I think there's a lot to think about re: my excerpt from The Elephant in the Brain. If you disagree, I would like to know why. There are two related excerpts you might also consult.

Now, I started with something where I had some confidence you would at least partially agree in order to create some common ground. The next step would be to start stepping away from that common ground, to look at claims that the Bible makes which you think are less reasonable, and then see whether it is the Bible which is less reasonable or you who are in fact less reasonable. What would you conclude if the latter were to happen with enough frequency? This conclusion can be of a tentative nature—e.g. "I'll keep repeating this thing while it seems to continue to work." We can call it "tentative induction", in light of the problem of induction. (I actually think the two are very different, but maybe the similarity works enough for present purposes.)

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (2/2)

> > The key question is whether one can extrapolate and trust which has as its limit value, some remotely orthodox version of the Christian faith.

> No, the key question is why you are focusing on the Christian faith as the hypothesis to be tested. You seem to have a fundamental confusion between what I'll call "narrow" hypotheses and "broad" hypotheses.

I said "but I have 4096 characters" 2x for a very good reason. See also:

> Luke: However, discussions like these are giving me crucial information for formulating a good-enough "Why I am a Christian" guest blog post, which Ron invited me to contribute.

+ surrounding. I realize that much more is needed to interconnect what you are calling 'narrow' and 'broad' hypotheses.

> Your reasoning, as far as I can tell …

4096 characters

> What you are doing, instead, is to have just one broad hypothesis, and not even consider whether there might be others that would also account for all the evidence you have so far;

I have considered that there might be others; I am well aware of Underdetermination of Scientific Theory. However, I also know that I am a finite being with finite resources and that something 'neutral' like Solomonoff induction doesn't actually work. So, the most intelligent thing to do seems to be for me to work in one area and others to work in other areas, and then have us re-convene and discuss the empirical results and various merits which scientists routinely discuss. What is important, however, is to have some sort of tentative agreement of the standards of judgment beforehand. That is what I really do not have with atheists, in my opinion. I can explain more on that if you'd like; if you're a glutton for punishment you could see my discussion with Doug Shaver which started with "… I have found it generally impossible to get atheists to commit to non-ridiculous standards of detection." and currently terminates here. (Disqus has an obnoxious "more comments" loading strategy.)

> basically, as long as you can interpret the evidence you have so that it supports your broad hypothesis, you consider the broad hypothesis confirmed. Do you really consider that to be justified?

I have similar criticisms of Ron's hewing to The Church–Turing (Deutsch) thesis. However, I suspect there is a philosophical problem with assuming everything to be a 'hypothesis'; the deepest framing of one's approach to understanding reality seems to be a rather different beast. I vigorously disagree with @Don Geddis' "We can talk about more and less productive ways of generating hypotheses ... but you could produce by randomness too, just as well."; see SEP: Scientific Discovery as a starter. I think more success in better hypothesis generation can be attained, vastly superior to "just as well".

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> There are many far more plausible explanations of where "facts and norms" might come from, other than from "another being".

What are options I left open at precisely that juncture in my discussion? Perhaps there are many; let's talk about them and what they cannot describe. A major reason I participate in discussions like this is for you to claim but also back up things like you just did. Is that perhaps a rational way to operate?

> You would only find such an argument convincing, if you already wanted to believe in another being, and you were using motivated reasoning in order to confirm your bias.

I am curious in exactly why you say this and whether it is in fact true that you never ever anywhere do the bad thing you are accusing me of doing. Or if that's too extreme, if in fact you do less of the bad thing than I do. The reason I ask these things is that the log/​speck issue is a real one. If I become convinced that you are in fact superior to me in these things, I will have reason to believe that you know not just how to describe them, but how to do them. Surely you can see that as an important difference?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Then why do I find it to be exceedingly uncommon?

One short answer: because "common sense" itself is actually uncommon. (Which means the term "common sense" is really a misnomer.) So people who actually agree that a "common sense" rule is a good rule might be rarer than you are expecting.

Another short answer: different people will have different interpretations of the rule. So behavior that you interpret as violating the rule, other people might interpret as following the rule.

Yet another short answer: even if people recognize a rule as "common sense", they still might have difficulty following it, particularly if the only incentive they have to follow it is their own common sense analysis of why it seems like a good rule. (That's why imposing rules from outside even though they already seem like good ideas can help with compliance. Consider what it took, and still takes, to get doctors and nurses to reliably wash their hands every time between patients, and that's a rule that is backed up not only by common sense but by reams and reams of data.)

that is still a severe problem which grants my position credibility

Complete non sequitur. The fact that people are very bad, on average, at following even common sense rules is unrelated to the question of whether the Bible is correct or whether the entire Christian belief system is correct. The only evidence that has any relation to that at all is evidence of what happens when people do follow a rule that is given in the Bible vs. what happens when they don't. And even that is very weak evidence, for the reasons I gave in my previous post, which you have not addressed at all.

The next step would be to start stepping away from that common ground, to look at claims that the Bible makes which you think are less reasonable, and then see whether it is the Bible which is less reasonable or you who are in fact less reasonable. What would you conclude if the latter were to happen with enough frequency?

I've already explained why this is the wrong way to go about it. If the only hypothesis you are testing is "the Bible is correct", ur doin it rong.

To run a valid test, you need to find *multiple* hypotheses that all generate the rules we already agree are good ones--rules like "never let the sun go down on your anger" or "don't murder people"--and then find cases where the different hypotheses generate *different* rules (for example, maybe one says "keep holy the Sabbath day" and the other says that no day of the week is more special than any other day), and run a test to see which rule works better.

This conclusion can be of a tentative nature—e.g. "I'll keep repeating this thing while it seems to continue to work."

This conclusion, in and of itself, is fine, but it is not the one you are trying to argue for. The conclusion you are trying to argue for is "the Christian belief system in its entirety is correct". You can't get from "this rule appears to work" to that the way you are doing it.

More in a follow-up post.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I am a finite being with finite resources

Yes, which means that, as you say, you can't possibly generate, let alone test, *all* imaginable hypotheses that generate a particular rule. But you can still generate and test *more than one* hypothesis that generates a particular rule.

the most intelligent thing to do seems to be for me to work in one area and others to work in other areas, and then have us re-convene and discuss the empirical results and various merits which scientists routinely discuss

"Work in one area" does not mean "test just one broad hypothesis". It means "run tests of some reasonably small set of rules that are generated by multiple broad hypotheses". And "run tests" means "have some people follow one rule and some people follow a different one, and then compare results".

So you can't just assemble all your data on all the rules from the Bible that you've followed, and then show up at a convention with people who have been assembling data on rules that they've followed, and expect to get anywhere. Most of their rules won't match up with yours for any kind of useful test.

What is important, however, is to have some sort of tentative agreement of the standards of judgment beforehand.

Yes, but those standards have to be model-independent. In other words, people who are testing different broad hypotheses (e.g., Christianity vs. atheism) have to be able to agree on standards for testing a particular rule that do not depend on which broad hypothesis you favor (e.g., if the rule being tested is "never let the sun go down on your anger", you have to be able to agree on what counts as doing and not doing that, and what counts as a positive vs. a negative result, independently of whether you're a Christian or an atheist).

That is what I really do not have with atheists, in my opinion.

Yes, because most people's standards of judgment are model-dependent, at least on questions of the sort we're investigating. You can probably get a Christian and an atheist to agree on how to measure, say, the gravitational redshift in a 22-meter-tall tower (the Pound-Rebka experiment) and compare it to the predictions of General Relativity. But as soon as you start trying to test propositions that have ethical or moral implications, it's going to be virtually impossible to get agreement on what is a good or bad outcome, since that is what different theories of ethics and morals differ on. You might not even be able to get agreement on what counts as following or not following a particular rule.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> ... a claim with which I vigorously object ...

> I almost certainly view the whole salvation issue much differently than you do.

Of that I have no doubt, but it misses the point rather badly. If you poll self-identified Christians, you will find that nearly all of them agree that accepting some version of "Christ died for our sins" to be a pre-requisite for -- if not the defining characteristic of -- being a Christian. If you "vigorously object" to that, well, I don't know what to say. Most Christians would not consider you a Christian if you "vigorously object" to the idea that Christ died for our sins. You'll have to forgive me if I occasionally lose track of some of the more unorthodox elements of your theology. My memory is not what it used to be.

> what I am utterly baffled by is that you think it's a small thing to essentially accuse another person of thinking he's a superior being.

What makes you think that I think it's a small thing? But if the shoe fits... Case in point:

> > In fact, Jesus himself specifically warned against empiricism (Mat 13:17, John 20:29).

> Oh give me a break. Jesus said to judge trees by their fruit.

Here is an example where (it seems to me) you believe you are closer to the truth than I am, i.e. your interpretation of the Bible is right and mine is wrong. In fact, you are *so confident* in this that you don't even acknowledge that my position *might* have merit, that it's even a *defensible misunderstanding*. You seem to think I'm a *total idiot*, maybe even *malicious*, for thinking that Jesus might actually have meant what he said when he praised people for believing without evidence. You don't say, "Well, I can see how you might come to believe that, but I think you're wrong because..." Instead it's, "Oh, give me a break."

Ironically, my assessment of you believing that you are closer to the truth is actually based on Jesus's methodology: I am judging you by your fruits. (That's one of the reasons the Bible is so popular: it has something for everyone!)

> It is my hypothesis that the Bible is actually specially constructed to defeat unfalsifiable models of it.

How do you defeat an un-falsifiable model? By definition, you can't falsify it.

> Am I in intellectual or empirical error for pursuing this course?

Yes, I'm pretty sure you are.

Now, I would like nothing better than for you to prove me wrong, because if you were to succeed at that, it would give me a renewed hope that the future of mankind is not as bleak as it currently appears to me, and that would make me very happy. But, like I said, despite the fact that I would like you to be right, I'm quite confident that you are not.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
if you're a glutton for punishment

Sometimes I am. :-)

The general gist of the discussion in "does good conversation require an open mind" seems to be "people should be skeptical of science because it's not as bias-free as scientists claim it is".

I think this claim is too broad as it stands. But I would agree with a somewhat narrower claim, which I can't condense into a single sentence but which goes something like this:

The way science is usually presented to the public is pronouncements from Authority: Science says such-and-such. However, science itself contains findings with widely varying levels of confidence, ranging from precise quantitative predictions of models in physics that are confirmed to many decimal places, all along a spectrum to claims that are at best plausible speculations with little or no data to back them up. So there is a huge disconnect between the way science is actually done, and the way its findings are presented to the public.

That means that, as a member of the public, when you are evaluating claims that purport to be based on Science, you can't even evaluate them until you can find out at least an approximate level of confidence in the underlying scientific work that led to them. In that sense, yes, you should be skeptical of science, but only in the way you should be skeptical of any claim whose truth or falsity matters to you: you should not accept anything at face value but always try to figure out how it was discovered and how reliable the work underlying it is.

Ron said...

> as soon as you start trying to test propositions that have ethical or moral implications, it's going to be virtually impossible to get agreement on what is a good or bad outcome

This is the crux of the problem. There is no reconciling with someone who thinks that, say, starting WW3 is a good thing because it will hasten Jesus's return, and that anyone who denies this is evil and untrustworthy and trying to drive a wedge between you and God. The best you can hope for is that you can rally enough people who *don't* believe this that they can keep the people who do believe it from carrying it through. Some experiments are too risky to allow anyone to attempt them.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "you have a rather critical attitude toward Christians in particular"

Agreed! Or, at least, for "religious believers" in general. Never meant to single out Christians in particular; I apologize if I left that impression.

"perhaps your model of how you come off differs greatly from how two people think you come off"

I wasn't surprised or upset. I was merely correcting a mistaken impression. You asserted that I was criticizing you ("...stupid-ass self-deceiving fucktard...") because you found something in the Bible valuable. That was wrong! I was just helpfully letting you know that, yes, I was criticizing you ... but that wasn't the reason why!

Don> "the Bible is filled with thousands of pieces of advice"
Luke> "See my excerpt of The Elephant in the Brain if you want to guess how I would respond to it."

Sorry, I'm unable to follow your clue. I know all about the Elephant book. I've read (almost?) every post Robin Hanson has made, in real time, including the posts that formed the core of what later became the Elephant book. I understand (and agree with) his theories on "signaling". And I understand (and agree with) the idea that most people are introspectively unaware of the actual reason why they make specific decisions.

But I'm unable to relate this to the question of how cherry picking a few valuable Bible suggestions out of thousands, offers you much evidence about how useful the Bible is, on average, overall. I'm unable to guess how you would respond to the Bible question, and why you think the Elephant book is relevant. If you want to explain in more detail, I'm listening.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
you could see my discussion with Doug Shaver

Here the problem I see is much simpler: you have multiple broad hypotheses that make the same predictions and lead to the same expectations for evidence. Obviously you can't distinguish one hypothesis from another in that situation.

The problem I see, from an agnostic viewpoint, in trying to actually run such a test is that the "God" hypothesis can generate any prediction you like. So no matter what the evidence turns out to be, you can argue that God could have made things that way. And the "atheist", i.e., "no God" hypothesis basically just says you can't generate any predictions at all from "God", you need to go find other models to generate predictions from, so when those other models' predictions are confirmed, that doesn't really count as evidence against (or for) the "God" hypothesis because it's not even a generative model in the first place.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: " I think more success in better hypothesis generation can be attained, vastly superior to "just as well"."

Oh, I actually agree with you. I already said that we could have a whole discussion about more and less efficient hypothesis generation. But it's all irrelevant, if you don't have any process ("rationality") for evaluating hypotheses. And the truth is, that if you do have a good judgment process, then the hypothesis generation itself isn't really all that important. You can get a long way just with pure randomness (c.f. evolution). Yes, of course you can do better in generation, but that pales in comparison to the critical nature of evaluation.

"What are options I left open at precisely that juncture in my discussion?"

Just off the top of my head: evolution can provide (successful) hidden motivations that you don't have introspective access to. Culture can provide collective pressure, that doesn't imply any specific "other being". An optimization process (again, e.g. evolution, or science, or engineering) can discover a good choice -- which is implied by physics or math or the environment -- without any "other being". There are lots of feasible sources.

"whether it is in fact true that you never ever anywhere do the bad thing you are accusing me of doing"

No, no, you've missed it again. I've never said that I'm better at being rational than you! (I happen to think I am, but that isn't a claim I'm making here.) All that it requires is that you pledge loyalty to rationality, that you agree ahead of time that if someone else points out your irrationality, you will accept that criticism and withdraw the argument or claim. You agree to be bound by rationality, and to accept responsibility for your own irrationality.

"I will have reason to believe that you know not just how to describe them, but how to do them."

I do happen to think that's true, but I am not making that claim (and so I won't defend it). All that matters is that I'm embarrassed to be caught demonstrating irrationality. But you don't seem to be. That is the crucial difference. Not my actual innate or practiced skills (whatever they may be).

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
you could see my discussion with Doug Shaver

Btw, a pedantic point, at one point in that discussion you say:

"Back when Newton formulated F = GmM/r^2, he thought it was true everywhere. Note that the equation rules out virtually all possible observations. Contrast this with F = GmM/r^x, where x can be varied on demand. The orbit of Mercury doesn't contradict the latter equation."

Actually, the orbit of Mercury *does* contradict the latter equation. The orbit of Mercury (including its residual perihelion shift, which I assume is what you're referring to) is unexplainable on *any* force law that only depends on r. You have to add a velocity-dependent term to the force to match Mercury's observed orbit. (In GR terms, the velocity-dependent term is just the next order of expansion in v/c, with the r-dependent term being the zeroth order term in the expansion.)

I mention this to point out that one has to be very careful when calling hypotheses "unfalsifiable". F = GmM/r^x is still falsifiable; you just have to look for a different kind of effect to falsify it (a force that doesn't depend purely on r).

I agree with you when you say the many models in other sciences make predictions which are much broader still, in the sense that trying to falsify them is much more complicated than just "oh, you need to look for effects that depend on velocity instead of position". That goes back to what I said in a previous post, that science as a whole contains fields with very, very different levels of confidence (and precision).

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> Here is an example where (it seems to me) you believe you are closer to the truth than I am, i.e. your interpretation of the Bible is right and mine is wrong.

Did I miss the difference between my many uses of 'empirical' in this thread and your use of 'empiricism'? I think my uses of 'empirical' has been uniform: the willingness to test ideas against reality, rather than merely hold them dogmatically "in the teeth of the evidence" or less badly, when the evidence doesn't seem to say either way in a remotely rigorous fashion. In this light, the following—

>> “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Mt 7:15–20)

—seems to match my use of 'empirical'. It also bears on "No True Scotsman" issues. I recognize that the issue is quite complex, but that's even the case with detecting pseudoscience. Science can actually separate out individuals of populations who are parts of distinct subpopulations. I happen to be married to a scientist doing precisely that. Otherwise, the average trajectory of a ship which travels from the Atlantic to the Pacific goes through Brazil.

The term 'empiricism' can be illustrated with Locke's tabula rasa: the brain starts utterly blank and then is formed exclusively by sense-impressions and operations upon them. This is an extreme version, but the emphasis is there. A detailed treatment can be found at SEP: Rationalism vs. Empiricism. Pretty much any religion I know about transgresses empiricism rather flagrantly. That, or it gets immediately reduced to some long trajectory of sense-impressions. Ron, I did not expect you to intend this in the thread, given stances like yours on memes: "I am a lone voice in the wilderness at the moment. But I have faith ;-)" I have noted time and again when you seem to put a lot of trust in the R of EE&R, when there's very little EE. That is not the stance of any form of 'empiricism' I have come across which is worthy of the name.

So, once what I've called 'empiricism' is off the table, I cannot help but see how your stance based on Mat 13:17, John 20:29 can be reconciled with Mt 7:15–20. I was simply not willing to play "this game" without you doing a bit more work. And yes, I have a sense of what "this game" is; I dedicated an entire comment to it. Our history shows that time and again I actually do engage with you on these issues, looking at multiple possible interpretations. Do you see our history differently?

Furthermore, me thinking my interpretation is better does not logically entail that I think I'm closer to the truth. Instead, it means that I don't see a better way, given everything I [think] I know, to pursue the current interpretation. The proof is in the pudding, as I already told you: "I'm empirical in how I measure "closer to the truth"." Maybe in my pursuing my interpretation, I will hit snags you foresee and go through some paradigm revolutions. Sometimes people have to work it out their own ways for a while; can you respect that?

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> In fact, you are *so confident* in this that you don't even acknowledge that my position *might* have merit, that it's even a *defensible misunderstanding*.

Actually, I thought I was channeling your style of discourse. When you respond to something I say, you do not always allow that maybe I'm on to something (even if partially or mostly wrong) before moving to disagree. Therefore, I supposed that maybe you're ok with this. Apparently I was completely and utterly wrong and will therefore attempt to give myself mental whiplash to never ever do this again with you. So: I am sorry, I take 100% responsibility, and you have full rights to be as harsh as you want if I ever repeat this error. To the best of my ability, never again will I assume that you know that in the background, I am very willing to play with multiple interpretations, comparing and contrasting them.

> You seem to think I'm a *total idiot*

My apologies; I thought our history would make it clear that I know there are many Christians like the one you portrayed with "If I were to channel myself a Southern Baptist". I thought you would have remembered that we agreed it would be fun for me to discuss with such a Christian with you as a fly on the wall. I thought we had fun over that dinner when you role-played a Southern Baptist. Was I in error—was it only I who had fun?

> > It is my hypothesis that the Bible is actually specially constructed to defeat unfalsifiable models of it.

> How do you defeat an un-falsifiable model? By definition, you can't falsify it.

People leave unfalsifiable [versions of] religions all the time. You could say that it actually wasn't unfalsifiable for them, but I'm inclined to say that the apparently unfalsifiable model actually did have chinks in its armor. My guess is that those chinks aren't easily exploitable by straight-up classical logic. But that's ok; classical logic is not the only kind of logic. However, I must apologize: I ought to have written "[apparently] unfalsifiable models"; in my mind I insert "[apparently]" all over the place, but I realize that others may not do this.

> > So the attempt to rationalize (bring coherence to) seems to yield limited empirical fruit plus promissory notes with a deadline on maturation. » Am I in intellectual or empirical error for pursuing this course? «

> Yes, I'm pretty sure you are.

Based on empirical or non-empirical standards? If empirical, based on what you see now or your extrapolation from what you see now, to the future? Ron, you know that one of my goals is to enhance scientific inquiry. One of the things I've done already is help a scientist friend build an instrument for generating thermal gradients for his Drosophila larvae thermotaxis assays. I have also advised on social dynamics, to apparently good effects. I have also gotten a researcher funding for research on "how models travel" from lab to lab. But if there's something even better that I could do which would yield better empirical results, I do want to know about it! "To whom much is given, much is expected."

> Now, I would like nothing better than for you to prove me wrong, because if you were to succeed at that, it would give me a renewed hope that the future of mankind is not as bleak as it currently appears to me, and that would make me very happy.

I'm sorry, but I don't know how this functions given "At the end of the day, what you and I and Don believe won't matter a whit." and the fact that my beliefs seem exceedingly uncommon from your experience. If I focus too much on what I believe, you write "it misses the point rather badly".

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I thought I was channeling your style of discourse.

The difference is that I happily admit to being confident that I am closer to the truth than you are, while you not only deny it, you consider it insulting for someone to even *suggest* it as a possibility! If you want me to take you seriously when you claim epistemological humility, you have to actually act like you mean it.

> > Yes, I'm pretty sure you are [in intellectual or empirical error for pursuing this course]

> Based on empirical or non-empirical standards?

What difference does that make? It's based on my observation that you spend a lot of effort pursuing activities that I think are unlikely to produce results, like reading the Bible and arguing on my blog. That in turn leads me to believe that you've based your strategy on some false assumption, even if I cannot pin down precisely what that false assumption is.

I neither know nor care whether that's "empirical" or "non-empirical." Call it what you like.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (1/3)

> One short answer: because "common sense" itself is actually uncommon.

Ok, so the term itself makes the classic mistake of confusing what a person wishes were the case and what is the case. So, why don't we actually adhere to common sense more often? I can think of a few reasons, but I am sure there are many:

     (1) It actually isn't good sense to adhere to it any more than current.
     (2) It is a poor psychological fit to some or all psychological types.
     (3) Humans as evolved creatures just don't have what it takes.
     (4) We don't understand how to do it [sufficiently well].
     (5) The benefits do not seem to outweigh the costs.
     (6) Our very ideas of it have gotten distorted.
     (7) We just don't care enough.

It strikes me that your overall response to the very limited position I put forward (2x "but I have 4096 characters" + reminder to you—which you've ignored with "which you have not addressed at all") is the right response to why common sense is not common: atomized bits of advice which are not integrated into a fuller system where you can see (i) how they function in it to advance various goals; (ii) what the consequences are for violating them, will not appear nearly as motivating. Religion (at least but not limited to Christianity) has long functioned to tie these things together, to form character and teach wisdom. At least the news is making some very popular strains of Christianity to have horribly failed in this domain in America, and one can question whether this is contingently the case or necessarily the case. My point is just to draw a similarity: if you don't have a sense of how all the parts fit together and really situate/​define each other, there's a lot about them you won't understand.

But I want to apply the brakes to this discussion, because I find it so terribly hard to establish common ground with atheists. I thought you would have actually been somewhat happy that I had tried to be even remotely scientific with even the smallest bit of the Bible. But apparently you don't care. Is that because you think it's just too much of a baby step? Is that because you think I've advanced my whole system of thinking rather than a small part? Is it because you're actually used to Christians doing the kind of thing I described with 'relational sin'? Something else?

> Another short answer: different people will have different interpretations of the rule. So behavior that you interpret as violating the rule, other people might interpret as following the rule.

That's fine; we can cluster via demonstrated causal powers. Maybe one interpretation is better for helping the homeless get on their feet and become indistinguishable from the rest of us (meaning more competition for us), while another interpretation is better for helping those with mental illness function better in society. Yoram Hazony makes an interesting argument in The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture that each of the twelve tribes of Israel brought unique talents/​emphases to the table, which could balance each other quite well. I would pursue unity-in-diversity, not absolute uniformity nor pure pluralism. It's probably rather good that engineers think differently from scientists. But given the goals of a certain pursuit, one gets a more articulate quality metric.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (2/3)

> > that is still a severe problem which grants my position credibility

> Complete non sequitur. The fact that people are very bad, on average, at following even common sense rules is unrelated to the question of whether the Bible is correct or whether the entire Christian belief system is correct.

Are you willing to commit that it couldn't possibly play a role in a larger case? Here's the working hypothesis: one function of the Bible is to convince us of things we would rather not believe, and convince us to do things we would rather not do. If I were to run with this and find more and more examples like the 'relational sin' bit, would that not corroborate the hypothesis? Especially if, among those who have an interpretive framework sufficiently like mine, they are able to find more reasons to actually heed the common sense—to make it actually common?

I realize that there are other plausible hypotheses: the data always underdetermine theory. But I'd not actually be competing against all possible hypotheses; I'd be competing against alternate attempts to actually make common sense common. There's a crucial difference here, between those doing 'rational reconstructions' while sitting in their armchairs, and those on the ground actually accomplishing improvement in an objectively demonstrable way. A just-so story is much less valuable than an understanding which is proven to produce empirical results. People can always multiply possible hypotheses and argue about which has lowest Kolmogorov complexity. To the extent that those arguments don't actually improve our ability to understand and navigate reality, I don't see why I ought to pay them much attention.

> Yes, but those standards have to be model-independent.

They can be model-independent, but they will be paradigm-dependent. One way to get them to be model-independent is to have both groups of people trying to accomplish some of the same things. It might be that failure in this domain is one reason for the current state of the fractured/​torn/​shredded social fabric in the US. This is one reason I wrote about wanting "some sufficiently good reason". I'd be interested in your thoughts on that paragraph.

However, I think you're missing something fundamental in all this. One can have just one hypothesis but be constantly on the lookout for outliers. The thing is, most people seem more interested in confirming what they believe than characterizing how it is sufficiently good for some purposes in some domains. (see Ceteris Paribus Laws) One way to play the confirmation game is to fail to predict with enough precision that even "nearby" phenomena would falsify your hypothesis. Contrast this with F = GmM/r^2 being falsified by the exponent being different or a function (yes, I realized that but was being simple because I doubted Doug Shaver would care and I try not to be pedantically correct when the only real effect is to add noise to the conversation).

Now, does "enhancing scientific inquiry" qualify as a common goal that we have? Would you agree that empirical success is more important of a judge than wrangling over just what constitutes 'justification'? Or do you really think that getting the 'rationality' right—even though doing so has not been shown to enhance scientific inquiry—is more important? I realize there are complexities here, but: 4096 characters.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (3/3)

> But as soon as you start trying to test propositions that have ethical or moral implications, it's going to be virtually impossible to get agreement on what is a good or bad outcome, since that is what different theories of ethics and morals differ on. You might not even be able to get agreement on what counts as following or not following a particular rule.

I started to get at this in (1/3) and (2/3). I just don't see a problem with challenging people to describe what their expected outcome is with enough detail that one can test to see if their means really do end up at their ends, and if the result of arriving at the end has all the qualities which were predicted. Why can I not learn to inhabit their way of thinking but with a kind of objectivity that protects me from as much … interpretive flexibility?

There seems to be an underlying presupposition of your "impossible": that both groups need to agree on how they are going to behave—e.g. adopt the same morality/​ethics. This is characteristic of modernity: One Way to Rule Them All. This shows up even with Progressivism or what generally goes by 'liberalism'; their way must be imposed on others. It is hard to entirely disagree because we really don't want slavery or child abuse to perpetuate. But there is another presupposition here: that we cannot argue against what people are doing on the basis that by doing the thing we think is bad, they are failing to achieve some good that they at least claim is more important. In a word: those with pathetic expectations and goals can justify a whole lot of horrible. This is why I suspect a lot of our problems have to do with expectations which are simply too low. This is a digression in the context of this tangent, but rather on-topic of how I was initially objecting to the OP.


Ok, I think I'm going to stop here and ask what bits from you earlier comments, which I have apparently ignored, you would like answered. This conversation is getting rather large and unwieldy, especially since Ron's blog software punishes those who e.g. hyperlink to the thing they're responding to (because it counts against your 4096 characters). Maybe I'll write some software to interconnect the quoted & responded-to text and show which bits were not quoted; I did this before for the Something Awful forums.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> The difference is that I happily admit to being confident that I am closer to the truth than you are, while you not only deny it, you consider it insulting for someone to even *suggest* it as a possibility! If you want me to take you seriously when you claim epistemological humility, you have to actually act like you mean it.

Ok; I did not realize you reasoned this way—that if I try to treat you as you treat me, that it implies that I am like you self-evaluate. My apologies; I shall apply more mental whiplash. By the way, I find this aspect of interaction with you very jarring; most people I've talked to in no way operate how you appear to. I will still take all the responsibility of adjusting, but I have my limits—I'm going to make mistakes.

> Luke: So the attempt to rationalize (bring coherence to) seems to yield limited empirical fruit plus promissory notes with a deadline on maturation. Am I in intellectual or empirical error for pursuing this course?

> Ron: Yes, I'm pretty sure you are.

> Luke: » Based on empirical or non-empirical standards? « If empirical, based on what you see now or your extrapolation from what you see now, to the future?

> Ron: What difference does that make? →

All the difference in the world. See, I claimed that there was "limited empirical fruit plus promissory notes"; either you disagree with that, or you believe that what's really causing the success is something other than what I think it is. You see the difference, right? Those who thought that all of reality was based on classical physics did see success, but not because reality is truly classical. However, by strenuously pursuing the idea that "all of reality is classical", they did generate anomalies which convinced many to a paradigm shift. Perhaps I will go through a paradigm shift, and more accurately see just what it was which was producing the success I've experienced. Does this make sense to you?

> It's based on my observation that you spend a lot of effort pursuing activities that I think are unlikely to produce results, like reading the Bible and arguing on my blog. That in turn leads me to believe that you've based your strategy on some false assumption, even if I cannot pin down precisely what that false assumption is.

Well, I'll stop having success which can be reasonably traceable to my faith at some point, especially in comparison to whatever strategies you are pursuing, right? You could try predicting where the fall-off in success might happen, but I doubt you have the willingness given our current … 'relationship' trajectory. I sense that you have very little true respect for me at this point.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
why don't we actually adhere to common sense more often?

All of the factors you mention probably have something to do with it.

I thought you would have actually been somewhat happy that I had tried to be even remotely scientific with even the smallest bit of the Bible. But apparently you don't care.

Why should I care? I'm an agnostic. The reason I call myself that instead of "atheist" is that I have no particular reason to care about the "God" hypothesis at all, not even to the point of being motivated to argue that it's false. To me the God hypothesis is something like the phlogiston hypothesis: if you're asking whether phlogiston "exists" or not, your thought processes have already taken a wrong turn.

As far as particular rules for living are concerned, I've already said that at least one of the ones in the Bible appears to be a good one. But I don't try to follow it because it appears in the Bible; that's not even where I got it from (and I only phrased it the way it appears in the Bible because I was taking the phrasing from the article you linked to). So when you try to argue that I should care what the Bible says because it happens to contain this one particular rule, that's like arguing that I should care about the phlogiston hypothesis because it happens to correctly predict that when a metal rusts, it gains weight.

One way to get them to be model-independent is to have both groups of people trying to accomplish some of the same things. It might be that failure in this domain is one reason for the current state of the fractured/​torn/​shredded social fabric in the US. This is one reason I wrote about wanting "some sufficiently good reason". I'd be interested in your thoughts on that paragraph.

In that paragraph, you wrote:

I worry that without some sufficiently good reason, some sufficiently good vision, most people just won't care that much about what is true until things get downright ugly.

The problem I see is that your claims aren't about what is true. They are about what we should care about. And there simply isn't a broad consensus among humans about what we should care about. Which I think indeed means that we have "failure in this domain" as you put it.

The thing is, most people seem more interested in confirming what they believe than characterizing how it is sufficiently good for some purposes in some domains.

And this is exactly how I (and apparently Don and Ron) see you acting with respect to the Bible. Instead of just testing whether particular rules, like "never let the sun go down on your anger" are good rules, you're trying to fit every such test into a larger framework of testing "is the Bible correct?". What's the point of that? What does it add to what you already know from testing the particular rules? The only reason we can see for you dragging in the Bible at all is that you are trying to confirm what you already believe about the Bible. Otherwise you wouldn't even be mentioning it; you'd just be talking about what good particular rules are and what tests you've done to show that.

does "enhancing scientific inquiry" qualify as a common goal that we have?

If "we" means "the people in this particular conversation", then yes, I think it does. But if "we" means "all humans on the planet", or even "a reasonable majority of US citizens", I don't think it does. That's a big part of the problem.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
there is another presupposition here: that we cannot argue against what people are doing on the basis that by doing the thing we think is bad, they are failing to achieve some good that they at least claim is more important...This is a digression in the context of this tangent, but rather on-topic of how I was initially objecting to the OP.

That's kind of odd since Ron's primary purpose in the article is to point out that Trump is doing exactly what you describe--he is doing things we think are bad, *and* failing to achieve the goals he claims to want to achieve--yet Trump voters continue to support him.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I think I'm going to stop here and ask what bits from you earlier comments, which I have apparently ignored, you would like answered.

As you say, the discussion has gotten unwieldy, and I think it has also gotten away somewhat from the original topic of the article. I think the key reasons for the problem described in the article (that Trump voters continue to support him despite his handling of Russia and other issues) are:

(1) As I said in the second post in this thread (in response to Don), there are no trustworthy sources of information that a significant number of people will listen to, so it's impossible to obtain broad agreement even on the facts;

(2) As I've been saying, there is also not broad agreement even on basic values or principles.

The combination of these two factors means it's virtually impossible to coordinate people's actions on any large scale. The most common result of that is that actions don't get coordinated--nothing gets done. A less common but still significant result is that one segment of the population, via sufficient control of particular parts of the government, just gets what it wants done by fiat, over the objections of everyone else.

I don't have any bright ideas for how to fix this. The only two ideas I have are, first, that since the government cannot be trusted to use power in a way that has broad support, we should give less power to the government in the first place; and second, that we should reduce our expectations of what can be accomplished via large scale coordinated action, and should look for ways of achieving particular goals that don't require that. (Which does mean some goals, which can't feasibly be accomplished without large scale coordinated action, will simply not be fulfilled.)

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (1/x)

> > I thought you would have actually been somewhat happy that I had tried to be even remotely scientific with even the smallest bit of the Bible. But apparently you don't care.

> Why should I care? I'm an agnostic.

I guess I just assumed that you think it would be better if more of life were brought under the { formulate expectations, test, get results, revise until expectations match results } paradigm.

> To me the God hypothesis is something like the phlogiston hypothesis: if you're asking whether phlogiston "exists" or not, your thought processes have already taken a wrong turn.

If you formulate 'God' as merely a 'hypothesis', my response is the same. :-) Hypotheses are made with respect to scientific paradigms and even paradigms are with respect to somewhat inchoate beliefs about reality. I connect belief in God to our best understanding of what lies behind scientific paradigms.

> As far as particular rules for living are concerned, I've already said that at least one of the ones in the Bible appears to be a good one. But I don't try to follow it because it appears in the Bible …

Good; to do something merely because "the authority says so" means you aren't pursuing it for its own sake. Children do things because the authority says so; adults do things because they want the result and realize that in the current context, this means is plausibly the best way. (see John 15:15)

> So when you try to argue that I should care what the Bible says because it happens to contain this one particular rule …

That's not what I argued. Or at least, I'm pretty sure I worked hard to keep that from being a conclusion. Did I fail?

> The problem I see is that your claims aren't about what is true. They are about what we should care about. And there simply isn't a broad consensus among humans about what we should care about. Which I think indeed means that we have "failure in this domain" as you put it.

Actually, the truth-claim is that "if we don't care about enough, we won't do what it takes". It's really a claim about human psychology and social dynamics. It seems like an empirical possibility that if we are only trying to cure disease and eliminate poverty—and nothing else (besides e.g. consumerism)—that we might not be able to obtain those. Do you agree, or disagree, that this is an empirical possibility?

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (2/3)

> Instead of just testing whether particular rules …

Did you not understand my (1/3) to in any way go beyond "testing … particular rules"? You might find it hard to believe, but I actually do have a sense of how observations, hypotheses, theories, and research paradigms fit together. I know that more than just corroborated 'particular rules' are needed. Again, I was trying to establish some common ground, because: "I find it so terribly hard to establish common ground with atheists." That pattern continues, given your "ur doin it rong". I actually find it rather hard to see how you and Don and Ron are actually doing the thing you say I should do in every aspect of what you write and do (or find a sufficiently good subset thereof), and so I find it hard to know exactly what you're describing. I tend to trust behavior more than theoretical models. Case in point:

> The only reason we can see for you dragging in the Bible at all is that you are trying to confirm what you already believe about the Bible.

The right response seems to be your own:

> Peter Donis: If the only hypothesis you are testing is "the Bible is correct", ur doin it rong.

You only seem to have one hypothesis: that I'm engaged in motivated reasoning. Supposing you haven't merely carefully concealed alternative hypotheses from me: why is it ok for you to only have one hypothesis while it's not ok for me to? (I actually do try to track alternative hypotheses for the phenomena, but we'll pretend I don't for purposes of this discussion.) To your credit, I think you've actually done the most to hint at what I might do to suggest that there are other reasons/​hypotheses you could consider. You seem to respect falsification of your own explanations much more than most atheists I've encountered.

BTW, one of the reasons I am still chasing Christianity is this:

> Ron: Now, I would like nothing better than for you to prove me wrong, because if you were to succeed at that, it would give me a renewed hope that the future of mankind is not as bleak as it currently appears to me, and that would make me very happy. But, like I said, despite the fact that I would like you to be right, I'm quite confident that you are not.

I look at the various solutions people propose to the mess we as a human species are in, and I just don't see promising strategies from much of anyone. Ron has his EE&R that he's failed to teach just about anyone, Don cannot cite a single peer-reviewed article about how his 'rationality' increases scientific prowess, and the rest I hear isn't any better. In contrast, there are several 'timbers' of Christianity as I understand it which seem to both conflict with the answers on tap and be promising—in my judgment for how little it's worth (but I find none better, none promising something that seems remotely plausible). Here are just two:

     (1) Constantly deceiving the masses forecloses on the desired states of many.
     (2) Many humans appear to need to feel superior to other humans.

At best, (1) and (2) are respected in the same way that most common sense is respected: nice ideals, but we're not going to do them because «insert reasons here». The Bible doesn't outright state either of these; instead I say one can derive them from the many social and psychological patterns recorded. I think it also sketches a [meta?] way of life to actually do them which is "of a piece" in the way that a jumble of particular rules is not. Ok, getting close to 4096 characters.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (3/3)

> That's kind of odd since Ron's primary purpose in the article is to point out that Trump is doing exactly what you describe--he is doing things we think are bad, *and* failing to achieve the goals he claims to want to achieve--yet Trump voters continue to support him.

You are forgetting the time constant, the momentum in such things, and perhaps failing to appreciate just what those people are trying to accomplish. "The Establishment" promised to take care of them for quite some time. They trusted this "Establishment" for well past the time that you would probably consider 'rational'. I wouldn't be surprised if there are good reasons for that; Robert B. Reich gave a talk at UCSF in 2017 where he argued that the drop in economic status was offset first by wives entering the workforce, then hours increased, then homes were used as piggy banks, then 2008 hit. Trust lasted perhaps much longer than it ought to have, but interpretation is awfully flexible in these matters.

What would improve things, IMO, is to teach citizens to be more skeptical of their leaders via learning how to detect failed prediction sooner than currently possible. But that's passive; I think citizens also need to partake more actively in shaping their reality. It's there where one seems to most easily detect the difference between worse and better models of reality. Now, this requires more competence in judging the state of things and it requires the powers that be giving the masses the tools to undermine them. That's a hard sell. Even Zuckerberg felt the need to pass off his $100mil in matched funds to revamp the Newark Public School System as a success.

I've also seen plenty of desires to just smash things because of current deadlock and repeated failure. If the options given by both Establishment Republicans and Establishment Democrats were sufficiently bad, I'm not sure it is actually 'rational' to choose exclusively between them. Sometimes one can choose "neither", noting that in the immediate future this will make things worse. But it serves as a threat: give us a crappy enough deal and we'll screw it up for everyone. Humans will not be humiliated and shafted forever.

> I think the key reasons for the problem described in the article (that Trump voters continue to support him despite his handling of Russia and other issues) are:
>
> (1) … no trustworthy sources of information that a significant number of people will listen to …
>
> (2) … not broad agreement even on basic values or principles.
>
> The combination of these two factors means it's virtually impossible to coordinate people's actions on any large scale.

Yes, I agree with that. But I question just what the previous state was like where there was more coordination. For example, were more people thinking more critically, or did they just trust authorities more? I myself think that the population has been trained to be exceedingly passive and that this could not but fail catastrophically. I think we have to want more, not less. Only then will people care enough about what is [more approximately] true.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Don cannot cite a single peer-reviewed article about how his 'rationality' increases scientific prowess"

Since you've singled me out here, I feel the need to respond to at least this one point. I already addressed this question when you first asked it; you appear to be ignoring my answer. I didn't fail to cite a peer-review article. I explained why it was not a relevant thing to ask for, that it is not related to any claim I have made. I never bothered to look for such an article, because I don't care. That's very, very different than your implication that I was unable to find such a study.

"(1) Constantly deceiving the masses forecloses on the desired states of many."

This is almost ironic, because I would argue that you are in fact engaged in the exact opposite. I've explained many times above, but I can try one more time: rationality is only a process that leads to truth; it does not (necessarily) lead to happiness, or fulfillment, or even success.

Meanwhile, you are clear about your goal: "I look at the various solutions people propose to the mess we as a human species are in." You don't seem to have even considered the possibility that a mass delusion (e.g. Christianity), which leads away from "truth", might actually be empirically successful at achieving human flourishing. You seem to have assumed that truth and success must go together, that if something "works", then it must be describing something true. That assumption (your claim "(1)") is simply wrong.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> you appear to be ignoring my answer.

Sorry, I'm behind. Is this your answer:

> Luke: I'm very skeptical that you can show me even a single peer-reviewed journal article showing that when your idea of 'rationality' is operationalized and taught to scientists more explicitly ... they go on to do better science"

> Don Geddis: LOL! It's even worse than that! The evidence strongly suggests that explicit training and study of rationality has almost no effect on that subject avoiding the ordinary typical biased thinking in the future. I never proposed that teaching scientists rationality would lead to better science! That doesn't seem to work at all.

? If so, your "It's even worse than that!" indicated to me that you cannot in fact show me such a peer-reviewed journal article. This leads me to doubt that your understanding of 'rationality' is in fact empirically helpful in "aligning internal models with the objective external world". By the way, you're ringing all sorts of bells of [apparently] unfalsifiable religious stuff in this response. See, it is often claimed that doing thus and so will lead to those results, without much of any testing whether that happens! Maybe the description of what we're supposed to do to get said results is just … wrong. How does one know, without checking to see if the method actually produces the result it promises to deliver?

> … rationality is only a process that leads to truth …

A claim you will not demonstrate is true. You remind me of the logical positivists, who would not apply the meaningfulness criterion to itself. This is the essence of unfalsifiable dogma!

> You don't seem to have even considered the possibility that a mass delusion (e.g. Christianity), which leads away from "truth", might actually be empirically successful at achieving human flourishing.

I didn't? Let's examine the record:

> Luke: The common theme here is that of defect, which I charitably interpreted as "manifesting empirically demonstrable deficits". You could perhaps project that into the future, as not all deception or infection is measurably damaging right away.

I allowed for deception to work for a time. There is plenty of treatment of such mass delusion in the Bible; see for example Jeremiah 6:13–15. And it works!—for a time. I'm skeptical about whether self-deception can work indefinitely; on what basis would one call it 'deception' or 'delusion'? I think we today are learning that the kinds of self-deceptions documented in The Elephant in the Brain are actually problematic for society, problematic enough that we risk very serious mistakes if we don't start paying attention to them.

What I'm not willing to do is allow some dogma which cannot be tested against empirical reality be used to decide what is true and what is deception. Such dogma can only identify heresy and orthodoxy.

> You seem to have assumed that truth and success must go together, that if something "works", then it must be describing something true.

Shall I go through what I've said in this thread with a fine-toothed comb to see if the impression you got can actually be justified? (I'm guessing you won't want to pull up several decent quotes or one absolutely clear quote.)

Ron said...

@Luke:

> > … rationality is only a process that leads to truth …

> A claim you will not demonstrate is true.

You really need to read this:

http://www.ditext.com/carroll/tortoise.html

and then re-read this:

http://blog.rongarret.info/2015/01/why-i-believe-in-michelson-morley.html

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (1/4)

> Luke: The key question is whether one can extrapolate and trust which has as its limit value, some remotely orthodox version of the Christian faith. The limit value is not a model of reality, although it includes them and generates them. It is at root a way of being and relating (the two cannot be separated), which promises excellence and beauty and goodness—including competence at scientific inquiry. If continuing tests yield progress, is it rational/​reasonable to wager that further progress awaits?

> Don Geddis: the Bible is filled with thousands of pieces of advice.

> Luke: Yes, I'm aware of this line of objection. » See my excerpt of The Elephant in the Brain if you want to guess how I would respond to it. «

> Don Geddis: … I know all about the Elephant book. … But I'm unable to relate this to the question of how cherry picking a few valuable Bible suggestions out of thousands, offers you much evidence about how useful the Bible is, on average, overall. …

You appear to not have read what I wrote. "If continuing tests yield progress …" What the Elephant excerpt points to is a steadfast refusal to face the facts. If the Bible forces us to face who we are as individuals and societies and we don't like what we see, one very standard human response is to denigrate it. Anything which attacks my self-righteousness is thereby unrighteous. It is on this basis that we might need the Bible (and/or other non-scientific sources). I could add these two excerpts for further support; I already introduced you to Schwitzgebel (Unreliability of Naive Introspection + Perplexities of Consciousness).

The next step is to ask whether those "thousands of pieces of advice" are "atomized bits of advice which are not integrated into a fuller system …". If in fact there is higher order structure, that aids in multiple ways, including forming expectations for missing pieces. We certainly prefer our science to have higher order structure and not merely be a Baconian accrual of 'facts'. How else would we see contradictions, sketch the outlines of missing pieces, and extrapolate?

How about a long-term layperson experiment: we both try to help others see how they are self-deceived in the style Hanson and Simler describe, each via using whatever means we think are appropriate. Down the line, we could compare the effectiveness of our chosen strategies. I don't really know how else to empirically adjudicate matters like this. Where I'm not "giving modern psychology much of a chance", you will surely have an advantage. Sound reasonable? Or would the result actually not say much of anything about truth, meaning that your original response of "thousands of pieces of advice" was a red herring?

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (2/4)

> Luke: I vigorously disagree with @Don Geddis' "We can talk about more and less productive ways of generating hypotheses ... but you could produce by randomness too, just as well."; see SEP: Scientific Discovery as a starter. » I think more success in better hypothesis generation can be attained, vastly superior to "just as well". «

> Don Geddis: Oh, I actually agree with you. I already said that we could have a whole discussion about more and less efficient hypothesis generation. But it's all irrelevant, if you don't have any process ("rationality") for evaluating hypotheses. And the truth is, that if you do have a good judgment process, then the hypothesis generation itself isn't really all that important. You can get a long way just with pure randomness (c.f. evolution). Yes, of course you can do better in generation, but that pales in comparison to the critical nature of evaluation.

Do you have any sense of what percentage of scientists would agree with you on this? I'm married to a biophysicists/​biochemist and I told her what you said; she balked. Her first response was that evolution takes a long, long time. I'm involved enough in her research that I guessed she would also be able to do significantly faster science with better hypothesis generation; she agreed completely. Now this is anecdotal, but it's more evidence than you've cited for your position.

By the way, I agree that evaluating results rigorously is important. My wife has quite the list of claims made in papers (in other than the discussion section) that she doesn't think follows from their data. Unless you're going to write a rebuttal paper, there isn't any institutionalized way in science to pick those apart. There are undoubtedly good reasons for this; [more] flame wars might end up decreasing the amount of productive science done. I just don't see you presenting any data which suggests the bottleneck is 'rationality', rather than 'hypothesis generation'. (For now, I mean to just compare these two.)

Returning to an early comment of yours:

> Don Geddis: True scientific thinking begins with the data, and then considers the probability density of all possible theories that could explain the data.

This is Solomonoff inference and not a single scientist does this. There are simply too many possible theories. There is absolutely no empirical reason to think that "the more possible theories/​hypotheses considered, the better". As far as I can tell, your ideas about 'science' and 'rationality' would be utterly useless to anyone trying to help machines actually do "general hypothesis formation". Given how dogmatic (= unempirical) your thoughts on 'science' and [especially] 'rationality' are, I just don't feel much bite from your criticisms of my faith based on them. As I said to Ron: "I'm empirical in how I measure "closer to the truth"."

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (3/4)

> Luke: I suspect my ultimate answer will be to say that » if I can recognize both facts and norms (I'm thinking in the way that a husband and wife negotiate how things will go, where both get a big say) coming from outside of myself, then I can have solid reason to think I am interacting with another being. « The next step is for humanity to recognize facts and norms which come from outside of itself. If it can do this, then it can conclude that some being exists out there. From here, we can talk about extrapolation from the known to the unknown, yielding a limit value of understanding of said being, but always open to corrections from new evidence and values (I'll temporarily assume the fact–value dichotomy).

> Don Geddis: Not really, nope. That's extremely poor evidence that you are "interacting with another being". » There are many far more plausible explanations of where "facts and norms" might come from, other than from "another being". « You would only find such an argument convincing, if you already wanted to believe in another being, and you were using motivated reasoning in order to confirm your bias.

> Luke: What are options I left open at precisely that juncture in my discussion? Perhaps there are many; let's talk about them and what they cannot describe.

> Don Geddis: Just off the top of my head: evolution can provide (successful) hidden motivations that you don't have introspective access to. Culture can provide collective pressure, that doesn't imply any specific "other being". An optimization process (again, e.g. evolution, or science, or engineering) can discover a good choice -- which is implied by physics or math or the environment -- without any "other being". There are lots of feasible sources.

(1) In your quotation, you omitted "The next step …", where I widen from "outside of myself" → "outside of humanity". I am vaguely aware of Feuerbach and some versions of the 'collective unconscious'. I think Christians should pessimistically try to fit those explanations to their lived faith to ensure that the fits aren't very good.

(2) You didn't "talk about … what they cannot describe".

Given this, I will suspect that nothing other than a Humean "break the laws of nature" miracle would convince you that God exists and acts in creation—until you offer any reason to suspect otherwise. I've recently had two "possible evidence of God's existence" conversations and they both ended with the atheist refusing to give anything more reasonable than "rearrange the stars to spell 'John 3:16'". One ended with the atheist refusing to describe the limits of his own explanations.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis: (4/4)

> I've never said that I'm better at being rational than you! (I happen to think I am, but that isn't a claim I'm making here.)

If you talk the talk but don't walk the walk, I can conclude one of two things:

     (A) you don't actually know how to act 'rationally'
     (B) acting 'rationally' doesn't accomplish what you say it does

A major reason I engage in discussions like these is to hone my thinking. I have been told by multiple atheists IRL that they can get much further with me than almost any other believer they've met. That is empirical evidence that I've accomplished something; you, Ron, and Peter Donis seem to think that it's merely a rationalization game. I'm tempted to counter with the same accusation, given that the yielding of empirical fruit from said game apparently counts for nothing in your books—at least on this issue.

> … that if someone else points out your irrationality, you will accept that criticism and withdraw the argument or claim.

I haven't once seen you do this in the thread, when it came to you improperly characterizing what I said or implied. If my writing counts as part of the external world, then "aligning internal models with the objective external world" seems to apply to it. Nor have I seen you do it with your very claim about what your 'rationality' does!

> All that matters is that I'm embarrassed to be caught demonstrating irrationality. But you don't seem to be.

I see no evidence of said embarrassment. As to my own stance, I have no reason to believe that your 'rationality' actually helps us better understand and navigate reality. It sounds much more like a dogmatic system which declares me as 'heretic' (as well as ""religious believers" in general"). Your whole strategy of argumentation here reminds me of philosophers of science between the 1930s and 1970s, who essentially lusted after an algorithm for hypothesis selection. As best as I understand, they were just flat wrong about how science operates. To obsess about 'rationality' like you are is almost to obsess about the exterior workings of propaganda machines—about legitimations that scientists themselves don't necessarily accept. See for example the discussion about whether we should really use p-values like we are. Or contrast Gould’s skulls: Is bias inevitable in science? with Kaplan, Pigliucci, and Banta 2015 Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> we might need the Bible (and/or other non-scientific sources)

FWIW, I agree (and I'm pretty sure Don would too) that we need "non-scientific resources". There is no scientific reason to reject slavery, for example, and yet I very much want to reject slavery (and I'm pretty sure Don does too).

So just for the purposes of illustration, here are two possible reasons to reject slavery:

1. Because I (Ron) say so.

2. Because the Bible says so.

The problem with #1 is that it turns out to be really hard to get people to accept it as a general moral principle. And the problem with #2 is that it's not actually true. The Bible specifically condones chattel slavery (Lev 25:44-46). So neither of these solutions is adequate.

There is a real problem here that needs solving. But the Bible is not the right answer.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Don Geddis: This is almost ironic, because I would argue that you are in fact engaged in the exact opposite. I've explained many times above, but I can try one more time: rationality is only a process that leads to truth; it does not (necessarily) lead to happiness, or fulfillment, or even success.

> Luke: A claim you will not demonstrate is true. You remind me of the logical positivists, who would not apply the meaningfulness criterion to itself. This is the essence of unfalsifiable dogma!

> Ron: You really need to read this:
>
> [What the Tortoise Said to Achilles]
>
> and then re-read this:
>
> [Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment]

I'm not sure what I was supposed to get from all that. For example, let's compare:

>> For example, the odds that even the most radical revolution in physics would permit a violation of the law of conservation of energy are indistinguishable from zero. (Why I believe in the Michelson-Morley experiment)

>> In general relativity, energy–momentum conservation is not well-defined except in certain special cases. Energy-momentum is typically expressed with the aid of a stress–energy–momentum pseudotensor. However, since pseudotensors are not tensors, they do not transform cleanly between reference frames. If the metric under consideration is static (that is, does not change with time) or asymptotically flat (that is, at an infinite distance away spacetime looks empty), then energy conservation holds without major pitfalls. In practice, some metrics such as the Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric do not satisfy these constraints and energy conservation is not well defined.[23] The theory of general relativity leaves open the question of whether there is a conservation of energy for the entire universe. (WP: Conservation of energy § Relativity)

If your reason is "Because it works!", that is utterly antithetical to Don saying:

> Don Geddis: I never proposed that teaching scientists rationality would lead to better science! That doesn't seem to work at all.

Now, "Because it works!" falls pray to anti-realism, e.g. Constructive Empiricism. I remember writing a control system for automobile cruise control which (i) works; but (ii) ill-matches the "true" vehicle dynamics. Likewise, F = ma (a) works; but (b) we generally eschew the ontology of action-at-a-distance. I wouldn't be surprised if both you and Don are uncomfortable with viewing all scientific knowledge as anti-realist, as merely "saving the appearances". But then your justification cannot merely be "Because it works!"

Luke said...

@Ron:

> FWIW, I agree (and I'm pretty sure Don would too) that we need "non-scientific resources". There is no scientific reason to reject slavery, for example, and yet I very much want to reject slavery (and I'm pretty sure Don does too).

Need them for what? I was talking about in the domain of "aligning internal models with the objective external world". I'm trying to respect the fact/​value dichotomy, even though I am increasingly growing suspect that all sorts of values are actually employed in scientific inquiry and it couldn't be any other way. (I'm still working through Heather Douglas' Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal.)

> So just for the purposes of illustration, here are two possible reasons to reject slavery:
>
> 1. Because I (Ron) say so.
>
> 2. Because the Bible says so.
>
> The problem with #1 is that it turns out to be really hard to get people to accept it as a general moral principle.

I already covered this with Peter:

> Peter Donis: As far as particular rules for living are concerned, I've already said that at least one of the ones in the Bible appears to be a good one. But I don't try to follow it because it appears in the Bible …

> Luke: Good; to do something merely because "the authority says so" means you aren't pursuing it for its own sake. Children do things because the authority says so; adults do things because they want the result and realize that in the current context, this means is plausibly the best way. (see John 15:15)

See also:

> Luke: It strikes me that your overall response to the very limited position I put forward … is the right response to why common sense is not common: atomized bits of advice which are not integrated into a fuller system where you can see (i) how they function in it to advance various goals; (ii) what the consequences are for violating them, will not appear nearly as motivating. Religion (at least but not limited to Christianity) has long functioned to tie these things together, to form character and teach wisdom.

As far as I've seen, it is empirically possible that the Bible just gives one a better understanding of human nature and social nature than alternative sources. A plausible reason for this is that we do not want to face ourselves; see my excerpt of The Elephant in the Brain plus two more. IIRC you may have come across this phenomenon in talking to other secularists, trying to get them to be more rational about Christians and perhaps religionists in general. A hypothesis to try is "(2) Many humans appear to need to feel superior to other humans."

> But the Bible is not the right answer.

Not per any major strain of interpretation you've come across. But your own "Preaching the gospel of evidence, experiment and reason since 2003." doesn't seem to have gone very well, either. Maybe … we believe some false things about ourselves (human and social nature), and/or refuse to believe some true things, and that is getting in the way?

Ron said...

@Luke:

> I'm not sure what I was supposed to get from all that.

That the style of argumentation you are employing is pedantic to the point of being annoying. You can always argue against anything, and people do. But there are certain things which ought to be considered beyond dispute in polite company. The earth is round, we really did land on the moon, and if A->B and A are both true, then B is true. Disputing such things is not productive.

> But your own "Preaching the gospel of evidence, experiment and reason since 2003." doesn't seem to have gone very well, either.

It has only been 331 years since Newton published Principia, 159 years since Darwin published Origin of Species, 15 years since I started this blog, and a mere three since I first proposed idea-ism. Christianity has had 2000 years. Even Jesus himself took three years, and he was almighty God while I am but a mere mortal. So while I agree with you that my efforts to date have not been wildly successful, I think it's a little premature to pass final judgement on them.

Ron said...

@Luke, P.S.

> I already covered this with Peter:

Sort of. You acknowledged that one should not blindly follow authority. What you did not do is provide any alternative. How am I supposed to decide what to make of, say, Leviticus? It plainly says that homosexuality is an abomination, and that slavery isn't. Furthermore, there are a lot of Christians out there who seem to be fully on board with the first point, and at best ambivalent about the second. So on your world view, how am I supposed to proceed?

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> That the style of argumentation you are employing is pedantic to the point of being annoying.

When you say that I must surely mean X when in fact I say I mean Y—sometimes when I've said Y many times (example)—what other recourse do I have except a more careful analysis of precisely what was said? You routinely permit your Southern Baptist stereotypes to distort what I've said, even though you've routinely found out that those stereotypes are a very bad fit to me. When I point this out, it ends up being irrelevant because you weren't actually talking about me in the first place. It is rather frustrating to be used as a means to an end in this way.

> You can always argue against anything, and people do. But there are certain things which ought to be considered beyond dispute in polite company. The earth is round, we really did land on the moon, and if A->B and A are both true, then B is true. Disputing such things is not productive.

What's an *actual example* of this in the thread?

> Christianity has had 2000 years.

Sure, and many things have been accomplished which can be reasonably traced to Christianity. I claim that I find it to still be delivering. Exactly how to trace causation here is something I've been constantly happy to discuss.

> So while I agree with you that my efforts to date have not been wildly successful, I think it's a little premature to pass final judgement on them.

I wasn't passing final judgment. Instead, I was saying that "But the Bible is not the right answer." isn't knowable unless you have a better option which has delivered empirical results in the relevant domains. (The relevant domain of religion is all of life, not merely those phenomena sufficiently repeatable / low-dimension to be amenable to scientific analysis.)

By the way, I learned the above response when I was either a creationist or intelligent design advocate. I was talking to someone defending the scientific theory of evolution (which I was learning to distinguish from philosophical barnacles on said theory) and [s]he said, "Until you provide something better, we're going to keep working with the theory of evolution—even if we were to somehow know it is wrong. It's the best we've got." That seemed to be the right response to me; do you think it is wrong?

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> What you did not do is provide any alternative.

Well, I advocated wanting things for their own sake instead of because an authority said so and I advocated understanding how the various bits and pieces fit together to work toward obtaining said things. I also spoke of facing the ugly parts of human and social nature head-on. But no, I didn't provide exact details for how to resolve this:

> How am I supposed to decide what to make of, say, Leviticus? It plainly says that homosexuality is an abomination, and that slavery isn't. Furthermore, there are a lot of Christians out there who seem to be fully on board with the first point, and at best ambivalent about the second. So on your world view, how am I supposed to proceed?

First, I would try to understand the commands in their < 500 BC, ancient near east context. I would look at them two different ways: (i) as laws that the ancient Israelites thought were good; (ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up. I haven't done this with homosexuality other than wonder whether AIDS (or something AIDS-like) would have been rather more devastating back then than it was in the 20th century. I have done this a bit with slavery; one of the refrains in the Torah is that the Israelites are to remember what it was like to be slaves themselves, when enslaving anyone else. As best I understand, there wasn't a better option than slavery in a subsistence-based culture; if an Israelite fell on hard times and had nobody to bail him out, he could sell himself as a slave for seven years and (a) learn one successful way to live; (b) exit with resources to try again. If you want to restrict the discussion to foreign slaves, I would first cite Leviticus 19:33–34 and Exodus 23:9. Then, I would cite Deuteronomy 23:15: "You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you." I'll stop there for the moment on the details.

Second, I would seek a broader understanding of what the law is trying to accomplish. For example, Joshua A. Berman argues in Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought that the dominant political paradigm of ancient Israel's time was that of tribute-producers and tribute-imposers. He thinks the net effect of the OT was to erase this distinction, to utterly delegitimize it. This requires seeing the entire set of laws as trying to accomplish something bigger; you will never see this if you consider the laws "atomized bits of advice[/laws] which are not integrated into a fuller system". By the way, Jesus pointed to a "fuller system":

>> But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)

The reason I like Game of Thrones is that it shows convincingly that a society really can exist where loving truth and neighbor are likely to get you used if not killed; crawling out of that kind of existence is nontrivial. If you cannot view OT law in that context, I think it's going to seem stupid/​evil.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis:

> > you could see my discussion with Doug Shaver

> Here the problem I see is much simpler: you have multiple broad hypotheses that make the same predictions and lead to the same expectations for evidence. Obviously you can't distinguish one hypothesis from another in that situation.

(1) My conversation with Doug started out with me saying that an atheist has never given me a non-ridiculous means of detecting God as God; basically it reduces to Humean "break the laws of nature" miracles. After reams of text, Doug was unable to provide any such non-ridiculous means of detection. Don seems to be falling into the same pattern. Whether you will remains to be seen.

(2) Somewhat switching topics, I shall elaborate on "If you formulate 'God' as merely a 'hypothesis' …": if you're going to uncritically view God as a 'hypothesis', I will probably just bow out of the conversation. I think it's much better to understand belief in the divine—or more generically, whatever is "self-existent (unconditionally non-dependent)"—as coming well before 'hypothesis'. I actually think a tremendous amount can be explored in how hypotheses are generated and while I think we could greatly enhance scientific inquiry by doing so, it is perhaps even more important to take this into account in how we choose to interpret what others say.

It is very easy to interpret others as being stupid/​evil. That's the underlying ontology; it guides which hypotheses to generate and/or prefer to explain what the person says or does. A slightly different ontology which I think yields mostly the same result is to see the other person as wrong/​bad whenever [s]he indicates that I am wrong/​bad. This itself can be sliced up: perhaps it's only "sometimes" instead of "whenever". I've seen this happen time and again, with how people treat me as well as how they treat others. I don't mind it when there is clear empirical superiority but when it's merely based on dogma or at best promissory notes, it is exceedingly obnoxious. Ignore the matter of hypothesis generation and you will hamstring your ability to understand this phenomenon.

Different … metaphysics/​aesthetics for hypothesis generation/​selection can be used to fit the same observations, or at least the same objects. This happens all the time with different schools of thought. Any given school of thought will be able to explain quite a lot, so there is a kind of broadness at play. But I don't see how it could possibly be otherwise.

(3) I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to with "multiple broad hypotheses". I have argued that if one worships at the altar of Ockham's Razor, there will always be a simpler explanation than God. One can always suppose that reality is no more complex than a tiny bit more than the current state-of-the-art. To say that an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good deity created this world is to posit much more structure than currently can be seen—perhaps infinitely more. Where I say the OR worshiper loses is if one's understanding of God yields measurably better hypothesis generation. Except I can see quibbles about the "of God" part.

> The problem I see, from an agnostic viewpoint, in trying to actually run such a test is that the "God" hypothesis can generate any prediction you like.

For fixed understanding of 'God', or variable? (BTW, the 'naturalistic' hypothesis seems to have the same ability. Posit aliens if you have to.)

Ron said...

@Luke:

> "But the Bible is not the right answer." isn't knowable unless you have a better option which has delivered empirical results in the relevant domains.

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. Just because I don't know how to prove P!=NP doesn't mean that I cannot be justifiably confident that it is in fact true.

> First, I would try to understand the commands in their < 500 BC, ancient near east context.

I have no quarrel with trying to understand the Bible as an artifact of human history, but other than its disproportionate cultural impact I see no reason to pay any *particular* attention to the Bible over the writings of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Feynman, Dawkins, von Neumann, Turing, Church, Russell, Aaronson...

> As best I understand, there wasn't a better option than slavery in a subsistence-based culture

You can't be serious. The Bible was written during the bronze age. Humans hadn't been living in subsistence culture for centuries. Good grief, the NT was written during the time of the *Romain empire*!

Even *if* it were true that slavery was necessary, I thought that the *whole point* of the Bible, the reason we're meant to pay particular attention to it, was supposed to be that it was the eternal and unchanging Word of God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity that created the universe, not simply a record of bronze age cultural norms.

> Second, I would seek a broader understanding of what the law is trying to accomplish.

Well, you go right ahead. But life is short and, notwithstanding my personal failures, I still see more long-term promise in reason than I do in holy texts, so that's where I'm going to focus my attention.

(BTW, "how am I supposed to proceed?" was actually intended to be a rhetorical question.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree about that. Just because I don't know how to prove P!=NP doesn't mean that I cannot be justifiably confident that it is in fact true.

What is your justification? I've spoken a lot about 'extrapolation' and 'promissory notes'; I'm not ruling out that one can do these things. But I do maintain that when there is little to no hard empirical evidence, one has to be carefully tentative about those. In essence, you're trusting in induction, and we know that is problematic.

> I have no quarrel with trying to understand the Bible as an artifact of human history, but other than its disproportionate cultural impact I see no reason to pay any *particular* attention to the Bible over the writings of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Feynman, Dawkins, von Neumann, Turing, Church, Russell, Aaronson...

And I don't see what justification you have for saying with regard to memes and the fact that the only academic journal devoted to them was shut down due to lack of results: "I am a lone voice in the wilderness at the moment. But I have faith ;-)" Nor do I understand how you think "more of the same" wrt evangelizing EE&R is going to be beneficial. What I suspect is that each of us has obtained good things and the promise of future good things from our respective sources. Does this make any sense to you?

> > As best I understand, there wasn't a better option than slavery in a subsistence-based culture

> You can't be serious. The Bible was written during the bronze age. Humans hadn't been living in subsistence culture for centuries. Good grief, the NT was written during the time of the *Romain empire*!

You referenced the OT; we have the current form from ≈ 500 BC but its sources go earlier. Do you want to go on record asserting that subsistence-based living (e.g. it wasn't too hard to slip into abject poverty) was so uncommon in ancient Israel that this doesn't make a good rationale for there being slavery laws? To be clear, I mean the second sentence, not the first:

>> A subsistence economy is a non-monetary economy which relies on natural resources to provide for basic needs, through hunting, gathering, and subsistence agriculture. "Subsistence" means supporting oneself at a minimum level; in a subsistence economy, economic surplus is minimal and only used to trade for basic goods, and there is no industrialization.[1][2] (WP: Subsistence economy)

It should be clear that the second is what is required for my guess (and it's only a guess) as to a reason why slavery (especially the 7-year limited version for Hebrews) might have been the best option to possibly go through. Anyhow, some very quick searching indicates that I'm right, but you'll almost certainly want more than that. I just want to make sure it's worth the effort.

As to the NT, we already discussed this.

> Even *if* it were true that slavery was necessary, I thought that the *whole point* of the Bible, the reason we're meant to pay particular attention to it, was supposed to be that it was the eternal and unchanging Word of God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity that created the universe, not simply a record of bronze age cultural norms.

You appear to have missed my "(ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up.", contrasted to (i).

Ron said...

@Luke:

> What is your justification?

https://www.scottaaronson.com/papers/pnp.pdf

Section 3 (though the whole paper is well worth reading).

> memes

No one (except you) has mentioned memes in this discussion. If you want to introduce them (and you really shouldn't because they are a non-sequitur), this is not how you do it.

Focus.

> its sources go earlier

How do you want me to judge the Bible, as human literature, or as the Word of God? If you want me to judge it as human literature, I will simply say that it is of historical interest but badly out of date as a moral guide. If you want me to judge it as the Word of God then what difference does it make when it was first written down? Because if the Word of God is not eternal and unchanging, then why should we pay attention to it at all?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I connect belief in God to our best understanding of what lies behind scientific paradigms.

And I don't. And the only reason I can see for why you would is that you already believe in God, for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific paradigms, and are looking for ways to confirm your belief.

It seems like an empirical possibility that if we are only trying to cure disease and eliminate poverty—and nothing else (besides e.g. consumerism)—that we might not be able to obtain those. Do you agree, or disagree, that this is an empirical possibility?

Not really, since there is no way to test it. Nobody is "only" trying to cure disease and eliminate poverty. Everybody is trying to do all sorts of things. Curing disease and eliminating poverty are on some people's list and not on others'. Your use of the word "only" here implies, to me, that you think many people's lists don't include anything you personally care about except for curing disease and eliminating poverty, so you think looking at how those people do vs. how people like you, who have lots more of the things you personally care about, on their lists is testing the hypothesis you stated. But it isn't.

You only seem to have one hypothesis: that I'm engaged in motivated reasoning.

No, I have another hypothesis: that you have some other reason that I don't know, but which I would consider valid if I did know, for bringing up the God hypothesis in contexts where it seems to me to be irrelevant. So far, on the evidence you've provided, that hypothesis is strongly disfavored compared to the "motivated reasoning" hypothesis.

Here are just two:

(1) Constantly deceiving the masses forecloses on the desired states of many.
(2) Many humans appear to need to feel superior to other humans.


This is an example of what I just stated above. I agree with both of these as factual propositions, but how are they "timbers of Christianity"? They seem to me to be fairly obvious inferences just from looking at human history. So why are you even bringing up Christianity in reference to them? Is it because you think that, if everybody would convert to Christianity, these problems would somehow be fixed? Do you think the actual history of Christianity supports that belief? Because I sure don't. So what other reason could you have for bringing it up, except motivated reasoning?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I question just what the previous state was like where there was more coordination

Did I say there was one?

To be clear, although I stated the two issues as reasons for the problem Ron described with Trump voters, I did not mean to imply that the issues are new or that the problem with Trump voters is the first time those issues have been seen. I think those issues have been around for all of human history. During some periods, by good fortune, the consequences of these issues have been less damaging. During other periods, like the one I think we are in now, the consequences have been more damaging. But the issues have always been there; they are inherent in the human condition and I don't see any way to fix them any time soon.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
In general relativity, energy–momentum conservation is not well-defined except in certain special cases.

This statement needs a crucial qualifier: in GR, *global* energy-momentum conservation is not well-defined except in certain special cases. That is where all the issues about pseudo-tensors and so forth come in.

*Local* energy-momentum conservation, which is what Ron is talking about in the quote you gave, *is* well-defined and enforced in GR: it's a consequence of the Einstein Field Equation and the Bianchi identities for the Einstein tensor. So Ron's statement was correct.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
As far as I've seen, it is empirically possible that the Bible just gives one a better understanding of human nature and social nature than alternative sources.

While I agree that this is empirically possible in the sense of being testable in principle, I do not agree that it is supported by the empirical evidence we actually have.

For example, I am in agreement with Ron's statement here:

It has only been 331 years since Newton published Principia, 159 years since Darwin published Origin of Species, 15 years since I started this blog, and a mere three since I first proposed idea-ism. Christianity has had 2000 years. Even Jesus himself took three years, and he was almighty God while I am but a mere mortal. So while I agree with you that my efforts to date have not been wildly successful, I think it's a little premature to pass final judgement on them.

To paraphrase a remark by Daniel Dennett, your position is basically that Ron has failed over 15 years, and science and reason have failed over a few hundred years, to solve problems that Christianity has failed to solve for 2000 years.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
an atheist has never given me a non-ridiculous means of detecting God as God

In order to do this, one needs a consistent definition of what "God" is and what we should expect to see if this "God" exists, vs. doesn't exist. A religious person has never given me a non-ridiculous answer to this.

I think it's much better to understand belief in the divine—or more generically, whatever is "self-existent (unconditionally non-dependent)"—as coming well before 'hypothesis'.

Then I strongly doubt we're ever going to come to a meeting of the minds on this. Ontology should be part of hypothesis generation; it should not come before any hypotheses. One might make an exception for a very basic ontology that allows you to believe that you yourself exist and that the data you collect contains some kind of information. But the ontology you are suggesting should be prior to any hypotheses goes way beyond that.

You even admit this:

To say that an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good deity created this world is to posit much more structure than currently can be seen—perhaps infinitely more.

To me this is basically a reductio ad absurdum for adopting the "God" ontology prior to hypotheses.

For fixed understanding of 'God', or variable?

What's the difference?

(BTW, the 'naturalistic' hypothesis seems to have the same ability. Posit aliens if you have to.)

No, I can't posit aliens "if I have to" and then just leave it at that. I can posit aliens, and make testable predictions based on that hypothesis, and test them, and abide by the results.

For example, I can posit that if aliens exist, they would have produced radio signals that we could observe and that would be distinguishable from radio signals produced by any natural (non-intelligent) source. We have tested that hypothesis for decades, and so far all the evidence is negative. So I can't posit aliens that produce such radio signals, because the evidence says they don't exist.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> https://www.scottaaronson.com/papers/pnp.pdf

Would you characterize this reasoning as using induction based on mathematical reasoning which has worked well in in the same general domain as P ≟ NP? If so, am I permitted to use that kind of reasoning when it comes to what I've gotten from the Bible?

> No one (except you) has mentioned memes in this discussion. If you want to introduce them (and you really shouldn't because they are a non-sequitur), this is not how you do it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but your argument here seems to be that I am not justified in engaging in the extrapolation that I have described in the thread. That calls into play any and all extrapolation you do in which you think it's actually ok to do. Otherwise, you would seem to be playing an unfair game: allowing yourself to extrapolate in ways I am not allowed to. Critically, extrapolation in the domain of religion is going to have to be rather more complex than in any area of thinking which is radically simpler.

> Focus.

It has long been my observation that people permit themselves to do things that they deny others. One reason for this might be that they don't realize the exacting standards they have set in one domain of their thinking—which they live up to there—actually calls into question another domain of their thinking. I seem to have a penchant for running headlong into said exacting standards. Do you believe it is intellectually or morally unacceptable for me to require people to apply standards consistently?

> Luke: First, I would try to understand the commands in their < 500 BC, ancient near east context. I would look at them two different ways: (i) as laws that the ancient Israelites thought were good; (ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up.



> Ron: How do you want me to judge the Bible, as human literature, or as the Word of God?

I want to question your idea of what 'the Word of God' must look like. It seems to require a (iii), but I don't see why that is logically required. Humans seem to work via successive approximation everywhere else, not to mention expanding to new domains where the old ways of thinking and doing only kinda sorta work. Why not here?

> If you want me to judge it as the Word of God then what difference does it make when it was first written down?

Context doesn't necessarily become irrelevant once you jump to 'Word of God' territory. This isn't a new idea; see WP: Accommodation (religion). I get that you might be "channel[ing] … a Southern Baptist", but that's not the only option for divine communication. If God is infinite ("unfathomable"), why expect that perfect morality/​ethics is finitely describable?

> Because if the Word of God is not eternal and unchanging, then why should we pay attention to it at all?

Because if we're actually supposed to grow arbitrarily much into morality, ethics, beauty, and knowledge, then your very category of 'unchanging' is problematic. It actually kind of sounds like you think you have the final version of morality/​ethics pretty much figured out, even if there are some details to be ironed out. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) I don't. And I think the idea that one has anything like the whole shebang figured out is a dangerous person. The Bible comes down very hard on pride and arrogance for very good reasons.

Ron said...

> Would you characterize this reasoning as using induction

No. (Did you actually read the paper?)

> (i) as laws that the ancient Israelites thought were good; (ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up.

OK, but that's a very weak hypothesis. Why do we even need to imagine that a god wrote it then? Why not just a human? And what relevance does a moral code designed to move the needle in the bronze age have for us in the 21st century except perhaps as a historical benchmark to help us see how far we've come?

> Because if we're actually supposed to grow arbitrarily much into morality, ethics, beauty, and knowledge, then your very category of 'unchanging' is problematic.

Indeed.

> It actually kind of sounds like you think you have the final version of morality/​ethics pretty much figured out, even if there are some details to be ironed out. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

You're wrong. (I do, however, think I have made an advance over the state of the art.)

> I don't.

Well, your fellow Christians think they do. They think the Bible is the eternal and unchanging Word of God, and that is why we should pay attention to it.

I have no idea at this point why *you* think the Bible is worthy of the amount of study you're devoting to it.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> No. (Did you actually read the paper?)

I read the section you mentioned and bits of others. I was trying to say something a little more specific than "expert judgment" to describe what was going on. Perhaps you'd like to give that a shot? Surely it is at least extrapolation from the known to the unknown, expecting the unknown to be rather like the known [in at least some key ways]?

> > (i) as laws that the ancient Israelites thought were good; (ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up.

> OK, but that's a very weak hypothesis.

We are weak beings. Or perhaps we're just finite beings with an infinite amount to grow and we do it via successive approximation.

> Why do we even need to imagine that a god wrote it then? Why not just a human?

I was getting at that difference with (i) and (ii). But if you want to say that some members of the society are 'more advanced' (I'm not sure I'd want Plato governing me, given his Republic) and thus could still do (ii), then we need a (iii) which is out in front of them. More generally, I think logic requires us to account for where wisdom and goodness come from. I'm assuming that 'wisdom' is more than just "what it takes to survive", since the human species surely could have survived the Thousand-Year Reich being, well, a thousand years. If the highest standard of goodness is not encoded in our DNA or our culture, where is it? Do we derive it from "Nature red in tooth and claw"? If in fact 'goodness' is merely an natural evolutionary deposit plus some cultural evolution on top, then we're really dealing with Machiavellian power and Realpolitik while presenting façades of righteousness. Ex nihilo, nihil fit.

> And what relevance does a moral code designed to move the needle in the bronze age have for us in the 21st century except perhaps as a historical benchmark to help us see how far we've come?

If there is a moral trajectory from OT to NT (and actually within the OT), might we expect the trajectory to continue? Might it be an important lesson that people generally cannot be called to a standard much higher than where they're at? Because we have the darkness always within us and if we do not face it for what it is, we risk becoming like the liberal protestants in the Weimar Republic. And I haven't even really dealt with the NT yet, which Peter acknowledges has common sense which ain't common and violation of which I've noted has damaged productivity of a science lab in SF. (I've never seen anything like relational sin from secular sources.)

> You're wrong.

Well, I'll remember you said that, but I don't see how you've actually held yourself open to not having something awfully close to the final version of morality. And I don't actually mean idea-ism, because from what I've seen you tend more to kill ideas than promote their life—at least, the ideas of others I've seen.

> Well, your fellow Christians think they do.

I see their view as a good enough approximation for some purposes. I suspect that being able to see that gives me quite the argumentative edge over you when talking to them. EE of EE&R required!

> I have no idea at this point why *you* think the Bible is worthy of the amount of study you're devoting to it.

It has a history of delivering valuable knowledge and wisdom I haven't seen out in the secular/​scientific world and it promises to continue to do so. You all seem to have such a problem with this line of argument.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (1/3)

> And the only reason I can see for why you would is that you already believe in God, for reasons that have nothing to do with scientific paradigms, and are looking for ways to confirm your belief.

My response will be the same:

> > The only reason we can see for you dragging in the Bible at all is that you are trying to confirm what you already believe about the Bible.
>
> Luke: The right response seems to be your own:
>
> > Peter Donis: If the only hypothesis you are testing is "the Bible is correct", ur doin it rong.
>
> You only seem to have one hypothesis: that I'm engaged in motivated reasoning. Supposing you haven't merely carefully concealed alternative hypotheses from me: why is it ok for you to only have one hypothesis while it's not ok for me to? (I actually do try to track alternative hypotheses for the phenomena, but we'll pretend I don't for purposes of this discussion.)

Which brings us to:

> No, I have another hypothesis: that you have some other reason that I don't know, but which I would consider valid if I did know, for bringing up the God hypothesis in contexts where it seems to me to be irrelevant. So far, on the evidence you've provided, that hypothesis is strongly disfavored compared to the "motivated reasoning" hypothesis.

So … you only have one hypothesis you're testing. Or at least, I don't see how you can test the ultimate of vague hypotheses.

> > It seems like an empirical possibility that if we are only trying to cure disease and eliminate poverty—and nothing else (besides e.g. consumerism)—that we might not be able to obtain those. Do you agree, or disagree, that this is an empirical possibility?

> Not really, since there is no way to test it.

So there's just no way to test anything in that domain? WP: A Study of History § Breakdown and Disintegration is just nonsense?

> > (1) Constantly deceiving the masses forecloses on the desired states of many.
> > (2) Many humans appear to need to feel superior to other humans.

> I agree with both of these as factual propositions, but how are they "timbers of Christianity"? They seem to me to be fairly obvious inferences just from looking at human history.

I would expect them to be more prominent in social science and philosophy if they were so obvious. Again, I'm picking more "common ground"—although I was less sure this time. What happens when I start peeling away from common ground by taking the Bible serious in ways that you, Don, and Ron think is unwise? If the results actually end up being good for modeling humans and society, then I don't see why I ought not pursue this strategy even further. Except that I'm being a heretic wrt some dogma in this thread.

> So why are you even bringing up Christianity in reference to them?

For one reason, because I see Christianity as more than "atomized bits of advice". For another, because my working off of it has been productive so far. Y'all seem so interested in weaning me off of it without any guarantee, whatsoever, that there is an empirical improvement. Why?

> So what other reason could you have for bringing it up, except motivated reasoning?

My understanding of Christianity seems to help me come to beliefs which better model reality (especially human and social reality) than the alternatives. It promises to continue. Why would I not pursue it until I find something better?

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (2/3)

> Peter Donis: think the key reasons for the problem described in the article (that Trump voters continue to support him despite his handling of Russia and other issues) are:
>
> (1) … no trustworthy sources of information that a significant number of people will listen to …
>
> (2) … not broad agreement even on basic values or principles.
>
> The combination of these two factors means it's virtually impossible to coordinate people's actions on any large scale.

> Luke: I question just what the previous state was like where there was more coordination

> Peter Donis: Did I say there was one?

Given that the situation was rather better on both (1) and (2) several decades ago in America, either (i) there was better coordination; or (ii) your claim is purely analytical and not empirical. My own understanding of the few decades post-WWII in America was that there was a remarkable amount of unity in comparison to today. Even given Civil Rights and Free Love.

> I think those issues have been around for all of human history. During some periods, by good fortune, the consequences of these issues have been less damaging. During other periods, like the one I think we are in now, the consequences have been more damaging. But the issues have always been there; they are inherent in the human condition and I don't see any way to fix them any time soon.

I don't chalk as much up to 'fortune' as you. I think progress can be made—but generally slowly. Those who think that they can just take their version of morality/​ethics/​whatever and impose it on others by fiat generally make the world worse, it seems to me.

> *Local* energy-momentum conservation, which is what Ron is talking about in the quote you gave …

Hmmm, what guarantees that the 'local' Ron was talking about satisfies enough conditions to get energy–momentum conservation? You seem to be claiming that there's something special about our neck of the woods, because if all the locales have conservation, how can the whole thing not have it? By the way, I found Is Energy Conserved in General Relativity? informative.

> For example, I am in agreement with Ron's statement here:

Oh c'mon, what part of EE&R started only 15 years ago? What is special about Ron's formulation in comparison to what Galileo was doing? Comparing Newton's Principia to Christianity is a category mistake because the former deals with a sliver of human life in comparison to Christianity. Idea-ism is not something I've seen inform Ron's behavior and so it seems like a rationalization, with zero normative force.

> To paraphrase a remark by Daniel Dennett, your position is basically that Ron has failed over 15 years, and science and reason have failed over a few hundred years, to solve problems that Christianity has failed to solve for 2000 years.

Erm, you think Christianity has contributed little of value? I object to the term 'solve'; I wrote "Ron has his EE&R that he's failed to teach just about anyone". That's a much lower bar.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (3/3)

> In order to do this, one needs a consistent definition of what "God" is and what we should expect to see if this "God" exists, vs. doesn't exist. A religious person has never given me a non-ridiculous answer to this.

For present purposes, what's wrong with merely understanding God as a personal creator of our universe? Lawrence Krauss seems happy to posit that our universe came from a different kind of thing; he just thinks it was a statistical fluctuation rather than intentionally created by a person—that is, an agent with motives, desires, ability to plan, etc.

> Then I strongly doubt we're ever going to come to a meeting of the minds on this. Ontology should be part of hypothesis generation; it should not come before any hypotheses. One might make an exception for a very basic ontology that allows you to believe that you yourself exist and that the data you collect contains some kind of information. But the ontology you are suggesting should be prior to any hypotheses goes way beyond that.

Does such a basic ontology work? My meager understanding of developmental psychology is that humans start with a much richer ontology than you've described, here.

> To me this is basically a reductio ad absurdum for adopting the "God" ontology prior to hypotheses.

Only if it delivers empirical results. Surely by now you know I care more about delivering empirical results than having a way of thinking which is orthodox per some dogmas which themselves are not tested empirically?

> > > The problem I see, from an agnostic viewpoint, in trying to actually run such a test is that the "God" hypothesis can generate any prediction you like.

> > For fixed understanding of 'God', or variable?

> What's the difference?

Ummm, you're correct by definition if you allow the understanding of 'God' to vary infinitely much. That's like saying there's a digital simulation of sentient, sapient creatures and you know nothing about the creators: can you predict anything about the simulation? Probably nothing more than what was posited: "sentient, sapient creatures". If there is a fixed understanding (allowing for modifications while also being specific, like science except fuzzier because it has to deal with all of human existence not just the repeatable/​low-dimension bits), then you can predict more. And we see this all the time, when people question why there is evil if an omni-god exists.

> No, I can't posit aliens "if I have to" and then just leave it at that.

Erm, I was alluding to Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Yes, you can insist on what is essentially differentiability, but that just forces you to be a bit more clever.

Ron said...


> we need a (iii) which is out in front of them

Sure, but that still doesn't need to come from God. We're making excellent progress on our own, and in fact we do best when we reject the supernatural.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052REUW0/

> If there is a moral trajectory from OT to NT (and actually within the OT), might we expect the trajectory to continue?

I certainly hope so. But note that a pre-requisite for that trend to continue is to eventually reject those parts of the Bible that were put there to move the needle in more primitive societies, and a pre-requisite for doing *that* is to decide what parts those are. The Bible obviously cannot help with that.

> I don't see how you've actually held yourself open to not having something awfully close to the final version of morality.

There are a lot of things you don't see, Luke, because you don't listen. I have tried to explain things to you but I have come to the conclusion that it's a fool's errand. You are uncoachable.

(Our discussion of Fitch's paradox back in March was the last straw for me. That's why I'm not answering your question about the Aaronson paper. If you don't find his argument persuasive as it stands then I'm afraid enlightening you further is beyond my ability.)

> It has a history of delivering valuable knowledge and wisdom I haven't seen out in the secular/​scientific world and it promises to continue to do so. You all seem to have such a problem with this line of argument.

Because it is objectively at odds with the facts. If we ignore the outliers (i.e. you) then what one sees when one looks at the world is that the more a society bases its actions on any holy text, the worse the outcomes for that society by any quality metric that we find acceptable. More religious societies are more violent, more unequal, more repressive. The most prosperous, most peaceful, most egalitarian societies are the most secular. We've pointed this out to you many, many times (see my point above about you not being coachable).

Now, correlation does not imply causality, but in this country we are currently doing an experiment that *does* establish causality. We are taking what was once a mostly secular government and making it more overtly religious. Personally, I find the results so far dismaying.

So while there may be some nuggets of wisdom in the Bible, the cost of mining them is very high. And the same wisdom is available elsewhere. You don't have to believe in Jesus to come to the conclusion that being nice to other people might be a good idea (to the contrary, in the U.S. professing to believe in Jesus is a pretty good predictor of misogyny and xenophobia.)

So yeah, I have a problem with that line of argument because it's bullshit.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 1): "your "It's even worse than that!" indicated to me that you cannot in fact show me such a peer-reviewed journal article"

You left out the critical part where I mentioned that your proposed test is completely irrelevant, because it isn't implied by any claim that I ever made.

I said: "rationality is only a process that leads to truth", to which you responded: "A claim you will not demonstrate is true."

I'm sorry, are you honestly asking me to defend why irrational reasoning does not lead to truth? I don't recall you asking me this before. Do you really want or need an essay about why earlier scientists made mistakes, in a way that led to a "double-blind" standard in future experiments? Why Confirmation Bias can make a false claim appear initially to be compelling? You want me to go through 100 types of failures of rationality, and explain for each one how committing the failure fails to get one's models closer to truth? I find it unlikely that you are actually asking for this tutorial, so I must have misunderstood your point.

" I'm skeptical about whether self-deception can work indefinitely; on what basis would one call it 'deception' or 'delusion'?"

We have plenty of historical examples. It is a "deception", because we can confidently prove today that the claims are false, and always were. But they can last a long, long time. The Greek and Roman gods enjoyed 1000 years of success. Sacrificing virgins to volcanoes is a compelling story for primitive tribes for many generations. Dehumanizing the enemy as an inferior "other" is a highly successful approach to build group loyalty in a tribe.

"What I'm not willing to do is allow some dogma which cannot be tested against empirical reality be used to decide what is true and what is deception."

Again, I'm confused. Are you honestly trying to call the process of rationality, "dogma"? Do you honestly think rationality is not "tested against empirical reality"? If you're this ignorant, I don't mind at all educating you, but I find it more likely that I'm simply misunderstanding what you're trying to say.

Luke said...

@Ron: (1/2)

> (Our discussion of Fitch's paradox back in March was the last straw for me. That's why I'm not answering your question about the Aaronson paper. If you don't find his argument persuasive as it stands then I'm afraid enlightening you further is beyond my ability.)

Actually, I spent some time trying to get rule (C') from WP: Fitch's paradox of knowability § The knowability thesis to work, but I kept running into the following problem of working with the second conjunct:

     1. LK((x & ¬Kx) & LKx)
     2. L(K(x & ¬Kx) & K(LKx))   by (B)
     3. L(Kx & K¬Kx & K(LKx))   by (B)
     4. L(Kx & ¬Kx & LKx)   by (A)

But Kx & ¬Kx is a contradiction. Surely I had done something wrong, since I was only operating on a fragment of (C'). But I sensed I had exhausted your patience, so I decided to stop talking about the matter until I got additional inspiration. That being said, I have revisited the matter and I think I was right all along; I can explain better, now.

Your objection to WP: Fitch's Paradox of Knowability § Proof was that (C) wLKw, aka "all truths are knowable", is false. (I changed the variable name for clarity, below.) Some truths are uncomputable, after all. You mentioned Chaitin's constant. Other truths are computable but not tractable; it takes time and energy to know and you believe the universe to be finite. But all of this is only relevant if the w used for (C) falls into either class. If in fact any w used is tractable (say, can be computed within the next 200 years, barring civilization collapse), then I don't see how it is a problem. So, how is (C) used in Wikipedia's proof? It's used to make the following step:

     8. Suppose p & ¬Kp
     9. LK(p & ¬Kp)   from line 8 by rule (C)

Now, surely we are presupposing a tractable truth p in step 8—that's the truth we don't know, but we want to believe is knowable. The only way that the w in rule (C) can be intractable is if the conjunct ¬Kp is intractable. That is:

     (I) p is tractable
    (II) ¬Kp is intractable

But why on earth would Kp be markedly less tractable than p? Or switching from tractability to computability, why would p be computable while Kp is not?

If you really want, 'tractable' can be defined as some Turing machine of some specified finite length running in some specified finite time. But I don't see how nitty gritty details like that are relevant for Fitch's paradox. The question seems to be whether rule (C) performs any inappropriate … widening, and I don't see how it does. Two days after your last comment in the email thread, I did fully state the 'tractable' version of Fitch to a philosopher who regularly uses logical reasoning in his comments. He admitted he could not see how the paradox was wrong.

Luke said...

@Ron: (2/2)

> Ron: I have no idea at this point why *you* think the Bible is worthy of the amount of study you're devoting to it.

> Luke: It has a history of delivering valuable knowledge and wisdom I haven't seen out in the secular/​scientific world and it promises to continue to do so. You all seem to have such a problem with this line of argument.

> Ron: Because it is objectively at odds with the facts. If we ignore the outliers (i.e. you) then what one sees when one looks at the world is that the more a society bases its actions on any holy text, the worse the outcomes for that society by any quality metric that we find acceptable.

You emphasized "*you*", and now you just want to ignore me? I really don't understand this flipping back and forth between "what Luke thinks" and "what Southern Baptists think". If I don't think like they do, why should I be judged by what they think or do? Why are they relevant when you ask me a question about why I think and operate the way I do?

By the way, you don't do the same when it comes to yourself. You also appear to be a huge outlier, based on your own testimony trying to talk to people you think should be most on your side. You stick by your own guns, wanting to be judged by what you think and you do, not by how those people over there think and do. I'm just asking to be given the same respect: to be an individual who is not merely a member of some group.

> There are a lot of things you don't see, Luke, because you don't listen. I have tried to explain things to you but I have come to the conclusion that it's a fool's errand. You are uncoachable.

Do you have one or two examples in additional to Fitch (which I tried to address in part 1)? I would be happy to go over them and try to figure out just what it was I wasn't getting, which you were clearly communicating.

I'd also like to know if there are other people you have succeeded in coaching on topics like we discuss—especially including the religion element (I'm guessing Fitch is an outlier in your 'uncoachable' domain). You are the first person to say explicitly that I am uncoachable (or any synonym) and I don't recall getting that message from any other person, either.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 2): "What the Elephant excerpt points to is a steadfast refusal to face the facts."

Agreed!

"If the Bible forces us to face who we are as individuals and societies ... It is on this basis that we might need the Bible"

Nope. The Bible has no special power to help humans avoid the kinds of thinking described in the Elephant book. You've attributed a magic success for which you have zero evidence. If you want to make that claim, you're going to need to do a whole lot more to support it.

"I'm married to a biophysicists/​biochemist and I told her what you said; she balked."

It's very clear that you did a terrible job of explaining my position. I can perhaps take the blame for this; perhaps I wasn't clear enough with what I said to you. But what is clear, is that the questions you asked your wife, in no way match what I was claiming. So her answers, unfortunately, are irrelevant.

"I guessed she would also be able to do significantly faster science with better hypothesis generation; she agreed completely."

But I agree too! The fact that you thought I wouldn't, means that you have no idea what I was saying. (Perhaps that's my fault.)

Of course better hypothesis generation might lead to much faster advance of knowledge. Perhaps someone might learn in a week, what would otherwise (with random hypothesis formation) take a thousand years. I agree!

The critical part that you seem to be missing, is that the far more important question is whether you have valid process for evaluating proposed hypotheses. If not, you could spend 10,000 years, and still be excited about sacrificing virgins to volcanoes. Without successful evaluation, it doesn't matter how good your hypothesis generation is.

That's the part you seem to have missed. And that you don't seem to have mentioned to your wife. And it's the only part that matters.

"For now, I mean to just compare these two."

And I was not comparing the two. I was only stating that, without good evaluation, you do not make progress towards the truth.

"I just don't see you presenting any data which suggests the bottleneck is 'rationality'"

Not for human civilization as a whole, it isn't. But for you, as an individual, I think the answer is yes: this is (my guess at) your problem. This is your bottleneck (in my opinion).

Ron said...

@Luke:

> You emphasized "*you*", and now you just want to ignore me?

No. Pay close attention now:

> Ron: I have no idea at this point why *you* think the Bible is worthy of the amount of study you're devoting to it.

> Luke: It has a history of delivering valuable knowledge and wisdom I haven't seen out in the secular/​scientific world and it promises to continue to do so.

So far so good. But then you went on to say:

> You all seem to have such a problem with this line of argument.

Since I am part of "you all", I responded with the reason I "have such a problem with this line of argument." This is how normal conversation works.

An appropriate response from you would have been something along the lines of, "OK, I can see how you might reach that conclusion, but I don't think your objections are valid because..." and then you would present some counter argument. That is how grown ups discuss differences of opinion. They do not whine about being ignored unless and until they get so frustrated that they want to torpedo the conversation.

> Do you have one or two examples in additional to Fitch (which I tried to address in part 1)?

Well, the preceding exchange is an example, and it's not an isolated incident. You have a habit of accusing people of ignoring you when in fact they are not. And this is part of a broader pattern of behavior where you fail to pay attention to details (c.f. Don's latest response to you). Once or twice is forgivable, but you have been doing this for a long time with no indication that you are even aware of the problem (despite the fact that it has been pointed out to you more than once), let alone that you have any motivation to fix it. It's damned annoying. It makes it impossible to have a productive exchange with you.

This is why I'm not going to respond to your comment on Fitch's paradox. I have neither the time nor the inclination to swap all that state back in, and no reason to believe that things will go any better this time around. And besides, no one else would be able to follow it. In case you hadn't noticed, there are others here beside just you and me.

> I'd also like to know if there are other people you have succeeded in coaching

Really? Why do you want to know that? What possible answer could I give you that would be productive? Suppose I said, "Yes". How would you act on that information? Suppose I said "no", what would you do differently?

BTW, those are all rhetorical questions. Their purpose is not to elicit information, but to get you to reflect. If you find yourself wanting to respond, you have, once again, missed the point.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

At this point, I'm just at a loss as to why you wouldn't think that it is important to empirically show that X aids in "aligning internal models with the objective external world", in order to justifiably believe that X does that thing. If you can't take your X, go into a science lab, and help them do better science, why should I pay attention to your X?

Maybe my problem is that you have defined your X to be precisely that which aids in "aligning internal models with the objective external world". But in that case, your X would be derived from whatever it is that helps actually produce the empirical goods. And yet, it doesn't seem to be that your X is fully derived that way. It seems to have a lot of baggage. And I suspect it's that baggage which says I should discard my faith to be 'rational'. (How much mental apparatus used to generate hypotheses is not 'rational'? Should that be discarded, too?)

Now, obviously your X is "real rationality", or what I've just been calling 'rationality'. You elaborated this way:

> Don Geddis: (P.S. yes, since you've asked many times, I would reserve the word "rationality" for logical entailment, Bayes Rule, lack of Confirmation Bias, etc. etc. These are all things about drawing conclusions from evidence or assumptions, and whether those conclusions are justified. Which is "in the realm of justifying hypotheses", as you put it. "Generating hypotheses" is a different process, and "rational" (or not) doesn't apply to that process.)

It would appear that you have the kind of understanding of scientific justification that philosophers of science were almost exclusively working on in America, from 1930 – 1970. It's just not clear that they helped scientist do better science. If they didn't do that, then why trust their ideas of how science is done or legitimated?

Now, obviously scientists try to be logical, work to avoid confirmation bias, etc. But that is a far cry from the big complex you are calling 'rationality', a complex which says that my faith is "irrational". Now, some of our debate might be the matter of not all my faith functioning to "[align] internal models with the objective external world"; we've established that I think hypothesis formation/​generation is rather more more important than you do. ("And the truth is, that if you do have a good judgment process, then the hypothesis generation itself isn't really all that important.") But then it would seem more correct to call part of my faith arational, not irrational. Even that is weird to me, because I associate 'rationality' with the whole scientific process, including hypothesis formation. I have a suspicion that most scientists would see hypothesis formation as more important than you do, and that might be a big part of our disagreement.

The above still doesn't sit well with your use of 'infected' and 'self-deceived', right along with 'not … pure rationality'. I suspect most people would understand that paragraph to indicate that [some, including my] faith damages ability to do science—the very thing you cannot or at least will not demonstrate. If in fact plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality", then that very claim loses its bite. But clearly you meant it to have bite.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis, @Don Geddis:

In the off chance that either of you like logical paradoxes, I would be interested in your feedback on this comment, where I attempt to limit the truths discussed by Fitch's paradox of knowability to tractable truths. Based on an email exchange I had with Ron, he is rather convinced I have something wrong. But for the life of me, I cannot find it unless it really is that p can be tractable while Kp is intractable—for the same p.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

I'm sorry, but I just don't know how to reconcile these two statements of yours:

> Don Geddis: We can talk about more and less productive ways of generating hypotheses ... but you could produce by randomness too, just as well. As long as you have a good process ("science") for separating the good from the bad (and maybe enough time), it doesn't really matter where the ideas come from. Perhaps it's a little like evolution: random mutation is good enough, if you have natural selection to separate the wheat from the chaff.

+

> Don Geddis: Of course better hypothesis generation might lead to much faster advance of knowledge. Perhaps someone might learn in a week, what would otherwise (with random hypothesis formation) take a thousand years. I agree!

My understanding of "just as well" doesn't allow for the disparity of "in a week" / "take a thousand years".

> The critical part that you seem to be missing, is that the far more important question is whether you have valid process for evaluating proposed hypotheses. If not, you could spend 10,000 years, and still be excited about sacrificing virgins to volcanoes. Without successful evaluation, it doesn't matter how good your hypothesis generation is.

The critical parts are the parts that if you knock out, the whole process fails. Science cannot proceed via hypotheses which take a thousand years to generate. So I just don't understand your emphasis on evaluation and deemphasis on generation. Both seem very important.

> That's the part you seem to have missed. And that you don't seem to have mentioned to your wife. And it's the only part that matters.

First, I actually did mention that to her. She saw the evaluation part as simpler than the hypothesis generation part. Now I probably didn't communicate what you mean by "The critical part" or "the only part that matters", but that's because I still don't see why I should believe you on that claim.

Second, tell that to the M-theory folks and the quantum gravity folks. They seem pretty good on how to test any theory that comes out, if in fact it really can be empirically tested (cf. Luboš Motl on what would falsify string theory).

Third, I don't see why any particular instantiation of 'rationality' cannot itself get stuck. More of that 'rationality' does not seem like the right thing to get un-stuck. What would be needed is to search for new ways to evaluate. That means that any given instantiation of 'rationality' isn't the boss. And yet, you seem to be making it out to be exactly that.

> > I just don't see you presenting any data which suggests the bottleneck is 'rationality'

> Not for human civilization as a whole, it isn't.

Really?

> But for you, as an individual, I think the answer is yes: this is (my guess at) your problem.

Well, I would like empirical help and I generally find that people can talk a better talk than they can walk. If you can demonstrate a good walk, then I would welcome your help. It was neat to find out that you are acquainted with Hanson. If I can be shown a way that demonstrably increases my ability to "[align] internal models with the objective external world", I'm all ears. I'm particularly interested in modeling human individuals and groups and society, as those seem to be the models so many people seem to get quite wrong.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 3): I wrote: "True scientific thinking begins with the data, and then considers the probability density of all possible theories that could explain the data." You responded: "There is absolutely no empirical reason to think that "the more possible theories/​hypotheses considered, the better"."

Once again, you read into what I write, something very different than what I actually said. I never said that "the more theories the better". The point I was making, from a Bayesian perspective, is that the prior probability of each hypothesis matters a lot too. Again from a Bayesian perspective: you need to consider the probability of the theory, given the data; not just the probability of the data, given the theory.

This is a key to your regular bad reasoning here (esp. about the Bible). You start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God"), and then you try to ask whether your theory can predict the data that you observe. That method of reasoning is known to not lead to truth. That's why Peter was talking about you privileging your hypothesis, why we all talk about motivated reasoning. You have started with your hypothesis, before you saw data. And you spent hardly any effort asking what other kinds of theories are also implied by that same data.

That is bad reasoning. (Not "rational".) It does not lead your internal models to align with truth. This is already well known.

"your ideas about 'science' and 'rationality' would be utterly useless to anyone trying to help machines actually do "general hypothesis formation"."

LOL. Between the two of us, I'd give long odds that I'm the only one who has actually built machines to do "general hypothesis formation". But in any case, once again: I never claimed that "rationality" was a method for "forming" hypotheses. Rationality is a method for evaluating hypotheses. (How many times do I need to keep saying the same thing? Why do you keep ignoring it?)

Luke said...

@Peter Donis, Don Geddis:

If you at all have the inclination, I would be curious as to whether you think there is only one "line of argument" (= 'method', below) or two, in the following:

> Ron: I have no idea at this point why *you* think the Bible is worthy of the amount of study you're devoting to it.

> Luke: It has a history of delivering valuable knowledge and wisdom I haven't seen out in the secular/​scientific world and it promises to continue to do so. You all seem to have such a problem with this line of argument.

> Ron: Because it is objectively at odds with the facts. If we ignore the outliers (i.e. you) then what one sees when one looks at the world is that the more a society bases its actions on any holy text, the worse the outcomes for that society by any quality metric that we find acceptable.

To be rather direct, this plus some context reads to me as "You're employing nigh indistinguishable method from them terrible people but somehow you aren't ending up at the terrible place—I haven't yet figured that out." I'd like to know whether you two think that's a reasonable interpretation.

I myself think that if a person ends up in a very different place from another group, there is a distinct possibility that [s]he is using a different method. I think that if an argument follows the pattern of, "You're employing the same methods the Nazis did!" (or even something 1/10 or 1/100 as bad), the onus is on the person making that claim to actually establish 'same methods', because of the moral import of the statement. I think it's right to get visibly offended by such a comparison which is not suitably justified. I think that folks in this thread would get offended if the shoe were on the other foot. But maybe I'm just terribly wrong in all this?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 4): "If you talk the talk but don't walk the walk, I can conclude one of two things: (A) you don't actually know how to act 'rationally'"

I've explained this already, but I can try one more time: there's a huge difference between (intellectually) "knowing" how to act rationally ... vs. actually so acting. Changing behavior is hard. (Human brains are built to take many, many shortcuts from rationality.) Realizing that your behavior is suboptimal is more feasible than actually changing behavior.

"I haven't once seen you do this [accept criticisms of irrationality] in the thread"

I actually don't recall seeing any examples of someone pointing out my reasoning, and identifying some specific irrational step that I've made. I have seen a lot of us talking past each other, and especially of you assuming that I've made claims that I haven't made (and then making irrelevant responses to strawmen that aren't mine). But please, point out my irrational thinking; I'll try to take the criticism well.

"I have no reason to believe that your 'rationality' actually helps us better understand and navigate reality. It sounds much more like a dogmatic system"

Again, are you actually arguing against logic? If somebody claims: "All Dubliners are from Ireland. Ronan is not a Dubliner, therefore, he is not Irish." ... is it "dogmatic" to point out that they have actually failed to offer proof that Ronan is not Irish? Ronan may or may not be Irish, but I don't need to know anything about Ronan's details, to know that you have not offered a valid justification for your conclusion. You think logic is some kind of optional "dogma" that one can either "believe in" or not believe in? Seriously?

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Don Geddis: True scientific thinking begins with the data, and then considers the probability density of all possible theories that could explain the data.

> Luke: There is absolutely no empirical reason to think that "the more possible theories/​hypotheses considered, the better".



> Don Geddis: Once again, you read into what I write, something very different than what I actually said. I never said that "the more theories the better". The point I was making, from a Bayesian perspective, is that the prior probability of each hypothesis matters a lot too. Again from a Bayesian perspective: you need to consider the probability of the theory, given the data; not just the probability of the data, given the theory.

When someone says that "True X is thus and so", I interpret that to mean "the closer one is to thus and so, the better one will accomplish the purposes of X". I don't think that's terribly unreasonable. I also believe that we should work with definitions which match reality, not are idealistic fantasies. Idealistic fantasies seem to, in my experience, thwart our ability to understand reality. In this case, you are utterly downplaying hypothesis generation.

> You start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God"), and then you try to ask whether your theory can predict the data that you observe.

That's not primarily what I do. I ask what new data the Bible predicts based on taking these actions or those actions. I expect it to take me into new, better territory (which includes, but is not limited to, superior ability to "[align] internal models with the objective external world"). I told Ron in an email a little while ago that if it fails sufficiently at this over the next ten years, I will abandon my faith. Abraham expected actual results and so do I. If any atheist wants to help me work out what would qualify as not "fails sufficiently", I'm game. If I'm told to do this all myself by you, I will respond with your criticism of me that "But for you, as an individual, I think the answer is yes: [a bottleneck of 'rationality'] is (my guess at) your problem." Apparently, I'm just not up to doing it, myself. I'm too "infected", too "self-deceived", while you are "better at being rational than [Luke]".

> You have started with your hypothesis, before you saw data.

I consider testimony to be data. It does need to be tested. See the above ten-year limit. BTW, I probably would have abandoned my faith if it weren't for coming across the relational sin thing. How is it rationalizing my faith if I find new bits in the Bible, act on them, and then find them good? I know you're reticent to respond to this point, because of your stance on hypothesis evaluation vs. generation.

> And you spent hardly any effort asking what other kinds of theories are also implied by that same data.

Erm, I talk to atheists all the time about such things. I mentioned Tomasello, above. On my list is to cross-reference modern psychology with Christianity and the Bible. But to some extent, I expect to compete with others empirically.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 5): "I'm just at a loss as to why you wouldn't think that it is important to empirically show that X aids in "aligning internal models with the objective external world", in order to justifiably believe that X does that thing."

Oh! I actually agree with you. That's extremely important. Here, "X" is rationality, and yes, rationality is critical to making scientific progress. And it's perfectly easy and trivial to find empirical evidence of this.

"If you can't take your X, go into a science lab, and help them do better science"

You have again not read careful what I've written. What I said, was that training individuals about rational thinking or about cognitive biases, is unfortunately not especially effective at getting them to avoid such thinking mistakes in the future. Nonetheless, science only progresses towards truth, via rational thinking.

You apparently couldn't think of any other alternatives, but you were too confident in your own conclusions (again), and didn't ask. The answer you were missing is: you can adopt a culture of science, where the field as a whole is capable of applying rational thought, even if no specific individual can do so for their own work.

The part you seem to be missing, is that brains are wired to be selfishly irrational. They conspire for self-delusion, by finding a conclusion that would lead to personal success (whether true or not), and then using rationalization (instead of rationality) to justify the conclusion they already want.

You "fix" this, not by making some humans super-rational robots, but instead by incentivizing other people, to tear down the arguments of the people making claims. It's kind of like the legal system, where we have a prosecution and a defense, and neither side is intended to be "objective".

You expect motivated reasoning, and you try to make rational progress despite that. As an individual, all you can really hope to do, is accept that your brain will make these errors, and then seek out and welcome (and be ashamed) when someone catches your mistakes.

"in that case, your X would be derived from whatever it is that helps actually produce the empirical goods"

Are you really finding it so hard to separate valid logical justifications, from real-world issues like having breakfast and getting a good night's sleep? Does this honestly all blur together for you?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 6): "we've established that I think hypothesis formation/​generation is rather more more important than you do"

Not quite. As far as I can tell, you have failed to even consider what happens when you use irrational methods to evaluate hypotheses. That hardly helps compare how important you and I both think hypothesis generation is, if you have a good evaluation mechanism. (This is another example of what I would call your poor reasoning skills.)

"I associate 'rationality' with the whole scientific process, including hypothesis formation"

We have so much confusion in this thread, I haven't even begun to discuss with you what good hypothesis formation would be. And I'm not intending to start now.

"I have a suspicion that most scientists would see hypothesis formation as more important than you do"

With an irrational evaluation process? LOL. I would take that bet.

"faith damages ability to do science"

No. You came to your faith through bad reasoning, and it is your bad reasoning that damages your ability to do science. But faith itself does not necessarily damage science. (Humans are very good at compartmentalizing.)

"If in fact plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality""

Yes. The vast majority of what is in most people's minds, did not come there through pure rationality. It's actually a wonder that any of us are able to ever do real science. (And, for most of human history, we weren't. It's very hard to do right.)

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I don't see how you can test the ultimate of vague hypotheses.

It's no more vague than the other one. The test for both is the same: look at the evidence you're providing and see which hypothesis better explains it. If you wanted to give me evidence to support the "you have some other valid reason and I just don't know what it is yet" hypothesis, you could, like, *give me a valid reason* that doesn't depend on my already believing that the God/Bible hypothesis is worth considering. You haven't done that, and everything you've said so far leads me to believe that you can't--that the only reason you can give for why you are taking the God/Bible hypothesis seriously is that you take the God/Bible hypothesis seriously. Which of course does nothing at all to convince me.

So there's just no way to test anything in that domain?

Not easily, and not without being a lot more careful than you are being about formulating hypotheses to be tested. The rest of the paragraph I wrote that you left out of your quote explains some of the reasons why.

I would expect them to be more prominent in social science and philosophy if they were so obvious.

What makes you think they aren't?

Y'all seem so interested in weaning me off of it

I have no interest in weaning you off of it. What you spend your time and effort on is your choice. But if you keep on dragging it into discussions where it seems to me to have no relevance, I'm going to keep on asking why, and not being satisfied with reasons that are only convincing to someone who already believes that the God/Bible hypothesis is worth taking seriously.

My understanding of Christianity seems to help me come to beliefs which better model reality (especially human and social reality) than the alternatives.

That's fine as a reason for you continuing to pursue it on your own time. But, again, it does not help at all to convince me that *I* ought to take it seriously.

Given that the situation was rather better on both (1) and (2) several decades ago in America

It was? Let's see. We had mainstream newspapers and news networks hiding all kinds of information from the public, but carefully choosing certain particular things to reveal (e.g., the Pentagon Papers) that fit their ideological agendas. We had serious arguments on civil rights and abortion, indicating fundamental disagreements on values. We had the McCarthy era in the 1950s, which had an incredibly obnoxious Senator who was vilified for making accusations which, as we now know, were true as regards actual government officials in the State Department and other agencies (the extension to writers, artists, and other members of the general public is a different matter)--in other words, then as now people were willing to close their eyes to obvious evidence of government misconduct for ideological reasons.

My own understanding of the few decades post-WWII in America was that there was a remarkable amount of unity in comparison to today.

If you take mainstream sources to be reliable, then sure, it looks that way, since that's how they portray it. But why would you take mainstream sources to be reliable, when they have been caught lying and cherry picking what information to reveal so many times?

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Between the two of us, I'd give long odds that I'm the only one who has actually built machines to do "general hypothesis formation".

Wait, you have? Are you a billionaire?

> But in any case, once again: I never claimed that "rationality" was a method for "forming" hypotheses. Rationality is a method for evaluating hypotheses. (How many times do I need to keep saying the same thing? Why do you keep ignoring it?)

When I wrote "I am told that general hypothesis formation is the gold standard of machine learning (and that we are far from being able to do it)", I actually meant to include evaluation; I took the term 'general hypothesis formation' from someone doing machine learning at Google Brain. My bad. My own guess is that the much harder part will be the hypothesis formation, that hypothesis evaluation will be a lot easier. You and I just weight the importance very differently. If I see someone delivering valuable empirical results with some method and promise to continue to do so, I'll celebrate it and try to enable it (assuming it's ethical). I won't require that it adhere to some particular instantiation of 'rationality'. I do think a lot of "what works" is in fact packaged into various rationalities employed in various sub-fields, but I expect "what works" to evolve over time, like Kuhn's scientific paradigms.

I think the reason you keep having to repeat yourself is that you have said that "religious beliefs are irrational". You did not say 'arational'. It would seem ridiculous to talk about the hypothesis formation part of a system for "aligning internal models with the objective external world" as 'irrational', but I can see calling it 'arational'. I brought this up recently, so I will say merely that spending time on irrationality would seem to harm one's scientific prowess, and systematized irrationality ('religion') would seem to do it measurably. And yet, you say such measurable results don't follow from your characterization of 'irrationality'—not 'arationality'. Furthermore, you muddied the waters here:

> Don Geddis: All of your thinking around Christianity, as evidenced in your many comments here, is completely motivated biased reasoning.

> Luke: What empirical evidence would falsify this hypothesis of yours? What would I have to be able to do in empirical reality to show you that you are wrong? I want to know how to test this not in dogma-land, but in evidence-land.

> Don Geddis: Well, we'd have to start with how rational/science thinking actually works ("double blind", etc.).

I see 'science thinking' to be rather more broad than 'rational thinking', per your understanding of 'rationality'. But at this point, it seems you meant those two to be exactly synonymous?

Ron said...

> In the off chance that either of you like logical paradoxes, I would be interested in your feedback on this comment, where I attempt to limit the truths discussed by Fitch's paradox of knowability to tractable truths.

If either of you (or anyone else who might be lurking on this ridiculously long thread) is interested in this, please don't actually start the discussion here. Let me write up a new top-level post on Fitch to house that discussion. (If you are interested LMK and I'll bump that up in the priority queue.)

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Wait, you have? Are you a billionaire?

He's talking about having kids, you idiot.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 7): "My understanding of "just as well" doesn't allow for the disparity of "in a week" / "take a thousand years"."

That's because you overlooked the critical "and maybe enough time". The difference is, with a valid evaluation process, you are at least making progress in a direction (of truth). With an irrational evaluation, you are just doing a random walk, and heading in no particular direction. If you're making progress, no matter how slow, then you'll eventually get to the goal, even if it takes a very long time. With a broken evaluation, you will never get to the goal (except by random, coincidental chance).

"So I just don't understand your emphasis on evaluation and deemphasis on generation. Both seem very important."

Yes, of course in the real world, both are important, I agree. My criticism is that you are not doing rational evaluation. There's no need to worry about how efficient your hypothesis generation is, if you can't properly evaluate the result. The difference between a week and a thousand years (in the context of a sun that will live for 10 billion years) is relatively trivial ... compared to the error of not actually heading in the direction of truth at all. Even 10 billion years won't be enough time to get truth, with just an undirected, random walk through compelling illusions.

"She saw the evaluation part as simpler than the hypothesis generation part."

And yet it seems to be impossible to communicate to you. (Also, I don't yet know for a fact that she knows how to do this correctly herself!)

"I don't see why any particular instantiation of 'rationality' ... What would be needed is to search for new ways to evaluate."

I'm having a hard time even understanding what this might mean. An "instantiation" like some particular human? But I've already admitted that humans aren't typically rational. But why would you need "new ways to evaluate"? In what way does logical inference, or Bayes Rule, somehow "expire", and need to be "updated"? I really don't know what you're getting at.

"If I can be shown a way that demonstrably increases my ability to "[align] internal models with the objective external world", I'm all ears."

You've been offered many many examples of your poor reasoning, in this very thread. You respond defensively. If you were interested in thinking better, you would try to understand what kind of reasoning mistake you made in each of these examples, and then ask for help to train yourself to have improved behavior in the future.

But I haven't seen you be the least bit concerned when these examples of reasoning failure are pointed out to you. You are instead defensive, and double-down on continuing your preferred process.

Like Ron, I know of no way to actually increase your ability to form more accurate models of reality. I know how to build a process (human or machine) that can improve on your process. But (like Ron) I don't know how to make you open to such coaching.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Those who think that they can just take their version of morality/​ethics/​whatever and impose it on others by fiat generally make the world worse, it seems to me.

Well, we agree on this, at least. Now can you get your fellow Christians to stop doing that?

you think Christianity has contributed little of value?

The problems with the human condition that I described were around 2000 years ago and are still around today. Have they improved?

For present purposes, what's wrong with merely understanding God as a personal creator of our universe?

Because that hypothesis can predict anything and account for any evidence whatever. And has throughout the history of Christianity. So it is useless as a testable hypothesis.

My meager understanding of developmental psychology is that humans start with a much richer ontology than you've described, here.

Of course we humans have a richer ontology hard-wired (or "soft-wired", learned rather than instinctive but still very strongly imprinted) into our brains. But that doesn't mean we need to take all of that ontology as given when we are constructing hypotheses about how reality works. In fact, one of the key breakthroughs of science is to *not* take all of that ontology as given. And cognitive science has been doing a pretty good job of showing how much of that basic ontology is actually constructed by our brains and doesn't map directly onto reality. Which gives even more reason not to adopt it when constructing models.

I was alluding to Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

You do realize that Clarke was a science *fiction* writer, right? By his definition, we have no evidence whatsoever for "sufficiently advanced" technology anywhere in the real universe. Which means I can't just help myself to the assumption that it exists when framing hypotheses.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 8): "this plus some context reads to me as "You're employing nigh indistinguishable method from them terrible people but somehow you aren't ending up at the terrible place—I haven't yet figured that out." I'd like to know whether you two think that's a reasonable interpretation."

I might be able to help you with this one. I instead interpret Ron as saying something like: Following the Bible has led most modern people to worse societies than following modern secular approaches. This is true, even if in some very rare cases like Luke, following the Bible may be a productive direction for him as an individual. His individual experience does not generalize to the average person, for whom following the Bible instead of secular advice leads to worse outcomes.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke (part 9):

I said: "from a Bayesian perspective: you need to consider the probability of the theory, given the data; not just the probability of the data, given the theory. ... You [instead] start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God"), and then you try to ask whether your theory can predict the data that you observe."

You responded: "That's not primarily what I do. I ask what new data the Bible predicts based on taking these actions or those actions."

Here is another fine example for you! You said that my description was "not" what you do ... and then described doing exactly what I warned you were doing. This is a clear cut case of your bad reasoning. You indeed just admitted that you begin with the Bible, and use it to predict future data. Immediately after I finished telling you that was not sufficient for rational justification. That it is necessary that you look in the opposite direction (which you never do), and instead must ask how likely the Bible is, given the data. (Not how likely the data is, given the Bible.)

You read the words, you claimed my description is "not" what you do, and then you explained that you in fact do exactly what I accused you of. (You just didn't realize it was wrong!)

If you really want to improve your ability to think, to get your internal models closer to the truth of external reality, this is an example of yours that you should really, really study very carefully. You need to understand Bayes Rule and probability, and look at what you just thought in this very simple example.

You thought wrong.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> > > Between the two of us, I'd give long odds that I'm the only one who has actually built machines to do "general hypothesis formation".

> > Wait, you have? Are you a billionaire?

> He's talking about having kids, you idiot.

My bad. Sorry, I'm sort of sensitive about referring to people as machines.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
In the off chance that either of you like logical paradoxes

I don't want to discuss Fitch's Paradox here since it would be a hijack of this thread. You're welcome to email me at peterdonis at alum dot mit dot edu if you want to discuss it, but I would need to take a little time to get familiar with the background.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> I might be able to help you with this one. I instead interpret Ron as saying something like: Following the Bible has led most modern people to worse societies than following modern secular approaches. This is true, even if in some very rare cases like Luke, following the Bible may be a productive direction for him as an individual. His individual experience does not generalize to the average person, for whom following the Bible instead of secular advice leads to worse outcomes.

Thanks. So you think it's all pretty much the same—"Following the Bible"? To me, it seems much more like 'SI-Christian'—the term outside of context tells you approximately nothing.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Don Geddis: You start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God"), and then you try to ask whether your theory can predict the data that you observe.

> Luke: That's not primarily what I do. I ask what new data the Bible predicts based on taking these actions or those actions. I expect it to take me into new, better territory (which includes, but is not limited to, superior ability to "[align] internal models with the objective external world").

> Don Geddis: Here is another fine example for you! You said that my description was "not" what you do ... and then described doing exactly what I warned you were doing.

In isolation, you are correct. But a strong background is that you are accusing me of motivated reasoning. That indicated to me an alteration to what you originally wrote:

> Don Geddis′: You start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God"), and then you try to ask whether your theory can predict the data that you observe. » If it doesn't predict the data, you rejigger the theory. «

I was responding to that version. Did you absolutely not mean the bit in » «?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "That indicated to me an alteration to what you originally wrote: ... » If it doesn't predict the data, you rejigger the theory. « ... I was responding to that version. Did you absolutely not mean the bit in » «?"

Alas, yes. I absolutely did not mean your re-writing. I meant what I wrote, not what you imagined that I wrote.

I agree, the thing you re-wrote can also be a problem. And good for you, for trying to address that one too. But it isn't the problem I was talking about!

I suspect you aren't actually familiar with Bayesian probability. It's not necessarily common sense (although it is correct reasoning). If you haven't been trained, then the words I said may not have any meaning for you.

Here's a simpler, hopefully less emotional example for you: Imagine there is some rare disease (such as HIV). We develop a new test for the disease, that is very accurate. It only makes an error (either way, positive or negative) one time in 100, in 1% of the tests. You are given the test, and your test result is positive for HIV (according to the test). Remember: 99 times out 100, the test is correct. Question: what is the probability that you actually do, in fact, have HIV?

After you answer (in public?), ask your scientist wife. What is her answer to my HIV test question?

After you answer, and then (perhaps) your wife, we can ask Ron to answer. (I'm gonna guess that Ron gets this right.)

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> Alas, yes. I absolutely did not mean your re-writing.

Then I misread and I apologize. I'm still not sure I actually "start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God")", but I do recognize that most scientists would prefer alternative hypotheses. If they got more right where it comes to human and social nature, I might well be convinced by them.

> Here's a simpler, hopefully less emotional example for you: Imagine there is some rare disease (such as HIV). We develop a new test for the disease, that is very accurate. It only makes an error (either way, positive or negative) one time in 100, in 1% of the tests. You are given the test, and your test result is positive for HIV (according to the test). Remember: 99 times out 100, the test is correct. Question: what is the probability that you actually do, in fact, have HIV?

Dunno what you thought was 'emotional' about the previous example. (I just thought your comments were more connected than in fact they are.) As to your question, that depends on the base rate of HIV. I suggest an examination of Zedlmeier and Gigerenzer 2001:

>> The authors present and test a new method of teaching Bayesian reasoning, something about which previous teaching studies reported little success. Based on G. Gigerenzer and U. Hoffrage's (1995) ecological framework, the authors wrote a computerized tutorial program to train people to construct frequency representations (representation training) rather than to insert probabilities into Bayes's rule (rule training). Bayesian computations are simpler to perform with natural frequencies than with probabilities, and there are evolutionary reasons for assuming that cognitive algorithms have been developed to deal with natural frequencies. In 2 studies, the authors compared representation training with rule training; the criteria were an immediate learning effect, transfer to new problems, and long-term temporal stability. Rule training was as good in transfer as representation training, but representation training had a higher immediate learning effect and greater temporal stability. (Teaching Bayesian reasoning in less than two hours)

(See, you can actually teach rationality if you cater to human nature rather than demand it abide by your pet way of representing things.) Suppose that 300 out of 10,000 have HIV. Then you'll get 1/100 × 9,700 = 97 false positives and 99/100 × 300 = 297 true positives. The chance you have HIV would be 297 / (97 + 297). In Bayesian terms:

P(+|HIV) = 0.99
P(+|¬HIV) = 0.01
P(HIV) = 3%
P(HIV|+) = P(+|HIV) × P(HIV) / P(+)
= P(+|HIV) × P(HIV) / [P(+|HIV)P(HIV) + P(+|¬HIV)P(¬HIV)]
= 0.99 × 0.03 / (0.99 × 0.03 + 0.01 × 0.97)

The results match. Now, why do you prefer Bayesian inference to Dempster–Schafer theory for your 'rationality'? How do you load those priors before observing a single thing?

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "that depends on the base rate of HIV ... P(HIV|+) = P(+|HIV) × P(HIV) / P(+)"

Yes, great, we agree. Thank you for indulging my little sample test question. I appreciate it.

In that case, I would restate my criticism of your religious thinking as: you talk a lot about P(data|Bible), but you never seem to pay much attention at all to P(Bible|data). You don't even seem to be aware that this second term is a critical component which is required in order to get good estimates of the first term that you're interested in.

You say a lot of things like, "assuming the Bible is the word of God, here are the kinds of experiences I expect to see". But I never hear you say -- nor care about, nor realize the significance of -- the reverse question: "given the experiences I observe, what is the likelihood that the Bible is the word of God?"

You're constantly (trying to) compute P(data|Bible), without ever investigating P(Bible|data).

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> In that case, I would restate my criticism of your religious thinking as: you talk a lot about P(data|Bible), but you never seem to pay much attention at all to P(Bible|data).

That's only helpful if there's a better option out there. As I said to Ron:

> Luke: Instead, I was saying that "But the Bible is not the right answer." isn't knowable unless you have a better option which has delivered empirical results in the relevant domains. (The relevant domain of religion is all of life, not merely those phenomena sufficiently repeatable / low-dimension to be amenable to scientific analysis.)
>
> By the way, I learned the above response when I was either a creationist or intelligent design advocate. I was talking to someone defending the scientific theory of evolution (which I was learning to distinguish from philosophical barnacles on said theory) and [s]he said, "Until you provide something better, we're going to keep working with the theory of evolution—even if we were to somehow know it is wrong. It's the best we've got." That seemed to be the right response to me; do you think it is wrong?

I will note you failed to answer my questions:

> Luke: Now, why do you prefer Bayesian inference to Dempster–Schafer theory for your 'rationality'? How do you load those priors before observing a single thing?

Furthermore, there is the question of what model you use. Ron was clearly using a specific model which I claimed was bad:

> Luke: First, I would try to understand the commands in their < 500 BC, ancient near east context. I would look at them two different ways: (i) as laws that the ancient Israelites thought were good; (ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up.



> Ron: How do you want me to judge the Bible, as human literature, or as the Word of God?

> Luke: I want to question your idea of what 'the Word of God' must look like. It seems to require a (iii), but I don't see why that is logically required. Humans seem to work via successive approximation everywhere else, not to mention expanding to new domains where the old ways of thinking and doing only kinda sorta work. Why not here?

> Ron: OK, but that's a very weak hypothesis. Why do we even need to imagine that a god wrote it then? Why not just a human?

> Luke: [more]

> Ron: [more]

If it weren't for the many Christians employing such a terrible model of the Bible, I would suspect Ron of constructing a straw man. And maybe you've been employing the same terrible model with your "You start with the theory ("the Bible is the word of God")".

Finally, I want to know how I can just start with nothing, and get anywhere. My own strategy is to start somewhere, and constantly compare/​contrast with people starting elsewhere. Preferably with empirical comparisons, as the alternative has a lot of opportunity for rejiggering.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> As far as I can tell, you have failed to even consider what happens when you use irrational methods to evaluate hypotheses.

First, I said "Both seem very important."

Second, that depends on whether I'm working from your substantive or stipulative definition. I swear I made a comment on the difference, but either it got lost or is drafted on my other computer. Anyhow, a stipulative definition here is "'rationality' ≡ whatever maximizes "aligning internal models with the objective external world"". The term 'rationality' here starts out empty, starts out solely constrained by the objective external world. In contrast, a substantive definition is you making some particular guess at the content of the term 'rationality'. But in that case, whatever your particular instantiation is could be arbitrarily bad at accomplishing what you say it accomplishes. The distinction between 'substantive' and 'stipulative' is so ingrained in me that I just assumed you would realize it, but perhaps I was wrong.

Per a stipulative definition, obviously 'irrational' methods to evaluate hypotheses will cause a problem. That's true by definition! If I am 'irrational' in this way in designing my trebuchets and you are 'rational' in this way in designing your trebuchets, ceteris paribus your side will win the battle. This was so obvious to me that I didn't see it merit discussing; apparently I was wrong.

Anyhow, you seem to have at least two different substantive versions of 'rationality' at play. One is a hodgepodge of things scientists actually do—value logic, employ Bayes' theorem, fight confirmation bias, etc. They obviously do these things. Another version is something which says that "religious beliefs are irrational". ('irrational', not 'arational') The only way I can read that is that religious beliefs cannot possibly aid in "aligning internal models with the objective external world", and would almost definitely harm that process if it weren't for "compartmentalizing"—which I doubt is as airtight as your argument requires to justify not expecting (1) or (2) to be observable.

As far as I can tell, you have failed to consider whether your substantive understanding of rationality might need alteration and enhancement—not via increased adherence to the same fixed thing, but changing the thing. That topic shows up in my suggesting you contrast Gould’s skulls: Is bias inevitable in science? with Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?.

> With an irrational evaluation process? LOL. I would take that bet.

That would be a straw man.

> You came to your faith through bad reasoning

Bad 'reasoning', or bad 'rationality'?

> > If in fact plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality"

> Yes. The vast majority of what is in most people's minds, did not come there through pure rationality. It's actually a wonder that any of us are able to ever do real science.

You appear to have ignored the clause "crucial for doing science".

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "Another version is something which says that "religious beliefs are irrational". ... The only way I can read that is that religious beliefs cannot possibly aid in "aligning internal models with the objective external world", and would almost definitely harm that process"

No, that's not how you should read that. Religious beliefs are "irrational", because they are not valid (aka likely in probability) given the data we can observe. From the data we have, it is irrational to conclude that religious beliefs are true.

But that is a completely separate question, from whether these false beliefs aid (or harm) accurate model formation in science. Just like having a good breakfast and getting a good night's sleep, it is certainly possible that an irrational hatred of Jews or blacks might well provide some lunatic with the intense motivation to spend years in a lonely basement focused on some particular scientific puzzle.

This is another version of a complaint I gave you earlier: you seem to blur the lines between something being "true", vs. being "effective" (for some purpose). I think those are very different things, and false beliefs can be very "effective" as well (under some circumstances).

"You appear to have ignored the clause "crucial for doing science"." I didn't intend to. Feel free to add it back in. I actually agree with your statement: "plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality"". But it probably doesn't have the consequence that you imagine it has. You'll have to be explicit about the next step in your argument.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> This is another version of a complaint I gave you earlier: you seem to blur the lines between something being "true", vs. being "effective" (for some purpose). I think those are very different things, and false beliefs can be very "effective" as well (under some circumstances).

This constitutes blurring:

> Luke: What I want to do is get some sense of the boundary between things that promote "aligning internal models with the objective external world" ("R") and are part of 'rationality', and things that promote R and yet are not part of 'rationality'. For example, eating healthy food probably does help one be a better scientist, but I'm not sure we want to say it's 'rational' to eat healthy food. Doing so might set one on a trajectory toward natural law theory and that seems rather taboo among non-Christians, if not non-Catholics.

? It's a request for clarification! Which you ignored then and when you wrote:

> Don Geddis: Are you really finding it so hard to separate valid logical justifications, from real-world issues like having breakfast and getting a good night's sleep? Does this honestly all blur together for you?

My very point in writing "eating healthy food" was that it seems to lie on the other side of the boundary.


What is completely and utterly absent in your writing is any mechanism by which "substantive" versions of 'rationality' can change. That mechanism obviously cannot be simply "what worked in that situation", but on the other hand it cannot be completely blind to new ways of evaluating hypotheses which are better at e.g. producing effective medical treatments than the alternatives. The true test, it seems to me, is in the pudding: what methods are best at helping us best explore and characterize reality? It is hard not to see you trusting an awful lot in an a priori conception of this. But one possibility is a long-running conflation of "substantive" vs. "stipulative" definitions.

> > > > » If in fact plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality", « then that very claim loses its bite. But clearly you meant it to have bite.

> > > Yes. The vast majority of what is in most people's minds, did not come there through pure rationality. It's actually a wonder that any of us are able to ever do real science.

> > You appear to have ignored the clause "crucial for doing science".

> I didn't intend to. Feel free to add it back in. I actually agree with your statement: "plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality"". But it probably doesn't have the consequence that you imagine it has. You'll have to be explicit about the next step in your argument.

If part of my religious beliefs are 'arational' (≠ 'irrational'), but 'rationality' is not all that is required to do science, then it is illogical to assert that necessarily 'faith' would damage science if it weren't for compartmentalization.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (1/3)

> > > No, I have another hypothesis: that you have some other reason that I don't know, but which I would consider valid if I did know, for bringing up the God hypothesis in contexts where it seems to me to be irrelevant. So far, on the evidence you've provided, that hypothesis is strongly disfavored compared to the "motivated reasoning" hypothesis.

> > So … you only have one hypothesis you're testing. Or at least, I don't see how you can test the ultimate of vague hypotheses.

> It's no more vague than the other one.

So Vagueness("some other reason that I don't know") ≤ Vagueness("engaged in motivated reasoning")?

> … the only reason you can give for why you are taking the God/Bible hypothesis seriously is that you take the God/Bible hypothesis seriously.

Well, from my perspective you have done nothing like convince me that what I think I'm getting from my understanding of God and the Bible (≠ 'hypothesis') in fact comes from something else. You seem to have some sort of model of how scientific inquiry works, from the hypothesis generation stage all the way to the corroboration/​justification stage, a model which seems more dogmatic than empirical to me. If you actually knew how it works, you could make a machine (not a person) which does general hypothesis formation and evaluation.

> > So there's just no way to test anything in that domain?

> Not easily, and not without being a lot more careful than you are being about formulating hypotheses to be tested.

Erm, I doubt that something explicated in one sentence can be tested without a lot of articulation. The overall point is that if our goals are too low, we might be engaged in the Kobayashi Maru; reprogramming the scenario would be to change the goals. I don't see how that's a completely unreasonable thing to discuss. And I meant it to be cooperative—I don't have anything like an operationalized study which I'm just waiting for funding to carry out.

> > I would expect them to be more prominent in social science and philosophy if they were so obvious.

> What makes you think they aren't?

My scattered reading of the aforementioned, including seeing experts in the field write in ways which indicate that is so in more or less direct ways. Again, these three excerpts are a place to start.

> But if you keep on dragging it into discussions where it seems to me to have no relevance

I suggest revisiting the discussion history, to see who dragged it into here. I've constantly asked for people to present a better strategy for accomplishing the alignment of "aligning internal models with the objective external world" which does so in the human and social domains; I've gotten no concrete answers.

> But, again, it does not help at all to convince me that *I* ought to take it seriously.

That was not my goal. I have long since concluded that the only way to get anyone like you to take Christianity seriously is to show that it can deliver empirical results superior to the available alternatives. But there's a huge problem, and that is just what's required to show that it is Christianity delivering those results. You have provided some clues, but only a bit.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (2/3)

> > Given that the situation was rather better on both (1) and (2) several decades ago in America

> It was?

Yes, officially. Revisit your (1) and (2). There was a lot of coordinated action back then. Just look at the difference in function of Congress back then vs. now.

> But why would you take mainstream sources to be reliable, when they have been caught lying and cherry picking what information to reveal so many times?

I don't. I learned to be exceedingly skeptical of society by my socialization K–12. I think that as long as sufficiently many people are as passive as they are now, refuse to check predictions against reality, and don't [competently] want to accomplish much more in life than make enough money to live comfortably, the underlying disunity you describe will continue if not get worse. What this seems to require is a vast institutional change, given that I subscribe to a small Δv model of free will. I'm being mentored by a sociologist who works in this very area. We are very bad at understanding how institutions are formed and change. (Just look at Zuckerberg's failed attempt to revamp the Newark Public School System with $100mil in matched funds.)

Luke said...

@Peter Donis: (3/3)

> Now can you get your fellow Christians to stop doing that?

If everyone would be honest in what kind of world they're trying to bring into existence, how they're trying to do that, and admit when results did not match predictions, I think that would be a step forward. But there's a problem: people seem to prefer laziness and deception to this. That's Machiavellian-'rational' if in fact all you're really doing is engaging in a struggle of power. I would like to figure out how to call on Christians to have the courage to flout this trend and shame others when they cloak their plans in secrecy and deceit. They should believe that there is truth in this domain and that power is not the way it will win. Sadly, as an missionary from Europe recently told me, theologians suck at understanding power. My only solace in that is that they don't seem to be the only ones who suck at it. So I'm working in this area. One of the things I repeatedly ask theologians is whether they check to see if their theology helps people better love God and neighbor.

> The problems with the human condition that I described were around 2000 years ago and are still around today. Have they improved?

Well Christians didn't do genetic engineering, if that's your question. But we seem to be more egalitarian than 2000 years ago and quite a few people seem to think it's plausible that Christianity played a major role in that—yours truly included. I am aware that it's fashionable these days to engage in competitive storytelling about just how much Christianity really did; I don't see how such discussions can be resolved without massive crowdsourcing of facts, arguments, and criticisms thereof. Fortunately for me, I expect there to be future results and not just some past good fit.

> > » For present purposes, what's wrong with merely understanding God as a personal creator of our universe? « Lawrence Krauss seems happy to posit that our universe came from a different kind of thing; he just thinks it was a statistical fluctuation rather than intentionally created by a person—that is, an agent with motives, desires, ability to plan, etc.

> Because that hypothesis can predict anything and account for any evidence whatever. And has throughout the history of Christianity. So it is useless as a testable hypothesis.

You've ignored the restriction provided by any given set of "motives, desires, ability to plan, etc.". This is why I asked "For fixed understanding of 'God', or variable?"

> In fact, one of the key breakthroughs of science is to *not* take all of that ontology as given.

It's certainly helpful to see as mechanical (= restricted to a certain class of mathematical formalisms) that which is mechanical. On the other hand, we seem to have problems understanding human and social nature, including but not limited to self-consciousness. Force-fitting everything into what I have called 'mechanical' could be rather erroneous. See, for example, how rational choice theory has permeated the social sciences (excepting perhaps psychology).

> You do realize that Clarke was a science *fiction* writer, right?

Yes. That doesn't detract from the point that no matter what you observe in reality, you can always conclude that it is naturalistic. What better way is there to guess at how we would interpret events in a world which is phenomenologically much more rich than ours appears to us today, than science fiction? I see no way you could possibly prefer the understanding that there is a creator, except on the basis of Humean "break the laws of nature" miracles. What we can plausibly see is awfully tied to what we currently believe.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "My very point in writing "eating healthy food" was that it seems to lie on the other side of the boundary."

Right. I agree.

"any mechanism by which "substantive" versions of 'rationality' can change."

Rationality is mathematically provable valid forms of reasoning. It can "change", when there is a new valid math proof, either of a new valid way of drawing conclusions from some circumstance, or else a new proof of a kind of bias or error in old styles of reasoning.

"That mechanism obviously cannot be simply "what worked in that situation""

That's right. I agree. The mechanism of acceptable rationality can only be, "reasoning processes which are mathematically proven to always be valid". What happened to luckily succeed in some particular circumstance is not sufficient evidence of universally valid reasoning. Only a proof establishes that.

"It is hard not to see you trusting an awful lot in an a priori conception of this."

Propositional logic, Bayes Rule, and Confirmation Bias (for example) are not "a priori". They are justified by mathematically sound proofs.

"If part of my religious beliefs are 'arational' (≠ 'irrational'), but 'rationality' is not all that is required to do science, then it is illogical..."

Motivation to do anything at all, is "arational". And necessary in order to "do science" (rather than sit on a beach and drink alcohol, for example). Just because some arational beliefs are necessary, doesn't mean that all such beliefs have equivalent effects.

"to assert that necessarily 'faith' would damage science if it weren't for compartmentalization."

And yet nobody here -- except you! -- made such an assertion. I mostly just proposed "compartmentalization" as one feasible explanation of why faith might not impact science. I'm not wedded to that explanation.

Meanwhile, you seem to have ignored that, at that same link, I wrote: "faith itself does not necessarily damage science". I don't know how much more clear I can be. I explicitly stated that I'm making no claim about faith damaging science. The only one here making that claim is you, who has (on multiple occasions) demanded proof of faith damaging science, as though you (apparently?) think that if there is no such proof, it must therefore follow that faith is True.

Unfortunately, that doesn't (logically) follow. Faith can be false, and still not noticeably damage the process of science. You're the only one who thinks there is a necessary connection.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
from my perspective you have done nothing like convince me that what I think I'm getting from my understanding of God and the Bible (≠ 'hypothesis') in fact comes from something else.

I'm not trying to convince you of that. I'm just saying that you haven't convinced *me* to take what you say about God and the Bible seriously.

Nor have you convinced me that your continued insistence on (≠ 'hypothesis') is justified. You seem to want to have it both ways: to insist on proper hypothesis testing when it suits you, but to claim a privileged "pre-hypothesis" status for your own preferred beliefs when it suits you. I don't see what justifies doing that.

these three excerpts are a place to start.

Not really, since they're just statements by others of opinions similar to yours. What *evidence* do you have, taken from primary sources (actual social science research papers, for example), to back up your opinions? If your only argument is "well, I agree with these other people's opinions", that doesn't give me anything useful to go on.

I suggest revisiting the discussion history, to see who dragged it into here.

Who dragged Christianity in here? You did. See your post of 7/20/18 11:33 am.

I have long since concluded that the only way to get anyone like you to take Christianity seriously is to show that it can deliver empirical results superior to the available alternatives. But there's a huge problem, and that is just what's required to show that it is Christianity delivering those results.

Indeed.

You have provided some clues, but only a bit.

Testing the above empirical hypothesis is no different from testing any other empirical hypothesis. I don't see why any "clues" are needed for Christianity in particular.

For an example of the results of such an empirical test (not a controlled experiment, true, but it's very, very hard to do controlled experiments in this domain), see Ron's earlier comments about religious vs. secular societies.

Just look at the difference in function of Congress back then vs. now.

If you mean Congress got more laws passed per session then than now, that's probably true. But "more laws" does not equate to "better government".

That's not to say that I think nothing has changed over the past half century or so. I think the advent of cable TV and the Internet has put strong selective pressure on the media to pander to the worst parts of human nature, so that public discourse has gotten worse. But I see that as a change in how visible my issues (1) and (2) are in everyday discourse; I don't see it as a change in how bad my issues (1) and (2) actually are.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
we seem to be more egalitarian than 2000 years ago

That's probably true, but it has nothing to do with the issues (1) and (2) that I described. Neither of those issues cash out to "not enough egalitarianism".

mechanical (= restricted to a certain class of mathematical formalisms)

If this is your definition of "mechanical", it's the wrong one. "Mechanical" doesn't mean we have to use a certain class of mathematical formalisms to build models. It just means that the models can't postulate as fundamental anything that could not be "replaced by a machine"--for example, the models can't postulate that minds are made of some fundamentally different kind of "stuff" from everything else.

What better way is there to guess at how we would interpret events in a world which is phenomenologically much more rich than ours appears to us today, than science fiction?

Why do you think the world today does not appear "phenomenologically rich"?

Peter Donis said...

@Don:
The mechanism of acceptable rationality can only be, "reasoning processes which are mathematically proven to always be valid".

I think this is too strong, since induction can't be mathematically proven valid, but I would not say that inductive reasoning is irrational.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
That's only helpful if there's a better option out there.

You don't need any other options to evaluate P(Bible|data). Thinking you do is like thinking you need to know the probabilities for other diseases to evaluate P(HIV|+) in the scenario Don posed.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

At this point, Don, I'm not really sure what to make of your stance. You write things like this:

> Don Geddis: Yes, religious beliefs are irrational.

and

> Luke: faith damages ability to do science

> Don Geddis: No. You came to your faith through bad reasoning, and it is your bad reasoning that damages your ability to do science. But faith itself does not necessarily damage science. (Humans are very good at compartmentalizing.)

—and yet, it is wrong to conclude that without compartmentalizing (or something like it), 'faith' would necessarily damage science. How can irrational beliefs not harm science unless they are properly partitioned from the science parts of the brain? And how can it not be the case that those "freed" from irrational beliefs would have more time, energy, intellectual firepower, and/or whatever, to do better science than the religious scientists? Let's recall that you linked religious belief with defect:

> Don Geddis: Perhaps you think you are different. Alas, it is a consequence of the brain's amazing ability for self-deception, that it is extremely hard to observe this rationality failure in one's self. And, moreover, it's abundantly clear that you are already infected (just like everybody else): you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality.

(Luke: "The common theme here is that of defect" / Don: "Sure! Granted.")

I think most people would conclude that ceteris paribus, "fewer defects" ⇒ "better at doing science". But somehow, I'm wrong in concluding that from what you've written—if I replace "fewer defects" with "eliminate religious beliefs". I think most people would conclude that according to your standards, "the more rational the better", but in fact imposing your 'rationality' on an entire belief system would shear off plenty of beliefs required to actually do science:

> Don Geddis: I actually agree with your statement: "plenty of the contents of a scientist's mind, crucial for doing science, do not qualify as "belief[s] that [are] remotely possible to come to via pure rationality"".

One possibility is that 'rationality' just covers part of the whole process, and ought not be applied everywhere. But then the mere fact that I did not come to the totality of my religious beliefs "via pure rationality" would not in of itself imply any "defect". And you said it did.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis:

> I'm just saying that you haven't convinced *me* to take what you say about God and the Bible seriously.

I have little to no idea what would. I've talked a lot to many atheists and it often seems like no matter what they could conceivably encounter—short of Humean "break the laws of nature" miracles—it wouldn't convince them of anything interesting about Christianity. This makes me very, very suspicious. Fortunately, if I'm right and God really does want us to better understand reality but also better understand ourselves and treat each other better, and this happens, all the people who had nigh unfalsifiable "God doesn't exist / I don't have sufficient reason to believe God exists" beliefs will simply be left in the dust. But that's not my preferred scenario. And if I'm wrong and God doesn't show up in a way that seems distinguishable from noise (I'll ask others to help so I am less likely to fall prey to confirmation bias), I will ditch my faith.

> Nor have you convinced me that your continued insistence on (≠ 'hypothesis') is justified. You seem to want to have it both ways: to insist on proper hypothesis testing when it suits you, but to claim a privileged "pre-hypothesis" status for your own preferred beliefs when it suits you. I don't see what justifies doing that.

Erm, part of our belief system helps us form hypotheses and part of it helps us test them. I think expecting all of religion to fall into the category of 'hypotheses' is wrong. I think most anthropologists think it's wrong, too. Contra Frazer in Golden Bough, the primary purpose of religion is not to act as primitive science. But that doesn't mean a given religion isn't going to have any models of reality, human nature, and social nature.

> Not really, since they're just statements by others of opinions similar to yours.

Erm, they're all expert opinions which have nonzero weight. If I don't know of any good counterexamples, what am I supposed to conclude?

> What *evidence* do you have, taken from primary sources (actual social science research papers, for example), to back up your opinions?

I haven't combed through hundreds of social science research papers; I don't see how that could possibly demonstrate my point. Because you could just say I cherry-picked those research papers, or that I suck at understanding them.

> Who dragged Christianity in here? You did. See your post of 7/20/18 11:33 am.

Erm, that joke was actually on-topic. The distraction came from Don, who wanted to pick a fight. I let him.

> Testing the above empirical hypothesis is no different from testing any other empirical hypothesis.

That is not my experience. Christianity, if anything, would be closer to something like a research paradigm than a hypothesis. You don't actually test research paradigms like you test hypotheses.

> For an example of the results of such an empirical test (not a controlled experiment, true, but it's very, very hard to do controlled experiments in this domain), see Ron's earlier comments about religious vs. secular societies.

Yes, as if there is one monolithic thing called 'religion'. The average trajectory of a ship which goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific is through Brazil.

> If you mean Congress got more laws passed per session then than now, that's probably true. But "more laws" does not equate to "better government".

Your standard was "coordinate people's actions on any large scale", not "better government".

Luke said...

@Peter Donis:

> Peter Donis: To paraphrase a remark by Daniel Dennett, your position is basically that Ron has failed over 15 years, and science and reason have failed over a few hundred years, to solve problems that Christianity has failed to solve for 2000 years.

> Luke: Erm, you think Christianity has contributed little of value? I object to the term 'solve'; I wrote "Ron has his EE&R that he's failed to teach just about anyone". That's a much lower bar.

> Peter Donis: The problems with the human condition that I described were around 2000 years ago and are still around today. Have they improved?

> Luke: … we seem to be more egalitarian than 2000 years ago …

> Peter Donis: That's probably true, but it has nothing to do with the issues (1) and (2) that I described. Neither of those issues cash out to "not enough egalitarianism".

It wasn't meant to. See the context. But without anything like egalitarianism, the racism and nonconformism probably wouldn't have been thought of as problems—except problems to be crushed.

> If this is your definition of "mechanical", it's the wrong one. "Mechanical" doesn't mean we have to use a certain class of mathematical formalisms to build models. It just means that the models can't postulate as fundamental anything that could not be "replaced by a machine"--for example, the models can't postulate that minds are made of some fundamentally different kind of "stuff" from everything else.

If minds are somehow a highly emergent process such that no other process operates like they do, does that violate your restriction? What would there be to replace them with? It seems reasonable to me that one might not be able to simulate (e.g. predict) a mind with anything less complex than another mind. If you're going to allow all of this under the term 'mechanical', then I'm not sure what it actually rules out, apart from Cartesian dualism.

> Why do you think the world today does not appear "phenomenologically rich"?

Nothing I said implies that. I'm just allowing that things could be considerably more complex, in every way, than they currently appear to us—and that we could come to see that some day by learning better how to explore and understand reality.

> You don't need any other options to evaluate P(Bible|data). Thinking you do is like thinking you need to know the probabilities for other diseases to evaluate P(HIV|+) in the scenario Don posed.

That's not how I understood the folks who said that evolution was working for them and even if it were proven wrong, they'd keep using it until something better comes along. I think their argument was legit.

Also, you haven't accounted for how you compute P(Bible) or P(data). I see no way to assign universal priors other than that which maximizes one's ability to explore and understand reality.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "and yet, it is wrong to conclude that without compartmentalizing (or something like it), 'faith' would necessarily damage science"

You were trying to get me to agree to a claim. I don't understand your scenario well enough to have an opinion about it. Human brains compartmentalize. What would happen to a mind that was sort of like a human brain, but didn't compartmentalize? I don't know. I'm not trying to make any claims about such a strange mind. You want me to agree to a conclusion ("faith would necessarily damage science"), and I'm not willing to agree to that conclusion. Neither am I willing to agree to the negation of the conclusion. You're proposing a hypothetical, and I don't have any especially strong feelings about it at the moment.

"How can irrational beliefs not harm science unless they are properly partitioned from the science parts of the brain?"

One way it could happen, is that science is a community process, not an individual process. All the individuals could fail on their own, but the community as a whole could still enforce norms that allow the community to progress.

"And how can it not be the case that those "freed" from irrational beliefs would have more time, energy, intellectual firepower, and/or whatever, to do better science than the religious scientists?"

Because that's not how brains work. And there's far more to human thriving than rationality and truth. (E.g., perhaps the irrational beliefs allow you to join a community of like-minded believers, and get laid more. So you're happy and fulfilled and satisfied. As always, success is not the same as truth.)

"Let's recall that you linked religious belief with defect:"

I think you misunderstood. I was saying that every human brain has these defects. You were (essentially) trying to claim that you didn't act this way, and I used evidence of your religious beliefs as an example that you do act with these mental defects -- just like every other human.

"But somehow, I'm wrong in concluding that from what you've written—if I replace "fewer defects" with "eliminate religious beliefs"."

Exactly -- that replacement is wrong. Religious beliefs are false, but that isn't the kind of "defect" that I'm talking about. It is not the belief that is the defect. It is the reasoning process that allows you to be confident about your false religious belief. That reasoning process is the defect. (But everybody has it!) So "eliminate religious beliefs" has nothing to do with "fewer defects". (It is merely evidence that the defects do exist, as of course they always do.)

"imposing your 'rationality' on an entire belief system would shear off plenty of beliefs required to actually do science"

No, not really. Rationality only applies to beliefs. There is more in the mind than just beliefs. (E.g. goals, intentions, etc.) You've been describing these things as "arational", which is fine. As you say, to "do science" you also need to eat breakfast. That's neither a "rational" nor "irrational" thing ... because eating (or even "being hungry") is not a "belief".

"'rationality' just covers part of the whole process, and ought not be applied everywhere"

It can be applied to all beliefs. You don't need "arational" (or "irrational") beliefs. (But you do need more in your mind, than mere beliefs.)

" the mere fact that I did not come to the totality of my religious beliefs "via pure rationality" would not in of itself imply any "defect". And you said it did."

It does imply defect, because it is an example of you being confident about a potential fact without sufficient justification.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
If minds are somehow a highly emergent process such that no other process operates like they do, does that violate your restriction?

Not as long as the hardware they are running on, so to speak, is the same "mechanical" hardware that runs everything else.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> You were (essentially) trying to claim that you didn't act this way

I was? I think I was rather arguing against the "defect thesis"—which you have yet to recant.

> Luke: But somehow, I'm wrong in concluding that from what you've written—if I replace "fewer defects" with "eliminate religious beliefs".

> Don Geddis: Exactly -- that replacement is wrong. Religious beliefs are false, but that isn't the kind of "defect" that I'm talking about.

How was I supposed to know that, given:

> Luke: Since these are all in the same paragraph, I assumed that they are "of a piece". The common theme here is that of defect, which I charitably interpreted as "manifesting empirically demonstrable deficits".

> Don Geddis: Sure! Granted. But you almost seem to have responded as though I was uniquely criticizing you.

Contrary to said "uniquely criticizing", I merely took you to be targeting 'religious belief':

> Don Geddis: Perhaps you think you are different. Alas, it is a consequence of the brain's amazing ability for self-deception, that it is extremely hard to observe this rationality failure in one's self. And, moreover, it's abundantly clear that you are already infected (just like everybody else): you profess to be a "Christian", which is not a belief that it is remotely possible to come to via pure rationality.

I wonder how I came to that conclusion. (especially with "Yes, religious beliefs are irrational.")

> Religious beliefs are false

You haven't established that in the slightest. You have said that I didn't come to my religious beliefs based on your [substantive] understanding of 'rationality'. That I agreed to. But I've repeatedly pointed out that you have produced no reason to think that your substantive understanding of 'rationality' is anywhere close to optimal for "aligning internal models with the objective external world". My guess is that your [substantive] understanding of 'rationality' cannot particularly help psychologists or sociologists do their jobs apart from some very narrow analysis that is the kind which ends up having trouble being reproduced. Furthermore, if your use of 'false' applies exclusively to models of reality and some religious beliefs have to do with hypothesis generation, it is a category mistake to call those beliefs 'false'.

> It is the reasoning process that allows you to be confident about your false religious belief.

"I'm going to use this until something demonstrably better comes along" needs no more than ε of confidence.

> That reasoning process is the defect.

I have no reason to believe something is a 'defect' unless you can show that when it's gone, there is some sort of improvement. Words have meanings.

> Rationality only applies to beliefs. There is more in the mind than just beliefs.

So … we just call whatever it is that generates hypotheses "not beliefs"?

> It does imply defect, because it is an example of you being confident about a potential fact without sufficient justification.

Ahh, but what constitutes "sufficient justification"? That depends on your priors. And if you have no good competing alternatives, when do you just tear the whole thing down and when do you keep what you have until something better comes along? What does the mathematics of provably correct rationality (is it also provably consistent) say about this?

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
I've talked a lot to many atheists and it often seems like no matter what they could conceivably encounter—short of Humean "break the laws of nature" miracles—it wouldn't convince them of anything interesting about Christianity.

You haven't even gotten to the point of getting me to evaluate the evidence. First you have to do the work of getting the Christianity hypothesis high enough in my preference ordering that I pay attention to it at all. In other words, you have to give me a reason to take it seriously that isn't "the Bible has a lot of good stuff in it" or something like that.

If you want help in imagining what this would be like, suppose you were trying to convince an intelligent alien who knows nothing of any Earth traditions or Earth history to take seriously the hypothesis "the universe was created by an intelligent personal God". You're not allowed to cite any Earth-specific data; you're not allowed to even say that this hypothesis exists on Earth. You have to start from scratch and convince this alien to take that hypothesis seriously based solely on information that was available to him before he arrived on Earth. (Assume that he has not seen any artifacts or information from Earth either--he hasn't looked at any radio or light signals coming from Earth, for example.) How would you do it?

that joke was actually on-topic. The distraction came from Don, who wanted to pick a fight. I let him.

Sorry, not buying it. If it was a joke, you would have said so in response to Don's post. Even if I grant for the sake of argument that Don wanted to pick a fight, the only reason it worked was that you weren't joking; you were serious, as your response showed.

That's not how I understood the folks who said that evolution was working for them and even if it were proven wrong, they'd keep using it until something better comes along.

Which folks are these?

you haven't accounted for how you compute P(Bible) or P(data)

Yes, you have to pick priors and doing that is not trivial. Neither is computing P(data|Bible) or P(Bible|data), for that matter. The same is true for any hypothesis. But that doesn't change the fact that you have to do your best at computing all of those things in order to properly evaluate a hypothesis. You can't leave any of them out.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Your standard was "coordinate people's actions on any large scale", not "better government".

Passing more laws doesn't equate to "coordinate people's actions better" either.

Luke said...

@Peter Donis:

> You haven't even gotten to the point of getting me to evaluate the evidence. First you have to do the work of getting the Christianity hypothesis high enough in my preference ordering that I pay attention to it at all.

Nice catch-22: You won't tell me what would qualify as "sufficient evidence", and so unless I happen to get really lucky, Christianity will never rise high enough in that "preference ordering". Oh well.

> If you want help in imagining what this would be like, suppose you were trying to convince an intelligent alien who knows nothing of any Earth traditions or Earth history to take seriously the hypothesis "the universe was created by an intelligent personal God".

I don't see why this is a useful exercise. History matters; it has significantly shaped who we are. The Bible—OT and NT—tells a story of a deity playing a role in that history, with the promise of continuing divine action. Tear all that away and what would be left to tell the intelligent aliens? Well, if there were a group of Christians outperforming the rest of society then that could be pointed to, but I'm not sure where to go from there. If there's an intelligent, personal God who apparently hasn't manifested himself to this alien race, and who isn't available to be a genie for our arbitrary requests, why would they care about him?

> Sorry, not buying it. If it was a joke, you would have said so in response to Don's post. Even if I grant for the sake of argument that Don wanted to pick a fight, the only reason it worked was that you weren't joking; you were serious, as your response showed.

Sorry, I have that nerd in me that has a need to explain jokes that people won't get. If you seriously aren't aware of this, then I have no idea how you have an MIT alumni email address.

> Which folks are these?

The ones who convinced me from creationism → intelligent design → evolution (without philosophical barnacles attached).

> Yes, you have to pick priors and doing that is not trivial.

So how do you pick the priors?

> Passing more laws doesn't equate to "coordinate people's actions better" either.

I wouldn't say "equate", but I'll bet there's a positive correlation for the laws of that time period.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Nice catch-22

I don't see why this is a useful exercise.

I'm not surprised at these responses; but you asked for information on how to convince me, so I gave it. How you respond to it is up to you.

I have that nerd in me that has a need to explain jokes that people won't get. If you seriously aren't aware of this, then I have no idea how you have an MIT alumni email address.

Not everyone at MIT fits the "super nerd with no social skills" profile. I had quite a few professors who did, though. :-)

So how do you pick the priors?

You do the best you can in each individual case. There is no general rule. That's a key reason why it's not trivial.

Don Geddis said...

@Peter: "induction can't be mathematically proven valid, but I would not say that inductive reasoning is irrational."

You might be right ... but I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it depends on what you mean by "inductive reasoning"?

Wouldn't you say that "mathematical induction" is logically valid? If I prove property P for P(1), and I also prove that P(x)->P(x+1), then isn't it a valid conclusion that P is true for all natural numbers?

If I see 1000 swans, and they are all white (and none are black), I can certainly suspect with high probability that "all swans are white". That would be a valid conclusion. But the full logical conclusion that "all swans are white" is not justified by the (lone) evidence of seeing 1000 white swans. So such a conclusion would be invalid (irrational?). Wouldn't it?

Curious what "rational" but "not valid" inductive reasoning you are thinking of...

Luke said...

@Peter Donis:

> I'm not surprised at these responses; but you asked for information on how to convince me, so I gave it.

Why would you consider the history of Earth, in particular the cultural history, irrelevant? That sounds awfully like Descartes trying to start all over again (something he did not actually do, something humanly impossible unless you want to … be a hunter-gatherer—except you'd probably fail because you wouldn't have been taught how to do it).

> Not everyone at MIT fits the "super nerd with no social skills" profile. I had quite a few professors who did, though. :-)

You wrote as if you did not plausibly believe I could be a joke-explainer. The only way I could explain that is if you just don't know the type. And you'll note that once I did explain the joke fully, Don wrote "Most of what you say here in this last comment, I don't necessarily disagree with ... but neither do I find it particularly relevant." That pretty much ended the Christianity discussion until Don associated my Christian beliefs with "self-deception" and "infected". But somehow that's my fault too, right? Seriously, what was the point of saying "But if you keep on dragging it into discussions where it seems to me to have no relevance"?

> > So how do you pick the priors?

> You do the best you can in each individual case. There is no general rule. That's a key reason why it's not trivial.

It seems to me that just about anything can hide in that choice. And it is not possible to be "rational" in how you make the choice, because rationality cannot speak to that when it hasn't been conditioned by a single iota of evidence. Furthermore, what you pick can lock you in a system, as I claim to have shown with Fitch's paradox of knowability: "all knowable tractable truths are in fact already known".

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "I was rather arguing against the "defect thesis"—which you have yet to recant."

Rather than "recant", I'll double down! I will claim that you have the same (if not more!) irrational cognitive biases ("defects") in your thinking, as all the other human brains also have.

"How was I supposed to know that"

I apologize if I was misleading or unclear; I didn't intend to be. In any case, we now seem to have resolved (?) this misunderstanding, so perhaps we can just move on.

I said: "Religious beliefs are false". You replied: "You haven't established that in the slightest."

I agree, I haven't. (And I haven't really tried.) And, to be honest, it doesn't really matter. I'm actually criticizing your thinking process. Whether in the end you wound up with true or false beliefs, isn't as important as whether you have properly justified the beliefs that you hold. (And I claim that you have not.)

"you have produced no reason to think that your substantive understanding of 'rationality' is anywhere close to optimal for "aligning internal models with the objective external world"."

I'm really at a loss for what you want from me here. It would seem inappropriate to begin a basic tutorial here about logic, probability, and cognitive biases. But I've at least tried to hint about how people who violate these rules of thinking, come to strong, confident conclusions that are later clearly shown to be wrong. And (in hindsight) it's easy to see why they were wrong: because they used a step of reasoning in their justification that was not valid.

"your [substantive] understanding of 'rationality' cannot particularly help psychologists or sociologists do their jobs"

I agree! Why ever would you suspect that I wouldn't? Rationality is used to get closer to truth; there are many important things in life which aren't about that particular goal.

"some religious beliefs have to do with hypothesis generation, it is a category mistake to call those beliefs 'false'."

I agree. I'm talking exclusively about claims about the structure of the universe. We could have an entirely different discussion about hypothesis generation, but this comment thread is already hugely unfocused as it is, so I hesitate to head down yet another rabbit hole.

""I'm going to use this until something demonstrably better comes along"

That doesn't work, if you aren't rational about evaluating whether your current model or the alternative is "better". This has been my complaint from the beginning: you are poor at evaluating models for their correspondence to truth. This is just yet another example of the consequence of that problem.

"I have no reason to believe something is a 'defect' unless you can show that when it's gone, there is some sort of improvement."

Agreed! Claim: when you stop using invalid reasoning to justify your beliefs, the consequence will be that your new beliefs will more closely correspond to external reality ("truth").

"we just call whatever it is that generates hypotheses "not beliefs""

Sure, but again, I'm not going to follow you into hypothesis generation. We have a problem with hypothesis evaluation. Let's stay focused.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> This has been my complaint from the beginning: you are poor at evaluating models for their correspondence to truth.

What are some models (meant to be "[aligned] … with the objective external world") connected to my religious beliefs which I've put forward in this thread, which fall into this category?


As to the rest, your clarified meaning of 'belief' changes everything; it makes what you're saying tautologically true, with a stipulative understanding of 'rationality'.

If you won't say how you pick your Bayesian priors (I've asked multiple times—it took only once for Peter to reply), it seems there's not much more to discuss.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: "it seems there's not much more to discuss"

OK.

Ron said...

> If you won't say how you pick your Bayesian priors.

Much as I would love to see this thread die, I feel the need to correct for the record a technical mistake made by Peter:

> Yes, you have to pick priors and doing that is not trivial.

That's not true. You can pick your priors however you like. It is a theorem that your initial prior will have zero impact on your final conclusion once sufficient evidence has accumulated. This is one of the nice properties that makes Bayesian inference attractive.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann%27s_agreement_theorem

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
You can pick your priors however you like. It is a theorem that your initial prior will have zero impact on your final conclusion once sufficient evidence has accumulated.

Yes, you're right, I was being sloppy. You can in principle pick your priors however you like--although it is still possible to do it wrong in the sense of not allocating nonzero prior probability to the hypothesis that actually turns out to be true.

However, "sufficient evidence" can be a *lot* of evidence--much more than can be reasonably collected in a human lifetime, or all of human history, or even the entire history of the universe. Choosing a "good" prior can greatly decrease the amount of evidence you need to accumulate to reach a conclusion. Here "good" does not mean "closer to the conclusion that will turn out to be right", but something more like "making as few assumptions not justified by your prior information as possible".

For example, if you are testing a coin for fairness, and you have no prior information about it except that it's a coin, a "good" prior is 50-50 heads vs. tails. You could, in principle, adopt a prior of, say, 99.999999999999999% heads and 1 minus that tails, and you could still eventually conclude the coin was fair (if it is fair) with sufficient data, but it would take a lot more data.

(Of course, if the coin was in fact two-headed, you would conclude that more quickly with the latter prior--but if it was in fact two-tailed, you would conclude that a lot more slowly with the latter prior. The maximum entropy prior of 50-50 heads/tails is the best reflection of your actual prior knowledge and gives the best "average time to reach a conclusion" over all possible hypotheses that are consistent with your prior knowledge.)

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aumann%27s_agreement_theorem

An additional remark here: I don't think this is the theorem that says "priors will have zero impact on your final conclusion once sufficient evidence has accumulated". Aumann's Agreement Theorem covers the case where different people have common priors but start with different posterior information and different conclusions.

The case we're talking about here, at least as I understand it, is different people having different priors but the *same* posterior evidence; if the posterior evidence is of sufficient quantity, the different priors become irrelevant and the different people will all reach the same conclusion. I think there is another theorem in Bayesian analysis that covers this case, but I can't find a reference to it right now.

Ron said...

@Peter:

You're right, I mis-remembered the Aumann result. I thought it didn't require common priors, but it does.

So I went looking for the result that we want, which would be something like: Bayesian reasoning is guaranteed to converge regardless of the initial prior, and I couldn't find it. And, indeed, upon reflection I realized that such a result is not possible because of the Bayesian trap. Also, conspiracy theories can actually be logically consistent, so you need something more than Bayes to refute them.

So Luke may actually have a point here. However, @Luke: you are still on the hook for doing the math on P(B|D). You may well have a logically sound reason for believing P(B)>>0.5 but you're being annoyingly cagey about it. And you're being *particularly* cagey about the reasoning that leads you to conclude P(B)>>0.5 but not, say, P(Quran)>>0.5. I would really like to see the math on that.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
I went looking for the result that we want, which would be something like: Bayesian reasoning is guaranteed to converge regardless of the initial prior, and I couldn't find it.

The result I was looking for was a bit more specific: Bayesian reasoning by different people with different priors is guaranteed to converge *if they all have exactly the same posterior data*. As I said, I think that's a theorem; but I admit I haven't been able to find it either.

upon reflection I realized that such a result is not possible because of the Bayesian trap.

By "the Bayesian trap" do you mean the phenomenon discussed earlier in this thread, that, for example, P(HIV|+) can be very different from P(+|HIV) given the same data? How would that prevent posteriors from converging if everyone has the same posterior data but different priors? Yes, P(HIV|+) and P(+|HIV) can be very different, but that's not the same as saying people won't converge on the same values for P(HIV|+).

Ron said...

> Bayesian reasoning by different people with different priors is guaranteed to converge *if they all have exactly the same posterior data*

Well, yeah, obviously. If the data is different the conclusions are necessarily different. (Note that this is true even if the priors are the same. Aumann requires common knowledge.)

> By "the Bayesian trap" do you mean the phenomenon discussed earlier in this thread, that, for example, P(HIV|+) can be very different from P(+|HIV) given the same data?

No, I meant that once the prior probability becomes zero it can never change under Bayesian reasoning no matter how much data you accumulate. (The same thing holds for a probability of 1 because then you have assigned a probability of zero to the negation of whatever hypothesis you assigned 1 to.)

If Luke could summon the discipline to present a cogent argument, it might look something like: Bayesian reasoning is not rational because if you ever get to the point where you assign a probability of zero to something, no amount of evidence will ever dissuade you from that conclusion. Which is exactly the situation atheists are in.

Interestingly, Jewish tradition figured this out long before Bayes. Part of Jewish tradition is that it is not only acceptable to maintain some doubt about the existence of God, it is *essential* [1].

---

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Nine-Questions-People-About-Judaism/dp/0671622617 chapter 1

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
I meant that once the prior probability becomes zero it can never change under Bayesian reasoning no matter how much data you accumulate.

Ah, ok, got it. Yes, I agree this precludes any completely general theorem about convergence from different priors.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
if you ever get to the point where you assign a probability of zero to something, no amount of evidence will ever dissuade you from that conclusion. Which is exactly the situation atheists are in.

Agreed. But I'm an agnostic, not an atheist. The position I'm in is somewhat different: I'm in the position of being willing to assign a nonzero prior probability to the God hypothesis for the sake of argument, but I also see a mountain of evidence that gives me an extremely large likelihood ratio *against* the God hypothesis. That is, what I see from the data is that P(God|data) <<<<<<<< P(not God|data), so regardless of what prior probability I assign to "God", as long as it's reasonable (and given the likelihood ratio I see, "not 1" is probably reasonable enough), the data is going to push my posterior probability so low as to be negligible. (This, btw, is a key reason why in practice the God hypothesis is not even high enough in my preference ordering for me to pay attention to it--because growing up in the US on planet Earth, it's basically impossible to avoid encountering the hypothesis and evaluating it, whether that actually makes sense from the standpoint of pure logic or not.)

In these terms, what I would be looking for from Luke or someone like him would be a formulation of the "God" hypothesis that, when applied to the data, gives a likelihood ratio in which P(God|data) is at least *larger* than P(not God|data) (and really it ought to be much, much, much larger for anyone to be as confident in the God hypothesis as Luke appears to be). (Note that by "formulation" I mean something that isn't based on assumptions like "the Bible is the word of God"; I mean some kind of generative model that makes predictions without having any knowledge of the actual data.)

Peter Donis said...

@me:
an extremely large likelihood ratio *against* the God hypothesis. That is, what I see from the data is that P(God|data) <<<<<<<< P(not God|data)

Actually, I made a terminology error here; the ratio of P(God|data) to P(not God|data) is the posterior odds. The likelihood ratio would be the ratio of P(data|God) to P(data|not God). I also think this ratio is very small, but that could be at least partly because of the limitation I placed on hypotheses (i.e., "some kind of generative model that makes predictions without having any knowledge of the actual data"). See below.

@Ron:
conspiracy theories can actually be logically consistent, so you need something more than Bayes to refute them

One way of putting this in Bayesian terms is that, given a corpus of data, one can always concoct hypotheses such that P(data|my theory is true) > P(data|my theory is false). This is basically what conspiracy theorists do. (I'll leave the application of this to the particular case of religious belief as an exercise for the reader.) That's what I was attempting to rule out with the limitation on hypotheses that I described above, but this issue is probably better handled by Occam's Razor than by Bayesian analysis.

Ron said...

> the ratio of P(God|data) to P(not God|data) is the posterior odds

Well, no, not really. The posterior probability is just P(X|D), which is always just 1-P(~X|D), which in turn is just a special case of the trivial observation that P(X) = 1 - P(~X). The ratio of these two numbers isn't particularly interesting (AFAICT).

> this issue is probably better handled by Occam's Razor than by Bayesian analysis

IMHO it is better handled by Popper than Occam. "God did it" is actually a very simple hypothesis. The problem with it is that it leaves too many things unexplained.

I think this is the nub of the problem. Ultimately it boils down to a choice of quality metrics, whether it is for what constitutes a "good life", or a "good explanation", or a "simple explanation" (and whether or not simple == better). Some people think "God did it" leaves too much unexplained, and some people think that "it just happened" leaves too much unexplained. There is no rational way to resolve that. It's a marketing issue.

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "There is no rational way to resolve that."

I think I don't agree.

First, we can easily construct so-called "explanations" such as "God did it" which are similarly non-falsifiable, e.g. things along the lines of Russell's teapot or Sagan's Dragon in my Garage. If your evaluation process has "no way to resolve" the teapot or the dragon, then I might suggest it's not yet useful enough.

Second, I think Deutsch, e.g. in The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity, starts to get at how the process of science is to come up with "good explanations", and some of qualities that distinguish a good explanation from a bad one.

It feels to me like you're giving up too easily.

Ron said...

The God hypothesis *is* falsifiable (or at least some of the many possible God hypotheses are falsifiable) and IMHO have been falsified. But many people obviously disagree.

And as you know, I'm a big fan of Deutsch. But as I pointed out in the comment that got me into this thread, it's really hard to tell when you're suffering from a meta-delusion. In particular, there is the elephant in the atheist living room that I first pointed out twelve years ago, to wit, that the laws of physics are symmetric with respect to space and time, but all the firsthand data I have is from a privileged reference frame that I call here and now. After many years I finally found what I consider an adequate explanation for that but it is far from universally accepted even among scientists. I can certainly understand how a non-scientist would find it lacking.

So it's possible I'm giving up too easily, but I think it's also possible you don't fully appreciate the problem (these are not mutually exclusive possibilities).

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: Very interesting! Although I have to admit that I was unable to make the connection between your "anthropic crisis" in the first link, and your very interesting QM interpretation paper in the second link. I thought I understood both in isolation, but you wrote this comment as though it were obvious how the second answers (or at least attempts to answer) the first. FWIW, this reader was unable to do the exercise. I don't know if you're interested in expanding on this connection (here) more or not, but just wanted to report that I didn't get it.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
"God did it" is actually a very simple hypothesis

No, it isn't. It just pushes all the complexity into your model of God.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
The posterior probability is just P(X|D)

Yes, I was just stating it as odds instead of probability. The two both convey the same information; I didn't intend to imply otherwise.

Ron said...

@Peter:

> > "God did it" is actually a very simple hypothesis

> No, it isn't. It just pushes all the complexity into your model of God.

The god hypothesis is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. That's one of the things that makes it so attractive: gods are infinitely malleable, so everyone can customize them to suit their individual taste. At one extreme, the god-of-the-gaps simply makes "God" a synonym for "the unknown", which even on Occam make "God" preferable because it's lexicographically shorter!

But people don't choose God because they want simplicity. They choose God because *it gives their life meaning*. And that, it seems to me, is a defensible choice for a human being to make.

@Don:

> I was unable to make the connection between your "anthropic crisis" in the first link, and your very interesting QM interpretation paper in the second link

Interesting. That's what sections 5 and 6 are about. I really don't know how to make it any clearer than that.

I did write a couple of follow-ups:

http://blog.rongarret.info/2014/09/are-parallel-universes-real.html (pay particular attention to summary point #4)

http://blog.rongarret.info/2014/10/parallel-universes-and-arrow-of-time.html

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
The god hypothesis is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. That's one of the things that makes it so attractive: gods are infinitely malleable, so everyone can customize them to suit their individual taste.

Fair enough. I think we might be trying to say basically the same thing in different words. I agree with the substance of what you're saying here.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> So Luke may actually have a point here.

I've asked the question of how priors get assigned for a long time; I've never gotten a satisfactory answer. The answer that they don't really matter because you can collect enough data seems true for places where Bayesian inference really shines, but it's never been clear to me that this property holds for life in general. By the way, you may have been recalling the Bernstein–von Mises theorem; the Wikipedia article is pretty spartan; I found the blog post Asymptotically we are all dead informative (but also unsurprising).

> However, @Luke: you are still on the hook for doing the math on P(B|D). You may well have a logically sound reason for believing P(B)>>0.5 but you're being annoyingly cagey about it. And you're being *particularly* cagey about the reasoning that leads you to conclude P(B)>>0.5 but not, say, P(Quran)>>0.5. I would really like to see the math on that.

I make no claim to have come to my position via Bayesian inference. Whether I should depends first on whether it's tractable to do; if such a thing is tractable, surely it has been done in a simpler domain, such as comparing two schools of thought in psychology, sociology, economics, or political science. To my knowledge, nothing like this has been done. One possibility is that said fields just don't know how awesome Bayesian inference is. Another is that Bayesian inference doesn't actually rescue one from all the various choices and subjectivities at play. Another is that we're nowhere near able to handle the kind of complexity that would be required. I'd bet on the second or third options, against the first.

> If Luke could summon the discipline to present a cogent argument, it might look something like: Bayesian reasoning is not rational because if you ever get to the point where you assign a probability of zero to something, no amount of evidence will ever dissuade you from that conclusion. Which is exactly the situation atheists are in.

Just restrict all probabilities to (0, 1) with infinite precision arithmetic and you can claim that you don't have this problem. You can use 1 – ε and 0 + ε to get the same result as before, but you can claim to be 'open-minded'.

From my [limited] understanding, you cannot actually know when "sufficient evidence has accumulated". If I'm wrong, my wife would like to know because she uses Bayesian inference for science and was told by an MIT machine learning PhD that this is impossible.

> Interestingly, Jewish tradition figured this out long before Bayes. Part of Jewish tradition is that it is not only acceptable to maintain some doubt about the existence of God, it is *essential* [1].

If your understanding of YHWH is sufficiently bad (e.g. Isaiah 5:20, 58), then that 'YHWH' doesn't exist.

Ron said...

> Bernstein–von Mises theorem

Yes, that's it. Thank you.

> it's never been clear to me that this property holds for life in general

Why not? What is it about "life in general" that distinguishes it from "places where Bayesian inference really shines"?

> From my [limited] understanding, you cannot actually know when "sufficient evidence has accumulated".

That's because "sufficient" is a matter of taste. You said yourself (in private correspondence):

"I do have a sort of count-down timer set on God actually showing up. If it runs out, I will come out as an enemy of Christianity."

How are you deciding when the timer runs out?

For me, having now studied the Bible and its history more thoroughly than most Christians, the idea that it was in any way influenced by a supernatural being is in the same category as the idea that leprechauns and unicorns exist. I see not the tiniest shred of evidence that it is anything other than a work of human mythology. An extraordinarily influential one to be sure, but mythology nonetheless. Nonetheless, I can imagine experiments one could do that would dissuade me from this, just as I can imagine experiments that would convince me that unicorns exist (exhibiting a unicorn would be a good start). But I am confident enough in my beliefs about unicorns, leprechauns, and God that I would be willing to wager very large sums at very long odds that no one will exhibit either a unicorn or a leprechaun in the next (say) ten years, and that God will not reveal Himself by then either, at least not to me. (The reason I'm picking ten years is that I want to be around to collect on the bet.)

Luke said...

@Ron:

> What is it about "life in general" that distinguishes it from "places where Bayesian inference really shines"?

Most concretely, if Bayesian inference is as capable as you suggest, I would expect to see it employed more (e.g. "comparing two schools of thought"). Philosophically, there are matters of e.g. (i) how to carve reality up; (ii) what count as legitimate observations—which are prior to Bayesian inference. I gave an example of something where Bayesian inference just isn't the right tool: Gould on Morton, Redux: What can the debate reveal about the limits of data?.

> That's because "sufficient" is a matter of taste.

Huh? The convergence described by the Bernstein–von Mises theorem isn't a matter of taste. You were clearly talking about that kind of convergence:

> Ron: It is a theorem that your initial prior will have zero impact on your final conclusion once sufficient evidence has accumulated. This is one of the nice properties that makes Bayesian inference attractive.

If in fact Bayesian inference doesn't have this property for "life in general"—via the theorem not applying or not having "sufficient evidence"—then Bayesian inference isn't nearly as attractive for "life in general".

> You said yourself (in private correspondence):
>
> "I do have a sort of count-down timer set on God actually showing up. If it runs out, I will come out as an enemy of Christianity."
>
> How are you deciding when the timer runs out?

I told you ten years. You replied "OK, I’m marking my calendar. :-)" to said private correspondence.

> For me, having now studied the Bible and its history more thoroughly than most Christians, the idea that it was in any way influenced by a supernatural being is in the same category as the idea that leprechauns and unicorns exist.

Yep, I'm well-aware of that. You know that I think your model of what "a supernatural being" would do is flawed in various ways—although it's largely not your model, but the model you were taught by Christians. Unfortunately, I recall it being almost uniformly difficult-to-impossible to expose that model to any sort of sustained critique. I take full responsibility for that failure. But I'm not sure how to proceed without that. Continuing:

> But I am confident enough in my beliefs about unicorns, leprechauns, and God that I would be willing to wager very large sums at very long odds that no one will exhibit either a unicorn or a leprechaun in the next (say) ten years, and that God will not reveal Himself by then either, at least not to me.

Ok, but I just don't know what would count as God revealing himself to you (vs. say some super-intelligent alien, or Loki). One reason for this comes from Torah: Deut 12:32–13:5 says that a prophet who does [real] miracles or gives predictions which truly come to pass tells the Israelites to follow other gods (elohim acherim), that prophet is to be executed. I think there are excellent extra-biblical reasons for this, chiefly that to operate otherwise is to set Might ≡ Right. (I'm not saying such people should now be executed, but instead that technological and scientific prowess tell you nothing about goodness.)

The above seems to leave us with you being somehow convinced that there is a source of goodness outside of you which could enhance you and other humans. This could come in the form of correcting wrongness or just adding new goodness which is not logically entailed from what already exists. But I cannot tell you what would "count" here, as that would be me imposing myself on you—the very thing I must not do, per my understanding of Christianity.

Ron said...

> if Bayesian inference is as capable as you suggest, I would expect to see it employed more

Why? There are lots of effective techniques that people choose not to employ for one reason or another. People are generally not rational.

> The convergence described by the Bernstein–von Mises theorem isn't a matter of taste.

No, but the choice of a threshold where you consider something "sufficiently" certain to act upon is.

> I told you ten years.

Yes, you did. But you didn't tell me how you arrived at that number. Can you justify that choice rationally? No, of course you can't. You just picked a number out of a hat that kind of felt right. People do that all that time.

> it's largely not your model, but the model you were taught by Christians.

Well, yeah, partly. But it's also partly a consequence of the definition of the word "supernatural". For something to be supernatural it has to, by definition, go beyond the natural somehow.

> I just don't know what would count as God revealing himself to you

I'm not sure I know either, but that doesn't matter. If God were real, *He* would know!

In fact, that I am even *able* to sustain a disbelief in God shows that one of the following must be true:

1. God doesn't know what would convince me

2. God knows, but chooses not to do (or is incapable of doing) what would convince me

3. God made me in such a way that *nothing* will convince me

(Logically, there is a fourth possibility, but I'll leave that as an exercise.)

Don Geddis said...

@Ron: "Logically, there is a fourth possibility, but I'll leave that as an exercise."

God has no interest in you? Doesn't care what happens to you?

Ron said...

@Don: No, that's covered under #2.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
(Logically, there is a fourth possibility, but I'll leave that as an exercise.)

I assume you're referring to the possibility that God does not exist?

Ron said...

> God does not exist?

What I had in mind was, "God didn't make me", but your formulation works too.

Peter Donis said...

@Ron:
What I had in mind was, "God didn't make me", but your formulation works too.

Well, logically speaking, they're not equivalent; a God who existed but didn't make you could still have options for convincing you of his existence. :-)

Ron said...

> a God who existed but didn't make you could still have options for convincing you of his existence. :-)

That's true, but that god wouldn't be responsible if I were made in such a way that nothing would convince me.

Luke said...

@Ron:

> Why? There are lots of effective techniques that people choose not to employ for one reason or another. People are generally not rational.

My request doesn't require individuals to be rational; it merely requires the scientific community as a whole to be somewhat rational. And if Bayesian inference is as awesome as you are currently portraying it, humanity is losing out tremendously every single second that Bayesian inference is not used to compare schools of thought in the social sciences. We're not talking here of understanding the Higgs boson, we're talking about helping fewer people starve to death and fewer people die of horrible diseases. And maybe we would have seen Trump coming well beforehand and taken action to avoid him.

However, another option is that Bayesian inference isn't quite as comprehensively applicable as one might think from reading what you and Don have written about it in this thread.

> > The convergence described by the Bernstein–von Mises theorem isn't a matter of taste.

> No, but the choice of a threshold where you consider something "sufficiently" certain to act upon is.

Then how are you using the Bernstein–von Mises theorem? You certainly referenced it.

> But you didn't tell me how you arrived at that number. Can you justify that choice rationally? No, of course you can't.

Tell me what 'rationality' would help me justify that number and I'll see if I can come up with a better one. Now if enough of the prior probabilities which feed into the process are sufficiently subjective, I don't see how Bayesian inference will help.

> But it's also partly a consequence of the definition of the word "supernatural". For something to be supernatural it has to, by definition, go beyond the natural somehow.

Sure, but that leaves you incredible freedom. For example, I don't see why "(ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up" cannot possibly be super-natural. (You called it "a very weak hypothesis".) By the way, this "small steps approach" might seem like a rationalization coming from motivated reasoning and I would agree, if it weren't for the fact that I think Westerners suck at understanding that approach and using it with each other and the rest of the world. I'm not the only one, either; a friend who serves the homeless in SF says it's crucial.

> > I just don't know what would count as God revealing himself to you

> I'm not sure I know either, but that doesn't matter. If God were real, *He* would know!

Be that as it may, your refusing to give any remotely reasonable standard makes me suspect that it will be impossible for me to not have failed, in your eyes, at the ten-year mark. Folks in this thread have made it quite clear that my own reasoning processes cannot be trusted as much as theirs (well, maybe just you and Don), and so I clearly cannot be trusted to come up with such a "remotely reasonable standard" 100% on my own.

Now, I actually do have reason to suspect that you've ruled out ever detecting God, as God, a priori. I wrote about this four years ago in my answer to the Phil.SE question Could there ever be evidence for an infinite being?; I mentioned this to you back in 2014.

Don Geddis said...

@Luke: " [1] humanity is losing out tremendously every single second that Bayesian inference is not used to compare schools of thought in the social sciences ... [2] another option is that Bayesian inference isn't quite as comprehensively applicable as one might think"

Yup, those are two options. And the answer, in the real world, is #1.

The sciences (especially social sciences and medicine) have been making decades (or centuries) of suboptimal reasoning (mistakes), because of their non-Bayesian thinking.

As Robin Hanson (same guy who wrote the Elephant book!) says, Research isn't about Progress" (and "Medicine isn't about Health"). Science is a social activity involving groups of humans, and it mainly is driven by the same incentives that drive any group of social humans. Which, to be blunt, is only indirectly about pursuing Truth.

The scientific community as a whole tends to be "more rational" than most other communities, and it slowly over time bends towards Truth. (Much like MLK's "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice".) But it often takes a lot of unnecessary ("irrational") side trips on the way there.

Ron said...

@Luke:

> Then how are you using the Bernstein–von Mises theorem?

To show that the initial choice of priors don't matter in the long run.

> Sure, but that leaves you incredible freedom.

Sure, if all you want to show is that there exists something supernatural. Even there, many have tried and failed. But if you want to demonstrate that God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent and died on the cross to save us from our sins, that will be considerably more difficult.

> I don't see why "(ii) as laws which challenged the ancient Israelites to be better, but not so much better that they would just give up" cannot possibly be super-natural.

I never said they couldn't possibly be super-natural. I simply don't see any evidence that they are anything but a human invention. (I will say that I don't see how they could possibly be the work of an ominiscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity. But that is not the same thing as saying they could not be super-natural.)

> your refusing to give any remotely reasonable standard makes me suspect that it will be impossible for me to not have failed, in your eyes, at the ten-year mark

This isn't on you. It's on God.

Luke said...

@Don Geddis:

> > [1] humanity is losing out tremendously every single second that Bayesian inference is not used to compare schools of thought in the social sciences ... [2] another option is that Bayesian inference isn't quite as comprehensively applicable as one might think

> And the answer, in the real world, is #1.

I don't see why I should believe that Bayesian inference can do what you claim, without seeing it actually doing anything "nearby". I've given multiple reasons for this skepticism, including subjectivity in choice of prior combined with a big question mark over whether the Bernstein–von Mises theorem applies. Bayesian inference is a wonderful tool, but that doesn't mean it applies everywhere.

> The sciences (especially social sciences and medicine) have been making decades (or centuries) of suboptimal reasoning (mistakes), because of their non-Bayesian thinking.

Do you know this to be true based on anything empirical whatsoever, or have merely defined it to be true? That is, can you show a correlation between optimality in reasoning in the social sciences and deployment of Bayesian thinking?

Luke said...

@Ron:

> In fact, that I am even *able* to sustain a disbelief in God shows that one of the following must be true:
>
> 1. God doesn't know what would convince me
>
> 2. God knows, but chooses not to do (or is incapable of doing) what would convince me
>
> 3. God made me in such a way that *nothing* will convince me
>
> (Logically, there is a fourth possibility, but I'll leave that as an exercise.)

There are multiple additional logical possibilities; two of them are:

4. There is no such God. (At least, who exists in causal contact with my reality. (At least, whose causal interactions with my reality can be detected by me as such.))

5. What would convince me depends on my will, not merely on the initial state of the universe, responsibility for which we assign to God.

I imagine you've ruled out 5. on the (empirical, not logical) basis that humans are nothing but finite state automata? This would also explain 2.: God would know the exact pick-up line to use on you. And I mean 'pick-up line' in the full derogatory sense: there would be zero consensual relationship, just domination. It's not even clear to me what 'consent' would be, for an FSA; that ontology doesn't seem to allow a true distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations.

Peter Donis said...

@Don:
the answer, in the real world, is #1.

A good collection of data supporting this is in E. T. Jaynes's book, Probability Theory: The Logic Of Science. He uses Bayesian methods repeatedly to obtain results that are borne out by actual data, but which were either not reached at all by scientists in other fields, or were only reached after a much more laborious process of reasoning (that often ended up misleading people as well as being slower). Not all of his examples are in the social sciences, either; IIRC at least one is from thermodynamics.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
Do you know this to be true based on anything empirical whatsoever, or have merely defined it to be true?

I've given one reference just now in response to Don.

Peter Donis said...

@Luke:
there would be zero consensual relationship, just domination. It's not even clear to me what 'consent' would be

If one person is trying to convince another person of the truth, there is no such thing as "consent". You don't "consent" to the truth. You either believe it, or you don't, but in either case, your relationship with the person who tries to convince you is not "consensual" in the sense you are using the term.

If we are talking about interactions between humans, then your instinctive reaction against what seems to be "domination" in such an interaction is probably well-founded, because humans don't have complete knowledge of the truth and we're not very reliable at communicating it. So it makes sense for us humans to have norms that say that you don't try to just browbeat someone into believing the truth; you adopt an appropriate attitude of humility about your own ability to believe the truth and communicate it reliably, and moderate your interactions with others accordingly.

However, Ron was talking about God, who, by hypotheses, does not suffer from those deficiencies. So if God communicates a truth to a human, there should not be a "consensual" aspect to the interaction: God just tells it like it is. The human can choose not to believe it, but that does not mean the interaction is the same as it would be between two humans or that intuitions about interactions between humans should apply to such a hypothetical interaction with God.

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